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

20 May 2015

Symbiosis

Clark @ 8:12 am

One of the themes I’ve been strumming in presentations is one where we complement what we do well with tools that do well the things we don’t. A colleague reminded me that JCR Licklider wrote of this decades ago (and I’ve similarly followed the premise from the writings of Vannevar Bush, Doug Engelbart, and Don Norman, among others).

We’re already seeing this.   Chess has changed from people playing people, thru people playing computers and computers playing computers, to computer-human pairs playing other computer-human pairs. The best competitors aren’t the best chess players or the best programs, but the best pairs, that is the player and computer that best know how to work together.

The implications are to stop trying to put everything in the head, and start designing systems that complement us in ways that assure that the combination is the optimized solution to the problem being confronted. Working backwards [], we should decide what portion should be handled by the computer, and what by the person (or team), and then design the resources and then training the humans to use the resources in context to achieve the goals.

Of course, this is only in the case of known problems, the ‘optimal execution’ phase of organizational learning. We similarly want to have the right complements to support the ‘continual innovation’ phase as well. What that means is that we have to be providing tools for people to communicate, collaborate, create representations, access and analyze data, and more. We need to support ways for people to draw upon and contribute to their communities of practice from their work teams. We need to facilitate the formation of work teams, and make sure that this process of interaction is provided with just the right amount of friction.

Just like a tire, interaction requires friction. Too little and you go skidding out of control. Too much, and you impede progress. People need to interact constructively to get the best outcomes. Much is known about productive interaction, though little enough seems to make it’s way into practice.

Our design approaches need to cover the complete ecosystem, everything from courses and resources to tools and playgrounds. And it starts by looking at distributed cognition, recognizing that thinking isn’t done just in the head, but in the world, across people and tools. Let’s get out and start playing instead of staying in old trenches.

19 May 2015

Ch-ch-ch-changes

Clark @ 9:44 am

Is there an appetite for change in L&D? That was the conversation I’ve had with colleagues lately. And I have to say that that the answer is mixed, at best.

The consensus is that most of L&D is comfortably numb. That L&D folks are barely coping with getting courses out on a rapid schedule and running training events because that’s what’s expected and known. There really isn’t any burning desire for change, or willingness to move even if there is.

This is a problem. As one commented: “When I work with others (managers etc) they realise they don’t actually need L&D any more”. And that’s increasingly true: with tools to do narrated slides, screencasts, and videos in the hands of everyone, there’s little need to have the same old ordinary courses coming from L&D. People can create or access portals to share created and curated resources, and social networks to interact with one another. L&D will become just a part of HR, addressing the requirements – onboarding and compliance – everything else will be self-serve.

The sad part of this is the promise of what L&D could be doing. If L&D started facilitating learning, not controlling it, things could go better. If L&D realized it was about supporting the broad spectrum of learning, including self-learning, and social learning, and research and problem-solving and trouble-shooting and design and all the other situations where you don’t know the answer when you start, the possibilities are huge. L&D could be responsible for optimizing execution of the things they know people need to do, but with a broader perspective that includes putting knowledge into the world when possible. And L&D could be also optimizing the ability of the organization to continually innovate.

It is this possibility that keeps me going. There’s the brilliant world where the people who understand learning combine with the people who know technology and work together to enable organizations to flourish. That’s the world I want to live in, and as Alan Kay famously said: “the best way to predict the future is to invent it.” Can we, please?

12 May 2015

David McCandless #CALDC3 Keynote Mindmap

Clark @ 6:27 pm

David McCandless gave a graphically and conceptually insightful talk on the power of visualization at the Callidus Cloud Connections.  He demonstrated the power of insight by tapping into the power of our pattern matching cognitive architecture.   visualization

A new ‘turn to your neighbor’

Clark @ 7:40 am

So, I was continuing the campaign for the Revolution, and wanted to expand the audience interaction. I could’ve used the tired ‘turn to your neighbor’ technique, but I had a thought (dangerous, that).  Could it be improved upon?

As I may have mentioned, there has been a backlash against ‘brainstorming’. For example, the New York Times had an article about how it didn’t work, saying that if you bring people into a room, and then give them a problem or topic, and then get them to discuss, it won’t work. And they’re right!  Because that is a broken model of brainstorming; it’s a straw man argument.

A real model of brainstorming has the individuals thinking about the problem individually beforehand, before you bring them together. When you have them not have a chance to think independently, the first person to speak colors the thoughts of the others, but if people can come up with their own ideas first, then share and improve, it works well.  The room is smarter than the smartest person in the room, as the quote has it, but the caveat is that you have to manage the process right.

So how does this relate to the ‘turn to your neighbor’?  It occurred to me that a clear implication was that if you thought to yourself first, before sharing, you’d get a better outcome. And so that’s what I did: I had them think for themselves on the question I presented, then share, and then stop.

Now, to be fair, I didn’t have time to ask for all the output, instead I asked who had come up with ‘formal’ for a question on what supports optimal execution, and who came up with facilitating the flow of information as a solution for supporting innovation. So we have practical limits on what we can do with a large audience and a small amount of time.  However, I did ask at the end of the first one whether they thought it worthwhile. And I asked again of a subset of the audience who attended the next day workshop (“Clark Quinn’s workshop on Strategic Elearning is awesome” was a comment, <fist pump>) what they thought.

Overall the feedback was that it was an improvement. Certainly the outputs should be better.  One was “energized”. The overall take of the large audience and the smaller one was very positive.  It doesn’t take much longer, because it’s easy to do the quick thinking bit (and it’s no easier to get them to stop sharing :), but it’s a lesson and an improved technique all in one!

So, now you know that if you see anyone doing just the ‘turn to your neighbor’, they’re not up on the latest research.  Wonder if we can get this to spread?  But continue exploration is a necessary element to improvement, and innovations happen through diligent work and refinement.  Please do try it out and let me know how it goes!  And, of course, even just your thoughts.

6 May 2015

Trojan Mice?

Clark @ 1:15 pm

One of the mantras of the Learning Organization is that there should be experimentation.  This has also become, of course, a mantra of the Revolution as well.  So the question becomes, what sort of experiments should we be considering?

First, for reasons both pragmatic and principled, these are more likely to be small experiments than large.  On principled reasons, even large changes are probably better off implemented as small steps. On pragmatic reasons, small changes can be built upon or abandoned as outcomes warrant.  These small changes have colloquially been labeled ‘trojan mice‘, a cute way to capture the notion of change via small incursions.

The open question, then, is what sort of trojan mice might be helpful in advancing the revolution?  We might think of them in each of the areas of change: formal, performance support, social, culture, etc.  What are some ideas?

In formal, we might, for one, push back on taking orders.  For instance, we might start asking about measures that any initiatives will be intended to address. We could also look to implementing some of the Serious eLearning Manifesto ideas. Small steps to better learning design.

For performance support, one of the first small steps might be to even do performance support, if you aren’t already. If you are, maybe look to broadening the media you use (experiment with a video, an annotated sequence of pictures, or an ebook).  Or maybe try creating a portal that is user-focused, not business-silo structured.

In the social area, you might first have to pilot an exterior social network if there isn’t one. If there is, you might start hosting activities within it.  A ‘share your learning lunch’ might be a fun way to talk about things, and bring out meta-learning.   Certainly, you could start instituting the use within L&D.

And with culture, you might start encouraging people to share how they work; what resources they use.  Maybe film the top performers in a group giving a minute or two talk on how they do what they do.  It’d be great if you could get some of the leadership to start sharing, and maybe do a survey of what your culture actually is.

The list goes on: in tech you might try some microlearning, a mobile experiment, or considering a content model (ok, not actually build one, that’s a big step ;).  In strategy, you might start gathering data about what the overall organization goals are, or what initiatives in infrastructure have been taken elsewhere in the org or are being contemplated.

The point is to start taking some small steps.  So, I’m curious, what small steps have you tried, or what ones might you think of and suggest?

5 May 2015

Pushing back

Clark @ 7:46 am

In a recent debate with my colleague on the Kirkpatrick model, our host/referee asked me whether I’d push back on a request for a course. Being cheeky, I said yes, but of course I know it’s harder than that.  And I’ve been mulling the question, and trying to think of a perhaps more pragmatic (and diplomatic ;) approach.  So here’s a cut at it.

The goal is not to stay with just ‘yes’, but to followup.  The technique is to drill in for more information under the guise of ensuring you’re making the right course. Of course, really you’re trying to determine whether there really is a need for a course at all, or maybe a job aid or checklist instead will do, and if so what’s critical to success.  To do this, you need to ask some pointed questions with the demeanor of being professional and helpful.

You might, then, ask something like “what’s the problem you’re trying to solve” or “what will the folks taking this course be able to do that they’re not doing now”.  The point is to start focusing on the real performance gap that you’re addressing (and unmasking if they don’t really know).  You want to keep away from the information that they think needs to be in the head, and focus in on what decisions people can make that they can’t make now.

Experts can’t tell you what they actually do, or at least about 70% of it, so you need to drill in more about behaviors, but at this point you’re really trying to find out what’s not happening that should be.  You can use the excuse that “I just want to make sure we do the right course” if there’s some push back on your inquiries, and you may also have to stand up for your requirements on the basis that you have expertise in your area and they have to respect that just as you respect their expertise in their area (c.f. Jon Aleckson’s MindMeld). 

If what you discover does end up being about information, you might ask about “how fast will this information be changing”, and “how much of this will be critical to making better decisions”.  It’s hard to get information into the head, and it’s a futile effort if it’ll be out of date soon and it’s an expensive one if it’s large amounts and arbitrary. It’s also easy to think that information will be helpful (and the nice-to-know as well as the must), but really you should be looking to put information in the world if you can. There are times when it has to be in the head, but not as often as your stakeholders and SMEs think.  Focus on what people will do differently.

You also want to ask “how will we know the course is working”.  You can ask about what change would be observed, and should talk about how you will measure it.  Again, there could be pushback, but you need to be prepared to stick to your guns.  If it isn’t going to lead to some measurable delta, they haven’t really thought it through.  You can help them here, doing some business consulting on ROI for them. And here’s it’s not a guise, you really are being helpful.

So I think the answer can be ‘yes’, but that’s not the end of the conversation. And this is the path to start demonstrating that you are about business.  This may be the path that starts getting your contribution to the organization to start being strategic. You’ll have to start being about more than efficiency metrics (cost/seat/hour; “may as well weigh ’em”) and about how you’re actually impacting the business. And that’s a good thing.  Viva la Revolucion!

30 April 2015

Activities for Integrating Learning

Clark @ 8:11 am

I’ve been working on a learning design that integrates developing social media skills with developing specific competencies, aligned with real work.  It’s an interesting integration, and I drafted a pedagogy that I believe accomplishes the task.  It draws heavily on the notion of activity-based learning.  For your consideration.

Activity ModelThe learning process is broken up into a series of activities. Each activity starts with giving the learning teams a deliverable they have to create, with a deadline an appropriate distance out.  There are criteria they have to meet, and the challenge is chosen such that it’s within their reach, but out of their grasp.  That is, they’ll have to learn some things to accomplish it.

As they work on the deliverable, they’re supported. They may have resources available to review, ideally curated (and, across the curricula, their responsibility for curating their own resources is developed as part of handing off the responsibility for learning to learn).  There may be people available for questions, and they’re also being actively watched and coached (less as they go on).

Now, ideally the goal would be a real deliverable that would achieve an impact on the organization.  That, however, takes a fair bit of support to make it a worthwhile investment. Depending on the ability of the learners, you may start with challenges that are like but not necessarily real challenges, such as evaluating a case study or working on a simulation.  The costs of mentoring go up as the consequences of the action, but so do the benefits, so it’s likely that the curriculum will similarly get closer to live tasks as it progresses.

At the deadline, the deliverables are shared for peer review, presumably with other teams. In this instance, there is a deliberate intention to have more than one team, as part of the development of the social capabilities. Reviewing others’ work, initially with evaluation heuristics, is part of internalizing the monitoring criteria, on the path to becoming a self-monitoring and self-improving learner. Similarly, the freedom to share work for evaluation is a valuable move on the path to a learning culture.  Expert review will follow, to finalize the learning outcomes.

The intent is also that the conversations and collaborations be happening in a social media platform. This is part of helping the teams (and the organization) acquire social media competencies.  Sharing, working together, accessing resources, etc. are being used in the platform just as they are used for work. At the end, at least, they are being used for work!

This has emerged as a design that develops both specific work competencies and social competencies in an integrated way.  Of course, the proof is when there’s a chance to run it, but in the spirit of working out loud…your thoughts welcome.

28 April 2015

Got Game?

Clark @ 8:15 am

Why should you, as a learning designer, take a game design workshop?  What is the relationship between games and learning?  I want to suggest that there are very important reasons why you should.

Just so you don’t think I’m the only one saying it, in the decade since I wrote the book Engaging Learning: Designing e-Learning Simulation Games, there have been a large variety of books on the topic. Clark Aldrich has written three, at least count. James Paul Gee has pointed out how the semantic features of games match to the way our brains learn, as has David  Williamson Shaeffer.  People like Kurt Squire, Constance Steinkuhler, Henry Jenkins, and Sasha Barab have been strong advocates of games for learning. And of course Karl Kapp has a recent book on the topic.  You could also argue that Raph Koster’s A Theory of Fun is another vote given that his premise is that fun is learning. So I’m not alone in this.

But more specifically, why get steeped in it?  And I want to give you three reasons: understanding engagement, understanding practice, and understanding design.  Not to say you don’t know these, but I’ll suggest that there are depths which you’re not yet incorporating into your learning, and  you could and should.  After all, learning should be ‘hard fun’.

The difference between a simulation and a game is pretty straightforward.  A simulation is just a model of the world, and it can be in any legal state and be taken to any other.  A self-motivated and effective self-learner can use that to discover what they need to know.  But for specific learning purposes, we put that simulation into an initial state, and ask the learner to take it to a goal state, and we’ve chosen those so that they can’t do it until they understand the relationships we want them to understand. That’s what I call a scenario, and we typically wrap a story around it to motivate the goal.  We can tune that into a game.  Yes, we turn it into a game, but by tuning.

And that’s the important point about engagement. We can’t call it game; only our players can tell us whether it’s a game or not. To achieve that goal, we have to understand what motivates our learners, what they care about, and figure out how to integrate that into the learning.  It’s about not designing a learning event, but designing a learning experience.  And, by studying how games achieve that, we can learn how to take our learning from mundane to meaningful.   Whether or not we have the resources and desire to build actual games, we can learn valuable lesssons to apply to any of our learning design. It’s the emotional element most ID leaves behind.

I also maintain that, next to mentored live practice, games are the best thing going (and individual mentoring doesn’t scale well, and live practice can be expensive both to develop but particularly when mistakes are made).  Games build upon that by providing deep practice; embedding important decisions in a context that makes the experience as meaningful as when it really counts.  We use game techniques to heighten and deep the experience, which makes it closer to live practice, reducing transfer distance. And we can provide repeated practice.  Again, even if we’re not able to implement full game engines, there are many important lessons to take to designing other learning experiences: how to design better multiple choice questions, the value of branching scenarios, and more.  Practical improvements that will increase engagement and increase outcomes.

Finally, game designers use design processes that have a lot to offer to formal learning design. Their practices in terms of information collection (analysis), prototyping and refinement, and evaluation are advanced by the simple requirement that their output is such that people will actually pay for the experience.  There are valuable elements that can be transferred to learning design even if you aren’t expecting to have an outcome so valuable you can charge for it.

As professionals, it behooves us to look to other fields with implications that could influence and improve our outcomes. Interface design, graphic design, software engineering, and more are all relevant areas to explore. So is game design, and arguably the most relevant one we can.

So, if you’re interested in tapping into this, I encourage you to consider the game design workshop I’ll be running for the ATD Atlanta chapter on the 3rd of June. Their price is fair even if you’re not a chapter member, and it’s great deal if you are.  Further, it’s a tried and tested format that’s been well received since I first started offering it. The night before, I’ll be busting myths at the chapter meeting.  I hope I’ll see you there!

23 April 2015

Personal Mobile Mastery

Clark @ 8:29 am

A conversation with a colleague prompted a reflection.  The topic was personal learning, and in looking for my intersections (beyond my love of meta-learning), I looked at my books. The Revolution isn’t an obvious match, nor is games (though trust me, I could make them work ;), but a more obvious match was mlearning. So the question is, how do we do personal knowledge mastery with mobile?

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Most of what you do on the desktop, particularly social networking, is doable on a mobile device.  And you can use search engines and reference tools just the same. You can find how to videos as well. Is there more?

First, of course, are all the things to make yourself more ‘effective’.  Using the four key original apps on the Palm Pilot for instance: your calendar to remind you of events or to check availability, using ToDo checklists to remember commitments to do something, using memos to take notes for reference, and using your contact list to reach people.  Which isn’t really learning, but it’s valuable to learn to be good at these.

Then we start doing things because of where you are.  Navigation to somewhere or finding what’s around you are the obvious choices. Those are things you won’t necessarily learn from, but they make you more effective.  But they can also help educate you. You can look where you are on a map and see what’s around you, or identify the thing on the map that’s in that direction (“oh, that’s the Quinnsitute” or “There’s Mount Clark” or whatever), and have a chance of identifying a seen prominence.

And you can use those social media tools as before, but you can also use them because of where or when you are. You can snap pictures of something and send it around and ask how it could help you. Of course, you can snap pictures or films for later recollection and reflection, and contribute them to a blog post for reflection.  And take notes by text or audio. Or even sketching or diagramming. The notes people take for themselves at conferences, for instance, get shared and are valuable not just for the sharer, but for all attendees.

Certainly searching things you don’t understand or, when there’s unknown language, seeing if you can get a translation, are also options.  You can learn what something means, and avoid making mistakes.

When you are, e.g. based upon what you’re doing, is a little less developed.  You’d have to have rich tagging around your calendar to signal what it is you’re doing for a system to be able to leverage that information, but I reckon we can get there if and when we want.

I’m not a big fan of ‘learning’ on a mobile device, maybe a tablet in transit or something, but not courses on a phone.  On the other hand, I am a big fan of self-learning on a phone, using your phone to make you smarter. These are embryonic thoughts, so I welcome feedback.   Being more contextually aware both in the moment and over time is a worthwhile opportunity, one we can and should look to advance.  I think there’s  much yet, though tools like ARIS are going to help change that. And that’ll be good.

 

21 April 2015

Why models matter

Clark @ 7:52 am

In the industrial age, you really didn’t need to understand why you were doing what you were doing, you were just supposed to do it.  At the management level, you supervised behavior, but you didn’t really set strategy. It was only at the top level where you used the basic principles of business to run your organization.  That was then, this is now.

Things are moving faster, competitors are able to counter your advances in months, there’s more information, and this isn’t decreasing.  You really need to be more agile to deal with uncertainty, and you need to continually innovate.   And I want to suggest that this advantage comes from having a conceptual understanding, a model of what’s happening.

There are responses we can train, specific ways of acting in context.  These aren’t what are most valuable any more.  Experts, with vast experience responding in different situations, abstract models that guide what they do, consciously or unconsciously (this latter is a problem, as it makes it harder to get at; experts can’t tell you 70% of what they actually do!).  Most people, however, are in the novice to practitioner range, and they’re not necessarily ready to adapt to changes, unless we prepare them.

What gives us the ability to react are having models that explain the underlying causal relations as we best understand them, and then support in applying those models in different contexts.  If we have models, and see how those models guide performance in context A, then B, and then we practice applying it in context C and D (with model-based feedback), we gradually develop a more flexible ability to respond. It’s not subconscious, like experts, but we can figure it out.

So, for instance, if we have the rationale behind a sales process, how it connects to the customer’s mental needs and the current status, we can adapt it to different customers.  If we understand the mechanisms of medical contamination, we can adapt to new vectors.  If we understand the structure of a cyber system, we can anticipate security threats. The point is that making inferences on models is a more powerful basis than trying to adapt a rote procedure without knowing the basis.

I recognize that I talk a lot in concepts, e.g. these blog posts and diagrams, but there’s a principled reason: I’m trying to give you a flexible basis, models, to apply to your own situation.  That’s what I do in my own thinking, and it’s what I apply in my consulting.  I am a collector of models, so that I have more tools to apply to solving my own or other’s problems.   (BTW, I use concept and model relatively interchangeably, if that helps clarify anything.)

It’s also a sound basis for innovation.  Two related models (ahem) of creativity say that new ideas are either the combination of two different models or an evolution of an existing one.  Our brains are pattern matchers, and the more we observe a pattern, the more likely it will remind us of something, a model. The more models we have to match, the more likely we are to find one that maps. Or one that activates another.

Consequently, it’s also one  of the things I push as a key improvement to learning design. In addition to meaningful practice, give the concept behind it, the why, in the form of a model. I encourage you to look for the models behind what you do, the models in what your presented, and the models in what your learners are asked to do.

It’s a good basis for design, for problem-solving, and for learning.  That, to me, is a big opportunity.

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