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

31 August 2010

Learning Experience Design Strategy

Clark @ 6:21 am

On our weekly twitter learning fest, #lrnchat, I regularly identify myself as a learning experience design strategist.  I don’t always assume people know what that means, but for that audience I figure they can infer what it means.  However, I think the idea is worth exploring, because increasingly I think that not only is that what I do, but it also is important.

First, I think it is important to stop thinking about content, and start thinking about learning experience.  It’s too easy, when focusing on content, to focus on knowledge, not skills, yet skills are what will make the difference – the ability to do.  Also, it helps focus on the conative side of learning, the motivation for and anxiety about learning when you think about the learner experience. And, as always, I take a broad interpretation of learning, so this holds true beyond formal learning; it applies to thinking about performer experience when you consider the tools they’ll have, and even the way that access to communities and other informal learning components will be made available in situ.

When you think about creating learning experiences, you are talking about design.  How do you create effective and engaging learning experiences?  You need a design process, tools, and good concepts around learning and engagement.  Really, both my book on designing engaging learning experiences, and my forthcoming one on mobile learning, are at core about design.  And there are levels of design, from individual experiences to the architecture and infrastructure that can support the rich suite of experiences that characterize an organization’s full needs.

Which takes us to the last part, strategy.  By and large, I don’t do the design anymore, since I can add more value at a higher level.  Increasingly, what I’m doing is helping organizations look at their needs, current state, teams, processes, and more, and helping them develop a strategic approach to delivering learning experiences.  I help design pedagogies, processes, templates, and short-, medium-, and long-term steps.  And it is in this way that I accomplish what my first real client told me I did for them, I helped them take their solutions to the ‘next level’.

I think learning experience design is important, so important that I want to not just execute against a project at a time, but find ways to develop capability so a lot more good learning experience is created.  That means working with groups and systems. More organizations need this than might be imagined: I’ve done this for for-profit education, education publishing, those servicing corporate learning needs, and of course organizations (governmental and corporate)  wanting their external or internal learning solutions to be effective and engaging.  The sad fact is, too much ‘learning design’ is content design, still.  I’m always looking for ways to help spread a better way of creating learning.

For example, I ran a ‘deeper ID’ workshop this week for a team, and presented the concepts, modeled the application to samples of their learning objectives, gave them a practice opportunity, and wrapped up, across each of the learning elements. It was a way to address learning design in a bigger way. An extension would be to then submit sample content to me to have me comment, developing their abilities over time, as I did with another client working on integrating scenarios.

There are lots of ways this plays out, not just workshops but developing content models, spreading new metaphors for mobile learning, creating pedagogy templates, and more, but I reckon it is important work, and I have the background to do it.  I’ve found it hard to describe in the past, and I do question whether the ‘learning’ label is somewhat limiting, given my engagement in social learning with ITA and more, but I reckon it’s the right way to think about it. So I’ll keep describing it this way, and doing this work, until someone gives me a better idea!

30 August 2010

Don’t take learning skills for granted!

Clark @ 6:16 am

In all the excitement about empowering learners by providing rich information and social environments, it’s too easy to think that “if you build it, they will learn”.  Yet the evidence is to the contrary. While there are numerous components, including a culture that tolerates diversity and doesn’t punish honest mistakes, one that is easy to neglect the actual learning skills of employees. My ITA colleague Charles Jennings made a nice first pass at a list of useful skills.

Individual learning skills include the ability to know where to look for what, and how to write good search queries and evaluate search results. While you would think that at least the so-called ‘digital natives’ (a myth) would have these skills down, a UK study  found to the contrary that they were “anything but expert searchers”. On the contrary, there was a gap between performance and self-estimates of skill (a general trend when 80% of people think they’re above average :), and little time spent evaluating the quality of the information.

Social learning skills similarly should not be assumed.  As I mentioned in my previous screed on social learning design, my experience showed that learners don’t necessarily know how to work together.  The full suite of how to: be trustworthy, be appropriate, ask for help, give help, discuss intelligently, collaborate usefully and more are all not necessarily in the competency set of your audience.

Back when Jay Cross and I were pushing Meta-Learning, we argued, and still believe, that one of the best investments you could make would be to focus on the learning skills of your team, ensuring they’re optimally capable of learning new things.  That’s certainly true for information/knowledge/concept workers.  Coupled with a similarly light and strategic investment in social learning infrastructure, it seems like the biggest bang you can get for your buck.

I suggest identifying the necessary skills, making them explicit in the organization, and even assessing and developing those skills.  In a time of increasing complexity, helping learners address complexity seems like an obviously valuable investment!

27 August 2010

Designing Social Processing

Clark @ 3:16 pm

In reflecting on the presentation I gave earlier this week, I realize that I didn’t make it clear that just making it social will make activities lead to better processing.  Of course, my goal was evangelizing, but I reckon I should followup with some clarity.  There are some design principles involved.

First, the assignment itself needs to be designed to involve valuable processing activities.  If it’s merely reviewing other’s comments (after you’ve had them either “restate the concepts in your own words” or “indicate how this explains something in your past or will influence your future behavior”), asking for a “contentful contribution” (where you’ve made clear that a contentful contribution addresses the substance of their post in an elaborative or constructively critical way) is fairly straightforward. If, however, you’re looking for discussion, you will need to strive for a topic that is likely to have different points of view, either from a base of values or from different conceptions.  Areas where misconceptions are rife are useful as they can be used for constructive feedback.

If you’re asking them to collaborate to apply the knowledge to a problem (which I encourage), then you’ll want to find an application exercises the core knowledge in ways that is as closely related as possible to how they’ll need to apply it in the world.  Choose appropriately challenging applications that will bring out differences of opinion that will need active interaction to resolve.  Having teams submit intermediate representations gives the instructor a chance to provide guidance, ala Laurillard.

However, there’s more than just the assignment.  For one, do not assume learners know how to interact well on a collaborative project.  When I first assigned such to online learning teams, they questioned how to work together. I’m glad they did, as I was able to develop a set of guidelines for them that subsequently smoothed the process.  Things like each coming up with their draft response, and then sharing before negotiating a shared approach are not necessarily obvious to learners.

Finally, you need to have an environment where learners understand the expectations about taking responsibility for learning and contributing sincerely on projects, as well as tolerating differences of opinion and tolerating diversity.  Don’t assume it, engineer it by stating at the outset what’s appropriate, and always welcome inquiries on process.

Social learning does provide richer processing (next to an individual Socratic tutor, but that’s not very scalable), but it takes careful design as well.  Design your learning experiences well, and generate powerful outcomes!

19 August 2010

Transforming Business: Social Media and Conversations

Clark @ 6:50 am

In a conversation with my ITA colleagues (we keep a Skype channel open and conversations emerge daily), we revisited the idea that there’s a higher perspective that needs to be highlighted: social media is a business engine, both internally and externallyJane Hart’s been helping clients with social media marketing, and this has been an entree to talk about social media for working and learning.

The point here is that conversations are the engine of business.  (I mean conversations in the broad sense of discussions, collaborations, partnerships, productive friction, and more.)  We converse, therefore we work.  Just as, internally,  innovation, research, new products etc are the results of interaction, so to are the external aspects of business. Market research is listening to customers, branding is conversations about value propositions, negotiations with partners and suppliers, RFPs, it’s all communication. And, the Cluetrain Manifesto has let us know that with the internet and more open information, we can’t control the conversation, we have to be authentic and engage in open communication.

So if we move up a level, we recognize that both internally and externally, to succeed we need to facilitate conversations.  We need a social media infrastructure that allows stakeholders internally and externally to negotiate mutual goals and collaborate to achieve them.  The successful organization needs to fundamentally rewire itself into a wirearchy.  He who communicates best, wins.

Communication is fundamental to human nature; we’ve developed the ability to accelerate our adaptation to the environment by communication.  We’ve moved from evolution to invention.  We interact, therefore we are.  I’ve largely been focused on internal dialog, but it’s clear that from an executive perspective, you need to realize that communication is fundamental, and social media is another technology lever to move the earth. We’ve been doing it with the phone and email, but there are so many more powerful tools to augment those now. We moved from the buggy to the automobile, and we can (and should) move from email to a rich social media environment. If we want competitive advantage, at any rate.  And you do, don’t you?

18 August 2010

Social InFormal – it’s the network!

Clark @ 6:25 am

Yesterday, I talked about how social added to formal learning.  Today I want to extend social learning learning to informal learning.  When I talked about the value social adds to formal, it was about processing the information in richer ways, to help facilitate learning.  However, the value proposition for informal learning is different.

We can start, however, with formal learning, because I see learning as a continuum from formal to collaboration.  We start with designed activities to generate productive processing, but then we could and should want that learning to extend out into the community, where the fostered understanding can take root and grow.  It’s about having others improve on what we start with in a virtuous cycle (just as Dave Ferguson added breed to my original seed, feed, and weed).

While our individual learning might involve a portal with resources and search engines, our social learning goes beyond this.  We again see expressing ideas and adding feedback to others, but now it’s very task-focused, particularly in collaboration.  Further, we can specifically ask for help and pointers, and track others’ information that serve as virtual mentors for us.We are our network.

And it’s this latter, this collection of people who we’ve come to recognize as valuable, as well as those we may not even know about but input into the same mental space, where the deliberate and serendipitous collide to provide synergistic value.

This is a slightly different cut on it than Harold Jarche captures, focusing more on the processes of working than the organizational role, but in both cases, it’s still about the network.  It’s about what the network can add to our ability to do.

And, of course, it’s about putting in place the infrastructure that enables performers to tap into their network as easily as they can tap into organizational resources, so that the focus is on the task, not on the tools.

17 August 2010

Social Formal – it’s the processing!

Clark @ 6:40 am

In thinking about the benefits of adding social to formal learning for a presentation I’ll be giving, I realized that the main reason to extend social activities into formal learning is for the additional processing it provides.  While there is processing individually, social interaction provides more opportunities.

The types of learning processing that matter for learning are personalizing, elaborating, and applying.  All of this can be done individually. We can: restate what we understand, write up what the content means to us personally, write up how the concept could be reconsidered, and apply the knowledge to solve problems.  Our goals are retention over time ’til the learning is needed, and transfer to all appropriate situations.  Applying it is the most useful, but it’s a probabilistic game.  We work to increase the likelihood that the learner will succeed (even with criterion-referenced approaches, some may not make it).

Those forms of processing are useful, but feedback is better. Diana Laurillard, in her book Rethinking University Teaching had a conversational model where the learner articulated their understanding after performing and then the instructor could provide feedback. This doesn’t always scale well, however.  Are there other things we can do?

Well, how about if we require learners to put out their thoughts to each other, and then have them comment on the other’s thoughts? There are additional processing benefits here.  First, learners are listening to other, possibly wrong or different interpretations, and they have to review their understanding of the material to provide feedback.  Internalizing that monitoring of the concept is really useful to create a self-improving learner! So, just having them comment on each other is a first step.

However, having them having to negotiate a shared understanding is better. Having learners work to create a shared definition or response to an extension question means that they can’t just ‘agree to disagree’, but have to work to a compromise. That knowledge negotiation is a very powerful tool to get them to reprocess the concept and refine their understanding.  Thiagi, for example, has a whole suite of training exercises that are specifically design to get learners working together to reprocess information.

And, if we are after meaningful skill shifts (and we should be), then having them actually apply the knowledge to solve a problem or create a response to a contextualized performance should be our ultimate task.  Here, learners have to work together to determine not only their understanding, but how it applies to a particular circumstance, committing as a team to their solution. With the right amount of ambiguity in the process, learners will have to wrestle with the issues to create a response.

The outcomes from social learning extend and augment individual processing in ways that make the material more memorable.  They not only have to create a response, but they have internal cycles of feedback and refinement that are more than any realistic cycle of assignment and formal feedback can provide.  And, typically, the only cost besides social media is the ability to develop meaningful tasks.

Look, we know that information dump and check doesn’t work.  Processing does.  Processing together is more engaging and more effective, and usually quite cost effective.  What more do you want?

13 August 2010

What is the Important Work?

Clark @ 6:18 am

When you look at the changes going on in society, and the implications for business, you realize that there are some significant changes going on.  This isn’t news: things are moving faster, we’re having less resources available, our competition is more agile, the amount of relevant information is increasing, customers are more aware, the list goes on.  Does this mean something fundamental, however?

I want to argue that it does. Not surprisingly for regular readers, I think that the nature of work is changing.  The success factor for businesses will be, increasingly, the ability to:

  • continually innovate
  • conduct useful research
  • experiment
  • learn from mistakes
  • create new processes
  • solve problems
  • create new products/services/offerings/markets/businesses

In essence, to do the important work faster.  Call it knowledge work, call it concept work, the point is that execution will only  be the cost of entry, innovation will be the necessary differentiator.  The fact is, our brains are really good at pattern matching, and bad at rote work. Training people to do rote work is a dying enterprise. We should be reserving our brains for making decisions, dealing with ambiguity, and working together to create new understandings. That, increasingly, is the important work. And facilitating that work is job number one.

Now, I recognize that there’s a lot of work and businesses out there that are doing just fine as they are.  But that’s not the way to bet.  That’s likely to change in a relatively small window.  Some have postulated it on the order of 5 years.  No matter how cool your innovation is (c.f. the iPad), look how fast competitors come out (within months). That’s not a sufficient barrier to entry. And the work that’s not the important work?  Well, that could and should be outsourced or automated. Rote work isn’t how you add value, and create margins.

So, the important question becomes, how do we get the ability to do the important work?  And that, my friends, is why the ITA is on a crusade about wirearchy, personal knowledge management, social media, informal learning, and new L&D skillsBecause the only way to do the important work is to enable the power of your people. You need to get out of the old hierarchical ‘one thinks for many’ world, and start recognizing the importance of organization culture, of facilitating communication and collaboration, of enabling the necessary elements.

We believe that recognizing the inherent value of individual and collective capability, and honoring it with meaningful work and the best support, makes for more enjoyable and successful organizations.  We’re seeing the possibilities, tracking and developing the methods and tools, and helping organizations make the transition.  Are you ready to do the important work?

9 August 2010

Hit ‘em in the gut first

Clark @ 1:22 pm

I’ve argued before that you need to emotionally hook learners even before you cognitively activate related knowledge.  I reckon that learners are more likely to be open to any manipulation you might provide if they understand viscerally why something’s important before they are informed cognitively.  Some new research might support this argument.

An article points to a theory proposed by two philosophers that interprets a broad range of cognitive phenomena in terms of human communication and argumentation. In particular, some reliable flaws exhibited in our thinking, such as confirmation bias, are hypothesized to exist because we’ve evolved to be able to argue for our beliefs. We argue, therefore we are.

This isn’t to say that we can’t evaluate arguments effectively under the right contexts (when we have no bias or when we’re searching for ‘the truth’), but that when we’re creating arguments we are likely to be suboptimal from a logical standpoint, but very good at trying to marshal the evidence in a particular direction when we care.  As the authors make clear.

My particular take on this, however, is that we should ensure to marshal a convincing case about why this learning is important or our learners may make a convincing case to the contrary.  Hook the learner’s interests and motivations, and the rest of the work will be easier.

And, of course, I’m making my case in the same way they argue we should, but that doesn’t undermine the quality of the reasoning ;).

8 August 2010

10 Social Media Rebuttals

Clark @ 6:25 am

Jane Hart posted a tongue-in-cheek video by Ron Desi of 10 reasons why you should not have social media in the organization, and is collecting rebuttals.  I figured I should weigh in, so as not to be left out ;), but I’ll go on and list 10 reasons why you should want social media in your organization that aren’t aligned with the reasons not to! But first, the rebuttal:

10. Social media is a fad.

Communication has been at the core of being human since before the campfire.  Augmenting our capabilities with technology, using tools, yeah, that’s not new.  So using tools to facilitate communication is just natural evolution.  Was the computer a fad? The internet a fad?  Busted.

9. It’s about controlling the message.

You can’t control the message, and social media isn’t going to change that.  They  have phones, email, hallway conversations, parking lot conversations, and the social media cigarette break.   I won’t even go into why you’d want to control the message, because that comes up later in the list.

8. Employees will goof off.

This is redundant with the previous one. They’ll still have phones, email, paper, etc, e.g. lots of ways to goof off.  They’ll goof off regardless if you haven’t given them meaning in the work, but social media won’t affect it, yay or nay.

7. Social Media is a time waster.

They already have social media (email, phones, etc).  Are they wasting time with them, or using them to work?  Same argument as before: they’ll waste time or not, depending on the work environment, not the tool.  You have to make the environment meaningful and valuable, regardless of the technology!

6. Social media has no business purpose.

Again, they already have email. Do you use email for business?  What might they do with the ability to ask questions, provide hints, suggestions, and pointers?  To work together on a problem?  Business is communication.

5. Employees can’t be trusted.

See previous responses.  The tool doesn’t matter.  Either they can be trusted, or they can’t (and if they can’t, you’ve failed, not them).

4. Don’t cave into the demands of the millennials.

The generational differences myth has already been busted.  The evidence is that what the different generations want out of work really isn’t that different. What workers want are ways to achieve meaningful goals, and they want whatever tools will help them.  If there are new tools, get those tools into their hands!

3. Your teams already share knowledge effectively.

They may share as effectively as they  have been able to, but why would you limit them to what has been possible?  Why not empower them with what is now possible?

2. You’ll get viruses.

That’s a risk with all IT, and your IT department should block that at the firewall.  You don’t block other IT, you still have email, and ERPs, and other software.  Why would you treat this any differently?

1. Your competition isn’t using it, so why should you?

Aren’t you looking for every competitive advantage you can?  Why would you even think of not considering a possible advantage?

So let’s now turn this around, what is the advantage we’re talking about?

  1. You can do more work.  The tools provided are magnifiers of effort.  Tools in general are augments of our ability, and new tools mean either new abilities or more abilities.
  2. You can do more work independent of distance. Social media provides new tools to work together, independent of geographic location, so you can get contributions from the right people regardless of where they work and live.
  3. You can do more work independent of time. Social media tools are asynchronous as well as synchronous, so work can continue as needed.
  4. You can work faster.  The barrier to working quickly, the time for communications to percolate, is dropping. We can put richer media through faster.
  5. You can communicate better.  The richer media mean you can more effectively transit the message.
  6. You can collaborate better. The tools support not only communication, but also shared efforts on a single output.
  7. You can learn* faster. Learning’s critical, and by sharing that learning more seamlessly, the organization makes fewer mistakes, and fewer repeated mistakes.
  8. You can learn deeper. Your learning now is more richly connected through information resources, people and shared representations.  The dialog can go to a whole new level of understanding.
  9. You can innovate better. Learning faster and deeper means more problems-solved and more ideas generated, improved, and developed into solutions.
  10. You can succeed faster. The only sustainable edge will be the ability to out-learn your competitors.

Why wouldn’t you want to get more power in the hands of your people, to not just survive, but thrive?!?!

*Note that I do not mean formal learning here, I mean the broad definition of learning, and very specifically the type of learning that means exploring the unknown and creating new understandings: problem-solving, research, experimentation, creativity, innovation, new products, new services, new markets, new businesses.  That’s the type of learning needed, and needing facilitation.

7 August 2010

The LMS Debate rides again

Clark @ 10:00 am

Well, Saba called me out in an semi-anonymous (there’s a picture, but I don’t know who of, and there’s no name – in social media?) blog post on the LMS debate (a bit late to join the fray, no?).  I was surprised by the way they referred to me, but there you go(ng).  I made a comment which is awaiting moderation, but I’ll give it to you here in the interim:

I don’t know who to thank for this post, but glad to see it.  I would like to point you to a subsequent postWhen to LMS about why I don’t have a problem with the functionality, I have a problem with the philosophical stance.

Formal learning is necessary, and tracking it can be required, but it’s a small picture. When you look at the larger picture, as you talk about: user-generated content, etc, the notion that you can *manage* this activity becomes somewhat ludicrous.  And you don’t want to manage it so much as support it.  It’s the move from being an ‘instructor’ to a mentor, a facilitator.

I look at your list of capabilities, and I see support, and facilitation. Hear hear!  Great stuff.  It’s not management.  If you’re doing it task-centric, and community-centric, you’re doing it right, but then it’s not course-centric, and really you’re no longer coming from the perspective of where LMS emerged from.

Yes, Dave Wilkins of Learn.com and Tom Stone of Element K have already argued that the label is still needed in the marketplace, but I’m really trying to shift the way people think about what their role is, and to me using the label LMS is a major barrier to shifting out of the comfort zone.  And to me, that’s not just a game of semantics, it’s a fundamental perspective shift that’s necessary and desirable.

Yes, kudos to your customers who are getting much broader leverage from it than I’m worried about. But despite your claim that my concerns are ‘old news’, the results my colleagues saw at a recent elearning event in the UK, Allison Rossett’s recent survey results, and my own client experience suggest that way too many organizations are still seeing things in the old way.

So, what do you think?

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