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

31 May 2007

Learning by prostheses

Clark @ 8:47 am

Jim Schuyler, CTO of the Dalai Lama Foundation (and colleague, mentor, friend), writes in his blog:

My contention is that much of what we have to accomplish in educating people is to help individuals understand the limits of their own cognitive (and memory) abilities and find ways to interface with memory and cognition-devices in the external world so they can effectively and productively learn – and I mean learn and learn and learn for an entire lifetime – and make use of what they have learned.

In one sense this sounds a lot like George Siemen’s connectivism, and in another like the meta-learning (learning to learn) that I was promoting with Jay Cross and several others. I still think that meta-learning is a big missed opportunity in the corporate world, and it’s definitely part of the curriculum I’d like our schools to be working on.

It’s about developing a mind-set to steadily and systematically learn along our lives, and having the skills to do so effectively and efficiently. Sounds like the best investment I can think of. We know our limitations: great pattern matchers, poor arbitrary rememberers. Which is why I push my ‘external brain’ (my Treo) to see how much smarter it can make me (part of my mobile learning learning).

As a side note, I wish Sky allowed me to put this comment on his site, but he requires having a log-on and I’ve enough of those already. In general, when I’ve read others’ comments on my blog in their blog, I leave comments on their blog rather than reiterate them here. And maybe I’m missing one of the benefits or responsibilities of blogging? Live and learn, so opinions welcome.

30 May 2007

Surfacing

Clark @ 7:52 am

MS Surface Map CollaborationMicrosoft’s just released Surface, a new product based upon a coffee-table size (and form factor) touchscreen which supports multiple finger gestures and will include placing devices on them (e.g. smartphones, music players) and having them become ‘available’ to share music, photos, and whatever you might imagine. At first I thought it looked cool but limited, but they showed some intriguing scenarios such as having the table be a menu and placing your cards down to pay at the end, dividing up the things ordered between the cards. It’s fairly high resolution and quite interactive.

While I’m a wee bit worried about bending over the table (with my back aching from a weekend which included carrying large landscaping bricks), I can see some interesting opportunities. They showed one person drawing, and it strikes me as a great surface for co-construction of representations. You know I like models, and having a multi-touch interface on top of an application like OmniGraffle would be great to sit over and talk with colleagues about. They talk about sharing files, but I wonder if you could bring in your own applications.

I can really easily see kids all ganging up around one, too, like they already do with the whiteboard, lego, whatever. With that device connectivity, they could take their devices out into the world, bring stuff back, share, and create projects in a more natural way. Or even share their creations (drawings, Spore creatures, genetically created pets, what have you). Then, of course, finding a way to have different surfaces in different places and have them linked, so that they could collaborate at a distance (with VoIP, and maybe their photo or something on the side for ‘telepresence’.

And board games could take on a whole new dimension. Wizard’s Chess, anyone?

Ok, I’m game to play.

25 May 2007

Shame on me…

Clark @ 9:25 am

Speaking of mistakes, there’s one I’ve made. Again. The old saying “fool me once, shame on your, fool me twice, shame on me” comes to mind. I had a conversation about my recent eLearning Guild presentation on elearning strategy, and got sucked into helping interpret it for this particular individual’s circumstance. I knew it was a corporate initiative, and was looking to see if they needed help, but instead there I was answering questions. It’s a bad habit.

I like talking ideas. And I like helping people. However, interpreting them to someone’s benefits is my business. Many years ago I derived a principle that I’ll talk ideas for free, I’ll help someone personally for drinks, dinner, etc, but if someone’s making money off of it, I want a cut. I think it’s still relevant.

I live by the ideas and experience I bring to the table and my ability to interpret them for a particular client. I love what I do, and if I were independently wealthy (and, as I joke, you’re welcome to make that happen) I’d still do this. But I’m not independently wealthy, and I work hard to feed family, mortgage, HMO (don’t get me started), etc. I also like to think that I’m very good at what I do, and believe my track record shows it. ( It’s not because of my marketing and sales skills.)

So, I’ll post my mistake here as support to not make it again. Fortuitously, the day after that call I had a chance to do it right, and did much better. That should be an upward path. Err less and less and less…

23 May 2007

Mistakes

Clark @ 3:33 pm

In a conversation today the topic of mistakes came up, and it’s one I think we could talk about more (and I’ve done so in the past, I discover). It’s clear that innovating and improving requires experimentation (again, he who fails fastest, wins). Yet, you can’t celebrate mistakes, as it can send the wrong message.

I was reminded of a story I heard at the Creating a Learning Culture conference Marcia Conner was kind enough to invite me to. To reiterate the earlier post, a company celebrated not when the mistake was made, but when the lesson was learned. That’s stuck with me as a great idea that allows mistakes as part of an overall culture that says it’s ok to experiment, and we know you’ll fail occasionally, but learn from it. Piet Hein is quotable here:  “The road to wisdom? Well it’s simple to express: err and err and err again, but less and less and less.” Just don’t make the same mistake!

My interlocutor recalled his approach, saying to teams: “I don’t mind small mistakes”, and that makes a lot of sense. I used to tell my team that I didn’t mind bad news, but I hated surprises. I like his approach better. Big mistakes are a problem, small mistakes are an investment in the future.

I mentioned corporate cultures I’d seen (in seemingly successful companies) where you couldn’t talk about mistakes. He recited his experience where when a mistake was made, they’d fire someone, and think they’d solved the problem!

So, another quote: “when you lose, don’t lose the lesson”. Find out why the mistake was made, how not to make it again, and make sure everyone learns from it.

22 May 2007

Coaching

Clark @ 4:42 pm

My son’s baseball season is over, and it was a lesson to me about the value of good coaching. There’re lots of things that go into coaching, it became clear. For example, I began to believe that if you first don’t instill an understanding of what it means to be a team, you don’t have a chance. And then you’ve got to build not only the individual skills, but also the strategy. Also, you’ve got to have support. I saw teams with really active assistant coaches, and the effect on the team performance was obvious.

I recall from previous years’ soccer coaching that the association’s approach was to drill skills first, and then introduce strategy (not even in the first year). This is apparently something that helps build to a national capacity, though it only works if all coaches observe it. That wasn’t the case, unfortunately, but we still supported our coach in that perspective and were glad he focused on the kids development, not the parent’s desire for their kids to win (and my son’s team did win some). And at this stage baseball strategy would be appropriate.

It occurred to me that a great technique would be to ask the kids what is necessary, and tease it out of them, and even do some experiments to help them learn the tradeoffs and why to do it a particular way. There’s a role for instruction, typically for expediency, but I think a blend could be achieved. I heard other coaches telling their players, before each batter, where the play was. I’d be inclined to think that a better approach might be to ask them where the play is. Making them self-coaching would be a good outcome.

I admit I find the prospect a little daunting, but I still regret that my unpredictable schedule means I can’t commit to coaching. I’d like to think that a chance to practice what I preach in that specific instance would be of benefit not only to me but also to the kids.

21 May 2007

Evaluating learning game design quality

Clark @ 8:50 am

The quest has raged on and on: where’s the data on how effective games are? And the problem has continued: well, how do you evaluate the quality of the design of the game? Because, unless you feel confident the game is designed properly, you can’t decide whether a bad outcome (or even a good one) is due to the game, or something else. We have criteria for instructional design, but how can we compare?

I think this is an important issue that may be the biggest barrier we’ve had to trying to get the data people are demanding: real evaluations of games. There are other barriers: people doing evaluations but not wanting to publicize it as a competitive advantage, doing games but not evaluating them, but I’d argue that it’s hard to compare until you feel you’re comparing a well-designed game to a well-designed alternative. Clark Aldrich has done some good independent evaluation with Virtual Leader, and demonstrated improvements, but I’d like to see more on different scopes of games, in different domains, for a range of cognitive skills (and, as always, I’m not talking about tarted-up quiz show ‘frame games’ but meaningful cognitive decisions).

So, it occurred to me, the answer is in a framework for game design. Which, ahem, is what my whole book is based upon. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before, frankly. And, before you accuse me of too much self-serving thinking, I do want to point out that I’ve been looking for other systematic frameworks for learning game design, and haven’t found them.

I’ve read Prensky, Aldrich, Gee, and now am on Shaffer, (and others, but these are the ones who’ve been writing specifically about learning games) and I see great stuff, but I haven’t seen what I can term a systematic design approach other than mine (again, I know how this sounds, but such a design approach was my very specific goal and opportunity). They all cover at least some elements of design, and I made an effort to review their approaches and make sure they didn’t have anything I didn’t at least explicitly consider.

And I’m happy to be wrong, but I have tried to be fairly exhaustive because I do care. And I’m sure there’s more richness that can be wrapped around what I’ve done (I’ve added some thoughts myself since the book came out), but I still think the core framework is sound and I’ve been looking at this for over 10 years (since my first article on the topic came out) and really more like 25 (when I first told my boss at DesignWare that we could be doing much more meaningful games than spelling drills).

So, what’s my point? I think that maybe what could be done and hasn’t been is to operationalize (a word I used to hate, but don’t have a better one to hand) my framework as an evaluation instrument as well as a design framework. It’s tough, because how do you evaluate how well the story integrated the decisions? Yet that’s what you have to come to grips with. It’s not something I can do in my copious spare time (independent, with children; what’s spare time?), but I think there’s an argument to be made that it’d be a useful contribution for someone to do. Ph.D. thesis, anyone?

Learnlets in virtual worlds?

Clark @ 8:22 am

Martine from Angils (a European-centric serious games group) asked me:

I just had a look at your blog and was interested in your views about virtual worlds and MMOs for selling learnlets…Many of the large service organizations I have spoken with are dealing with this type of proposition for some of their clients – where SL will be the test-bed for them to then develop their own virtual world for including the selling of learnlets.

My thoughts on learnlets originally were more that they could be viable commercially through websites, but certainly there’s no inherent barrier to them existing and being desirable in virtual worlds/MMOs. If one could provide a demonstrably effective and subjectively appealing experience for a skill in demand, there should be a potential transaction basis.

My thing, of course, is how to systematically design them to be effective and engaging. I’ve yet to find a better framework than the one I developed, but then I may be biased…;)

On the bigger scale, worlds for the sale of learnlets, I suppose it’s a virtual university with mini-courses. I’ve been trying hard to understand the value proposition for virtual worlds, as the overhead is high to get what I think are the unique contributions (e.g. co-creating models) but others are convincing me the personal aspect of building your own character and the social aspects are both ‘sticky’.

So, how do you build an interesting social life around the learnlets? Studying together, and learning together (learning can be more effective socially), so ways to find cohorts to do it together would be the selling point. And, of course, you’d need a way for people to connect and jointly experience meaningful and effective learning. You’d probably have different sizes (read: scopes) of the learning, and ideally you’d have different ‘styles’, different cohort sizes, etc.

One model would be a world just for this, another would be a way to integrate this into an existing world, whether 2nd Life, Entropia, or elsewhere where there’s an economy.  There clearly are ranges from paying someone else to do it (or purchasing the result) or learning to do it yourself.  Some of it naturally has to be available in the environment, but extensions or emergent capabilities could be a market.  It’s Pine & Gilmore’s ‘transformation’ economy (the last stage of the experience economy), virtually. Whether and how anyone locks it up is a different issue.

18 May 2007

Stealth learning (or not)

Clark @ 9:43 am

One of the recurrent ‘dreams’ is of stealth learning, where one could play a game and learn something without even being aware of it. It resurfaced again on the Serious Games mailing list, and somehow my thoughts finally coalesced. Here’s what I had to say:

I’ve often wondered whether stealth educational games are possible, and I had an epiphany yesterday when thinking about this (and was reminded of by Noah’s post today). In short, I don’t think there can be stealth education, at least in a reliable way. Let me explain why by analogy to analogy(!):

In classic analogical reasoning (the topic of my PhD thesis), Gick & Holyoak (1980) gave learners one experience with a problem, and then they were asked to solve an analogously related problem. The base rate of solution was low (e.g. 30%), unless externally prompted (then 75%). (Base rate without prior problem 10%). With two problems the likelihood goes higher, but not as effectively as if there’s guidance to explicitly abstract (Gick & Holyoak 1983).

My inference here is that presenting relevant problems without explicit discussion of transfer is not as likely to lead to the learning outcome as if you explicitly make the relation between the learning experience and the ‘real world’. In other words, your ‘stealth learning’ *might* work, but not as likely nor effectively as if you ensure some abstraction and explicit transfer to other similar problems.

Could you do that in a game in a way that it’s thematically consistent? Perhaps, but then you’re treading a mighty thin line between being explicit and being stealth.

So, guess I’ve convinced myself that it’s not plausible. Possible, yes. With enough opportunities to practice, and some embedded diagrams, you might well develop the capability. But without it being explicit, you might miss some opportunities to apply it. I fear it just wouldn’t be as robust as making it explicit. Once you’re done with the game, you might not mind having it pointed out what a valuable skill you have obtained (maybe like leadership in World of Warcraft).

Reason as rule

Clark @ 8:52 am

Harold Jarche has a post in which he points out that good education and civics are necessary but not sufficient, citing Al Gore. The necessary additional component is dialog around ideas. I have to agree, we can’t advance if we aren’t collaboratively creating our future in an open and informed way.

It reminded me of this quote from Al Gore (excerpted from his comments at Sierra‘s Climate Forum) that I’ve been meaning to blog, which mimics my feelings about current US politics (and, to some extent Australian, my other home):

With regard to our political system, it now devalues knowledge and facts. It didn’t used to. What was special about the America we were born into was that it still embodied the highest values of the Enlightenment We grew up in a world where truth mattered, and when new ideas came … the merit of those ideas was judged against the rule of reason. … The political system doesn’t act that way anymore. As in the feudal era, wealth and power regularly trump knowledge, facts, and reason.

We don’t value reason any more. We deride scholars as eggheads or wonks, and laud those who have acquired money or celebrity through questionable means or for no notable contribution at all. This does not bode well for governments based upon the collective will of the people.

I’m an optimist, and I think that technologies like the internet give us hope, but we can’t be distracted by rote testing when our nations needs critical thinking and reasoning. You can’t care about the world and not be passionate about education.

16 May 2007

Civic Education (or lack thereof)

Clark @ 9:51 am

I’m on the board for the Center for Civic Education, a role I got for my expertise in learning technology, but a group I’ve become proud to be affiliated with. Their programs have incredible benefits for the students as well as society, as has been demonstrated internationally, and I think an understanding of civics is a necessary part of a wise curriculum. Imagine my dismay to read that the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Civics Report Card shows that “the vast majority of our young people are either not taught civics and government at all, or they are taught too little, too late, and inadequately” to quote Chuck Quigley, Executive Director of the Center.

The site for the report of course cites the improvements, but looking at the scores, they’re at about 50%, at best, across the board. Lower in certain demographics, as you’d expect. The standards actually come from the Center, and I’ve seen the diligence with which they develop them, (they’re publically available, too) so I have some idea just what’s at stake. (And, of course, the Center has solutions for addressing the problem, so I’m well aware of their vested interest in drawing attention to the gap, but the problem remains.)

I’ve seen how civics education can increase participation in society, reduce violence, and increase mutual self-respect. I also care that people understand government so they can vote from an informed perspective (which seems to be something severely lacking). So the lack of civics education is a concern.

I’m not a fan of No Child Left Untested, er, Behind, for a host of reasons (and fortunately, far more knowledge people than me have made the point, including Jim Pellegrino in a commissioned paper on behalf of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce). Moreover, our funding situation strangling school budgets and tying so much to rote skills is eliminating civics, science, and more.

I care about our society, and that’s why I’m in education as I think it’s the best way to ensure a positive future, so it continues to dismay me that we can’t seem to solve the problems in schools. When you have a chance to make a choice, do think about education and the future. Please?

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