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

31 March 2009

Live Long

Clark @ 1:32 pm

The controversy surrounding the formal/informal roles has suddenly created a flurry of excitement around a post on eLearn Mag.  However, I’ve addressed it over at the TogetherLearn site, as it seemed somewhat appropriate to respond from the perspective of a champion of social and informal learning.

In short, I point to the issues covered in the Broken ID series, and say that formal instruction isn’t the greatest thing to champion in it’s current form.  It may persist, but hopefully in a far better state than most formal we see today.  No one’s championing the demise of formal, but certainly improvement, and in conjunction with informal, not as a single solution.

29 March 2009

Dispositions of Productive Inquiry

Clark @ 6:41 am

In my last post, I referenced John Seely Brown’s mention of dispositions, and I think it’s worthwhile to try to represent and discuss his point here, as it’s relevant to social learning, organizational culture, and success, topics I’ve mentioned in the past.

In The Power of Dispositions, JSB & Douglas Thomas (Ubiquity) argue that we need more than skills for 21st century education.  They suggest that there exists an innate disposition of productive inquiry, an inclination (in particular contexts) to engage in a continual cycle of questioning and answering that leads the individual through a process of ongoing learning.  It’s about knowing, not about knowledge.  They suggest: “more basic than a skill; it is an embodied element of how we understand and perceive the world”.

They argue that by placing questions of meaning, and focusing on contexts and inquiry rather than content and results, we make environments conducive to these dispositions.  Naturally, some of their observations are based in computer games, where I’ve argued contextualized challenge creates the most meaningful exploration and, consequently, learning.

I believe there’s something fundamental here, but am also left a bit dissatisfied, as there’s no obvious prescription, and I’m impatient to change the world.  However, I have to agree that what I see in the schooling my children face, specifically in the transition to middle school, is that the teachers are not providing any context about why it’s important, nor working to make it meaningful, and focusing on product and not process.  (This is true of too much of our learning, organizational as well.)

I do believe that if we put up interesting challenges and support the process of exploration we can make more meaningful learning, and if that leads to a development of disposition, we’ve had a good outcome.  I certainly know that we need to make our learning more meaningful, even when the outcome is known, if we want it to stick.  That we could create a culture of productive and continual inquiry, however, is the bigger opportunity on the table, for schools, organizations, and society.  And that’s worth shooting for.

28 March 2009

Transformative Experience Design

Clark @ 12:15 pm

As part of the continual rethink about what I offer and to who (e.g. training department rethinks to managers, directors, VPs; experience design reviews/refines to learning teams), my thoughts on learning experience design took a leap.  I’ve argued that the skills in Engaging Learning (my book) are the ones that are critical for Pine & Gilmore’s next step beyond their experience economy, the transformative experience economy. But I’ve started to think deeper.

John Seely Brown challenged us at the Learning Irregulars meeting that what fundamentally made a difference was a ‘questing disposition’ found in certain active learning communities.  This manifests as an orientation to experimentation and learning. My curiosity was whether it was capable of being developed, as I’m loath to think that the 10% that learn despite schooling :) is inflexible because I believe that more and better learning has a chance to change our world for the better.

I hadn’t finished the article he subsequently sent me (coming soon), but it drove me back to some early thinking on attitude change.  I recognize that just learning skills aren’t enough, and that a truly transformative experience subjectively needs to result in a changed worldview, a feeling of new perspectives.  This could be a change in attitude, a new competency, or a fundamental change in perspective.

Which brings me back to looking at myth and ritual, something I tried to get my mind around before. I was looking for the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Ritual, and the closest thing I could find is Rapport’s Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity, which is almost impenetrably dense (and I’m trained and practiced at reading academic prose!).  However, the takeaway is that ritual is hard to design, most artificial attempts fail miserably.

Others have suggested that transformation is at core about movement, which takes me back to ritual.  Both a search on transformation and a twitter response brought that element to the surface.  The other element that the search found was spirituality (not just religious).  Which is not surprising, but not necessarily useful.

Naturally, I fall back to thinking from the perspective of creating an experience that will yield that transformational aesthetic, but it’s grounded in intuition rather than any explicit guidance. Still, I think there’s something necessary in the perspective that skills alone isn’t enough, and as I said before, as much of our barriers may be attitude or motivation as knowledge and skills.

I’ve skimmed ahead in JSB’s article, and can see I need a followup post, but in the interim, I’d welcome your thoughts on designing truly transformative experiences, not just learning experiences.

26 March 2009

Learning irregularly

Clark @ 3:42 pm

I’ve affiliated with the Learning Irregulars, (“committed to making the world a better place by accelerating innovation in organizational learning. We are open, inquisitive, non-profit, impatient, and feisty”)  As our first public outing, we held a meeting this week.

The approach we’re taking for now is that we conduct activities, like meetings, webinars, and the like, asking interesting and important questions, making them public and collecting artifacts including pictures, reflections, etc. that we also make available. I like to think of it as ‘learning out loud’.  We’re looking to create a dialog around how to accelerate (and improve) organizational learning.

I conducted the part of the meeting where we told stories, and I’ve written those up over at the site. There were some interesting themes that emerged about how we’re not facing up to the large problems that confront us, though there are some great ideas that we really need to take advantage of.  Some great memes included ‘positive deviance’ and ‘questing disposition’.

I’ll quote here the takehome that I took from the meeting:

There was some consistency about needing to be more open and flatter, less hierarchical, that we could learn much from other areas in many ways …, and that we need to provide tools, models, ideas, and examples.

There should (fingers crossed) be an archive of the meeting, and we’ll be holding more.  Stay tuned!  I welcome your thoughts.

23 March 2009

A positive direction

Clark @ 2:58 pm

After having been on the board of a not-for-profit (NFP) for several years, essentially because they’re in education and weren’t using technology, we’re finally seeing some progress.  An update call today with their internal IT strategy team had me finally feeling like we’d turned the corner.

It’s taken several steps, as just advocating wasn’t enough.  While I had to educate some of the board, they were supportive enough, but it wasn’t enough to penetrate the leadership of the NFP.  An outside initiative that would’ve made significant progress didn’t occur, but raised enough awareness that things got easier.  Along the way, several initiatives were started, but lost focus and died.

The final step was the Board finally choosing to have, as one of it’s standing committees, an IT Committee.  For obvious sins, I chair the Board’s IT committee, and raised the NFP’s awareness that the Board was serious. Finally, the Board’s IT committee asked the NFP to create an IT Strategy, and that catalyzed effective action.  It took some work to get them to identify what an IT strategy should be (despite resources like TechSoup, though their original good document disappeared), but led to them hiring a key person, and things have really turned around.

A team of young folks along with the existing IT staff, savvy and scattered around the NFP have been selected to lead the initiative.  They’re thinking strategically now, and today on the phone talked about the success one portal is having, about their three phase plan to redevelop the website and IT infrastructure, and their thinking about how to leverage technology more effectively.

I really felt that they’re finally pulling a) together and b) in the right direction.  I can’t take credit for it happening, but I reckon I played a role in catalyzing the work and in coaching the direction, and it’s wonderful to see the outcomes.  It’s been frustrating at times as it seems to have taken so long, but my learning is that these things take time when you don’t have direct control.

The nice thing is that the culture of the NFP is positive and supportive of learning, it’s just that they’ve been so successful with the old model that it’s hard to see a need to change.  But change happens, and fortunately it’s happening here, now.

There’ll be some missteps, undoubtedly, and some waste of effort, but I do believe they’re on the right path. Now, to get the Board to start using IT more effectively…

22 March 2009

Monday Broken ID Series: Process

Clark @ 9:03 am

Previous Series Post

This is the last formal post in a series of thoughts on some broken areas of ID that I’ve been posting for Mondays.  The intention is to provide insight into many ways much of instructional design fails, and some pointers to avoid the problems. The point is not to say ‘bad designer’, but instead to point out how to do better design.

We’ve been talking about lots of ways instructional design can be wrong, but if that’s the case, the process we’re using must be broken too.  If we’re seeing cookie-cutter instructional design, we must not be starting from the right point, and we must be going about it wrong.

Realize that the difference between really good instructional design, and ordinary or worse, is subtle.  Way too often I’ve had the opportunity to view seemingly well-produced elearning that I’ve been able to dismantle systematically and thoroughly.  The folks were trying to do a good job, and companies had paid good money and thought they got their money’s worth.  But they really hadn’t.

It’d be easy to blame the problems on tight budgets and schedules, but that’s a cop-out.  Good instructional design doesn’t come from big budgets or unlimited timeframes, it comes from knowing what you’re doing.  And it’s not following the processes that are widely promoted and taught.

You know what I’m talking about – the A-word, that five letter epithet – ADDIE.  Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation.  A good idea, with good steps, but with bad implementation.  Let me take the radical extreme: we’re better off tossing out the whole thing rather than continue to allow the abominations committed under that banner.

OK, now what am I really talking about?  I was given a chance to look at an organization’s documentation of their design process.  It was full of taxonomies, and process, and all the ID elements.  And it led to boring, bloated content.  If you follow all the procedures, without a deep understanding of the underpinnings that make the elements work, and know what can be finessed based upon the audience, and add the emotional elements that instructional design largely leaves out (with the grateful exception of Keller’s ARCS model).

The problem is that more people are doing design than have sufficient background, as Cammy Bean’s survey noted.  Not that you have to have a degree, but you do have to have the learning background to understand the elements behind the processes.  Folks are asked to become elearning designers and yet haven’t really had the appropriate training.

Blind adherence to ADDIE will, I think, lead to more boring elearning than someone creative taking their best instincts about how to get people to learn.  Again, Cathy Moore’s Action Mapping is a pretty good shortcut that I’ll suggest will lead to better outcomes than ADDIE.

Which isn’t to say that following ADDIE when you know what you’re doing, and have a concern for the emotional and aesthetic side (or a team with same), won’t yield a good result, it will.  And, following ADDIE likely will yield something that’s pretty close to effective, but it’s so likely to be undermined by the lack of engagement, that there’s a severe worry.

And, worse, there’s little in their to ensure that the real need is met, asking the designer to go beyond what the SME and client tells you and ensure that the behavior change is really what’s needed.  The Human Performance Improvement model actually does a better job at that, as far as I can tell.

It’s not hard to fix up the problem.  Start by finding out what significant decision-making change will impact the organization or individual, and work backward from there, as the previous posts have indicated. I don’t mean to bash ADDIE, as it’s conceptually sound from a cognitive perspective, it just doesn’t extend far enough pragmatically in terms of focusing on the right thing, and it errs too much on the side of caution instead of focusing on the learner experience.It’s not clear to me that ADDIE will even advocate a job aid, when that’s all that’s needed (and I’m willing to be wrong).

Our goal is to make meaningful change, and that’s what we need to do.  I hope this series will enable you to do more meaningful design.  There may be more posts, but I’ve exhausted my initial thoughts, so we’ll see how it goes.

21 March 2009

Cultural success

Clark @ 8:12 am

I’ve been a wee bit busy this week, engaged on two different initiatives involved in improving what the organizations are doing. The interesting bit was that there were two widely different cultures, and yet each was successful.  How could that be?

Normally, we look at the elements of successful learning cultures as providing safety and reward for contributing, acceptance of diversity, and other dimensions.  It’s easy to imagine that this results in a relatively homogeneous outcome, which, while certainly desirable, might seem bland.  However, the two juxtaposed experiences demonstrated that this is definitely not the case.

In one, there’s definitely a feeling of responsible progress, but it’s a very supportive environment, and while there’s gentle teasing, it’s a very warm and fuzzy place, self-described by the leader.  This leader has some clear ideas, but is very collaborative in getting input in what goals to choose and more so in how to get there.  It’s necessary in the community in which they play, but it works.  People are clear about where they’re going, and feel supported in getting there in reasonable steps.

The other culture is similarly committed to quality, but the leader has a much different personality. Instead of warm and fuzzy, there’s much more attitude and edge.  The comments are more pointed, but it’s even more self-directed than other directed, and is taken as well as given. It’s more lively, probably not quite as ‘safe’, but also probably a bit more fun.  It’s probably more suited to the entrepreneurial nature of the organization than the previous more institutional approach.

Yet both are in continual processes of improvement; in both cases my role was to add the outside knowledge of learning and technology in their self-evaluation.  It’s a pleasure to work with organizations that are serious about improvement, and eager to include the necessary input to get there.

My take-home is that there are lots of different ways organizations can be functional, as well as dysfunctional.  It doesn’t take much more than commitment to move from the latter to the former, and the leader’s style can be different, as long as it’s consistent, appropriate, and successful.  Definitely a nice thing to learn.

20 March 2009

Meeting unreasonable needs

Clark @ 10:41 am

I was contacted yesterday by a relatively new ID person, who was in a tough spot.  This person understood the principles of Tony Karrer’s “Before You Ask” post, as the situation was well laid out.  Some help was asked for (clearly no expectation other than, perhaps, a thoughtful reply; the circumstances were quite clear).

The situation is that this person is the support for an LMS across multiple geographic locations.  The ID was hired to do ‘training’ on the system, but access to SMEs is limited at beast, the uses in the different contexts were different enough that a course model isn’t a viable solution, yet this person wasn’t clear on what alternatives to take: “I am beginning to think that the position is flawed in its design.”

For what it’s worth, here’s what I replied (slightly modified for clarity and anonymity):

First, I’d offer a pointer to John Carroll’s minimalist instruction (via “The Nurnberg Funnel”).  He taught a word processing system via a set of cards that trumped the instructionally designed manual by focusing on the learners’ existing knowledge and goals.  It’d be one way to ‘teach photography’ instead of ‘the camera’.

Of course, I also recommend teaching ‘the model’, not the software *nor* the task. That is, what is the LMS’s underlying model, and how does it lead you to predict how to do x, y, and z.  If you can teach the model, and through a couple of examples and practice get them to be able to infer how to do other tasks, you’ve minimized ‘training’ and maximized their long-term success.  Your lack of access to SMEs means you have to become one, however, I reckon.  Doing good ID does mean more responsibility on the designer in any case.  Sorry.

On top of either approach (common tasks, or model-based learning) consider that your role is to put out some basic materials (don’t think training, think job aids), and then serve as a ‘consultant’.  Have them come to you to ask how to do things, and either create FAQ’s or more job aids, depending on their need and your assessment of the value proposition in either.  So don’t think your only solution is ‘training’.

Also consider gestating a ‘community’ to surround your wiki, and grow it into a self-help resource that people can get into to the level they can handle.  Have discussion board where people can post questions. You’ll be busy at first, but if they find value, it can grow to be self-sustaining.  People will often self-help, if it’s easy enough.

BTW, another organization had some success many years ago starting with a central office, bringing in and training local ‘champions’ who gradually moved the locus of responsibility back to their unit.  Of course, they got buy-in to do so, but you might try to work with your early adopters and help them become the local resources.

Overall, don’t try to accomplish everything with ‘the course’, but look to the broader range of performance ecosystem components (if you’ve followed my blog, you know I’m talking job aids, ecommunity, etc) and balance your efforts appropriately.

The response was that this was, indeed, helpful.  I feel for the person in the situation of having to do a particular role when the ‘received wisdom’ about how to do it is at odds with what really is useful, and is underresourced to boot. A too-frequent situation, and probably not decreasing, sigh.  But taking the broader performance perspective is a useful framework I also found useful in another recent engagement, professional development for teachers.  Don’t just worry about getting them the basics, and develop them as practitioners, even into experts, as well.  Moreover, help them help themselves!

This is just the type of situation where taking a step back and looking at what is being done can yield ways to rethink, or even just fine-tune the approach.  I typically find that it’s the case that there *are* such opportunities, and it’s an easy path to better outcomes.  Of course, I also find that years of experience and a wealth of relevant frameworks makes that easier ;).  What is your experience in adapting to circumstances and improving situations?

16 March 2009

Do what you love, love what you do

Clark @ 4:00 am

For the Working/Learning blog carnival, the topic is, as always, “work at learning, learning at work”.  Last time I participated (almost a year ago), I talked about how learning should be fun, so you shouldn’t be working at at, it really should be ‘hard fun’.  I want to expand on that topic, as there are probably characteristics that make it fun or not.

Most people who have hobbies invest time and money in equipment, practice, learning, and more. If you love what you do, it’s as much avocation as vocation, learning about it should be fun.  You’ll naturally be tapping into how to continue to learn.

For example, I love what I do, so I was thrilled to be able to follow the eLearning Guild‘s recent conference through Twitter (great as always, apparently); in particular Craig Wiggins, Eric Wilbanks, and heroically, John Zurovchak were really tracking the sessions they were in, bringing the content out and even bringing our queries in.  Their passion showed through, and fanned mine.

Of course, if you don’t love what you do (you work to live, as they say), there’s a different situation. Ideally, at least you’re doing something you prefer, and you just need to tap into the elements you like as motivation.  Frankly, while it should be incumbent on learning designers to help make it motivating, it’s also incumbent on the learner to take responsibility for learning too.  We, as learning folks, can’t make anyone learn, we can only create conditions for learning.

We should, however, be sensitive, and help our learners tap into their inner motivation, take responsibility for learning, and develop their abilities to learn.  If we do that, we’ve helped make it so you’re not working at learning, just learning and working.

15 March 2009

Monday Broken ID Series: Seriation

Clark @ 12:19 pm

Previous Series Post | Last Series Post

This is one in a series of thoughts on some broken areas of ID that I’ve been posting for Mondays.  The intention is to provide insight into many ways much of instructional design fails, and some pointers to avoid the problems. The point is not to say ‘bad designer’, but instead to point out how to do better design.

Instructional design has established that the correct order of elements is introduction – concept – example – practice (and feedback) – summary.  While that’s a good default, it doesn’t have to be that way, and there are times when it makes sense to provide other approaches or even self-navigation.  What we shouldn’t see is the prevalent (click to advance ‘next’ button), with linear navigation forwards and back.  Or, rather, we shouldn’t see that without some other support.  And more.

mediaskillsnavWhen we did a course on speaking to the media (and without an LMS to handle the navigation, so no built-in ‘next button’), we had a scheme that both provided a good default, and allowed self-navigation.  We had the elements of each of the 3 modules labeled from a learner perspective (e.g. Show Me, Let Me). And we had a nav bar in the upper left that let you choose where to go. At the bottom of the screen (we erred for scrolling rather than one page to minimize clicks and load times, this was over 10 years ago) were also some options of where to go next, with one indicated as the recommended choice.  We graphically supported this with a dotted  line leading the learner through the content and to the default choice (follow the bouncing ball).

Was there benefit from this?  Anecdotaly, I heard (I’d returned to the US) that about half the users followed the bouncing ball, but the other half (presumably the self-capable learners) took the initiative for their own learning and used the nav bar to go where and when *they* wanted to.  I note that UNext/Cardean had a similar nav structure at one time.

Now, you may have heard of case-, problem- or project-based learning. In this case, before you present the concept, you present either an example (a case-study) or a problem.  These serve as the introduction, but are attuned to different ways of learning.

If you buy into some of the learning style models, they have cycles through different learning approaches, but recognize that different learners could prefer to start in different areas.  That was the premise that drove at least part of the strategy behind the adaptive learning system project I led from 1999-2001. We had the system  recommend a path, and alternatives, but it was based upon who they were as a learner.

It turns out that some learners could prefer an example first, that links concept to context, some prefer problems first, to get concrete about what the situation’s about, and some might prefer a more typical approach.  We didn’t have all the answers at the time, but we had a good set of rules, and were going to extract better ones as we went along.

The point is, while a good default is a reasonable choice, having some alternative paths might be worth considering, and allowing learner navigation is almost essential.    Allowing learners to test out is a good option as well.  Don’t lock your learners into a linear experience, unless you’ve really designed it as an experience, focusing on the overall flow and testing and refining until your learners tell you it is an experience.  And I do recommend that, it’s not as tough as it sounds.  However, don’t take just the easy default, learners prefer and deserve choice.  So consider some alternative pedagogies, consider the learner, and think outside the line.

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