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

31 January 2010

Down on the iPad?

Clark @ 7:02 am

At the Upside Learning Blog, this post (which I found through the CLO group on LinkedIn) proclaims that the elearning industry is down on the iPad.  I saw several flaws in the argument and had to write this response:

I have to say I think this is partly or completely wrong. Depending on what you mean by the eLearning industry (corporate? Gov’t? Higher Ed? K12? other?), I see emotions running the gamut, but largely positive. I haven’t seen the universal bashing that your title implies.

It’s not about supporting the mobile worker; that’s what a smartphone is for. This is not a real-time communication tool. It is, instead, largely a media consumption tool and a PIM (personal information management) device. Is that good for learning?

First, learners can interact with content in a much richer way than they can with a textbook or the other ereaders (ok, so Kindle’s opened up their SDK, but it’s still monochrome). Not just passive consumption, but interaction. Simulations and learning games. It’s supports interactive content either through the SDK but also through web standards (many Flash folks are already thinking HTML 5 as a standard is going to trump their proprietary environment).

As I blogged, it’s huge for publishers, providing both a channel for richer media and interactivity, and a new unified market channel. That’s a whole new opportunity for an industry in serious strife.

Second, it supports learners capturing their reflections. It supports math modeling/notetaking/presentation creation. And there’ll be diagramming and drawing as well. Basically, learners can track their understandings, and share them.

So, it’s a great platform for formal learning, and I reckon, a reasonably powerful one for informal learning, at least independently (web browser, email). It’s missing some real time dialog (though should support VoIP), but should support text chat and webpage mediated interaction.

So, a) I haven’t seen the eLearning Industry as a whole being negative towards the iPad, b) your examples are very personal, not focused on learners, and c) on principle I think it’s got great upside. So, um, where do you come off with that title?

Ok, probably not my most diplomatic response, but I really feel that while I may have some doubts about the iPad, this argument didn’t articulate the problem very well.  What do you think?

29 January 2010

iLust? Changing the game

Clark @ 7:09 am

Yesterday, in case you’ve been living under a rock, Apple released their take on the tablet computer, the iPad.  Steve Jobs has been quoted as saying it’s “the most important thing I’ve ever done.”  And that’s saying a lot.  Like him or not, he’s changed the face of our digital lives several times: popularizing the GUI interface with the Macintosh, changing the music market with the iPod, and upending the mobile market with the iPhone.

Briefly, it’s a network-enabled thin touchscreen midway in size between the iPhone and a laptop (e.g. netbook in size).  It’s been equipped with a bookstore to complement the iPhone Store (media and apps), will play movies, music, and apps.  It’s got a moderate suite of PIM, including contacts, calendar, and notes (no ToDos, ahem), and a microphone. No camera, no phone, but does have a soft keyboard and an optional hard keyboard (would that the iPhone had one!).  It’s really just a big iTouch.  The device itself isn’t a game-changer.  Which isn’t to say it isn’t quite cool in it’s way with some mlearning opportunities.

I have several reflections on the device, from different perspectives.  The overall question is whether the iPad, too, is a game-changer.  Personally, the obvious question is: “do I have to have one?”  Which naturally leads to the performance support perspective of the device (or vice versa).  And, given my predilictions, there’s also the mlearning question.

Bill Brandon of the eLearning Guild has already opined about the mlearning potential of the iPad. He notes that it’s oriented towards content delivery, and could be a replacement for textbooks.  That, alone, is a big win, though not unique to the iPad (cf Amazon’s Kindle).  Without a camera, he notes, it’s only usable for voice or text chatting.  The form factor is nice, but it’s kind of large to slip in a pocket, and it’s really too large for elementary kids’ hands.  I still think a camera-equipped iTouch is a better form-factor for K-6.

From there, we start looking beyond content delivery to more interactive apps.  Here’s where we start seeing some real opportunity: we can start putting simulations on the device, not just content.  Interactivity is key, to me, and that’s what the iPad has over the Kindle or the Nook (tho’ Amazon has now opened up the Kindle’s Software Developers Kit, it’s still lacking color).  the possibility of running meaningful learning games is a real opportunity.  With network connectivity, it can be social as well; in addition to the internet browser there are also already dedicated FaceBook and LinkedIn apps for the iPhone.

Of course, a second opportunity is to start using the device as a way to take notes and share thinking. With email and web access, you can collaborate with others.  Can you use it to create representations to share?  Apple is coming out with iPad versions of Numbers, Pages, and Keynote (spreadsheet, word processing, and presentation software, respectively). This is, to me, a major win (with a caveat).

The ability to use the device not just for consumption, but for creation, is where we start turning this from an entertainment & learning platform into a productivity platform. If you want to not carry a laptop (or even a MacBook Air or a netbook if you’re a Windows person, both seriously worth considering), this has to have certain characteristics.  I, personally, wouldn’t need the 3G connection (meaning you have connectivity wherever you can get a cell-phone signal, not just a wi-fi hotpot), as I’m fine using my iPhone for the always-on connection.  However, I need to write.  The additional keyboard is extra weight, but the capability would be worth it (nice if it folded for travel, however).  The ability to create presentations is also a big win.

One thing is missing, however.  I diagram.  A lot (as I illustrate here).  Keynote has shapes, but it’s not a diagramming tool as yet (I checked, there’s no palette of shapes I can keep open). I don’t know if that will be remedied in the iPad specific version (with a multi-touch interface), but what would really be nice is an OmniGraffle (or Visio, for you Windows folks) for the iPad. Short of that, I’m not sure it’ll meet my needs. Which answers the question about whether I’d get one. Not without diagramming (and Brushes seems more a paint app than a diagramming, that’s not what I need).  I don’t consume a lot of music and movies. I do outline, write, and diagram.

Still, this is a significant move, for none of the above reasons.  I’ve written before about the new dynamics for the publishing industry (specifically, educational publishers).  The story is similar for other forms of publication: magazines, newspapers, and books.  eBook readers are changing that market, but only the mechanics, not the inherent nature of the experience.  It’s still about ‘reading’, not about information.  Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and now Apple, are creating a new market for the old product.  However, Apple has changed the market for a new version of the product. They’re creating the opportunity for those providers to elaborate their content with dynamic media such as video and audio, and interactive media: modifiable graphs, and of course simulations and games.

Now it’s not only possible for a publisher to create a richer, more fully information, even educational experience, but there is also a new direct channel for that endeavor.  It doesn’t have to be based on individual subscriptions to a site, but it can be arranged through a single broadly available channel.  It will, however, require the concomitant components I suggested were necessary: an understanding of user experience and content models.

I think the iPad is flawed in several ways: lack of camera & multi-tasking (and the form-factor limiting HD movie screen formats), and as yet a dearth of critical software.  However, it’s a platform, and consequently those can come in either hardware or software updates.  What it has made possible, however, is a change in business models, and that’s a more significant outcome.   Whether it succeeds is another issue, but I think the groundwork is there to make the change.  Who’s up for trying to lift their game into the new model?

26 January 2010

Accessorize your brain

Clark @ 10:30 am

It flashed on me last night.  Jeopardy-style, the answer to the question “why do/will smartphones rule” is “because ‘there’s an app for that’”.

Let me explain. First, you have to be clear on what a smartphone is.  David Pogue has tried to call the converged mobile platform which can be customized with applications the “app phone”, because he considers a smartphone to be a phone that can check email. Or, can surf the web, is data-enabled.  Well, Bob Sanregret told me that there hasn’t been a cellphone sold in the past 2 years that didn’t have a web browser.  Sorry, that’s not a smartphone, to me.

So I’m going to reserve smartphone for those augmented phones that are platforms: they have an OS that others can develop for and release applications on.  BTW, it wasn’t the iPhone that was the first in the space; the Treo had a lively market around PalmOS.

So why do I think this is the killer market?  Because these devices do two things: they are platforms, and they are convergent. They are increasingly providing the most potent and portable convergent devices imaginable, integrating a variety of sensors, forms of connectivity, and rich input and output into a handheld device.  And they are providing this on a platform: a device that developers can integrate these capabilities to meet new and customized needs.

It so happens that the barriers to produce these applications are coming down, as well. Web technologies increasingly underpin the opportunities to develop on platforms, making the technical skills required quite accessible.  It’s little more than creating a web page, which is increasingly available to all, and that makes it easy for tools to simplify even further.

What this means is that anyone can pretty much get pretty much anything they need.  You can follow interests in popular media, including music, movies, television, books, comics, and more.  You can access information for shopping, transportation, dining, or even just people to meet.  You can perform magical tasks like calculating each person’s tab and tip, converting Farenheit to Celsius, or track the stars (astronomical and astrological, if you roll like that).  The limits are no longer the technology, the limits are between our ears.  If you can dream it, you can do it.  I’ve quoted Arthur C. Clarke before “any truly advanced technology is truly indistinguishable from magic”.  We’ll, we’re pretty much there.  We’ve got the Star Trek tricorder in our mitts.

And that, to me, is the deal-clincher.  When you can accessorize your brain the same way you do your bod, when you can augment your capabilities, not just your appearance, you’re suddenly capable of being the person you want to be.  You’re a superhero!  And all at the price of buying a customizable, personal platform.  Who wouldn’t?*

*OK, I slipped off into hyperbole.  I’m well aware that there are many people who can’t, or don’t (I live in the real world most of the time). But I’m predicting they will.  And they’re already doing it, through SMS because they don’t yet have smartphones, they only have cellphones.  But that will change, and as I mentioned earlier, I hope we don’t keep so obsessed with progress that we don’t take time to bring along everyone, not just those coming from fortunate backgrounds.

25 January 2010

How I became a learning experience designer

Clark @ 6:12 am

Not meaning this to be a sudden spate of reflectiveness, given my last post on my experience with the web, but Cammy Bean has asked when folks became instructional designers, and it occurs to me to capture my rather twisted path with a hope of clarifying the filters I bring in thinking about design.

It starts as a kid; as Cammy relates, I didn’t grow up thinking I wanted to be a learning designer.  Besides a serious several years being enchanted with submarines (still am, in theory, but realized I probably wouldn’t get along with the Navy for my own flaws), I always wanted to have a big desk covered with cool technology, exploring new ideas.   I wasn’t a computer geek back then (the computer club in high school sent off programs to the central office to run and received the printout a day or so later), but rather a science geek, reading Popular Science and spending hours on the floor looking at the explanatory diagrams in the World Book (I’m pretty clearly a visual conceptual learner :).  And reading science fiction. I did have a bit of an applied bent, however, with a father who was an engineer and could fix anything, who helped my brother and I work on our cars and things.

When I got to UCSD (just the right distance from home, and near the beach), my ambition to be a marine biologist was extinguished as the bio courses were both rote-memorization and cut-throat pre-med, neither of which inspired me (my mom was an emergency room nurse, and I realized early on that I wasn’t cut out for blood and gore).  I took some computer science classes with a buddy and found I could do the thinking (what with, er, distractions, I wasn’t the most diligent student, but I still managed to get pretty good grades).  I also got a job tutoring calculus, physics, and chemistry with the campus office for some extra cash, and took some learning classes. I also got interested in artificial intelligence, too, and was a bit of a groupie around how we think, and really cool applications of technology.

I somehow got the job of computer support for the tutoring office, and that’s when a light went on about the possibilities of computers supporting learning.  There wasn’t a degree program in place, but I found out my college allowed you to specify your own major and I convinced Provost Stewart and two advisors (Mehan & Levin) to let me create my own program.  Fortunately, I was able to leverage the education classes I’d taken for tutoring, the computer science classes I’d also taken, and actually got out faster than any program I’d already dabbled in! (And got to do that cool ‘email for classroom discussion’ project with my advisors.)

After calling around the country trying to find someone who needed a person interesting in computers for learning, I finally got hooked up with Jim Schuyler, who had just started a company doing computer games to go along with textbook publisher’s offerings.  I eventually managed to hook DesignWare up with Spinnaker to do a couple of home games for them before Jim had DesignWare start producing it’s own home games (I got to do two cool ones, FaceMaker and Spellicopter as well as several others).

However, I had a hankering to go back to graduate school and get an advanced degree.  As I wrestled with how to design the interfaces for games, I read an article calling for a ‘cognitive engineering’, and contacted the author about where I might study this.  Donald Norman ended up letting me study with him.

The group was largely focused on human-computer interaction, but I maintained my passion for learning solutions.  I did a relatively mainstream PhD but while focusing on the general cognitive skill of analogical reasoning, I also attempted an intervention to improve the reasoning.

Though it was a cognitive group, I was eclectic, and looked at every form of learning.  In addition to the cognitive theories that were in abundance, I took and TA’d for the behavioral learning courses.  David Merrill was visiting nearby, and graciously allowed me to visit him for a discussion (as well as reading Reigeluth’s edited overview of instructional design theories).  Michael Cole was a big fan of Vygotsky, and I was steeped in the social learning theories thereby.  David Rumelhart and Jay McClelland were doing the connectionist/PDP work while I was a student, so I got that indoctrination as well.  And, as an AI groupie, I even looked at machine learning!

I subsequently did a postdoc at the University of Pittsburgh’s Learning Research & Development Center, where I was further steeped in cognitive learning theory, before heading off to UNSW to teach interaction design and start doing my own research, which ended up being very much applied, essentially an action- or design-research approach.  My subsequent activities have also been very much applications of a broad integration of learning theory into practical yet innovative design.

The point being, I never formally considered myself an instructional designer so much as a learning designer.  Having worked on non-formal education in many ways, as well as teaching in higher education, my applications have crossed formal instruction and informal learning.  As the interface design field was very much exploring  subjective experiences at the time I was a graduate student, and from my game design experience, I very naturally internalized a focus on engaging learning, believing that learning can, and should, be hard fun.

I’ve synthesized the eclectic frameworks into a coherent learning design model that I can apply across technologies, and strongly believe that a solid grounding in conceptual frameworks combined with experiences that span a range of technologies and learning outcomes is the best preparation for a flexible ability to design experiences that are effective and engaging. Passionate as I am about learning, I do think we could do a better job of providing the education that’s needed to help make that happen, and still look for ways to try to help others learn (one of my employees once said that working with me was like going to grad school, and I do try to educate clients, in addition to running workshops and continuing to speak).

And, I’ve ended up, as I dreamed of, with a desk covered with cool technology and I get to explore new ideas: designing solutions that integrate the cutting edge of devices, tools, models, frameworks, all to help people achieve their goals.  I continue to think ahead about what new possibilities are out there, and work to improve what’s happening.   I love learning experience design (and the associated strategic thinking to make it work), believe there’s at least some evidence that I do it pretty well, and hope to keep doing it myself and helping others do it better.  Who’s up for some hard fun?

23 January 2010

What does the 20th year of the web mean?

Clark @ 7:12 am

Gina Minks, who I know only through Twitter (@gminks), tho’ hope to meet someday, tagged me for the following Questions from On. Her post was immensely personal, and I have no such deeply significant experience, but I have been on the internet since before there was one, so I reckon I can throw out a few ideas.

The questions are:

  • How has the Web changed your life?
  • How has the Web changed business and society?
  • What do you think the Web will look like in twenty years?

How has the web changed my life? Well, that’s an interesting question.  Starting at the beginning, as an undergraduate I discovered computers and learning (I got a job managing the computer records for the office that coordinated tutoring on campus, after having been a tutor, and recognized that computers for learning was a keen idea).  I managed to convince my Provost to let me design my own major, and hooked up with two brilliant academics: Hugh Mehan and James Levin, who let me be part of a study to conduct classroom discussion via email.  This was circa 1978, but our university was on the ARPANet, and consequently we had networked computers and email.  So I had an early taste of networking capabilities and it was seen as just part of the infrastructure.

After working in the real world for a couple of years (designing educational computer games), where I got a taste of PLATO (another networked environment), I went back to grad school, where we again had networks with email, and sometime during that period I discovered UseNet, a sort of topic-based discussion board, and became an active user.  (This was before we had any idea this would be stored forever and become searchable, and movie reviews, recipes, and other such stuff I wrote back then can still be found!)  It was a great way to get ask questions, share ideas, follow certain people.

So, when I moved to UNSW for an academic position following my postdoc, I’d met some Aussie surfers online before I went, and hooked up with them for some surf sessions when I got there.  It was during that period that the web came out, following on initiatives like WAIS and Gopher that provided ways to store and find information on line.

The point is, when the HTTP protocol emerged, it wasn’t a big deal to me. I’d been immersed in a distributed digital information environment for years, and consequently one new protocol didn’t seem like that big a deal.  So in a sense I really missed the sea-change that so many people felt, and pretty naturally took advantage of creating web pages, sites, and then online content.

One big change for me, however, accompanied a subsequent development, the CGI protocol.  A student and I had developed a learning game for the Children’s Welfare Agency, and it was successfully distributed on floppy disks.  When I found out about the CGI protocol, I realized this would allow maintaining (game) state, and that we could then play games on the internet.  I had another student project port the game to the web.  It may be old-fashioned now, but I’m thrilled that it still works, 15 years later!

Since then, the web has both been a source of employment, as a channel for designing learning solutions, and the more common infrastructure for life that others have discovered (info, commerce, collaboration).  Along the way, in addition to the game, I’ve developed online conferences (back in 1996), an online learning competition (1997) streamlined online course (circa 1998), and an adaptive learning engine (1999-2000), all ahead of their time (for better and worse :).  And the innovation continues.

How has the Web changed business and society? Here I don’t have much to say in addition to what’s been written by many. It’s provided an opportunity for information to reach more people, flattening hierarchies, breaking up information monopolies, and serving as a source for democratization.

Businesses have been able to dis-intermediate the market, cutting out middle-men.  Internally, it has been possible for organizations to flatten the hierarchy, and work more effectively while distributed.  Externally, companies are able to have richer dialogs with their customers and partners.  It’s been less easy for companies to control information, as well, as the Cluetrain Manifesto and the 95 theses has alerted us to.

It’s also created new businesses and business models.  Web 1.0, producer generated content, had some impact, and I’ve argued that Web 2.0 is about user-generated content, has created new opportunities.  Web 3.0 will be even more interesting, with capabilities of delivering custom information and capabilities.  Which leads me to the last question:

What do you think the Web will look like in twenty years? I really think that the web will have become transparent. For most of us, the information access capabilities will be transparent: so ubiquitous we take it for granted.  There just will be information wherever and whenever you want it.  We’ll be surrounded by clouds that follow us that define who we are and where we’re at both physically, chronologically, and metaphorically, so that information will be available on demand in whatever ways we want.

From the production side, we’ll be creating information by our actions that will be aggregated and mined for useful ways to serve us.  We’ll have new models of learning that integrate across technologies and space to develop us in meaningful ways to empower us to achieve the goal we want.  And, most likely and unfortunately, there will be information to continue to try to sway us to do things that others would prefer we do.  I would hope, however, that we’re moving in a positive direction where we slow down our progress to the point we can make sure we’re bringing everybody along.

The opportunities are huge and potentially transformative, we just have to marshal the social will.

Finally, I’m supposed to tag two people to continue this chain letter.  My colleague Jay Cross has talked before about how the internet changed his life and it’s a great story, so I’ll suborn him here.  I’ll also ping another colleague who you should know about, Jim Schuyler, who shared several of the journeys I mentioned above.

15 January 2010

Changing minds

Clark @ 7:03 am

There is a lot of concern about incorporating social learning into organizations centering on the organizational and culture issues.  I gave my “Blowing up the training department” presentation last nite for Massachusetts ISPI chapter, and a number of the questions were on getting the executives to buy in to the need, and then changing the culture. My recent post on problem-solving similarly raised such questions.

As Kevin suggested, if you asked executives “Do you support problem-solving, sharing and reflection, reward diverse participation, and encourage individual initiative?”, they would answer in the affirmative.  However, if you asked below that level, you might find a different viewpoint.

This reminded me of an earlier post on attitudinal change, where the first step was to make folks aware of their own attitudes.  I think it might be similarly necessary to help make executives aware of the reality, not what they believe.  An audit might be a good tool to invoke, assessing the realities of the possibilities to contribute, the rewards, as well as the actual behaviors and beliefs of the individuals in the organization.  Eventually, you have to characterize the organization on dimensions of being a learning organization, including supportive learning environment, leadership, and processes and practice.

If you can present individuals with the reality, as the attitude change model suggests, you then have the opportunity to present alternatives, and evaluate the tradeoffs involved. For instance, changing cutlure is hard. However, the consequences of not changing may be worse!  Then, if you can get commitment to change, you have the necessary buy-in to start organizational change processes.

It seems clear to me that change can’t happen without an awareness of the real situation and it’s consequences.  Org change requires leaders to proselytize and walk the walk.  That only happens when they’re really committed, and that requires them to acknowledge the gap and the need.

I’m continually exploring the needs and solutions possible, but it’s clear we can’t avoid the tough issues and have to come up with approaches to address them.  These tactics are, I’m sure, not new, but you need the tools to move forward.  Learning culture audit anyone?

13 January 2010

Kapp & Driscoll nail Learning in 3D

Clark @ 5:02 am

Karl Kapp and Tony O’Driscoll have launched the age of virtual worlds in organizational learning by providing a thorough overview in their new book Learning in 3D. This is a comprehensive and eloquent book, covering the emerging opportunity in virtual worlds.  Replete with conceptual models to provide structure to the discussion as well as pragmatic guidance to how to design and implement learning solutions, this book will help those trying to both get their minds around the possibilities and those who are ready to get their hands dirty.

Learning in 3D Blog Stop badgeTheir enthusiasm for the opportunities is palpable, and helps bolster the reader through some initial heady material. The book is eloquently written, as you’d expect from two academics, but both also play in the real world, so it’s not too esoteric in language or concept.  It’s just that the concepts are complex, and they don’t pander with overly simplistic presentations. They get it, and want you to, too.

Their opening chapters make a solid argument for social learning.  They take us through the changes society is going through and the technology transformations of the internet to help us understand why social learning, formal and informal, is a powerful case.  They point out the problems with existing formal learning, and identify how these can be addressed in virtual worlds.

What follows is a serious statement of the essential components of a virtual world for organizational learning, a series of models that attempt to capture and categorize learning in a 3D world.  They similarly develop a series of useful ‘use cases’ (they term them “archetypes”), and place them in context.  Overall, it’s a well thought out characterization of the space.

Coupled with the conceptual overviews are pragmatic support.  There are a number of carefully detailed examples that help learners understand the business need and the outcomes as well as the design.  There are war stories from a number of pioneers in the space.  There is a systematic guide to design that should provide valuable support to readers who are eager to experiment, and the advice on vendors, adoption, and implementation is very practical and valuable.

The book is not without flaws: they set up a ‘straw man’ contrast to virtual world learning.  While all too representative of corporate elearning, the contrast of good pedagogy versus bad pedagogy undermines the unique affordances of the virtual world.    I note that their principles for virtual world learning design are not unique to virtual worlds, and are essentially no different (except socially) from those in Engaging Learning.   And their 7 sensibilities doesn’t seem quite as conceptually accurate as my own take on virtual world affordances.  But these are small concerns in the larger picture of communicating the opportunities.

This is a valuable book for those who want to understand what all the excitement is about in virtual worlds.  I’ve been watching the space for a number of years now, and as the technology has matured have moved from thinking that the overhead was too high to where I believe that it is a valuable tool in the learning arsenal and only going to be more so. This book is the guide you need to being ready to capitalize on this opportunity.  You can get a 20% discount purchasing it directly from Amazon.  Recommended.

12 January 2010

Is it all problem-solving?

Clark @ 7:03 am

I’ve been arguing for a while that we need to take a broader picture of learning, that the responsibility of learning units in the organization should be ensuring adequate infrastructure, skills, and culture for innovation, creativity, design, research, collaboration, etc, not just formal learning. As I look at those different components, however, I wonder if there’s an overarching, integrating viewpoint.

When people go looking for information, or colleagues, they have a problem to solve. It may be a known one with an effective solution, or it may be new. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a new service to create, a new product to design, a customer service problem, an existing bug, or what. It’s all really a situation where we need an answer and we don’t have one.

We’ll have some constraints, some information, but we’re going to have to research, hypothesize, experiment, etc. If it’s rote, we ought to have it automated, or we ought to have the solution in a performance support manner. Yes, there are times training is part of the solution. But this very much means that first, all our formal solutions (courses, job aids, etc) should be organized around problem-solving (which is another way of saying that we need the objectives to be organized around doing).

Once we go beyond that, it seems to me that there’s a plausible case to be made that all our informal learning also needs to be organized from a problem-solving perspective. What does that mean?

One of the things I know about problem-solving is that our thought processes are susceptible to certain traps that are an outcome of our cognitive architecture. Functional fixedness and set-effects are just two of the traps. Various techniques have evolved to overcome these, including problem re-representation, systematicity around brain-storming, support for thinking laterally, and more.

Should we be baking this into the infrastructure? We can’t neglect skills. Assuming that individuals are effective problem-solvers is a mistake. The benefits of instruction in problem-solving skills have been demonstrated. Are we teaching folks how to find and use data, how to design useful experiments and test solutions? Do folks know what sort of resources would be useful? Do they know how to ask for help, manage a problem-solving process, and deal with organizational issues as well as conceptual ones?

Finally, if you don’t have a culture that supports problem-solving, it’s unlikely to happen. You need an environment that tolerates experimentation (and associated failure), that support sharing and reflection, that rewards diverse participation and individual initiative, you’re not going to get the type of pro-active solutions you want.

This is still embryonic, but I’m inclined to believe that there are some benefits from pushing this approach a bit. What say you?

6 January 2010

Plans for 2010

Clark @ 7:04 am

The Learning Circuit’s Blog Big Question of the Month is “predictions and plans for 2010“, specifically:

  • What are your biggest challenges for this upcoming year?
  • What are your major plans for the year?
  • What predictions do you have for the year?

I’ve already blogged the predictions question, so I’ll just address the first two points.

As a consultant, my big challenge is always finding more people who I can help.  With my colleagues in the Internet Time Alliance, we’re looking for organizations that know they want to leverage the power of social media to develop a collective intelligence infrastructure, but need assistance.  Through Quinnovation, I’m looking to improve organizational learning design, whether through developing immersive learning simulation capability, mobile delivery, performance solutions, adaptive systems, content models, or all of the above as a strategic lever.  I’ve helped lots of folks, and it’s clear there’s more need, so I’m just looking for more opportunities to really improve things, and ways to find those opportunities.

My plans are severalfold.  First, I’ve got to finish the manuscript for my mobile book.  I’m also committed to execute against the contracts I already have to continue to deliver great solutions.  And I intend to continue experimenting, speaking (hope to see you at the Guild’s Learning Solutions conference in March), writing, and of course, consulting.

I’m also intending to elaborate on some recent thoughts on learning experience design.  I think there’s a real opportunity to wrap some definition around the different components that helps systematize the integration of engagement and effective learning.  This is a generalization of Engaging Learning, going broader in areas of application, and across technologies.  I think there’s a need (just look at all the bad elearning still out there), and as we start delivering learning in more distributed ways and in wider contexts, we need a conceptual framework that helps us design in meaningful ways.

Naturally, I welcome your participation and assistance in any of the above!

5 January 2010

Predictions for 2010

Clark @ 7:04 am

eLearning Mag publishes short predictions for the year from a variety of elearning folks, and I thought I’d share and elaborate on what I put in:

I’m hoping this will be the ‘year of the breakthrough’.  Several technologies are poised to cross the chasm: social tools, mobile technologies, and virtual worlds.  Each has reached critical mass in being realistically deployable, and offers real benefits.  And each complements a desired organizational breakthrough, recognizing the broader role of learning not just in execution, but in problem-solving, innovation, and more.  I expect to see more inspired uses of technology to break out of the ‘course’ mentality and start facilitating performance more broadly, as organizational structures move learning from ‘nice to have’ to core infrastructure.

While I don’t know that these technologies will actually cross over (I’m notoriously optimistic), they’re pretty much ready to be:

  • Social I’ve mentioned plenty before, and everyone and their brother is either adding social learning capabilities to their suites, or creating a social learning tool company. And there are lots of open source solutions.
  • Mobile has similarly really hit the mainstream, with both reasonable and cheap (read: free) ways to develop mobile apps (cf Richard Clark & my presentation at the last DevLearn), and a wide variety of opportunities. The devices are out there!
  • Virtual worlds are a little bit more still in flux (while Linden Labs’ Second Life is going corporate as well, some of the other corporate-focused players are in some upheaval), but the value proposition is clear, and there are still plenty of opportunities.  The barriers are coming down rapidly.

Each has available technologies, best principles established and emerging, and real successes.  Given that there will be books on each coming this year (including mine ;), I really do think the time is nigh.  And, each is a component of a broader approach to learning, one that I’ve been advocating for organizations.

I’m hoping that organizations will start taking a more serious approach to a broad picture of learning.  The need in organizations is for learning to not be an add-on, isolated,  but instead to be part of the infrastructure.  We are at at a stage now where learning has to go faster than taking away, defining, designing, developing, and then delivering can accommodate.  The need is for learning to break out of the ‘event’ model, and start becoming more timely, more context-sensitive, and more collaborative.  Organizations will need their people to produce new answers on a continual basis.

I’m hoping that organizations will ‘get’ the necessary transition, and take the necessary steps.  As Alan Kay said, “the best way to predict the future is to invent it”.  I’m hoping we can invent the future, together.  We need the breakthrough, so let’s get going!

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