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

26 October 2016

Pick my brain?

Clark @ 8:10 am

It’s a continual bane of a consultant’s existence that there are people who want to ‘pick your brain’.  It’s really asking for free consulting, and as such, it’s insulting. If you google the phrase, you’ll see how many people have indicated their problems with this! However, there are quite legitimate ways to pick my brain and I thought I’d mention a couple.  In both cases, I think were great engagements on both sides, high value for a reasonable investment.

Both in this case were for folks who develop content. In one case a not-for-profit, the other in the higher-ed space.  One had heard me speak about learning design, and one had heard about a workshop I’d given, but both contacted me. It is clear they realized that there’s value to them for having a scrutable learning design.

Content Review

So for the first one, they wanted some feedback on their design, and we arranged that I’d investigate a representative sample and provide feedback.  I went through systematically, taking notes, and compiled my observations into a report I sent them.  This didn’t take any investment in travel, but of course this feedback only points out what’s wrong, and doesn’t really provide mechanisms to improve.

I think they were surprised at the outcome, as the feedback was fairly robust.  They had a good design, largely, under the constraints, but there were some systematic design problems.  There were also some places where they’d managed to have some errors that had passed editorial (and this was only a small sample of a replicated model across a broad curriculum). To be fair, some of my complaints came from situations that were appropriate given some aspect of their context that I hadn’t known, but there were still a set of specific improvements I could recommend:

We found his comments insightful, and we look forward to implementing his expert suggestions to further improve of our product…

Learning Design Workshop

In this case, they’d heard about a workshop that I’d run on behalf of a client, and were interested in getting a similar experience. They had been designing content and had a great ability to track the results of their design and tweak, but really wanted a grounding in the underlying learning science.  I did review some sample content, but I also traveled to their site for a day and presented learning science details and workshopped the implications to their design process.

I went through details such as:

  • the importance and format for objectives,
  • SME limitations and tips how to work with them,
  • what makes effective practice,
  • the role and characteristics of concepts,
  • the details behind examples,
  • introduction and the role of emotions in the learning experience,
  • and more.

We went through examples of their content, and workshopped how they could adjust their design processes in pragmatic ways to instill the important details into their approach.  We also talked about ways to followup to not lose the momentum, but it was clear that this first visit was viewed favorable:

“…a walking encyclopedia of learning science… was able to respond to our inquiries with one well-researched perspective after another”.

consulttaleslogoSo, there are ways to pick my brain that provide high value with mutual benefit on each side.  Sure, you can read my blog or books, but sometimes you may want assistance in contextualizing it to your situation.  I encourage you to think of making an investment in quality.  These are about learning design, but I have some examples in strategy that I intend to share soon.  And more.  Stay tuned for more  ‘adventures in consulting’ tales that talk about ways in which a variety of needs are met.  Maybe one will resonate with you.  Of course, they’ll be mixed in with the regular reflections you’ve come to expect.

18 October 2016

Next book?

Clark @ 8:01 am

The time has come to ask: what should be my next book?  I’ve written four so far:

Engaging Learning was something I felt was needed because people had written about the importance of games but no one was writing about how to design them, and I could.

Then, while I wanted to write about elearning strategy, my publisher wanted a book on mobile and I realized one was needed and the other likely candidates deferred.  Hence, Designing mLearning.

After that, my publisher’s sister company wanted a book on mlearning for higher education, and I ended up writing The Mobile Academy.

And then I finally convinced my publisher to let me write the elearning strategy book, and Revolutionize L&D was the result.

Let me be clear: I’m proud of each and every one of them.  I think each does the job it was designed to do, well.  However, each was written because either I or the publisher felt there was a need.  Which isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not the only approach. While I have some ideas, and of course it’s up to my publisher (unless I self-publish), it occurs to me to ask you what book I should write next.

So what is the next book you would like to see from me?  What book do you want or need that isn’t out there yet, and that is one that I am the person to write?  Here’s your chance; I’d greatly appreciate it if you took just a minute or two to give it some thought and write out your ideas.  What do you think?

6 October 2016

Because quality matters

Clark @ 8:06 am

I was reflecting on some of the actions my colleagues and I take.  These are, in particular, colleagues that have been contributing to the field for a long time, ones who know what they’re talking about and that I therefore respect.  I retweeted one who called for being careful of the source in message. I’ve supported another who has been on a crusade against myths.  And I joined with some others to promote quality elearning.  And it led me to wonder why.  Why care?  Why take risks and potentially upset people?  And I realized that it’s because I care; because quality matters.

So what do I mean?  For one, it’s about money.  To the extent that people are misled by claims, they can misinvest their money. They might be persuaded to buy products that can’t really deliver what’s promised. They might pursue programs that aren’t going to have a real effect.  We see this a lot, initiatives that don’t achieve the desired outcome. There are lots of ways to fail, but we do know lots about how to do it right. Yet we still see strategies limited to courses, and courses designed poorly, and thus money being wasted that could be doing good.

Yet really, it’s about people.  It’s about giving them the right tools to do their job, whether in their heads or in the world.  In particular, I think that a field that’s about learning is about helping people improve, and that’s a noble pursuit.  Yet, too much of what’s done is under-informed, if not outright misled.  We need to do  better.

And it’s about us.  If we’re to be professional, if we’re going to hold our heads high, if we’re going to have a meaningful impact, we have to do what’s right. And if we don’t know what that is, it’s incumbent on us to find out.  And be smart about it.  Be critical in our investigation of messages (including this one ;). We need to have enough background to be able to sift the wheat from the chaff.  And we need to continue to educate ourselves on the science that is behind what we do.  We need to be responsible.

We need to recognize that changing what is arguably the most complex thing in the known universe (the  mind) in persistent and predictable ways is not simple.  And simple solutions, while appealing, are not going to do the job.  They might meet one particular metric, but when you look at the big picture, aligning improvement with respect, you need to have a rich solution.

And I think awareness is growing. We are seeing more people interested in improving their learning designs despite considerable budget and time pressures.  And we’re seeing folks looking beyond the course, seeking to create an approach that’s broader and yet more focused on success.  Finally, we’re seeing people interested in improving. Which is the first step.

So you can continue to expect me to work for quality, and back up those who do likewise. Together, we might make this field one to be proud of.  I don’t think we’re quite there yet, but it’s within our reach. We can do this, and we should.  Are you with me?

If you’re interested in getting started, and would like some help to get going faster and further, get in touch!

29 September 2016

Workshopping what’s needed: going deep on elearning

Clark @ 8:04 am

Are you ready to really try to make a change in what you’re doing? It’s past time, both at the level of our elearning design, and at the level of elearning strategy.  And now you have the chance to do something about it, because I’m holding workshops addressing each.  In different places with different goals, but each is a way to proceed on going deep on elearning.

going deep on elearningIf you’re interested in the Revolution, in looking at what L&D can, and should, be, you should join me in Las Vegas at the DevLearn conference and sign up for my pre-conference workshop. On Monday, Nov 14th, we’re going to spend the day getting seriously into opportunities of the performance ecosystem and the strategy to get there.  We’ll look at the need for not only optimal execution but also continual innovation, what is required, and how the elements work together. Then we’re going to work through assessing where you’re at, where you’d like to be, and give you the opportunity to pull together your own strategic plan. You’ll leave with a roadmap forward for your organization.  This is your chance to get a jump on the future of L&D.

If getting serious about elearning design is your thing, you should join us on Wednesday, Nov 30 at Online Educa in Berlin. It’s past time to stop producing elearning that’s ineffective. Here, my workshop  is focused on going deep on elearning.  We’re going to spend the day unpacking the details that make (e)learning really stick, and the design revisions that will accomplish it. We’ll dig into the cognitive, but also the emotional aspects that affect the outcomes.  You’ll practice the skills, and then work on steps that you can practically incorporate into your practice.

If you want to really sink your teeth into either of these important topics, here’s your opportunity.  I hope to see you at one or both!

20 September 2016

Deeper Design: Working out Loud and the Future of Work

Clark @ 5:05 am

Over the past year, I’ve been working on a project.  After I wrote the Deeper eLearning series of 6 posts with Learnnovators, we wondered what to do next.  We decided to do a course together, free-to-air, and write about the process as well (a bit of Working Out Loud), with the intention was to try to do deep design on a pragmatic basis.  And, just as a hint, the topic is the Future of Work, the choice of which is
part of the story. It’s a tribute to our late friend and colleague, Jay Cross, with the assistance of my colleagues in the Internet Time Alliance.

learnnovators course design example

Well, that goal was accomplished.  First, there are four articles talking about the design, that Learning Solutions magazine was kind enough to host:

The first post talks about our initial plans, and how we settled on a topic.

The second post talks about our initial design decisions, scoping the overall course.

The third post talks about our detailed design decisions.

And the fourth post talks about our development process.

We intend a fifth post talking about what we learn after the release!

and now there’s also a press release that provides a link to the course.  There’s an opportunity at the end of the course to leave some thoughts and comments, if you go through it (it’s designed for 20-30 minutes).

And, of course, if you do go through and want to talk about it, you can comment on the posts or here.  I welcome your thoughts!

13 September 2016

Augmenting AR for Learning

Clark @ 8:01 am

We’re hearing more and more about AR (Augmented Reality), and one of it’s core elements is layering information on top of the world.  But in a conversation the other night, it occurred to me that we could push that information to be even more proactive in facilitating learning. And this comes from the use of models.

The key idea I want to leverage is the use of models to foster is the use of models to predict or explain what happens in the world. As I have argued, models are useful to guide our performance, and in fact I suggest that they’re the best basis to give people the ability to act, and adapt, in a changing world.  So the ability to develop the ability to use them is, I would suggest, valuable.

Now, with AR, we can annotate the world with models.  We can layer on the conceptual relationships that underpin the things we can observe, so showing flow, causation, forces, constraints, and more.  We can illustrate tectonic forces, represent socio-economic data, physical properties, and so on.  The question is, can we not just illuminate them, but can we ‘exercise’ them. ?

Imagine that when we presented this information, we asked the learner to make an inference based upon the displayed model.  So, for instance, we might ask them, presented with a hypothetical or historical situation to accompany the model, to explain why it would have occurred. Similarly, we could ask them to predict, based upon the model, the outcome of some perturbation.

In short, we’re not only presenting the underlying relationship, but asking them to use it in a particular context.  This is what meaningful practice is all about, and we can use the additional information from the AR overlay as scaffolding to support acquiring not just information but the ability to use it.

Now, motivated and effective self-learners wouldn’t need this additional level of support, but there are plausible situations where it would make sense.  Another extension would be to ask learners to create a particular change of state (as long as the consequences are controllable).  While the addition of information in the world can be helpful, developing that understanding through action could be even more powerful.  That’s where my thinking was going, anyway, where does this lead you?

24 August 2016

Trying out videos

Clark @ 8:06 am

DevLearn, the elearning conference I’ll be attending in November, has suggested adding videos to promote your talks.  I haven’t done much with video (though I did just do this <6 minute one about my proposed learning pedagogy), but I’ve found the ‘narrated presentation’ capability built into Keynote to be of interest, so I’ve been playing with it.  And I thought I’d share.

First, I created this one to promote my talk on eLearning Myths. It’s a fun session with a MythSmasher format (e.g. the possible myth, the appeal, the damage, the method, the results, and what you can do instead if it’s busted) . It’s important, because if you’re supporting the wrong myths you can be wasting money and vulnerable to flawed promotions. Here’s the pitch:

Then, I’m also running an elearning strategy workshop, that’s basically the Revolution roadmap.  In it, we work through the elements of the Performance Ecosystem and not only make the case for, but workshop a personalized roadmap for your organization.  As things move forward, there’s an opportunity for L&D to lead the charge to the adaptive organization!

I welcome hearing your feedback on content or presentation, and of course invite you to attend either or both!

23 August 2016


Clark @ 8:10 am

I recently wrote about serious comics, and realized there’s a form I hadn’t addressed yet has some valuable insights. The value in looking at other approaches is that it provides lateral insight (I’m currently reading Stephen Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From) that we may be able to transfer.  And the source this time is editorial cartoons.

Editorial cartoons use imagery and text to convey a comment on a current topic.  The best ones portray a poignant insight into an issue of the day, via a twist that emphasizes the point to be made.  They’re usually combined with a distinct visual style from each artist.  They reflect some of the same thoughts that accompany internet memes (the captioned photos) but require more visual talent ;).

The common approach appears to be (and I welcome insight from others) the ability to use another context to exaggerate some viewpoint. It’s a bit metaphorical, but I think the trick is to abstract the structure from the situation to be illuminated, and to map it to another situation that highlights the relationships.  So you could take some recent pop star spat and map it to a political one, or highlight an economic policy as a personal one.

As context, I happened to stumble upon an exhibition of Conrad‘s work in my college art gallery, and as he was the local cartoonist for my home newspaper (The LA Times), I recognized his work.  I had the chance to explore in more detail his award-winning efforts. Agree or disagree, he made powerful comments and I admired his ability.

Now, editorial cartooning is very context-sensitive, in that what is being talked about is very much ‘of the day’. What’s being commented on may not be relevant at a later time, particularly if they conjoin a popular culture event with an issue as they often do.  But the insight, looking for the twist and the way to make the point, is a valuable skill that has a role in learning design too.

In learning design, we want to make the content meaningful.  There’s intrinsic interest in pretty much everything, but it may be hard to find (see: working with SMEs), and also hard to convey.  Yet I believe comics are one way to do this.  You can, for instance, humorously exaggerate the consequences of not having the knowledge.  I’ve done that with content where we introduced each section of a course with a comic (very much like an editorial cartoon) highlighting the topic and necessity.

The point being that we can not only benefit from understanding other media, but we can appropriate their approaches as well. Our learning designs needs to be eclectic to be engaging and effective.  Or, to put it another way, there are lots of ways to get the design implemented, once you have the design right.

17 August 2016

Meaningful and meta

Clark @ 8:11 am

Over the weekend, one of my colleagues posted a rant about MOOCs and critical thinking. And, largely, I think he was right.  There’re several things we need, and MOOCs as they typically are constituted, aren’t going to deliver.  As I talked about yesterday, I think we need a more refined pedagogy.

So the things we need, to me, are two things:

  1. meaningful learning, whereby we have individuals learning skills that are applicable in their lives, and
  2. meta-learning, or learning to learn, so that people can continue to develop their skills in the face of increasing change.

And I don’t think the typical ‘text on screen with a quiz’ that he was ranting about is going to do it. Even with hand-shot videos.  (Though I disagree when he doesn’t like the word ‘engage’, as I obviously believe that we need engagement, but of both heart and mind, not just tarted up quizzes.)  He wanted critical thinking skills, and I agree.

Hence the activity framework. Yes, it depends on your design skills, but when done right, focusing on having learners create products that resemble the outputs that they’ll need to generate in their lives (and this is strongly influenced by the story-centered curriculum/goal-based scenario work of Roger Schank) is fundamentally invoking the skills they need. And having them show the thinking behind it developing their ‘work out loud’ (“show your work”) skills that ideally will carry over.

Ideally, of course, they’re engaging with other learners, commenting on their thinking (so they internalize critiquing as part of their own self-improvement skill set) and even collaborating (as they’ll have to).  And of course there are instructors involved to evaluate those critical skills.

As an aside, that’s why I have problems with AI. It’s not yet advanced enough yet, as far as I know, to practically be able to evaluate the underlying thinking and determine the best intervention.  It may be great when we are there, but for now in this environment, people are better.

The other component is, of course, gradually handing off control of the learning design responsibility to the learners. They should start choosing what product, what reflection, what content, and ultimately what activity.  This is part of developing their ability to take control of their learning as they go forward.  And this means that we’ll have to be scrutable in our learning design, so they can look back, see how we’re choosing to design learning, so they can internalize that meta-level as well.

And we can largely use MOOC technologies (though we need to have sufficient mentors around, which has been a challenge with the ‘Massive’ part).  The point though, is that we need curriculum design that focuses on meaningful skills, and then a pedagogical design that develops them and the associated learning skills.  That’s what I think we should be trying to achieve.  What am I missing?

16 August 2016

Activity-Based Learning Walkthrough

Clark @ 8:06 am

I spoke to my activity-based learning model as part of a larger presentation, and someone suggested that it really helped to be walked through it. So this was on my ‘to do’ queue.  And, finally, I created a walkthrough; here you go (about 5 and a half minutes).

I should note that I don’t view this as all that novel; most of these ideas have appeared elsewhere in some form of another.  The contribution, I feel, is twofold:

  1. representing curriculum in a way that makes it hard to think of ‘info dump and knowledge test’ as a learning experience
  2. including explicit ways to develop thinking and learning skills

And it’s very much dependent on the quality of the choice of components: activity, product, reflection, etc.

As I close in the presentation, I welcome your thoughts and comments.

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