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

29 February 2008

What’s the (m)point?

Clark @ 9:35 am

Laura asks in a comment on my last mobile post: “When do you think the tipping point to mobile will occur?” It’s something I’ve been trying to understand, and I think I’ve got a handle on it. My response was long enough that I thought I’d make it a post:

Right now the mLearning space feels like the gaming space did a couple of years ago. I’ve been on the stump for games for 6 years or so at least, and it always felt like they were just ready to break. However, there was a point where games suddenly became mainstream. For instance, a couple of years ago Captivate added the ability to make branching scenarios.

I’ve similarly been on the stump for mobile for 5 or so years, and it feels like the gaming space did a couple of years ago. There are mobile tools, and we’re seeing initial work, but now vendors at the expo were saying they had mobile prototypes underway for more mainstream tools. Probably next year we will have more generic tools, or rather mobile output from existing tools.

How that will play out is an interesting challenge. There isn’t an easy ‘works on all mobile devices’ solution. Phone browsers are pretty limited, but they do a fairly consistent java. Other platforms (Palm, iPhone) do better web, but more idiosyncratic java. FlashLite is coming, but is still on a limited set of phones. And so on. Getting a solution that works on a broad variety of devices, some reasonable percentage, even if it’s two separate forms of output, is probably not far away but still problematic.

I think that we will see sufficient (not great, just sufficient) convergence on a reasonable set of platforms that we can make progress in a year or so, and that will be the tipping point. In two years we’ll have some mainstream examples and typical organizations will be making some mobile moves. Fingers crossed!

Questions from the audience

Clark @ 8:23 am

Today we held the Emerging Trends panel session at the TechKnowledge conference. We’d intended to use an audience response system (aka ‘clickers’), but of course the technology didn’t work at that moment, so my colleagues (Frank Nguyen, Ann Kwinn, and Jim Javenkoski) and I winged it with questions from the audience.

Second Life came up a couple times. Joe Miller was the keynote on Wednesday, and in his far ranging and thoughtful presentation he reinforced my previous thoughts on what the fundamental learning affordances are, and helped illuminate a point that hadn’t really gelled for me.

Using Tony O’Driscoll’s diagram, he elaborated on the topic of the current state of virtual worlds. In 1995, when you first looked at HTML, did you have any idea that the web would grow to where it is today? The argument is similar for Second Life, in that the first generation of the web was “Democratization of Access”, where now anyone could find information. Web 2.0 is “Democratization of Collaboration”, where you can create, share, and comment. He called virtual worlds the “3D internet”, and here it’s the “Democratization of co-creation”.

Besides that, the panel still felt that it’s about socialization and spatial capabilities, and, as Frank said, that if your objectives didn’t match those, a virtual world wouldn’t need to be your solution. I also recited the barriers that Joe had mentioned – usability, download, and processing load -as a way to reinforce the point that there’s considerable initial investment, and I believe that such worlds make sense when you are intending to have a long-term in-world involvement.

Several questions danced around the relevance of instructional design and the teaching thereof. I pointed to the ongoing dialogs, and we generally agreed that the teaching wasn’t as aligned to real world practice as it could be, but, as Ann pointed out, ISD principles still apply (our brains haven’t changed).

Another question came out about the real world validity of Web 2.0. I cited an audiocast of a cutting edge project leader who used BaseCamp, Twitter, Deli.cio.us, IM, and more to keep his team aligned, and my own use of technologies to accomplish various business goals. Jim raised the point that Web 2.0 is a way to have the communication be two way, not just from the designers to the victims, er, learners.  These tools may initially take up extra time, but once ‘assimilated’, they are proving to be time-savers in productivity as well.

One individual pointed out how there seemed to be two camps of instructional technology: traditional eLearning which was instructivist and a second that was social. I agreed and pointed out how we really need to wrap instruction with collaboration from the get-go to help learners immediately recognize that dialog is part of the process and enculturate them into the community.

We also talked about the pragmatics of introductions of technology. To a question about moving the government along, I suggested that there’s a ‘late adopter’ advantage of avoiding mistakes (though I’m not so certain it’s strategy rather than inertia :), and that solid examples with ROI were the best leverage.

Another question on how to get people to use wikis seemed to suggest that in the particular instance, wikis were the wrong tool (the goal was capturing ‘stories’). As it pushed one of my hot buttons, I suggested that we should not forget to do a proper match between need and tool, nor forget older tools in the flush of new technologies; in this case a discussion list would probably be a better tool. However, my real answer is that when the need is a resource, a wiki can be a collaboratively improved resource and the way to get participation is to make sure the resource is valuable. I would add, now, that a session I heard indicated success in using incentives to get initial participation, and that may be pragmatic, if not principled ;).

Many thanks to the participants, I thought it was a nice way to cap off the conference.

28 February 2008

480 x 320 is the new 1024 x 768

Clark @ 11:21 pm

How do we achieve a balanced solution for mobile content and applications? The iPhone has really raised the bar for mobile web browsing, and most mobile devices will soon have high quality browsing even if the screen remains small. Similarly, the growth area in handhelds are so-called ‘converged’ devices: smartphones or wireless-enabled PDAs. Consequently, I propose it will be a plausible approach to start thinking of web apps as a delivery vehicle for mLearning.

Web standards for screen size started at 640 x 480, and have ranged through 800 x 600, to 1024 x 768. The iPhone has established a significant enough market presence to drive a variety of sites to create a version that accommodates the iPhone’s resolution of 480 x 320. Phones can go down to as low as 160 x 160, so that might be your lowest common denominator, but I believe a safe bet could be 320 x 240 which is fairly common on a variety of devices. The new 800 x 600?

The point being, that thinking about small web apps may be the cost-effective and logical approach to provide mobile access, content. 160 x 160 is the new 640 x 480, etc. Already there are blogging tools for phones/mobile devices, and wikis are just web pages, etc. Web 1.0 is likely to be a viable solution, and the convergence of Web 2.0 and mobile is a promising place to play. Anyone game?

26 February 2008

TechKnowledge 2008 kickoff

Clark @ 4:36 pm

TK08 kicked off on a fine note when NYTimes tech columnist David Pogue opened the conference. With humor and music (great takeoffs of famous songs to bemoan technologies problems, e.g. I Got an iPhone to the tune of I Did It My Way), he talked about several megatrends, which while not really new were well presented.

I was least impressed with Phone & Internet (VoIP), though I hadn’t known of Google Info (you can send text message to Google – 46645 – and get a google answer). He had a unique take on ubiquitous WiFi (e.g. we’ll be telling our kids “when we were kids we had to drive to the coffee shop to get to the internet”), and he ‘got’ the user-generated content movement that’s a significant part of Web 2.0. I was more impressed with the intersection of on-demand TV and movies (I think that while the MacBook Air is quite the coolest laptop out there, the more game-changing announcement at the MacWorld expo was iTunes movies via AppleTV).

Actually, the conference started for me the day before as I ran my simulation game design workshop, and then took off with some elearning gurus including Lance Dublin, Bob Mosher, Jim Javenkoski, and Michelle Lentz (who I hadn’t met before, though had read some of her writing; now in my blogroll) for some Unibroue tasting (yum!). Also in the ‘meeting folks’ section, today I met Karl Kapp, the author of Gadgets, Games, & Gizmos. I’d heard good things about him, and he’s weighed in insightfully on the previous learning theory for ID discussion (hey, he likes my post ;) . Also now in my blogroll.

A quick side note: at the Flying Saucer (venue) for the beer tasting, they have a local club for fans of their massive beer list.  There’s a computer and printer in a cabinet that people queue up to, enter a beer (or several) identifier, and take away a printed list of tasting notes to match with the beer they order.  A whole different form of eLearning, but valuable!

All in all, a good start to what’s looking to be a good conference. Looking forward to Joe Miller‘s presentation tomorrow!

25 February 2008

Making Peace

Clark @ 4:41 am

My colleague/friend/mentor Jim Schuyler has a new post talking about an interactive mobile art project, Making Peace. Jim’s been developing a system architecture that integrates web, mobile, fax, etc to support creating ubiquitous games.

The technology is rich with opportunity, and his creativity has led to some really varied and interesting applications. In my mobile workshop and presentations I use several examples I’ve participated in with him or he’s done on his own including: a sales game demo, his mobile art hunts, and also a game for the Institute For The Future.

Since he’s CTO of the Dalai Lama Foundation, he does related work, hence this art installation. If you want to get an outside-the-box mobile experience, I recommend you join in, particularly if you’re in the Bay Area and can see the associated installation at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

21 February 2008

MMORPGs as Learning Environments

Clark @ 4:17 am

I was recently part of a PhD thesis project that asked some folks to do a Delphi process about the educational use of MMORPGs. It was interesting, and of course thought-provoking, and now it’s done I can talk about it.

Beyond the obvious benefits of a potentially motivating context for learners, and commitment by the learner to the extent they’ve customized the experience, there were some deeper issues. However, there appeared to be assumptions that it had to be massively multiplayer, and that existing such games would be used, as opposed to designing ones with specific characteristics to work with a selected cohort of learners. So we can first talk about those assumptions, and then move beyond.

One obvious concern is that in an existing environment, there are no specific learning affordances other than the game mechanics (which may not have much social benefit: there are little benefits to beating up kobolds outside the game environment). Now, some of the game mechanics may have transfer, particularly social ones, c.f. the leadership skills purportedly developed in World of Warcraft, so there are reasons. And, of course, you can always talk about learning in such environments.

The flip side of the social environment is the possibility for inappropriate social activities that can happen in real life, e.g. bullying, but this is not unique to the online learning environment and merely needs the same approaches of education and monitoring that you’d want in real life.

Now, if you can design characteristics of the environment, such as the ability to build things (e.g. as in Second Life, where you can do 3D modeling, but it’s not a game), and you can create the context and task for learners, you can embed specific learning outcomes into the environment (you know that designed learning environments is what I’m about).

Of course, I’ve also mostly been about individual learning experiences, and have argued that unless you’ve social learning objectives, there’s not a principled reason to build social games. However, that is neglecting the benefits of collaboratively problem-solving (though it can be done by post=game reflection), which often has great learning benefits (e.g. social learning theory: Bandura, Vygotsky, etc).

One of the big themes that emerged that I hadn’t really tweaked to but now embrace is that such environments may foster 21st century skills. Such environments naturally include communication and collaboration, and could easily be augmented.

And, of course, one of the challenges even if we could develop and deploy these is ensuring that mentors or teachers are capable of scaffolding the learning from these environments. That, I think, is a 21st century skill needed now amongst educators, and it still needs to be developed (and motivated and rewarded!).

It’s pleasing to see these explorations, and here’s hoping there’s more.

20 February 2008

Context is king

Clark @ 5:33 pm

In two recent readings, I’ve seen people miss one of the essences of mobile. In the New Media Consortium Horizon report (which has some pretty good points about collective intelligence, collaboration webs, and social operating systems), they talked about mobile broadband and how people are connecting. Which isn’t wrong, but incomplete. In the other, the author mentioned using mobile while waiting for the bus, and further cited a work that insisted people doing mobile learning ‘on the go’ won’t do deep reflection.

In both instances, the authors are first making the assumption that mobile devices are about reaching out to people and content while out and about. That’s fine; in training, huge amounts of effort is spent to reproduce a performance context so we can wrap learning around it. In mobile learning, if someone’s performing, they can wrap information and guidance around that performance to turn it into a learning experience.

And that can be a reflective experience. Here I am on a plane, writing my blog, which is a reflective experience. The author missed that on the bus is also a mobile learning opportunity. If you can prompt, or capture, a reflective thought anytime, you can get deep reflection.

But the point I want to make is that one of the other opportunities is ‘context-sensitive’ learning. That can be where you are, using your current location to connect you to some available resource that connects with a learning goal (Jim Schuyler at Red7 has a nice example of a puzzle hunt that leads you around the Yerba Buena Gardens outdoor sculpture collection). It can also, and this is something I’m quite keen on and yet haven’t seen people really take up, do something for when you are, not just where you are. For example, knowing that you’re in a meeting with a vendor might trigger a system to deliver some negotiating tips, or refresh some negotiation content you’ve recently viewed.

When I naively wrote about mobile learning in 2000, I admit I missed the context-sensitive opportunities (I wrote “Soon there will be essentially no distinction between mLearning and elearning”), but it is more than seven years later!  I hope you’ll be looking at the broader mobile opportunities, rather than limiting yourself to courses on phones.

16 February 2008

Future Strategy

Clark @ 2:47 pm

Jay Cross has started talking about a rethink on what ‘management’ is about. He’s spot on that focusing on execution is not sufficient, and it’s got to be about “giving everyone a voice, experiment often, power comes from below, communities are self-defining, decisions are peer-based, and just about everything is decentralized”. I think it’s fair to say that ‘administering’ business (hence the MBA) isn’t the way forward.

He then goes on to talk about the implications for training departments. His take is that “ISD lacks the framework to invent non-learning solutions. Meta-learning and flexible infrastructure are becoming more important than individual topics.” I’m a fan of meta-learning, and what he then talks about is really filling what Jay calls the ‘learnscape’, with opportunities to learn, to collaborate, and more. It’s not the LMS (see Will Thalheimer’s recent piece), it’s a whole suite of resources, channels, and more.

On ITFORUM, George Siemens just concluded a discussion about his connectivist model of learning, and how the networks are in our head and external, and that learning will be building and exploiting those networks external to augment what we know to solve new problems. Our notion of ID will be much broader than course design if it’s to succeed; we have to be about supporting people through their own learning. I was thinking the ‘training’ department of today will need to be the ‘learning partner’ of tomorrow, helping others develop resources, mentoring discussions, finding new tools.

That’s what I’m trying to help organizations do: see the bigger picture, take responsibility for the full performance ecosystem, and move to a more enlightened approach to learning and, consequently, business. It’s not only doable, it’s really the only option, don’t you think?

15 February 2008

Theory foundations for ISD?

Clark @ 11:25 am

Cammy Bean is having an interesting dialog with John Curry on whether you need to know the underlying theories of ISD to do effective design. He’s revising his thinking on whether theory is useful, having initially come from that viewpoint. He says:

“Theoretical instructional design needs to mirror practical instructional design more. And when it does, and as our field shifts to more designers-by-assignment, then we’ll be on to something important.”

Cammy’s view is:

“I’ve heard of some of these theories and theoreticians. I’ve even read about some of them. I actually have some books on my shelf that cover these topics. Admittedly, I may not have read all of the books. Do you think it matters?”

Well, here’s my response. I don’t think you need to know all the different theories, but you do need to know the deeper implications for design. If you don’t understand from Spiro’s Cognitive Flexibility Theory when and why multiple concept representations are useful, you might miss helping your learners to comprehend and apply the principle. If you haven’t seen the intersection of Schoenfeld’s work as captured in Cognitive Apprenticeship with Sweller’s Cognitive Load theory, your examples might miss essential components in linking the concept to the context.

I don’t think you need them all, as there’s considerable overlap, but you do need an exposure to at least a ‘reader’s digest’ approach (not to mischaracterize the work, but I like Michael Allen’s Guide to eLearning as such, at least specific to elearning; or my own PDF, though overly simplified).  Of course, you have to find a good approach that does integrate the nuances, and I’m not confident any one is really sufficient, and you do really need to know in some depth how the mind learns to make smart inferences in the ‘gaps’.  You don’t have to read Vygotsky in the original Russian, but what you can not do, and I see all too often, is follow a cookie-cutter approach which says “I have to have an introduction, concept, example, …”, and then write one of each without understanding what are the key principles behind each of those elements.

The benefit of the Master’s is the chance to get to know the theories (depending on the program and instructor). The pedagogy for the course should include applying the theories to pragmatic design, not just reciting back the contents (I used to use RFP’s asking for designs or redesigns using the theories). It’s not the only way, but being familiar enough with the underlying principles to be able to adapt the design to match the circumstances is important. What I believe doesn’t work are ad hoc approaches based upon ‘experience’ and feedback. Learners don’t necessarily know what’s best for them versus what really works, so you need more than level 1 feedback.

Note that Cammy is a ‘reflective practitioner’ to use Schön’s term, as she reads and reflects on what she does. That’s why she’s effectively done her own ‘masters’ in learning/ISD. So, I’m not comfortable with trusting experience over time to yield competent results, I think it takes someone being an ongoing learner. That’s easier in a well-designed program, though the caveat is that all programs are not necessarily well-designed.

And I realize that there are pragmatic constraints, but I trust someone who understands the roles of the elements to make a better judgment about how to achieve the goal on limited resources rather than someone who’s not understanding the deeper principles. If your learning matters, that is. But if it doesn’t, why bother?

14 February 2008

Learning tools

Clark @ 4:50 pm

It’s been getting a wee bit crazy, and will be for at least the next two weeks (apologies in advance if my posts get sparse). Today I began the morning talking to our local elementary school teachers at their staff development day as a consequence of offering to assist in their technology efforts and a welcome reception by the principal. A really committed principal and great staff working in the context of a woeful funding situation and inadequate tech support…

My role was to provide some big picture guidance which then would spark their working sessions around technology. We started with the latest incarnation of the Shift Happens 2 video to set the stage. I then presented a bit of my strange and twisted background before going through some thoughts on curriculum, pedagogy, and technology (nothing new to regular readers of this blog).

Interestingly, I talked afterwards to one of their many bright lights (the designated technology coach), and when I said (as before) that they shouldn’t be teaching the apps, but talking about goals (represent your hypothesis) and giving the kids reference cards, she had an interesting response. She said she’d tried that, and some kids were left helpless. 4th graders!

This, I admit, boggled my mind. I know I’m an idealist and optimist (much of the time :), but this is a pretty good school. I don’t know if their parents aren’t using tech (which is the situation in some of our families), or that they’re not seeing tech sufficiently in earlier grades (which also happens to some extent). I suggested that the approach allows the teacher to work with those who are having trouble with the steps, and that even other students who did get it could help, but it felt a bit weak.

In retrospect, I think it argues even more strongly that the approach I suggest should be used, but much earlier! Perhaps the teaching can and should be how to use references to learn to things with technology tools, not just how to save a file, but instead, when your goal is to do x (e.g. save a file), how to look up x in the reference card and follow the steps.

Which mimics my overall response which is that in this age of increasing knowledge and knowledge change, we need to be modeling, and equipping our learners to, use resources to solve problems, not to learn specifics that will soon be out of date.

I confess I’m not steeped enough in this particular literature, so I’ll have to do some searching, but as I told them, I don’t have answers but I’m happy to work with them to figure the answers out. Which pretty much overextends out my philanthropy bandwidth, but some things are just too important! Fingers crossed.

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