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

27 June 2009

Artifacts of reflection

Clark @ 3:48 pm

The other day John Ittelson stopped by for a visit.  I think of him as the guru of video usage in elearning, not least because of the recording studio he built in his house!  He mentioned his use of Flip camcorders, and finally a piece clicked into place that had been floating around in my thoughts.

Media PropertiesI’ve had a slight blindspot for photos and video because I peg the ‘conceptual’ meter. I recognize the value, though I don’t play with the files enough (tho’ I took a digital audio/video editing course more than a decade ago, and recently edited home videos for my wife’s birthday).  Photos and videos are really good for contextualizing, and that’s particularly valuable for examples (and practice).

The revelation was about the value of having learners capture information in situ, and sharing this for a variety of reflective opportunities.  The information captured can be performances, products, whatever.  It could also be interviews, or thoughts.

A colleague’s wife used to take an iPod with a microphone to conduct interviews.  Gina Schreck discussed giving groups of employees Flips to make videos of what their business unit does for the org, to share.  John mentioned capturing samples of teaching to share.  Having captures of actual practice is a valuable tool around which to scaffold discussion, and a powerful tool for reflection.  You can capture someone’s stories of best practices, or your own performance to review.

Note that making both other’s and personal captures available opens up the opportunity to learn more with and from others than your own reflective observations will provide, if you can be that open.  As a learning facilitator, you should provide ways for individuals and groups to capture and share thoughts, actions, events, and more.

One of the powerful things in digital performance environments (read: games, er, immersive learning simulations, and virtual worlds as was part of the discussion the other day) is the ability to capture records of action for review, too.  So look at ways to digitally track activity in learning environments (another reason to make the alternative to the right choice to be a reliable misconception!).

Reflection is powerful, and digital tools give us ways to truly leverage that power.  Reflect on that!

24 June 2009

Rethinking Virtual Worlds

Clark @ 11:10 am

I guess I have a visceral aversion to hype, because my initial reaction to ‘buzz’ is focusing in on the core affordances and disparaging mistaken uses of a new technology.  However, I do eventually open to taking advantage of the affordances in new ways. Case in point: learning styles.  I pointed out the flaws in the thinking several times, and then rethought them (without removing my previous views, I looked for the positive opportunities).  Now, preparing for a presentation, I’m rethinking some of my stances on learning in virtual worlds.

I’ve previously opined that there are two key affordances in virtual worlds: the spatial and the social, and that the technical overheads mean that unless there’s a long term relationship, the associated costs really argue that you should be hitting both.  I’m not changing that, but I was wondering what we might do if we did try to leverage those key affordances deliberately to support learning.

Taking a slightly cheeky approach, and quite willing to discredit presenting powerpoint presentations ‘in world’, I’ve tried to think through some subordinary, ordinary, and potentially extraordinary approaches to learning in a virtual world.  That is, opening learners up both cognitively and emotionally, presenting concepts, having examples available, creating meaningful practice, and scaffolding reflection.  What might we do?

Starting with pedagogy, I think a standard instructional design (read: presentations) is clearly subordinary.  An ordinary pedagogy might be a problem-based approach, but a really extraordinary approach might be to create a full immersive storyline in which the problem is embedded, turning it into a game world: a World of LearnCraft.  The idea is to mimic more closely the urgency typically felt when applying the knowledge in the real world (where it counts) by creating a similarly meaningful storyline to develop the associated motivation.  Then embedding resources in the story would scaffold the learning.  Of course, what I’m really talking about is game design ;).

Working with concepts, just presenting them is subordinary. Ordinary would be having them explorable, mapping them out in space, maybe with a scavenger hunt asking learners to find answers to questions embodied in the model.  A truly extraordinary approach would be to have the learners co-create the concept representation, using the collaborative creation capability available at least in Second Life.

Just having a poster for an example seems subordinary.  Having an example ‘gallery’, where you can examine the problem, the approach, and the results would be an ordinarily good approach. Ideally, the example could have the conceptual model layered on top of the decisions, mapping them to represent how th concept played out in context.  Beyond that, however, having the example be truly exploratory, where you could make certain decisions and see how they play out, and being able to backtrack (particularly with annotation about the mistakes the original team made) would be really extraordinary.

Practice is where we can and should be looking to games.  While having a quiz would be truly subordinary (if not maniacally mistaken), having a problem to solve ‘in world’ would be an ordinary approach. Again, having the problem be situated in a storyline, as the overall pedagogy, would be truly meaningful.  It’s easiest if the task is inherently spatial and social, but we certainly can benefit from the immersion, and building in social learning components can lead to powerful outcomes.

I’m somewhat concerned about trying to make reflection ‘in world’, because it’s inherently an ‘immediate’ environment.  It’s synchronous, and it’s been documented where normally reflective kids can go all ‘twitch’ in a digital environment.  It may be that reflection is ‘best’ when kept out of the world.  But for the sake of argument, let’s consider external reflection to be subordinary, and consider what might be ordinary and extraordinary.  Surely, having an ‘in-world’ but ‘post-experience’ discussion would be the ordinary approach.  Again, co-creating a representation of the underlying model guiding performance would be a really powerful reflective opportunity.

You still want to make some very basic learning decisions about virtual worlds.  If you don’t have an inherent expectation that there’s a long-term relationship with the world, the technical and learning overheads to facility in using the world would clearly suggest that you should seriously ensure that the payoff is worth it (like if the learning outcome is inherently spatial and social) and otherwise consider alternatives.  After that, you want to ensure that you’ve got meaningful practice.  That’s your assessment component, and you do want them applying the knowledge.  I suppose you could have the world be for concepts and examples, and have practice in some other format, but I admit I’m not sure why.  Around the practice, figure out how to embed concept and example resources. Finally, seriously reflect on how you support reflection for your learners.

Serious learning can and does happen in virtual worlds, but to make it happen systematically is a matter of design, not just the platform.  Fair enough?

22 June 2009

Mistakes and easy steps to ‘the next level’

Clark @ 10:33 am

One of my clients told me I helped him take his elearning to the ‘next level’.  I like that, naturally (it’s certainly my aim), but I started thinking what that means, practically.  More importantly, at many levels there are easy steps to the ‘next level’.  So where do people go wrong and what are the associated opportunities?

One of the mistakes I see is ‘cookie cutter’ instructional design. I’ve rarely found an elearning course that wasn’t flawed, and there has typically been a reliable pattern in execution that can be remedied fairly systematically with a straightforward approach.  I wrote the whole ‘broken ID‘ blog series around it, but that was at the very specific design level.  At the organizational level, what’s a firm to do?  It’s about updating the design team understanding (workshop) and reviewing the design process (templates).  It may also take a stronger attitude with stakeholders about meaningful outcomes (strategy update).

Another mistake I see is a limited technology repertoire.  Many organizations are ignoring the opportunities afforded by the proliferation of mobile devices.  Folks have them, but organizations aren’t capitalizing, and for the wrong reasons.  Sure, the different platforms have different standards, but this is more a barrier at the top end, not the entry level (and those problems are going away as certain areas are getting easier).  There are some low-hanging fruit at the ‘making existing material available’ and at the ‘easy development of custom application’ levels.  Taking the time to develop a mobile strategy is a small investment with a potentially large payoff.

A further mistake is not recognizing the need for organizations to go beyond formal training and deliberately start supporting informal learning.  With training budgets shrinking, it just amazes me how many units are still taking the ‘we do courses’ approach and missing out on the bigger picture.  With my TogetherLearn colleagues, we’ve been on about this, and again, the development of a social media infrastructure is relatively low-cost, and while it takes some time again the payoff for the organization can be huge.  Figuring out an approach that suits your current situation and infrastructure is another big opportunity.

Beyond these steps, there are organizations still developing content without consideration of the underlying content model and the opportunities.  Not developing content in a delivery-independent framework is a missed opportunity both for now and the future.  The development redundancies in most organizations is a real potential opportunity for savings in efficiency, and the possibility in relatively advanced organizations to start using business rules to do personalization and mass-customization is hard to fathom.

The list goes on.  I’m not saying you need to do all of them today, but taking the right next step for your organization, and realizing that wherever you are, there are low-cost, high-return possibilities available, should be something you are thinking about.  Whether you take one on, tactically, or step back and make a plan whereby you figure out what your next steps are going to be, in order, you should be thinking ahead.  Status quo is definitely threatened, I think, and therefore I encourage you to be considering how you’re going to be in a continual improvement loop.  Time’s a wasting!

17 June 2009

Talent Management and Opportunities

Clark @ 11:02 am

At the recent ASTD conference, I was once again faced with the new phrase: talent management. It was being touted as the new focus in HR, was baked into LMS, etc.  So naturally I was curious how this related to the performance ecosystem, and had the temerity to call Kevin Wheeler, the guru of talent management, and ask.

Kevin expressed mixed feelings about talent management being  the new flavor of the month, given that he’s been talking about it for years!  Kevin characterized Talent Management as recruitment, development, and performance, with lots of components under each one.  All the activities that accrue around the workforce qualifies, really.

I recognized that the performance ecosystem really deals with development and performance, and hasn’t been about recruitment, though there could and should be an ongoing process identifying new competencies and new needs in professional capabilities.  Part of the knowledge work itself may be identifying needed competencies, and a management concern may well be whether to acquire that need temporarily or permanently.

I asked how his model adapted to the increasing changes in competencies with what I foresee as increasing change and decreasing stability in job roles, and he discussed how there’re really two workforces: the core who does the knowledge or concept work, and the rest still doing the mainstream work that could potentially be automated (though that’s a longer term trend, not happening as fast as could be for reasons economic and political).  He also suggested that the competencies are shifting from specific skills to more general capabilities, e.g. not knowing a particular programming language, but instead knowing software engineering and having an ability to learn new languages quickly.

Our  conversation roamed across the switch in competencies from being compliant and doing what you’re told to being able to deal with ambiguity and solving problems, even questioning authority.  Ah, meta-learning.  Too bad schools are still working on the old model!  Societally, we thought about those folks who prefer to have a simple, predictable job (the majority?) that allows them the freedom to pursue their passions, versus those (the creative class, Kevin termed them) who live to create, design, engineer, the ones who advance our understanding and our lives.  There are different roles and needs, and organizations have to adjust to that.

Kevin also proposed that the shift to small and nimble organizations is a pendulum shift that’s been seen before, and that there will be a subsequent shift back; that other paradigm shifts (e.g. agricultural to industrial) had similar dynamics.  Food for thought: will the networked era evolve to larger and relatively stable organizations, or is change and the need for nimbleness going to be persistent?

It did appear that at least for the near term, organizations have to balance their investment across maintaining the necessary administrative and support functions, but new investment really should be on those activities that enable new work.  Either society needs to slow down (which isn’t an awful thought), or companies are going to have to be able to adapt and innovate for survival, not just execute against a fixed plan.

And that’s where I think the opportunities to improve are.  We know a lot about learning and innovation, but we’re not practicing them in the organization. That’s an understanding I’m trying to help develop, and then execute against.  On that, I believe Kevin and I are in agreement.  A public thanks to him, and a reflection that great conversations are one of the best tools of learning!

10 June 2009

Virtual Worlds & SCORM

Clark @ 7:39 pm

I was invited (thanks, Eilif!) to attend SRI’s workshop for ADL on SCORM and Virtual Worlds (VW) today.  I furiously tweeted it (check out the #adlvw hashtag), but now it’s time for reflections.  Represented were a number of people from various VW vendors (at least Qwaq, Second Life, Thinking Worlds), as well as SRI and ADL folks, and Avron Barr representing LETSI.

In case you don’t know, SCORM was developed to be a way to support interoperable content for learning.  However, the demands have grown. Beyond interaction, there’s a desire to have assessment reportable back to an LMS, and as our digital content resources grow larger, to address data quantities that go beyond download.  Angelo Panar from ADL  helped us understand that there are myriad ways that SCORM doesn’t scale well to handle things other than stand-alone objects. Peter Smith from ADL emphasized the importance of game-based learning, and the potential of VWs for meaningful learning.

Ron Edmonds from SRI nicely summarized the intersection: SCORM is standardized and interoperable, VWs are in competition and have vastly different models. The question is, what is the relationship between the two? Eilif Trondsen nicely characterized the situation that learning spans a gap from formal to informal.  SCORM’s highly focused (as of now) on asynchronous independent learner experience, but VWs are about social interaction, and are platforms, where learning experiences can be built.

The questions they were trying to answer were how to design learning experiences and measure/assess them, and then to decide what role SCORM plays.  It occurred to me that there are no unique issues to VWs except the social, so one particular solution is that the problems for SCORM and social media need resolving, and then can be ported to VWs without requiring a unique VW solution.

Another issue is the level of granularity.  If you design a collaborative exercise, and the interaction and collaborative response to reflection questions are what is key for the learning, then it’s a very different situation than when the goal is tightly constrained responses to very specific situations, e.g. the difference between training and education.  Back to the continuum Eilif was talking about, it seems to me that we can match the level of definition of the measure to the desired outcome (duh!).  However, SCORM has trouble with free-f0rm responses, so we get into some issues there.

The obvious ‘easy’ answer is to have SCORM just be a mechanism to introduce existing content objects ‘in world’.  That’s what a number of platforms have done, whether having SCORM objects appear as objects, or an embedded browser presents them.  A more complex alternative is to have an instructor or the learner respond via a custom interface with a response that’s relayed to an LMS using SCORM protocols. But can we go further?

I’ve argued in the past that social interactions should be a design feature only if the learning objective includes social components.  However, I also pointed out today that the VW may only be part of the solution, and when we look at the broader picture of the learning experience, we may well wrap reflection outside the world.  So then our learning model needs to include more than just content presentation, and we start veering off to Educational Modeling Language and the IMS Learning Design specification, which really isn’t yet a part of SCORM (but arguably should be).

Really, our learning categorization has to include activities as broad as mentoring, coached real performance, and social interaction, as well as content exposure, and interactive activities. It needs to span VWs, social media, and more.  It’s about developing learners richly, not just presenting a prix fixe menu.

I’m mindful of the conversation I had with Adam Nelson from Linden Labs (one of many fruitful conversations at the breaks that helped frame the thoughts above), and I asked whether his role for enterprise learning applications included my broad view of learning, that it’s not just about formal learning, or, worse, just ‘training’, but includes mentoring, discussions, all the way to expert collaboration.  That’s not necessarily what we need to track, but we do need to see the results, to look for opportunities (adding value as facilitators, not just content producers).

It’s clear that ‘in world’, we can have the equivalents of most social media, e.g. collaborative persistent spaces with representations and annotations are a richer form of wiki.  A shared element was the ‘overhead’ in virtual worlds, so the question is whether the affordances of virtual worlds are worth the investment.  I still believe that’s an issue of whether the domain/task is inherently 3D and/or that this is a long-term relationship so the investment is amortized.  There are lots of factors.  Still, it’s an intriguing idea to think that we will be able to interact, communicate, and collaborate in technology-augmented ways that aren’t possible in the real world. Of course, we’ll be able to do those in the real world too, largely, via ARGs (as I previously commented on the connections).

There’s a broad gap between what our tools enable, and what standards are ready to support.  The ultimate question was what the role of ADL would be.  I reckon it’s early days for VWs, so the role in this regard is, to me, track what’s happening and look for patterns that can be extracted and codified for ways to add value.

It’s the wild west or a goldrush right now, and the outcome is still to be decided.  However, the learning potential is, quite frankly, awesome, so it’s an exciting time.  Here’s to adventure!

9 June 2009

Conferencing Reflections

Clark @ 5:45 pm

Last week I presented a workshop on strategic learning as an opening act to ASTD’s 2009 International Conference (ICE), which was followed by DAU/GMU’s Innovations in eLearning (IeL) conference.  It was a study in contrasts, and a great learning experience.

Obviously, the focuses (yeah, focii, bugger it) are different.  ICE is huge, and for all training and development, while the IeL conference is smaller and focused on elearning.  There’s much more to see at ICE, but it’s also appears to be run as a revenue opportunity, where as IeL is designed to provide the latest thinking to a select community (DAU & GMU stakeholders), and appears to be a cost-center.

ICE should be able to be interpreted as a ‘state of the industry’ snapshot, representing the audience’s interests and needs.  As such, there are some serious concerns.  During the keynote on Blue Ocean Strategy (greatly descriptive, less prescriptive utility), colleagues overheard audience members asking “what’s in it for me?”   I can’t think of anything more relevant to organizations than looking ahead and trying to come up with answers for the increasingly turbulent times!

There were some social media sessions, and people ‘getting’ the message, likewise some other topics, but there was similarly good attendance at pretty ordinary stuff. Sure, you do need to learn about assessment, and how to cartoon (a great session, BTW), but there wasn’t the sense of urgency I reckon should be felt.

The expo hall also was scarily populated with generic leadership training, university degrees, flashy examples of elearning that didn’t have much substance, and of course the ubiquitous  ‘styles’ assessments (of which the less said, the better).  That is, plenty of other reasons to worry about the current concerns of the average conference attendee.  Aren’t they needing something more?  Support/responsibility beyond the classroom?

Granted, these conferences are planned out close to a year in advance, so it may not reflect current concerns as much as those of half a year or more ago, but it seemed little different than one I attended several years ago.  C’mon!  There were plusses, of course, not least of which were chances to meet colleagues I’d heard of or interacted with but not had the pleasure of meeting face to face, including Rae Tanner, Dave Ferguson, Craig Wilkins, and Gina Schreck, as well as reconnecting with folks including Marcia Conner and Wendy Wickham.  And I was pleased that there was WiFi access throughout the conference!  Kudos to ASTD for getting that right.  The lack of tweets from the conf can’t be laid at ASTD’s feet.  And the team (e.g. Linda, et al), keep the sales pitches in sessions to a minimum.

The IeL conference, on the other hand, was a whole different story. Way smaller, and deliberately focused on technology-mediated learning & the cutting edge.  The keynotes by Vint Cerf and Will Wright were both awesome in scope and depth, truly visionary stuff.  The sessions were more targeted specifically at my interests, and again it was a great chance to hook up with some new colleagues, including Koreen Olbrish and Aaron Silvers, and similarly connecting with colleagues like Marks Oehlert & Friedman. And there was more tweeting of sessions in this small conference than ICE, but given the audience that wasn’t as unexpected as you’d think.

I can’t say that one conference was better than the other for me or for their audiences.  I got to present what I was really interested in at ICE, versus doing a talk for IeL that met their request rather than my passion (tho’ it was within my capability and I did my usual due diligence to make it accurate, worthwhile, and at least moderately engaging). However, the good thing at IeL is that people were really looking not just at training, but at where they really needed to be for organizational learning, and how technology could help.  And that’s the most important thing, to be looking ahead.  What I missed at ICE was people really trying to do more than just their job.  And I’m perfectly willing to be wrong about that.

It’s just that I think there’s a coming crisis in organizational learning, and the answers are not doing training better. Formal learning will be part of it, but training as it’s currently delivered will not, and there’s so much more.  Here’s hoping that message starts getting heard.

4 June 2009

Context & learning environments

Clark @ 9:03 am

I was talking with Gina Shreck, who I’d known through Twitter, at a Sun-sponsored happy hour about new learning environments. She’s been quite active in Virtual Worlds (VW), and I was describing an Augmented Reality Game (ARG), and it came to me that there are some really meaningful similarities.

We know from research like John Bransford’s Anchored Instruction and Brown, Collins, & Duguid’s Situated Cognition that learning works better in context (even if you spread across contexts to generalize).  What I realized is that both approaches are really using technology to bring context for learning into vivid relief.  I’ve been active in games for learning because it provided meaningful practice, and of course VW’s can be used to host games in (realizing that VW‘s aren’t inherently games, but instead are just environments), and so are ARG’s.

Even when designed for learning, the point is to try to enrich the context.  Web-based games are the easiest, but there are times when more full contextualization is necessary, and the different environments offer different affordances or capabilities.

Despite the overhead, VWs are immersive in that your avatar is totally ‘in world’, and you can design that world to be anyplace/anytime you want it to be.  You can design the contingencies the way you want.  While most valuable for 3D, it may also be important for when total difference is necessary.  Specific examples include building real world structures that must be explored or investigated, for learning purposes.

On the other hand, ARGs are set in the real world, but specific constraints can be introduced.  You can have specific events, materials, and people (real or virtual) appear in the world you want.  Again, you want to develop associated decision making for those explored contexts.

The reason to use an ARG is to develop the ability to develop the capability in situ, that is, as close to the real world context as possible, whereas VWs can add extra dimensions, or work for contexts that are too expensive or dangerous to do live.  That’s also true for non-VW games as well, of course.

The point is to minimize distance and maximize transfer from learning context to real world application.  The overhead to take advantage of these sorts of capabilities is dropping quite rapidly. The goal is to discover the degree and type of contextualization needed (as well as pocketbook, of course), and decide what environment offers the necessary depth and value to achieve the outcomes you need.  However, you need to understand the full repertoire of tools available, and their affordances, to optimally choose an approach.  So, game on!

1 June 2009

Now *that* is leadership

Clark @ 4:53 am

In my recent workshop, an attendee shared a story that I have to pass along.  He works for a company that serves a sector of the marketplace that has been core to US business, and is now in tough times.  Naturally, the employees are concerned about the prospects.

The CEO is sharing, via a blog, his ongoing thoughts on dealing with the issue. Rather than puff pieces for external readers, written by a PR hack, he’s writing authentically for internal consumption about where his thinking is going and what he and the executive team are doing.  He’s not making false promises, and the employee was very clear that there are no clear answers yet, but they’ve insight into how deep the thought processes have been about the situation, and how earnestly (and cleverly) they’re working on solving the issue. He’s even sharing the questions he’s considering.  While all the comments aren’t visible, anyone can provide input and the CEO can react.  This is powerful.

I’ve mentioned before that providing a ‘leading out loud’ record for people to follow is a great mechanism to foster virtual mentorship and share directions, and this is a really valuable way for organizations to communicate.  As Rae Tanner discussed with me yesterday as we walked around DC before the start of the ASTD main conference, imagine an organization where everyone was onboarded with a real understanding of the business (we thought a game would be appropriate), and then were able to follow the ongoing thinking.  Do you think they’d be better equipped to execute, and, better yet, contribute to organizational success? Certainly if it was coupled with a learning culture and rewards aligned with the desired behaviors.

The worskhop attendees easily ‘got’ the value of this scenario; that CEO knows what leadership is about, and is manifesting it in a visionary way.  This is what technology can facilitate. Technology is a tool, but one that provides new affordances for communication and collaboration. The opportunities to improve things individual, organizationally, and societally are awe-inspiring. Now we need to seize the initiative and make really worthwhile things happen. Are you game?

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