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

16 February 2017

Tackling the tough stuff

Clark @ 8:07 am

tacklingI was reflecting a wee bit on my books (and writings in general), and realized that there’s somewhat of a gap when I talk about games, and mobile, and more.  And it’s not unconscious, but instead principled, even if it arises somewhat implicitly. So I thought I’d talk briefly about why I tend to focus on the design, and not the practical implementations. Briefly, I think the places we fall short are not in executing, but in conceptualizing. And so I focus on tackling what I think is the tough stuff. I think we need to address the things that are more complex. My claim is that if we understand them, we have a better chance of achieving our goals and delivering the necessary outcomes.

I have stated before that I think we can implement most anything we can conceive, the problem is that our conceptions are limited.  So, I talk about design based on knowing how we think, work, and learn. I think we need these foundations if we’re truly going to realign what we do to actually work.  Frankly, I think we’re working under some misapprehensions (read: myths) that are limiting our ability to succeed.

When I talk about thinking, the myth is that it’s all in our head and logically principled.  It turns out that, instead, our thinking is very biased by circumstance and pre-existing beliefs, and we avoid effortful work.  We trust our instincts in far more circumstances than we should!  Similarly, we distribute our thinking across the world: our tools and representations assist us, and yet we don’t focus enough effort on ensuing that those are effectively designed.  There’s a real possibility for a valuable shift here.

My focus in working is to recognize that it’s not as individual as our business processes would assume. The ‘individual innovator’ myth is busted, and the empirical results are that we get better outputs when we work together. Certainly for innovation and creative work. Yet we isolate our work, assigning individual resources.  Similarly, people work best when given meaningful goals, but instead we micromanage too often. Again, there are big opportunities to improve our outcomes by reviewing our approaches.

And on learning, I’ve railed time and again about what’s not working, and been joined by colleagues in opposition.  We learn through designed action and guided reflection, not information dump and knowledge test.  Yet that’s not what we see. And again I suggest only small changes are needed to have a substantial impact.

So, in my books, I don’t talk about so much about how to build a game, or the ways to implement mobile learning, or social learning tools.  These will change. What you want to get your mind around is about our minds. Then you can design solutions that can be implemented in any  number of ways.  I may not be successful at communicating the solutions, but in general when I speak, run workshops, or yes write, people seem to convey that I’ve had some effect on helping them get a handle on these new approaches.  In addition, figuring out how to apply them is why I’m here.

What I’ve been able to do, successfully across years and organizations, is help align processes, products, services, and more with how our brains work.  And then work within the available resources to create solutions that reflect those insights in innovative and yet practical solutions.  It takes time to develop the type of thinking I want organizations to adopt, but it’s doable, and I’ve worked with a number of organizations to do just that. Taking the time to address the tough stuff is a bit of an effort. I think it’s an investment in success.  It’s doable, so the only real open question is whether you’re ready to make a shift in thinking, that leads to a shift in doing, that leads to a better impact for your organization.  And only you can answer that.

14 February 2017

Meta-Learning Tools?

Clark @ 8:06 am

I wrote an article for Jane Hart’s Modern Workplace Learning magazine, triggered by my thought that in her tools survey, I didn’t see a lot about a certain set of reflection (c.f. last weeks posts on diagramming) and experimentation tools: meta-learning tools. In particular, for the latter, I wondered about what there was to track your own learnings.  And Jane commented to me that she knew of one, and I was reminded of more.

Now, I don’t know much about any of these, but she mentioned PebblePad, and I noted that I’ve talked with Degreed before, and saw that HT2 has a tool called Red Panda. And I think this could become an interesting area.  Coupled with tools that support learning streams, personal learning could be boosted.

So tools like Axonify, Anders Pink, and EdCast all have varying models about making knowledge available and streaming bits and pieces over time. They’re pull as well, but for one definition of microlearning (that of streaming small bits over time to develop, e.g. slow learning), they could be a valuable part of personal development.

If we then track our learnings (and not just what’s through the tool, but other things we do such as attending events, interviewing people, etc), we can maintain ourselves on a path to efficacy.  That is, if we’ve registered goals, and broken it up into steps, and track our progress (and reward ourselves), we have a higher likelihood of continuing our improvement.

What I haven’t seen, as yet, and think could be an important part of this, is layering on  additional support for learning itself, meta-learning. For each type of learning activity, there could be support for doing that well, including setting and reviewing learning paths.

There’s more pressure for individuals to take responsibility for their own learning (as well as for enlightened organizations that want to support learning). So we need to be getting systematic about not only support for the content, but also for the process. This provides the opportunity is to accelerate the process. And our success.

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:

eLearnMag

Learning Solutions

CLO

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?

18 January 2017

Cognitive Business

Clark @ 8:07 am

One of my mantras is that organizations need to align better with how we think, work, and learn.  However, my focus has been specifically on what L&D can be doing (as that’s the folk I mostly talk to). But it occurs to me that it really goes farther.  There are applications of cognitive science (including neuroscience, cognitive psychology, sociology, philosophy, anthropology, etc) to more areas of business than just L&D.  And it’s worth being explicit about this.

I was recently reading how marketing has leveraged understanding of behavior change at a deep level. We need to incorporate this in our learning design, but it should go beyond training and learning and be involved in helping people understand why their work is important and how they contribute.

And similarly, the notion that our thinking is both situated (e.g. reconstructed in the moment, not formally abstract) and distributed (across representations, not all in the head) has broader implications. It’s not just about performance support, but should influence policies and tools as well.

And the fact that innovation is social, and an outcome of slow percolation, influences more than facilitating communication and collaboration. It should influence corporate culture and expectations and time frames.

The list goes on: research says that organizational change works better starting small and scaling rather than a monolithic effort.  We know that design processes are better when they’re cyclical rather than waterfalls. We’ve discovered that our inability to perform rote tasks flawlessly argues for changes in work processes and expectation. And we’ve found out that treating people fairly leads to better outcomes including retention, loyalty, and more.  Ultimately, we’ll want to be making smart cyborg choices about what to have people do and what  technology should do.

In short, we can be working smarter in many ways.  It’s hard to change from the old hierarchical models, but we’re continually learning that other approaches work better.  Heck, we may even be able to start working wiser!  Here’s hoping.

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.

5 January 2017

Mobile Lesson

Clark @ 8:04 am

Designing mLearning bookI’m preparing my keynote for a mobile conference, and it’s caused an interesting reflection.  My mlearning books came out in 2011, and subsequently I’ve written on the revolution.  And I’ve been speaking on both of late, but in some ways the persistent interest in mobile intrigues me.

While my services are pushing the better design of and the bigger picture of elearning, mobile isn’t going away. My trip to China to keynote this past year was on mlearning (and one the year before), and now again I’m talking on the topic.  What does this mean?

As I wrote before, China is much bigger into mobile than we are. It’s likely because we had more ubiquity of internet access and computers, but they’re also a highly mobile populace.  And it makes sense that they’re showing a continuing interest. In fact, they specifically asked for a presentation that was advanced, not my usual introduction.

I’m also going to be presenting on more advanced thinking to the audience coming up, because the entire focus of the event is mlearning and I infer that they’re already up on the basics.  The focus in my books was to get people thinking differently about mobile (because it’s not about courses on a phone), but certainly that was understood in China. I think it’s also understood by most of the developers. I’m less certain about the elearning field (corporate and education), at least not yet.

In many ways, mobile was a catalyst for the revolution.  I think of mlearning as much more than courses, and my models focused on performance support and social more than formal learning. That is really one of the two-fold focuses on the revolution (the “L&D isn’t doing near what it could and should”; to complement the “and what it is doing, it is doing badly” :).  In that way, these devices can be a wedge in the door for a broader focus.

Yet mobile is just a platform for enabling the type of experiences, the types of cognitive support, as any other platform  from conversation to artificial intelligence.  It is an important one, however, with the unique properties of doing things whenever & wherever you are and doing things because of when and where you are.

So I get that mlearning is of interest because of the ubiquity, but the thinking that goes into mobile really goes beyond mobile.  It’s about aligning with us, supporting our needs to communicate and collaborate.  That’s still a need, a useful message, and an opportunity.  Are you mobilizing?

 

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