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

23 August 2016

Editorializing

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.

12 August 2016

Dave Gray Liminal Thinking Mindmap

Clark @ 8:05 am

I was fortunate to have a chance to hear Dave Gray (author of Connected Company) speak on his forthcoming book, Liminal Thinking. Interestingly inspired by his investigation of agile, it end up being about how to break through your barriers. He shared personal stories to make a compelling case that we can transcend our established approaches and make the changes we need.

10 August 2016

Learning Through the Wild

Clark @ 8:04 am

So last week I was in the wilderness for some more time, this time with family.  And there were several learnings as an outcome that are worth sharing.

VogelsangLakeAs context, Yosemite National Park is one of the world’s truly beautiful places, with the valley as an accessible way to see the glacier-carved rock. Beyond the valley, however, there is backcountry (mountains, rivers, lakes) that is only accessible by backpack, and I’ve done plenty of that. And then there’s one other option: the High Sierra Camps. There you can stay in tent cabins, eating prepared meals, but you can only get to them by horse or by hiking. (You can also get just meals, and carry in your tents and bags and all, which is what we did.) What this does is get you to a subset (a spectacular subset) of the high country, a chance to experience real wilderness without having to be able to carry a backpack.

Also as context, I am a fervent believer in the value of wildness.  As I expressed before, there’s the creativity aspect that comes from spending time in the wilderness. You can reflect on your regular world when you’re no longer tied to it.  As you hike or ride along the trails, your mind can wander and process in the background. There are also mental health benefits to be found in escaping from the everyday clatter. (This is very necessary for me! :) And, importantly, the processes in nature provide a counter-balance to the artificial processes we put in place to breed plants and animals. The variation generated in the wild is a complement to our own approaches, just as computers are a complement to our brains. Consequently, I believe we need to preserve some of our natural spaces.

So, one of the learning outcomes is being able to experience the wilderness without having to be physically capable of carrying everything you need on your back.  I reckon that if you can experience the wildness, you can appreciate it, and then can become a supporter.  Thus, just the existence of these alternate paths (between cars and backpacking) means to me a higher likelihood of preserving the environment.

Similarly, there are rangers who visit these camps, and provide after-dinner campfire talks.  They talk at dinner, talking about what they will be covering, but also advocating for the value of the programs and the wilderness. Similarly, the staff at the camps also do a good job of advocating for the wilderness (as they would), and there are guidebooks available for perusal to learn more, as well as information around the dining rooms (and great food!).

One of the larger learning lessons is that, once you’re in context, the interest is naturally sparked, and then you’re ripe for a message. Your curiosity gets stoked about why coyotes howl, once you hear them. Or you wonder about the geology, or the lifecycle of plants, or…you get the idea.  Creating artificial contexts is one of the tricks of learning (please, don’t keep it abstract, it doesn’t work), but layering it on in context is increasingly doable and more valuable.

Meaningful engagement in context is a valuable prerequisite for learning. The reason we can go to conferences and get value (contrary to the old “you can’t learn from a lecture”) is because we’re engaged in activity and conferences serve as reflection opportunities.  Sometimes you need to get away from the context to reflect, if the contextual pressures are too much, and sometimes the context naturally sparks reflection.  Making time for reflection is a component of a learning organization, and getting support in context or having time away from context both are parts. So my recommendation is to support wilderness, and get out in it!

3 August 2016

The probability of wasting money

Clark @ 8:04 am

Designing learning is a probability game.  To paraphrase Dorothy Parker, you can lead a learner to learning, but you can’t make them think.  What I mean is that the likelihood that the learning actually sticks is a result of a myriad of design decisions, and many elements contribute to that likelihood.  It will vary by learner, despite your endeavors, but you increase the probability that the desired outcome is achieved by following what’s know about how people learn.

This is the point of learning engineering, applying learning science to the design of learning experiences.  You need to align elements like:

  • determining learning objectives that will impact the desired outcome
  • designing sufficient contextualized practice
  • appropriately presenting a conceptual model that guides performance
  • providing a sufficient and elaborated suite of examples to  illustrate the concept in context
  • developing emotional engagement

and so on.

And to the extent that you’re not fully delivering on the nuances of these elements, you’re decreasing the likelihood of having any meaningful impact. It’s pretty simple:

If you don’t have the right objectives (e.g. if you just take an order for a course), what’s the likelihood that your learning will achieve anything?

If you don’t have sufficient practice, what’s the likelihood that the learning will still be there when needed?

If you have abstract practice, what’s the likelihood that your learners will transfer that practice to appropriate situations?

If you don’t guide performance with a model, what’s the likelihood that learners will be able to adapt their performance to different situations?

If you don’t provide examples, what’s the likelihood that learners will understand the full range of situations and appropriate adaptations for each?

And if you don’t emotionally engage them, what’s the likelihood that any of this will be appropriately processed?

Now, let’s tie that back to the dollars it costs you to develop this learning.  There’s the SME time, and the designer time, and development time, and the time of the learners away from their revenue-generating activity. At the end of the day, it’s a fair chunk of change.  And if you’re slipping in the details of any of this (and I’m just skating the surface, there’re nuances around all of these), you’re diminishing the value of your investment, potentially all the way to zero. In short, you could be throwing your money away!

This isn’t to make you throw up your hands and say “we can’t do all that”.  Most design processes have the potential to do the necessary job, but you have to comprehend the nuances, and ensure that the i’s are dotted and t’s crossed on development.  Just because  you have an authoring tool doesn’t mean what comes out is actually achieving anything.

However, it’s possible to tune up the design process to acknowledge the necessary details. When you provide support at just the right places, and put in place the subtle tweaks on things like working with SMEs, you can develop and deliver learning that has a high likelihood of having the desired impact, and therefore have a process that’s justifiable for the investment.

And that’s really the goal, isn’t it?  Being able to allocate resources to impact the business in meaningful ways is what we’re supposed to be doing. Too frequently we see the gaps continue (hence the call for Serious eLearning), and we can only do it if we’re acting like the professionals we need to be.   It’s time for a tuneup in organizational learning.  It’s not too onerous, and it’s needed.  So, are you ready?

2 August 2016

Being clear on collaboration

Clark @ 8:01 am

Twice recently, I’ve been confronted with systems that claim to be collaboration platforms. And I think distributed collaboration is one of the most powerful options we have for accelerating our innovation.  So in each case I did some investigation. Unfortunately, the claims didn’t hold up to scrutiny. And I think it’s important to understand why.

Now, true collaboration is powerful.  By collaboration in this sense I mean working together to create a shared representation. It can be a document, spreadsheet, visual, or more. It’s like a shared whiteboard, with technology support to facilitate things like editing, formatting, versioning, and more.  When we can jointly create our shared understanding, we’re developing a richer outcome that we could independently (or by emailing versions of the document around).

However, what was on offer wasn’t this capability.  It’s not new, it’s been the basis of wikis (e.g. Google Docs), but it’s central.  Anything else is, well, something else.  You can write documents, or adjust tables and formulas, or edit diagrams together.  Several people can be making changes in different places at the same time, or annotating their thoughts, and it’s even possible to have voice communication while it’s happening (whether inherently or through additional tools). And it can happen asynchronously as well, with people adding, elaborating, editing whenever they have time, and the information evolves.

So one supported ‘collaborative conversations’.  Um, aren’t conversations inherently collaborative?  I  mean, it takes two people, right?  And while there may be knowledge negotiation, it’s not inherently captured, and in particular it may well be that folks take away different interpretations of what’s been said (I’m sure you’ve seen that happen!).  Without a shared representation, it’s still open to different interpretations (and, yes, we can disagree post-hoc about what a shared representation actually meant, but it’s much more difficult). That’s why we create representations like constitutions and policies and things.

The other one went a wee bit further, and supported annotating shared information. You could comment on it.  And this isn’t bad, but it’s not full collaboration.  Someone has to go away and process the comments.  It’s helpful, but not as much as jointly editing the information in the first place, as well as editing.

I’ve been a fan of wikis since I first heard about them, and think that they’ll be the basis for communities to continue to evolve, as well as being the basis for effective team work. In that sense, they’re core to the Coherent Organization, providing the infrastructure (along with communication and curating) to advance individual and organizational learning.

So, my point is to be clear on what capabilities you really need, so you can suitably evaluate claims about systems to support your actions.  I’ll suggest you want collaborative tools as well as communication tools.  What do you think?

27 July 2016

Serious Comics

Clark @ 8:11 am

I attended  ComicCon  again this year, and addition to the wild costumes, crowded exhibit hall, and over-priced food, there are a series of sessions. They cover television, movies, and print in a wide variety of markets.  And I like the sessions that aren’t associated with popular media (as waiting in lines is something I’m fairly averse too).  One I saw this year (not all of, for several reasons) was particularly thought-provoking.

As background, when I was approached by the Australian Children’s Welfare Agency, many years ago, to do a game to help kids who grow up in ‘non-parental’ situations, they’d already spent their money on a video, and a comic book, and a poster.  As far as I know, it was the first serious game you could play on the web (and I’m happy to have that disconfirmed, but as I’ve thought about it and tried to find out to the contrary, I haven’t found to the contrary). And back then we didn’t even have the label ‘serious game’!

And I’ve been a fan of serious games since before then (my first job out of college was designing and programming educational computer games).  In fact, one of the reasons I went to grad school was because  I saw the connection between adventure games and learning, but it wasn’t clear they were commercially viable (at that time).

But I didn’t think about the comic book much.  I got a copy as part of the overall launch when the game was released along with the other materials, so I’m sure I read it (it may even be lurking somewhere in a cubbyhole somewhere, though could also have been the victim of a move or a tidiness binge).  And I’ve argued before about how graphic novel and such formats aren’t used enough in learning.

So this session was on serious comics, and it of course resurrected those thoughts. One panelist opened about how they were using comics to spark reading, and I was reminded how apparently the original Pokemon games (not Go, though that was obsessing my kids on the trip) required and consequently sparked lots of reading. The second speaker introduced how he was using comics to spread STD/HIV awareness. These are actually both serious issues.

Of course, I was also reminded of an interactive comic book I once read on my iPad that had games interspersed that advanced the storyline (I couldn’t finish because I couldn’t complete one of the games: I’ve little time to spend developing the necessary ‘twitch’ skills).  However, more serious games, requiring applying the knowledge available through the comic, could provide an embedded practice environment.  It’s sort of a blend between a pure comic and a pure game, for important outcomes.  And this is very doable in ebook formats, even if the ‘game’ is just a mini-scenario or several, but with HTML 5 embedded you could do more.

I once wrote that in the future there would be lots of little interactive ‘learnlets’ that would teach you anything you needed to know (including how to make learnlets ;) and games or even interactive comics are what I meant and what could be pretty close to ideal.  It’s been doable for a while, but now it’s doable pretty much with commercially available tools (e.g. not requiring custom programming).  We can make learning ‘hard fun’, and we should. So, what are you waiting for?

26 July 2016

Quinnovation Fall 2016 Schedule

Clark @ 9:51 am

My fall  schedule is coalescing, so I thought I’d provide pointers to when and where I’ll be for the rest of this year:

I’m doing two  webinars for a government agency, one at the end of August, and one at the end of September.

I’ll be in Beijing running a mobile learning workshop on the 6th of September, and keynoting the CEFE conference on the 7th.

The week after I’ll be keynoting a private event in Connecticut.

And I’ll be delivering a virtual keynote for a different government agency in November.

I’ll be running an elearning strategy (read: Revolution) workshop at DevLearn in Las Vegas come mid-November, and presenting on elearning myths.

Then, on the very last day of November, I’ll be running an elearning design workshop at Online Educa in Berlin.

So, some availability  in late September through October, or mid-December, if you’d like access to Quinnovation as well.

I hope that if you’re near Beijing, Las Vegas, or Berlin, you’ll be attending. If so, say hi!

 

20 July 2016

The wrong basis

Clark @ 8:08 am

Of late, I’ve been talking about the approach organizations take to learning.  It’s come up in presentations on learning design, measurement, and learning technology strategy.  And the point is simple: we’re not using the right basis.

What we’re supposed to be doing is empirically justifiable:

  • doing investigations into the problem
  • identifying the root cause
  • mapping back to an intervention design
  • determining how we’ll know the intervention is working
  • implementing our intervention
  • testing to see if we’ve achieved the necessary outcome
  • and revising until we do

Instead, what we see is what I’ve begun to refer to as ‘faith-based learning’: if we build a course, it is good!  We:

  • take orders for courses
  • document what the SME tells us
  • design a screen-friendly version of the associated content
  • and add a knowledge test

Which would be well and good except that this approach has a very low likelihood of affecting anything except perhaps our learners’ patience (and of course our available resources). Orders for courses have little relation to the real problems, SMEs can’t tell you what they actually do, content 0n a screen doesn’t mean learners know how to or will apply it, and a quiz isn’t likely to lead to any meaningful change in behavior (even if it is tarted up with racing cars).

The closer you are to the former, the better; the closer to the latter, the more likely it is that you’re quite literally wasting time and money.

Faith may not be a bad thing for spirituality, but it’s not a particularly good basis for attempting to develop new skills.  I’ve argued that learning design really is rocket science, and we should be taking an engineering approach.  To the extent we’re not – to the extent that we are implicitly accepting that a course is needed and that our linear processes are sufficient – we’re taking an approach that very much is based upon wishful thinking. And that’s not a good basis to run a business on.

It’s time to get serious about your learning.  It’s doable, with less effort than you may think.   And the alternative is really unjustifiable. So let’s get ourselves, and our industry, on a sound basis.  There’s a lot more we can do as well, but we can start by getting this part right.  Please?

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