Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

28 February 2007

Game Design Docs Example

Clark @ 3:08 pm

Over at GamaSutra, there’s a great example of a Design Document for a game. As I talk about in my workshops, they freely switch between lookup tables, flow charts, and other ways of representing their thoughts.

It’s nice for them to be willing to share this peek inside commercial game development, and there’re some great ideas about things like different paths for different players (here: simple score, puzzles, and real ‘twitch’ skills). Recommended.

Filling the informal gap

Clark @ 2:05 pm

The day before yesterday I listened to Jay Cross give his spiel on informal learning. I’m already a fan, but apparently some people were having trouble mapping it into concrete action plans the last time he gave it, and I suspect he wasn’t putting enough initial framing around it. It got me to thinking…

Informal Learning GapsJay was using O’Driscoll’s model on the relative role of formal versus informal learning, and it occurred to me that one of the ways to think about the role of informal learning is filling in the middle. For the novice, you need courses to get the learner up over some initial knowledge/skill hurdles. At the top end, you need to provide a way for experts to converse and negotiate understanding. But what are you doing for the middle?

What do I mean? Jay got Cisco to talk about how they were making videos of presentations available. I’ve heard of a case where engineers asked a firm to record the white papers as podcasts for listening to in the car. And all that rapid elearning (read: narrated powerpoints and captured webinars) similarly qualifies.

The point being that informal learning is about putting resources out there for the folks who are beyond courses, but are not yet ready to be creating their own resources. Making these resources and making them available, and allowing ways for these learners to tap into the expert conversations (and the experts) as well as begin communicating with peers, is what you need to do.

So, are you neglecting the middle majority, or not?

Small heroisms

Clark @ 1:21 pm

What I sent to United today:

As too often happens, my flight home was delayed, and I was going to miss the Bart train home (meaning waiting from 12AM to 4AM for the first train of the morning). The purser on the flight … talked to me, found out I was on his way home, waited ’til my luggage emerged and took me with him to his car and then to a Bart station which caught the last train with 10 minutes to spare.

Without knowing me, he just did the right thing. I thought you ought to know that as far as I’m concerned, he’s a true hero. He didn’t even want thanks, but I said that if one is willing to complain, one should also cheer the good things, and so I wanted to make a point to let you know about how one of your employees made a big difference to one of your travelers.

23 February 2007


Clark @ 2:49 pm

As I look at the larger picture (I’ve been reading Verna Allee’s books on Value Networks; great stuff), I’ve been thinking about the type of organizations we need. One of the rubrics is that it’s no longer about ‘know-how’, but about ‘know who’, since what we need to know how to do is no longer static. We need to be able to do new things and we need to ‘know-who’ can help us. Which is all true, but even if you know what you need to do, you may not be as well-equipped to perform as if we include another factor.

I first heard David Batstone talk about his book Saving The Corporate Soul at an eLearning Forum meeting in downtown San Francisco. I’ve become a subscriber to his ezine and enjoy his regular columns on ways in which corporations are and can be (or are not) socially responsible, as well as the other work he points to.

In his most recent edition, he points to a piece of work talking about “know why”. The point is that even if workers know what to do, if they don’t know why they’re doing it, they’re not going to perform as well.

This ties into organizational vision and values. In Financial Times (I think, I read it in transit to/from Norway), someone was talking about how business goals are more than platitudes about strategy, but instead you need to know what you’re doing and why it’s the right thing. The CEO has to be about more than cold logic, but have a vision, and an organization has to communicate it’s passion throughout the enterprise. This isn’t core values unless it’s lived (I worked for an organization that talked about three core values, and then reliably violated one in dealing with employees!).

The Cluetrain Manifesto tells us that lack of authenticity will come back to haunt an organization, and I think that, in addition to other factors, unless employees live and breathe the organizational values, the company is doomed. Values-driven performance will trump sheer smart execution (it’s simple Wisdom after all).

18 February 2007

New blogger

Clark @ 9:15 am

Tony O'Driscoll's In/Formal roleTony O’Driscoll, who works for IBM around learning, technology, and organizations, has finally started his own blog. I’ve subscribed, as I’ve liked his thinking in the past (I use his diagram on in/formal learning). I have to admit I’m hoping his posts will get briefer from a purely pragramatic perspective (hey, it’s not the only one I read in a day!); in keeping with my site title, I try to keep my posts small, but I know others can be more thoughtful. So, check it out!

15 February 2007

J. Nives Quinn, Jr. (1917-2007) RIP

Clark @ 5:42 pm

Nives QuinnToday my father died. It wasn’t unexpected, he’d been ready for years, and we’re fortunate that his final demise was relatively quick and painless. He was an interesting guy: born in east Colorado at the edge of the prairie, he grew up with wide open spaces, even spending time as a cowboy (“stupidest job in the world” he used to say, “hard work, low pay, and no girls”).

His dad had a bank that was wiped out by the Depression. My grandfather continued to work until he paid back every single person who’s money he’d lost before he again started settling his own financial future, and this had a great impression on my dad.

Named for his dad, he shared his Dad’s preference for being called by his middle name, Nives (pronounced Neeves). It’s become a family tradition for middle names, shared by me and my first-born son. May it continue.

He had an amazing talent for building and fixing things. He used to build radios and trade them for things like cars. He was a good story-teller, and from what I heard it’s amazing he managed to survive to an age where his youthful temper mellowed and he was able to settle down and have a family. When I knew him he had remarkable patience, certainly with machinery.

He never finished college, but spent time in the war in the Navy (the picture is from his days serving as a tail-gunner in a dive-bomber, the duty he was required to have to balance his time in then-secret radar). After the war he visited his sister in Southern California, and ended up working for Northrop Aircraft for 32 years until he retired.

He migrated to facilities because he knew every sort of engineering: electrical, hydraulic, civil, you name it he knew how it worked and how to plan it, build it, maintain it, and dismantle it. He would stand up to contractors, employees, even management when he was right, and convince them to do it his way.

He avoided management as long as he could; they finally promoted him while he was on vacation, and he ended up with responsibility for the entire mile-long plant in Hawthorne. I hadn’t known him as a leader, but while he had no patience with fools, he was blind to color and background and his employees from Hungarians to Burmese were fiercely loyal. I learned from the notes from his retirement party that he was relentless in ensuring there was justification for requests for facilities services. I got a chuckle from this note: “people learned to disagree with him one way, with respect” (the “one way” was underlined by hand).

After retirement (he left early, when the job wasn’t fun anymore), he traveled the world with my mom. They were quite humble and frugal throughout their lives, and rode in local buses and stayed in the cheapest accommodations in the most interesting places, with new stocks of stories to tell such as camping in tents with lions padding around outside(!).

They greatly valued education; really the only reason to be excused from the dinner table in the middle of the meal was to go look up something in the encyclopedia or the dictionary. We knew we had to try our hardest, but they were happy with whatever the outcome of that was.

When they weren’t traveling he volunteered time doing what he’d always done for almost anyone, fixing things, particularly as a handyman for a local shelter. Tragically, a late diagnosis and botched surgery for Dupuytren’s cost him the use of his hands, and brought to a close his one real passion in life. Subsequent persistent pain and loss of hearing also contributed to his lack of enthusiasm in his last years. Yet he still welcomed a drink, a laugh, and beamed at the sight of his grandkids.

I was always impressed that he maintained his idealism throughout his life, caring about doing the right thing rather than the expedient thing. He was security-oriented, and passed up many chances to do better financially to ensure we were never without food and shelter. He had his flaws, but he was a very good man overall, and I was proud to call him “Dad”. Rest in Peace.

8 February 2007

Asking Good Questions

Clark @ 3:13 pm

What questions should we be asking? is the Learning Circuits Blog Big Question for the month. Mentioned is a fear that we might not be asking the right question at any particular time.

Perhaps because I’ve just finished reading Verna Allee‘s The Knowledge Evolution (all about systematic levels of knowledge; an insightful book, it even discusses wisdom :), but the core of my responses is the way to ensure you’re asking the right question is to take a level step up and ask if your question fits into the bigger picture.

One of the things I keep seeing is that people are focusing on elearning tactics, while not considering how those tactics fit into a strategy. If you’re asking about how to better support conversations, you should make sure that you’ve got a culture that ensures sharing. If you’re asking about creating portals, you should ensure that your instructional design is up to scratch.

So I guess my short answer is that your first question should be if you know where you’re going, and if you do, you should be asking questions about the next step along the path. If you don’t know where you’re going, it doesn’t matter what you ask!

Web 2.0 video

Clark @ 2:18 pm

This video is making the blogspace rounds.  It’s both a fascinating use of the medium (wonder how it’s made), and an insightful way to get your mind around what (portions) of the ‘read/write’ and ‘social’ web is all about.  Think about it from a learning perspective, where a community is sharing their developing understandings, and you can ‘mashup’ (link programmatically) two different information sources to create a new application.  Very cool.

6 February 2007

The Year of the Model(s)

Clark @ 5:12 pm

At the TechKnowledge conference (good conference, and a better venue next year I’m sure), I had the honor of being on a panel with my fellow committee members who are some really interesting thinkers around elearning, including Frank Nguyen from American Express, Cris Stewart from Four Seasons, Paul Sparks from Pepperdine University, and ably chaired by Paula Orologas of the Capital Group Companies. We were talking about new trends, and I didn’t think until too late that what I’d like to end with is the trend I don’t hear people talking about but wish they were.

As a bit of context, for one I heard a very interesting talk from Visa about how they were single-sourcing their content, to make their content development more practical and deliver in more ways. I’ve talked before about content models, and here was someone pushing that agenda forward. I subsequently had a conversation with another conference attendee who was taking the idea even further forward. The point being, that if you structure your content you can scaffold (read: support) the development of content, and you can do some powerful things as you’ve semantically tagged the role of the content.

Second, I volunteered for ‘face time’, which allows speakers to volunteer to be available for free 20 minute consultation sessions. In one of those, I talked to a fellow who was developing technical training. In this case, I suggested using mental models as a key. The benefits of mental models are that while they may take longer to develop initially, that’s for one or two uses of the model, and with software that model gets used across many different commands spread across quite a few menus, you’re going to get real power. So, you present several examples of how to do things linking the model to the software interface, and then you have the learner predict how to do several more, using the model. From there, if you’ve done it right, you shouldn’t need more training, learners should be able to predict, from the model, how to do new things. And some ancillary benefits: if you change some of the interface, this shouldn’t be a burden; if a learner forgets a step, they can typically regenerate it. And they can predict how to do new things. It’s because of the relationships in the model tying together the disparate bits.

My hope, then, is that this becomes the year of the model(s). The trend that I’d like to see is more people taking advantage of these powerful ideas, moving beyond procedural and hand-crafted elearning to systemic and systems-thinking based learning support. How about you?

Blogs, beer, and blokes

Clark @ 4:55 pm

Last week during the TechKnowledge conference (being on the program committee meant I not only had to attend most of it but also organizing meetings, hence the delay in any postings), I had a chance to go to a beer and cheese tasting with some of the leading bloggers (and thinkers) of eLearning, including Tony Karrer, Jay Cross, and Harold Jarche; our host was Jim Javenkoski (naturally, most have already blogged about it).

Several things are of interest here, but of course let me start with the beer. Jim works for Unibroue, which is a premium Canadian brewer with a line of Belgian-inspired beers (they stole their brewer from Chimay, probably the leading Belgian beer maker). For those who don’t know, there’re bottom-fermenting lagers (some of the best are the Eastern European like Pilsner Urquell), and top-fermenting ales (e.g. most of the British classics), and then all sorts of variations. The Belgians are ales, but they really push the flavor limits with not only clever variations on the basic grains, hops, and yeasts (besides water, the basics of beer), but also spices, fruits, and more.

The tasting was about beer and food combinations, and on my flight to New Jersey (I’m here on client work) the inflight magazine had an article on beer and food combinations. According to them, such pairings are the newest rage. How last week; before our tasting, Jim had been running beer and chocolate tastings! A number of places cook with beer and then serve with beer, and I’ve been a fan for yonks. When I lived in Australia I made my own beer, as the usual stuff was too expensive and not good enough, though better than the average American swill (America does have some really good craft brews, however). So it’s not news to me, but I’m thrilled if the word gets out about good beer and good food (which has to result in more of both).

So what’s this got to do with learning? Jay expands on his “the best learning technology is conversation” by saying the second best learning technology is beer to support the conversation. Which may be perceived as a ‘bloke’y thing to do, but a) the new beers are very much for the discerning palate (my mother-in-law is into good beer!), and b) wine or cocktails will do as nice (ok, there’s some concern that cocktails could too quickly lead you beyond reasonable conversation). Pick your poison, er, social lubricant (properly applied, of course).

We did have some amazing conversation. And, with blogging, the conversation goes on beyond the face-to-face conversation, and will rope back around again the next time we get together.

One on one mentoring is the best learning situation at the bottom of the learning curve. However, a cost-effective alternative, when someone’s a novice, is to address the foundational knowledge (the ‘received wisdom’) asynchronously, or in other forms of courses (though they should be wrapped with conversation, to develop the later ability to collaborate). But when you’re into the realms of expertise, negotiating shared understanding with your peers is the way knowledge advances. Good conversations are the key to advanced learning, however mediated.

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