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

25 February 2011

Clarity needed around Web 3.0

Clark @ 6:07 am

I like ASTD; they offer a valuable service to the industry in education, including reports, webinars, very good conferences (despite occasional hiccups, *cough* learning styles *cough*) that I happily speak at and even have served on a program committee for.   They may not be progressive enough for me, but I’m not their target market.  When they come out with books like The New Social Learning, they are to be especially lauded.  And when they make a conceptual mistake, I feel it’s fair, nay a responsibility, to call them on it.  Not to bag them, but to try to achieve a shared understanding and move the industry forward.  And I think they’ve made a mistake that is problematic to ignore.

A recent report of theirs, Better, Smarter, Faster: How Web 3.0 will Transform Learning in High-Performing Organizations, makes a mistake in it’s extension of a definition of Web 3.0, and I think it’s important to be clear.  Now, I haven’t read the whole report, but they make a point of including their definition in the free Executive Summary (which I *think* you can get too, even if you’re not a member, but I can’t be sure).  Their definition:

Web 3.0 represents a range of Internet-based services and technologies that include components such as natural language search, forms of artificial intelligence and machine learning, software agents that make recommendations to users, and the application of context to content.

This I almost completely agree with.  The easy examples are Netflix and Amazon recommendations: they don’t know you personally, but they have your purchases or rentals, and they can compare that to a whole bunch of other anonymous folks and create recommendations that can get spookily good.  It’s done by massive analytics, there’s no homunculus hiding behind the screen cobbling these recommendations together, it’s all done by rules and statistics.

I’ve presented before my interpretation of Web 3.0, and it is very much about using smart internet services to do, essentially system-generated content (as opposed to 1.0 producer-generated content and 2.0 user-generated content).  The application of context to content could be a bit ambiguous, however, and I’d mean that to be dynamic application of context to content, rather than pre-designed solutions (which get back to web 1.0).

As such, their first component of their three parts includes the semantic web.  Which, if they’d stopped at, would be fine. However, they bring in two other components. The second:

  • the Mobile Web, which will allow users to experience the web seamlessly as they move from one device to another, and most interaction will take place on mobile devices.

I don’t see how this follows from the definition. The mobile web is really not fundamentally a shift.  Mobile may be a fundamental societal shift, but just being able to access the internet from anywhere isn’t really a paradigmatic shift from webs 1.0 and 2.0. Yes, you can acccess produced content, and user-generated content from wherever/whenever, but it’s not going to change the content you see in any meaningful way.

They go on to the third component:

  • The third element is the idea of an immersive Internet, in which virtual worlds, augmented reality, and 3-D environments are the norm.

Again, I don’t see how this follows from their definition.  Virtual worlds start out as producer-generated content, web 1.0. Sims and games are designed and built a priori.  Yes, it’s way cool, technically sophisticated, etc, but it’s not a meaningful change. And, yes, worlds like Second Life let you extend it, turning it into web 2.0, but it’s still not fundamentally new.  We took simulations and games out of advanced technology for the conferences several years ago when I served.  This isn’t fundamentally new.

Yes, you can do new stuff on top of mobile web and immersive environments that would qualify, like taking your location and, say, goals and programmatically generating specific content for you, or creating a custom world and outcomes based upon your actions in the world from a model not just of the world, but of you, and others, and… whatever.  But without that, it’s just web 1.0 or 2.0.

And it’d be easy to slough this off and say it doesn’t matter, but ASTD is a voice with a long reach, and we really do need to hold them to a high standard because of their influence.  And we need people to be clear about what’s clever and what’s transformative.  This is not to say my definition is the only one, others have  interpretations that differ, but I think the convergent view is while it may be more than semantic web, it’s not evolutionary steps.  I’m willing to be wrong, so if you disagree, let me know.  But I think we have to get this right.

24 February 2011

Jane Hart’s Social Learning Handbook

Clark @ 6:11 am

Having previously reviewed Marcia Conner and Tony Bingham’s The New Social Learning, and Jane Bozarth’s Social Media for Trainers, I have now received my copy of Jane Hart’s Social Learning Handbook.  First, I’ll review Jane’s book on it’s own, and then put it in the context of the other two.  Caveat: I’m mentioned in all three, for sins in my past, so take the suitable precautions.

Jane’s book is very much about making the case for social learning in the workplace, as the first section details.  This is largely as an adjunct to formal learning, rather than focusing on social media for formal learning. Peppered with charts, diagrams, bullet lists, and case studies, this book is really helpful in making sense of the different ways to look at learning.

The first half of the book is aimed at helping folks get their minds around social media, with the arguments, examples, and implementation hints.  While her overarching model does include formal structured learning (FSL), it also covers her other components that complement FSL: accidental and serendipitous learning (ASL), personally directed learning (PSL), group-directed learning (GDL), and intraorganizational learning (IOL).  The point, as she shares Harold Jarche’s viewpoint on, is that we need to support not just dependent learning, but independent and interdependent learning.  And she’s focused on helping you succeed, with lots of practical advice about problems you might face and steps that might help.

Jane has a unique and valuable talent for looking at things and sorting them out in sensible ways, and that is put to great use here.  Nearly the last half of the book is 30 ways to use social media to work and learn smarter, where she goes through tools, hints and tips on getting started, and more.  Here, her elearning tool of the day site has yielded rich benefits for the reader, because she’s up to date on what’s out there, and has lists of sites, tools, people with helpful comments.

This is the book for the learning and development group that wants to figure out how to really support the full spectrum of performers, not just the novices, and/or who want to quit subjecting everyone to a course when other tools may make sense.

So, how does this book fit with Jane Bozarth’s Social Media for Trainers, and Conner & Bingham’s The New Social Learning?  Jane B’s book is largely for trainers adding social media to supplement formal learning, where as Jane H’s book is for those looking to augment formal learning, so they’re complementary.  Marcia and Tony’s book is really more the higher level picture and as such is more useful to the manager and executive.  Roughly, I’d sell the benefits to the organization with Marcia & Tony’s book, I’d give Jane B’s book to the trainers and instructional designers who are charged with improving on formal learning, and I’d give Jane H’s book to the L&D group overall who are looking to deliver more value to the organization.

They’re all short, paperback, quick and easy reading, and frankly, I reckon you oughta pick all three of them up so you don’t miss a thing.  You’d be hard pressed to get a better introduction and roadmap than from this trio of books.  Let’s tap into this huge opportunity to make things go better and faster.

21 February 2011

Quip: limits

Clark @ 6:18 am

The limits are no longer the technology; the limits are between our ears (ok, and our pocketbooks).

My old surfing buddy Carl Kuck used to say that the only limits are between our ears, and I’ve purloined his phrase for my nefarious purposes.  This comes from the observation that Arthur C. Clarke made that “any truly advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic“.  I want to suggest that we now have magic: we can summon up demons (ok, agents) to do our bidding, and peer across distances with crystal balls (or web cams). We really can bring anything, anywhere, anytime. If we can imagine it, we can make it happen if we can marshal the vision and the resources. The question is, what do we want to do with it?

Really, what we do in most schooling is contrary to what leads to real learning. I believe that technology has given us a chance to go back to real learning and ask “what should we be doing?”.  We look at apprenticeship, and meaningful activity, and scaffolding, and realize that we need to find ways to achieve this.  (Then we look at most schooling and recoil in horror.)

So, let’s stop letting the ways in which our cognitive architecture limits us (set effects, functional fixedness, premature evaluation) and think broadly about what we could be doing, and then figure out how to make it so. I’ll suggest that some components are slow learning, distributed cognition, social interaction, and meta-learning (aka 21st Century skills).  What do you think might be in the picture?

18 February 2011

Quip: innovation

Clark @ 6:05 am

Optimal execution is only the cost of entry; continual innovation is the necessary competitive differentiator.

When I talk strategy, I channel my colleagues in the Internet Time Alliance about the changes being seen in the workplace.  The rate of change is increasing, and the patterns we imagined we saw (and explained away when violated) are more clearly representing the chaos seen in a fractal world.  As a consequence, organizational nimbleness is a necessity.

In a time when competitors can copy your innovation in a matter of months (or less), you can’t just plan, prepare, and execute optimally any longer.  You now have to continually innovate in products and services, problem-solve faster, avoid repeating mistakes, and in general learn (big ‘L’ learning) faster than your competitors.

The learning doesn’t come from more hierarchy, bigger incentives, or more systems.  Counter-intuitively, perhaps, it comes from being more open, taking time for reflection, having better conversations,  finding ways to give people meaningful goals and giving them the space and support to accomplish them.  It’s more than a process shift, it’s a culture shift, but it can be done, and it works.

Yes, there’s formal learning, and performance support because you can’t neglect the optimal execution, but there’s also community-building, because you need the continual innovation too.  Neglect either, and you’ll fail.  It’s not about more resources (yeah, as if), but about more sensible allocation of them.

My suggestion: use technology and people in ways that maximize their contributions. People can be really good problem-solvers, particularly coupled with complementary technology, but they’re really bad at rote tasks.  However, technology, properly designed and developed, is really good at rote tasks.  Need I say more?  Hint hint, nudge nudge, wink wink.

17 February 2011

Building Stronger Organizations

Clark @ 6:25 am

A recent Ross Dawson blog post included a mention of building flexibility: “the more flexible the organization, the more able it is to succeed”.  Which reminded me of some work I assisted Eileen Clegg with on extremophiles that we wrote up for Marcia Conner & James Clawson’s book, Creating a Learning Culture.

Along the lines of the biomimicry field, Eileen was inspired by her scientist husband’s work on organisms that live in extreme conditions of heat, salt, cold, and more. We riffed on five mechanisms and their corporate equivalents:

  • ionic bonds: stronger bonds built upon attractions of opposites
  • context-sensing: reading the environment for cues to change strategies
  • heat-shock proteins: released under extreme conditions to repair structure
  • inoculation: bring in what challenges you
  • symbiosis: finding strategic partnerships

The reflection was that the mechanisms we were suggesting then, to make companies more resilient, were actually strategies making companies more flexible and adaptive.  It’s been a number of years, so it’s interesting to me to see what we were recommending back then and it’s even more relevant now:

  • leverage human complexity: encourage diversity and use it to drive richer solutions
  • develop ‘wise’ information technology: use technology more strategically to complement our capabilities
  • encourage always-on cross-mentoring: have mentoring networks to provide support across tough times and develop people in multiple dimensions
  • tapping social and value networks: reach out across organizational boundaries to partners and customers and eliminate blockages
  • strategic community-building: facilitating information flows

These are just the sort of activities I continue to push in conjunction with my ITA colleagues, to build flexibility in organizations to, as Ross says, achieve “competitive differentiation”.  Wherever your inspiration may arise, the solutions appear again and again: find ways to motivate and empower people because you care about them and what you are doing, and they will provide you with valuable outcomes.  What ways are you seeing, trying, and finding useful?

14 February 2011

Quip: conversations

Clark @ 6:04 am

Conversations are the engine of business.

Seriously.  How many problems are solved by saying “go talk to <so-and-so>”, or ideas sparked by conversations around the water cooler? How many times has a chance conversation ended up leading to a new product, service, acquisition, or more?  The conversations can be of many types: with co-workers, managers, subordinates, customers, stakeholders. We may execute individually, but the innovations, the changes, the needed learning happens by dialog. The important work is done in conversations.

Consequently, we need to ensure that we have the tools to support conversations, and a culture that promotes them.  It’s got to be valued to be helpful, and part of the culture.  We have had tools for interaction before, from talking, through phone and email, but now we have the opportunity to look at, and support, a richer suite of interaction.

You need mechanisms to ask questions, find people, share thoughts.  Microblogging (e.g. twitter) allows you to follow people who spark thoughts, and ask questions of your followers. Blogging lets you put out more formed thoughts and look for feedback. Profiles let you search for people who have knowledge you  need.  Forums provide opportunities for open and ongoing dialogs.  IM chats provide an open channel to have a continuing presence.  And so on.

And don’t assume conversations are optimal, ensure it.  One of the coming roles for learning designers is facilitating the informal learning as well as the formal, I suggest.  This includes both individual skills and organizational culture.  Make the principles of good conversation explicit, model it, encourage it, and develop it.

Don’t starve the engine, ensure that it’s tuned and getting adequate fuel.  Facilitate business performance and make the environment conducive to good conversations to unleash your organization’s potential.

11 February 2011

Quip: design

Clark @ 6:35 am

If you get the design right, there are lots of ways to implement it; if you don’t get the design right, it doesn’t matter how you implement it.

Too often, people under design and overproduce, resulting in great looking products that are worthless.  This is certainly the case in elearning, but you see it in other fields, too.

Similarly, I’ve found that if you get the design right, you don’t need lots of production.  In an example cited in my Engaging Learning book, we designed a game for kids that need to learn how to live on their own. The first version looked like it was done by lame 3rd graders, but the play was right; as a consequence, we got some funding to tart up the graphics.  On the other hand, if the play hadn’t been right, it wouldn’t have gotten used.

One of the reasons to tout this is so many people are concerned about what tool to use.  I don’t really systematically study tools, because once you’ve got the design, you can probably implement it in a variety of tool solutions. And the tools will change, but the need for quality design won’t.

The focus has to be on the learning experience design first, and then you can worry about how you might build the delivery environment.  So, please, get design, and get the design right.  Then we can talk about how to develop it.

10 February 2011

Quip: tradeoffs

Clark @ 6:19 am

There are no right answers, only tradeoffs.

This is something I frequently say in my design workshops (games, mobile, whatever). When you are doing a design, there are many factors to be considered, and many alternatives.  The question is not “what is the right answer”, the question is “what is the right answer for now, in this context”.  The reason being that there are many possible answers, and you will have to consider several alternatives.

When we do an analysis, we have to decide whether it’s a skill, knowledge, attitude, or something else.  Then we can decide whether to address it with training, job aids, interface redesign, or something else.  And usually it could be one or the other but we eventually converge on a solution.

In the interface design space, there arose an approach called a ‘design rationale‘ just to keep new folks on the team from revisiting prior decisions.  There were even tools created to document these.  There are a lot of factors that affect a solution, including audience, current environment (tech, sociocultural, resources, etc), and goals.  There will be tensions between them, and the solution will end up being a compromise that is the best guess at a solution space.

Or, as I depicted it a while ago, the potential solution space is large, and various factors end up constraining that space down to a solution (if we end up with the empty set, we have to relax one or more of the constraints).  It helps to have constraints.  Some of the solutions are better than others, but seldom is any one so dominantly optimal.  Just think of the problem of what car to buy?  Economy, style, reliability, current sales incentives, there are lots of factors, and  you probably ended up choosing among several possibilities.

On a side note, this is an important way the real world differs from ‘schooling’.  I like what David Jonassen says about how the problems we give our kids in class don’t bear any relation to the problems they face in the world (and his focus on changing the problems seen in schools).

And, as m’lady likes to say, there should be no ‘coulda shoulda woulda’s.  You made the best decision at the time (right?), and then if it later turns out to have been wrong you had no way to know or you would’ve factored it into your decision at the time.  Unless you missed something you could and should have seen then, you still made the right decision.

This is why consultants typically answer with ‘it depends’ when asked for specifics beforehand (much to potential customers dismay).  When the expert realizes the myriad factors that could affect the choices and outcomes, it’s naive to give a pat answer to the client who needs help.  There are likely parameters that affect the decision and may help to constrain it to a range,  and the experience may allow a qualified guess, but don’t expect a binding agreement until a scoping exercise has been performed.

It is important to be explicit about this, rather than assume you can make a perfect decision.  Recognizing the process allows you to be open in your evaluations and honest in your assessment of the solution.  Make the best tradeoffs you can, recognize that you can be wrong, and move ahead.

8 February 2011

Social Media Strategy thoughts

Clark @ 6:03 am

What is a social media strategy for outreach?  Really, it’s about demonstrating your thinking, your values, and background. It’s about interacting with appropriate people in ways that reflect who you are.

Here is some thoughts about how that maps out in two areas: Facebook, and Twitter.  I’m mentioning these as two of the most viable and visible tools for social media engagement.

Twitter

Having a twitter account is a necessary start, maybe several. One might be just a daily thing people can follow, but it has to provide value.  So, for example, you might stream out an interesting bit of the day. That, alone, however, is not enough.

A second important role is to engage people.  More important than the first idea is to ‘be’ an entity.  If an organization is on social media, and increasingly they should be,  it needs to be interactive. This is accomplished in several ways:

  • point to what the organization is doing
  • point to interesting things outside of the organization
  • re-tweet relevant stuff that others post (which requires following interesting people)
  • respond to people replying to that account.

These require resources, essentially a person or persons who handle these duties.  Done well, these activities demonstrate that there is an interesting mind and a sincere heart behind the account.

Facebook

The same is true of a FaceBook page.  Not only should people be friending it, they should be coming back to be engaged  the organization, but now also with their colleagues also interested in the organization.

There are different ways to be on Facebook: as a static page, or as a ‘presence’ with dialogs, groups, etc.  A static page might get a few ‘likes’, but you really want to build a site as a place to come for folks interested in the organization and it’s work.  There need to be discussions supported (and interacted with).  There need to be updates.  There needs to be a way for people to have a dialog with you.  You need information: photos, events.  Use apps to create polls. In short, it’s about interaction around the organization and it’s work.

Again, the message is that you’re active, engaged, you really care about what you do.  And, again, it takes resources.

Twitter/Facebook Integration

These two elements do not live independently.  Your Twitter strategy should be aligned with your Facebook strategy, so your tweets point to new information on Facebook, your Facebook account reflects your tweets, etc.  Your tweets should drive traffic to the Facebook site, but not exclusively.

There’s more that can be incorporated: blogs (I use twitter and my blog more than my facebook page, but I’m an individual not an organization).  However, your elements shouldn’t be too fragmented.  E.g. only have separate Twitter handles and Facebook pages if your separate initiatives have to maintain unique identities. However, that’s a branding issue, and not a place I’m qualified to talk about.  Once you’ve got the identity, then you need to align your Facebook and Twitter strategies.

So, you should be doing this, and you need to be doing it well.  If you don’t do it right, you may as well not do it at all.

7 February 2011

Reflections on the final day of TechKnowledge 11

Clark @ 6:19 am

Because of prior commitments, I only got to attend the last day of the TechKnowledge conference, to participate in two panels, one on mobile and one on instructional design, and then listen to the closing session.  Some thoughts stuck with me:

The Mobile Panel

It’s clear to me that many folks are still thinking of mobile as content delivery in a course mode.  There’s nothing wrong with content delivery, e.g. for performance support, and for course augmentation, but the panel (Kris Rockwell, Ed Prentice) was wisely arguing for a broader vision for mobile learning.

Kris mentioned the possibilities of just using voice, and I chimed in with the potential for using SMS.  Again, you really want to think a little differently to take advantage of mobile.  I also mentioned the other 3 C’s: Compute, Capture (images, videos, audio), and Communicate.

The possibilities provided by knowing where you are, that these devices have GPS in many cases, was also mentioned. The real point is you need to move beyond thinking of content for courses to really take advantage of the opportunities mobile presents.

Instructional Design Panel

With participants as widely experienced as Steve Villachica, Ellen Wagner, Karl Kapp, and Allison Rossett, you’d expect fun and irreverence in addition to sage advice, and that’s just what you got.  Topics ranged from what should be taught in classes to the reality of practice in the field.  There was some disagreement (I was a self-labeled contrarian a couple of times), but in general we were nodding at what others were saying.

One of the major points was that just understanding instructional design wasn’t enough.  Ellen told the story of her journey out of academia and the wake-up call she received when having to work in an organization.  Steve talked about how they wanted learners to understand business and project management, and Karl talked about the internships they use to ground their classes.

The counter came from the audience where instructional design departments of one were concerned about having time to take on a ‘consulting’ role in addition to meeting their required duties, and how to accommodate the need to add things like mobile to their repertoire.  The need to move up to thinking at a higher level is easy to proselytize, but hard to accomplish in practice.  However, I do argue for the bigger picture, asking you to avoid Learning Malpractice.

Closing Session

The closing session was a brave move by ASTD, and more credit to them for giving it a go; they had a BBC host conduct the session in a TV-style presentation, with rapid fire interviews mixed in with video footage, a quick SkypeCast with a UK-based expert, and tweeted questions.  In the end it came across as a bit too much (the videos had gratuitous graphics and the soundtrack was too like an advertisement), but it was lively and I have to commend experimentation.  It certainly was better than some alternatives I’ve seen (e.g. another conference that closed with a content-free motivational speaker).

One of the most contentious points was a face-off between the view that we’ve been using things like social learning for ever, and only the tools have changed to a contrary point that our learning fundamentally has changed.  The latter point got cheers, but I think what’s changed is we’ve moved away from industrial age efficiency and back to matching our our brains really learn, but with new tools.  So I disagree with both (there’s that contrarian thing again :).

I like the TechKnowledge conference, as I think they work hard to get mostly the right folks (tho’ I confess to being surprised to see a ‘learning styles’ workshop put on pre-conference), and many of our top colleagues have taken a shot at serving on the program committee.  I think it’s in Las Vegas next year, and a good conference to attend regardless.

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