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

28 August 2012

The Tablet Proposition

Clark @ 6:49 am

RJ Jacquez asks the question “is elearning on tablets really mlearning“.  And, of course, the answer is no, elearning on tablets is just elearning, and mlearning is something different.  But it got me to thinking about where tablets do fit in the mlearning picture, in ways that go beyond what I’ve said in the past.

I wasn’t going to bother to say why I answered no before I get to the point of my post, but then I noticed that more than half of the respondents say it is, (quelle horreur), so I’ll get that out of the way first.  If your mobile solution isn’t doing something unique because of where (or when) you are, if it’s not doing something unique to the context, it’s not mlearning.  Using a tablet like a laptop is not mlearning. If you’re using it to solve problems in your location, to access information  you need here and now, it’s mobile, whether pocketable or not.  That’s what mlearning is, and it’s mostly about performance support, or contextualized learning augmentation, it’s not about just info access in convenience.

Which actually segues nicely into my main point. So let’s ask, when would you want a tablet instead of a pocketable when you’re on the go?  I think the answer is pretty clear: when you need more information or interactivity than a pocketable can handle, and you’re not as concerned about space.

Taking the first situation: there are times when a pocketable device just can’t cope with the amount of screen real estate you need.  If you need a rich interaction to establish information: numerous related fields or a broad picture of context, you’re going to be hard pressed to use a pocketable device.  You can do it if you need to, with some complicated interface design, but if you’ve the leeway, a tablet’s better.

And that leeway is the second point: if it’s not running around from cars to planes, but instead either on a floor you’re traversing in a more leisurely or systematic way, or in a relatively confined space, a tablet is going to work out fine.  The obvious places in use are hospitals or airplane cockpits, but this is true of factory floors, restaurants, and more.

There is a caveat: if large amounts of text need to be captured, neither a pocketable nor a tablet are going to be particularly great.  Handwriting capture is still problematic, and touchscreen keyboards aren’t industrial strength text entry solutions.  Audio capture is a possibility, but the transcription may need editing. So, if it’s keyboard input, use something with a real keyboard: netbook or laptop.

So, that’s my pragmatic take on when tablets take over from pocketables.  I take tablets to meetings and when seated for longer periods of time, but it’s packed when I’m hopping from car to plane, on a short shopping trip, etc.  It’s about tradeoffs, and your tradeoff, if you’re targeting one device, will be mobility versus information.  Well, and text.

The point is to be systematic and strategic about your choice of devices. Opportunism is ok, but unexamined decisions can bite you.  Make sense?

20 August 2012

Coherent performance

Clark @ 7:34 am

I’ve been revisiting performance support in preparation for the Guild’s Performance Support Symposium next month, and I’m seeing a connection between two models that really excite me. It’s about how social and performance support are a natural connection.

Problem-solvingSo, let’s start with a performance model. This model came from a look at how people act in the world and I was reminded of it during a conversation on informal learning. Most of the time, we’re acting in well-understood ways (e.g. driving), and we can keep our minds free for other things.  However, there may be times when we can’t rely on that well-practiced approach (say, for instance, if our usual route home is blocked for some reason). Then we have a breakdown, and need to consciously problem-solve. Ideally, if we find the solution, we reflect on it and make it part of our well-practiced repertoire.

Performance supportSo what I wanted to do was use this understanding to think about how we might support performance.  What support do we need at these different stages?  I propose that when we have a breakdown, ideally we find the answer, either as an information resource, or from a person with the answer.  Some of the time, we might identify a real skill shift we need, and then we might actually take a course, but it’s a small part of the picture.

If we find the answer, we can go back into action, but if we can’t find the answer, we have to go into problem-solving mode. Here, the support we need differs.  We may need data to look for patterns that can explain what’s going on, or models to help find a solution, or even people. Note, however, that the people here are different than the people we would access for the answer. If there were a person with the answer, we would’ve found them in the first step. Here it’s likely to be good collaborators, people with complementary skills and  a willingness to help.

If and when we find the answer, then we should share that so that others don’t have to do the same problem-solving, but can access the resource (or you) in the first step. This step is often skipped, because it’s not safe to share, or there’s just not a focus on such contributions and it’s too easy to just get back to work without recognizing the bigger picture.  This is one of the components of what Harold Jarche means by ‘narrating your work‘, and I mean in ‘learning out loud’.  If it’s habitual, it’s beneficial.

Working Collaboratively and cooperativelyThe connection that I see, however, is that there’s a very strong relationship between this model, and the coherent organization model. At the first step, finding the answer, likely comes from your community of practice or even the broader network (internal or external).  This is cooperation, where they’re willing to share the answer.

At the second step, if you get to problem-solving, this is collaboration.  It may not just be in a work group (though, implicitly, it is a work group), but could be folks from anywhere.  The bigger the problem, the more it’s a formal work group.

The point is that while the L&D group can be providing some of the support, in terms of courses and fixed resources, at other times the solution is going to require ‘the network’. That is, folks are going to play a part in meeting the increasing needs for working.  The resources themselves are increasingly likely to be collaboratively developed,  the answer is more likely ‘out there’ than necessarily codified in house.

There’s going to of necessity be a greater shift to more flexible solutions across resources and people, to support organizational performance.  The performance support model will increasingly require an infrastructure to support the coherent organization.  Are you ready?

10 August 2012

HyperCard reflections #hypercard25th

Clark @ 9:39 am

It’s coming up to the 25th anniversary of HyperCard, and I’m reminded of how much that application played a role in my thinking and working at the time. Developed by Bill Atkinson, it was really ‘programming for the masses’, a tool for the Macintosh that allowed folks to easily build simple, and even complex, applications. I’d programmed in other environments : Algol, Pascal, Basic, Forth, and even a little Lisp, but this was a major step forward in simplicity and power.

Screen from Voodoo AdventureA colleague of mine who was working at Claris suggested how cool this new tool was going to be, and I taught myself HyperCard while doing a postdoc at the University of Pittsburgh’s Learning Research and Development Center. I used it to prototype my ideas of a learning tool we could use for our research on children’s mental models of science. I then used it to program a game based upon my PhD research, embedding analogical reasoning puzzles into a game (Voodoo Adventure; see screenshot). I wrote it up and got it published as an investigation how games could be used as cognitive research tools. To little attention, back in ’91 :).

While teaching HCI, I had my students use HyperCard to develop their interface solutions to my assignments. The intention was to allow them to focus more on design and less on syntax. I also reflected on how the interface encapsulated to some degree on what Andi diSessa called ‘incremental advantage’, a property of an environment that rewarded greater investments in understanding with greater power to control the system. HyperCard’s buttons, fields, and backgrounds provided this, up until the next step to HyperTalk (which also had that capability once you got into the programming notion). I also proposed that such an environment could support ‘discoverability’ (a concept I learned from Jean Marc Robert), where an environment could support experimentation to learn to use it in steady ways. Another paper resulted.

I also used HyperCard to develop applications in my research. We used it to develop Quest for Independence, a game that helped kids who grew up without parents (e.g. foster care) learn to survive on their own. Similarly, we developed a HCI performance support tool. Both of these later got ported to the web as soon as CGI’s came out that let the web retain state (you can still play Quest; as far as I know it was the first serious game you could play on the web).

The other ways HyperCard were used are well known (e.g. Myst), but it was a powerful tool for me personally, and I still miss having an easy environment for prototyping. I don’t program anymore (I add value other ways), but I still remember it fondly, and would love to have it running on my iPad as well! Kudos to Bill and Apple for creating and releasing it; a shame it was eventually killed through neglect.

7 August 2012

Shades of grey

Clark @ 5:47 am

In looking across several instances of training in official procedures, I regularly see that, despite bunches of regulations and guidelines, that things are not black and white, but that there are myriad shades of grey.  And I think that there is probably a very reasonable way to deal with it.  (Surely you didn’t think I was talking about a book!)

In these situations, there are typically cases that are very white, others that are very black, but most end up somewhere in the middle, with a fair degree of ambiguity.  And the concerns of the governing body are various.  In one instance, the body was more concerned that you’d done due diligence and could show a trail of the thinking that led to the decision. If you did that, you were ok, even if you ended up making the wrong decision. In another case, the concern was more about consistency and repeatability. You didn’t want to show bias.

However, the training doesn’t really reflect that. In many cases, they point out the law (in the official verbiage), you work through some examples, and you’re quizzed on the knowledge.  You might even workshop a few examples.  Typically, you are to get the ‘right answer’.

I’d suggest that a better approach would be to give the learners a series of examples that are first workshopped by small groups, with their work brought back to the class.  The important things are the ways the discussion is facilitated, supported, and the choice of problems.  First, I think they’re given the problems and the associated requirements, guidelines, or regulations.  Period.  No presentation beforehand, nothing except reactivating the relevance of this material to their real work.

Examples chosen from the white and black ends into the greyI’m  suggesting that the first problem they face be, essentially, ‘white’, and the second is ‘black’ (or vice versa). The point is for them to see what the situation looks like when it’s very clear, and for them to get used to using the materials to make a determination. (This is likely what they’re going to be doing in real practice anyway!)  At this point, the discussion facilitation is focused on helping them understand how the rules play out in the clear cases.

Then they start getting grayer cases, ones where there’s more ambiguity.  Here, the focus of discussion facilitation is to start emphasizing the subtext: either ‘document your work’, or ‘be consistent’, or whatever.  The amount of these will depend on how much practice they need.  If the decisions are complex, they’re relatively infrequent, or the decisions are really important, they’ll need more practice.

This way, the learners are a) getting comfortable with the decisions, b) getting used to using the materials to make the decisions, and c) recognizing what’s really important.

I’m relatively certain that this may be problematic for some of the SMEs, who may prefer to argue for right/wrong answers, but I think it reflects the reality when you unpack the thinking behind the way it plays out in practice.  And I think that’s more important for the learners, and the training organization, to recognize.

Of course, as they work in groups, the most valuable way to support them may be for them to have the coordinates of other members of their group to call on when they face really tough decisions. That sort of collaboration may trump formal instruction anyway ;).


1 August 2012

Quinnovation online and on the go

Clark @ 5:45 am

First, I have to tout that my article on content systems has been published in Learning Solutions magazine.   It complements my recent post on content and data.

Second, I’ll be presenting on mobile at the eLearning Guild’s Performance Support Symposium in September in Boston.  Would welcome seeing you there.  Also will be doing a deeper ID session for Mass. ISPI while I’m there.

Third, I’ll be keynoting the MobilearnAsia conference in Singapore at the end of October.  It’s the first in the region, and if you’re in the neighborhood it should be a great way to get steeped in mobile.

Finally, I’ll be at the eLearning Guild’s DevLearn in November, presenting my mobile learning strategy workshop, among other things.

If you’re at one of these events, say “hi”!


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