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

1 February 2017

Other writings

Clark @ 8:04 am

It occurs to me to mention some of the other places you can find my writings besides here (and how they differ ;).  My blog posts are pretty regular (my aim is 2/week), but tend to have ideas that are embryonic or a bit ‘evangelical’. First, I’ve written four books; you can check them out and get sample chapters at their respective sites:

Engaging Learning: Designing e-Learning Simulation Games

Designing mLearning: Tapping Into the Mobile Revolution for Organizational Performance

The Mobile Academy: mLearning For Higher Education

Revolutionize Learning &  Development: Performance and Information Strategy for the Information Age

They’re designed to be the definitive word on the topic, at least at the moment.

I’ve also written or co-written a number of chapters in a variety of books.  The books include The Really Useful eLearning Instruction ManualCreating a Learning Culture, Michael Allen’s eLearning Annual 2009,  and a bunch of academic handbooks (Mobile Learning, Experiential Learning, Wiley Learning Technology ;).  These tend to be longer than an article, with a pretty thorough coverage of whatever topic is on tap.

Then there are articles in a variety of magazines.  These tend to be aggregated thoughts that are longer than a blog post, but not as through as a chapter. In particular, they are things I think need to be heard (or read).  So, my writing has shown up in:


Learning Solutions


The topics vary. (For the eLearnMag ones, you’ll have to search for my name owing to their interface, and they tend to be more like editorials.)

And then there are blog posts for others that are a bit longer than my usual blog post, and close to an article in focus:

The Deeper eLearning series for Learnnovators

A monthly article for Litmos.

These, too, are more like articles in that they’re focused, and deeper than my usual blog post.  For the latter I cover a lot of different topics, so you’re likely to find something relevant there in many different areas.

I’m proud of it all, but for a quick update on a topic, you might be best seeing if there’s a Litmos post on it first.  That’s likely to be relatively short and focused if there is one. And, of course, if it’s a topic you’re interested in advancing in and I can help, do let me know.

26 January 2017

Silo APIs?

Clark @ 8:06 am

I was in a conversation with my colleague Charles Jennings about organizational innovation, and one of the topics that arose was that of barriers to successful organizational function. In particular, we were talking about how the division of responsibility between organizational development (OD), leadership development, and learning & development is a problem. And I think the problem is bigger. Separating out functions into silos makes sense in a deterministic world, but that doesn’t characterize our current environment.

Now, separation of functions can be useful. Certainly in software engineering, having application program interfaces (APIs) have led to the ability to connect powerful capabilities.  A program can call a function and get data returned via an API, and the software doesn’t have to care how the function’s carried out.

In the org equivalent we could have a business unit request a course, for example, and L&D responds with said course. In fact, that’s not atypical.  Yet it’s problematic in human terms. The business unit may not have done the due diligence, the performance analysis, that ensures a course is the right solution.

Ok, we could change it: the business unit could indicate the performance problem and L&D could respond. However, again there’s a problem. Without understanding how things are done, L&D’s solution won’t be contextually accurate.  Any intervention won’t reflect how things are done unless interactions occur.

And that’s the point. Any meaningful work – problem-solving, trouble-shooting, improvement, innovation, research, design etc – any learning, is complex. And, done right, they inherently require engagement and interaction.  Moreover, we also know that the best solutions come from creative friction, people interacting.  Communication and collaboration is key!

Engagement between silos works best when you mix members from each.  Or, to put it another way, breaking down the silos is the only way to get the best outputs for the important work, the work that will advance the organization whether removing errors, creating new products or processes, etc.

People are complex (the human brain is arguably the most complex thing in the known universe).  Solutions that tap into that complexity, instead of trying to avoid it, are bound to yield the best insights. We’ve now got a lot of insight into processes that facilitate getting the best outcomes. It’s time to engage with it, to the benefit of the organization.

25 January 2017

Culture or Cultures?

Clark @ 8:02 am

A twitter pointer led me to an HBR article arguing that We’re Thinking about Organizational Culture all Wrong.  In it, the author argues that it’s fallacious to think that there’s just one organizational culture, , and that all people buy into it.  I agree, and yet where the author leads us is, I think, misleading, or at least not as helpful as it could be.

The argument includes two major thrusts. The first is that the cultural values may be interpreted differently.  What you mean by ‘free’ and what I mean may differ.  Take, for instance, the difference between ‘free beer’ and ‘free speech’ (a classic example).  And this certainly can be the case. The second is that people may comply with the culture even if they don’t agree with it. There are multiple reasons, such as job security, that could support this.

The result, according to the article, is that corporate ‘culture’ isn’t a set of shared values, it’s a “web of power relationships”.  That’s quite a leap, but the point is apt: these relationships can facilitate,  or hinder, individual goals.  However, one statement near the end rings wrong for me:

“Reliance on culture as a way to create unity can mislead those in positions of power into thinking that the core values expressed by the organization are actually uncritically accepted by employees.”.

I agree, but I think it’s simplistic. No one in power should be naive enough to believe that anyone uncritically accepts any values. Instead, the view should be to recognize what core values facilitate the most effective outcomes for the organization, and then follow some well-tested rules about change:

  • sell the vision
  • make it a choice
  • support
  • know how to address the expected problems
  • be prepared to address the unexpected
  • evangelize
  • reward
  • test and tweak
  • persist

It may make sense to start small and spread virally rather than make it an overall change initiative.  Still, I think it’s a worthwhile goal.

There is a clear value proposition about having a culture that supports innovation, and identifiable components.  Abandoning the effort because culture is complex seems a missed opportunity.  The benefits are big. Cultures are developed and do change. Doing so systematically, and systemically, seem to me to be the path to competitive success.  What am I missing?

12 January 2017

Rahaf Harfoush #ATDTK Keynote Mindmap

Clark @ 9:07 am

Rahaf Haroush opened the second day of the 2017 ATD TechKnowledge conference. She made clear some important points about the potential for technology.  For instance she made the case for context-sensitive performance support, social network analysis, and a learning culture. An interesting point was that existing business practices were developed in times of data scarcity. She closed by advocating experimentation, evolution, and alignment with values.  A very nice support for the revolution ;).

Harfoush Keynote Mindmap

11 January 2017

Mick Ebeling #ATDTK Keynote Mindmap

Clark @ 9:20 am

Mick Ebeling, of Not Impossible Labs, opened the TechKnowledge conference with an inspiring keynote. He told engaging stories about achieving the impossible because it just took commitment. He evangelized contributing, and getting contributions by emphasizing the brand benefits of doing good.

Ebeling Keynote Mindmap

A Cognitive Audit?

Clark @ 8:01 am

image of brainIn the recent Chief Learning Officer magazine, I wrote an article on the basics of the cognitive science of learning. Given the evidence that “L&D isn’t doing near what it could and should, and what it is doing it is doing badly, other than that it’s fine” (as I say), at least one of the potential barriers is that L&D isn’t truly aware of what science says about their profession.

And I truly believe that if you’re a professional, you should be aware of the fundamental scientific basis of your profession. Pilots need to know aeronautics, physicians need to know physiology, etc. And therefore, I reckon L&D needs to know the cognitive background. But there’s more.

Knowing a suitable level of cognitive science is one thing, using that to assess your practices is another. Too often, we have what we call ‘inert knowledge’: we know it, but we don’t apply it. That’s not helpful. What has to happen is that processes need to be evaluated, improvements identified, interventions prioritized, enablement enacted, and progress reviewed. It’s just part of being a professional!

There are other sorts of audits possible (I know folks who do performance audits, and knowledge audits, etc), but I’m increasingly thinking that the one that matters is the one that aligns with how our brains work. Not at the neural level (there’s little of impact there), but at the cognitive level. Note that cognitive science includes social, conative and affective components (e.g. the culture and motivation), and neural, for that matter ;).

This isn’t an academic exercise. The increasing competition enabled by technology already suggests that optimal execution is only the cost of entry, and continual innovation will be the only sustainable differentiator. Both are cognitive functions, and the best outcomes will only be achieved when organizations are acting in accordance with how we think, work, and learn. This is about equipping your organization to kick some proverbial tail.

I’m drafting an initial such instrument, with associated recommendations. I welcome your thoughts, and any interest in engaging around this.

3 January 2017

Socio-cultural engineering?

Clark @ 8:06 am

Creating a Learning Culture bookLet’s not start off the new year being trepidatious, shall we?  Ok, social engineering and cultural engineering have bad connotations in a number of ways.  Yet, if I can talk about learning engineering, the desirable properties of cultures for learning, and moves in that direction, aren’t we really talking about socio-cultural engineering?  Can sense be made?

To start with, let me posit that there’s fairly good convergence on the elements that contribute to an effective ‘learning culture’: there needs to be purpose, explicit description and development of skills, tapping into diversity, making it safe to share, responsibility, and more.  The point is that we know what makes environments where the best ideas are generated, developed, and put into practice.

The second thing we know, with less certainty but growing awareness, is how to get there.  It’s a ground game: being clear, working hard, walking the walk.  It’s not easy, as the stories of when the committed leaders moves (or is moved) on and subsequent regression bear out.  Yet it can be, and has been, done.

So, if  we’re choosing cultural values, and working towards them, both in ways that reflect what science tells us about doing our best, aren’t we really doing such engineering? Yes, social engineering also refers to another means for breaking security systems. And cultural engineering has various legacy implications including ‘culture’ (read: theatre, music, etc) and even misguided political movements in the past.  Maybe we need a better term, but I think the concept of moving in a positive environmental direction is something to be considered systematically.

The open question is, does this make sense at a societal level as well?  Ok, not going there.  But regardless, I reckon that there’s a strong link between learning and the organizational culture. Organizational Development, I guess, is the field that does this, though they seem to not focus on actual skills as much as facilitation. That’s not a bad start, but perhaps there’s an opportunity to break down silos here. Getting these elements aligned.  Which, of course, is an organizational change.  Pondering, and I welcome your thoughts.

21 December 2016

Employee Experience

Clark @ 8:05 am

Principles and Approaches for L&DOne of the recent trends has been about ‘customer experience’, focusing the organization on a consistent and coherent customer experience from first exposure through to ongoing product or service use. And this is a ‘good thing’!  I’ve participated in the efforts of an organization to achieve it, and can see the real benefits.  However, I want to suggest that just as important is the employee experience. This is the goal of a true performance ecosystem and an aligned culture.

Richard Branson, the successful entrepreneur behind the Virgin brand, argues that the only real way to deliver great customer service is to have really happy employees.  And I think that his argument is plausible.  We know that when people are engaged, there are good outcomes like greater retention.  Happy employees is a necessary step to happy customers.

We also know that when we’re creating a learning culture, we get both more engaged employees, and better business outcomes.  That is, when employees have purpose, are given autonomy to pursue their goals, and are supported towards success, they’re happier and more productive. Also when an organization works well together – sharing because it’s safe, tapping into diversity, being open to new ideas, and supporting reflection – innovation can flourish.

And, I’ll argue, that when the tools are ‘to hand’, employees are happier and more productive.  When you can:

  • find necessary tools and resources
  • reach out with questions
  • provide answers
  • represent your thinking
  • share your work so others can align and contribute
  • collaborate
  • experiment and analyze

all with ease, working is optimal.  That is, employees can achieve their goals effectively and efficiently.

Spending cycles to optimize this, to develop the infrastructure and the culture, is an investment in a long term benefit to organizational success.  I believe the two components of the organizational culture and the technology infrastructure are the critical components to employee experience.  And optimizing those has benefits that cross the organization.  That strikes me as an important strategic focus; what’s your take?


20 December 2016

Collateral Silage

Clark @ 8:01 am

OK, so I made up the term silage (and then found it was a real word with a different meaning), but here I don’t mean siloed fodder (except perhaps metaphorically).  What I’m talking about is the damage that can come from silos. And I heard a tale yesterday in the course of an investigation into corporate innovation that illuminated what I’m talking about.

In this case a particular business unit, with a strong bias to rigor in execution, is also working on innovation.  And it’s going pretty well, it appears.  They’re working on opening up communication, supporting it through programmatic actions, and sharing success stories.  These are powerful tools to change a culture.  But there’s a barrier.

Part of the challenge is in management. This layer, between executive desire and tactical actions, is being encouraged to support this move, but is still largely measured on outcomes.  And, the group that owns management development isn’t connected to the group supporting the programs.  Guess what? It’s a turf war.  One silo doesn’t want any incursion into it’s area of activity.  And this is a problem.

To succeed, you really need to work systemically.   It’s hard enough to make change happen without having to deal with areas that aren’t on board. There’s going to be be a far higher likelihood of success if all the elements are aligned (and a large number of other elements conducive to successful change). If the mentoring and coaching isn’t there to go along with programmatic impetus (see 70:20:10), you’re dropping the ball. You’re going to see a drop off, instead a continual upward learning curve.

As things move faster, to adapt you need to tap into the power of people. That means developing a culture that learns, and that requires both crossing silos in implementation and in then leveraging the collective thinking.  Can we avoid collateral silage?

8 November 2016

Demoing Out Loud (#wolweek and #DevLearn)

Clark @ 8:01 am

demofestlogoDemoing is a form of working out loud, right?  So I recently was involved in a project with Learnnovators where we designed some demo elearning (on the workplace of the future), and documented the thinking behind it. (The posts, published by Learning Solutions, are aggregated here.)  And now there’s be a chance to see it!  So, a couple of things to note.

First, this is Work Out Loud Week, and you should be seeing considerable attention to working out loud (aka Show Your Work). On principle, this is a good practice (and part of the Workplace of the Future, to be recursive).  I strongly recommend you have an eye out for events and posts that emerge.  There’s an official site for Work Out Loud week: Wolweek.com, and a twitter account: @Wolweek, and the hashtag #wolweek, so lots of ways to see what’s up. There are many benefits that accrue, not least because you need to create a culture where this practice can live long and prosper. Once it does, you see more awareness of activity, improved outcomes, and more.

Second, if you’ll be at DevLearn next week, I’ll be demoing the resulting course at the DemoFest (table 84). Come by and share your thoughts and/or find out what the goal was, the tradeoffs faced, and the resulting decisions made.   Of course, I encourage you to attend my workshop on elearning strategy and mythbusting session as well.  I’ll also be haunting the xAPI camp on the Tuesday. Hope to see you there!

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