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

9 July 2014

Benign role-playing

Clark @ 8:06 am

In #lrnchat a couple of weeks ago on anxiety in learning, Shannon Tipton suggested that role plays are the worst.  Now, I know Shannon and respect her (we’re in synch, her Learning Rebels movement very much resonates with my Revolutionary tendencies), so this somewhat surprised me.  We debated it a bit on twitter, and we thought maybe we should make the argument more extended, so here’s my take.

Her concern, as I understood it, was role plays where a subset get up and play roles in front of the room are uncomfortable.  That is, there’re roles and goals, and they’re set up to illustrate a point.  And I can see that type of role play might create a problem for a non-assertive person, particularly in an uncomfortable environment.  (She mentions it here, and see the extended explanation in the comment.)

Now, a favorite model of mine is Ann Brown and Anne-Marie Palincsar’s reciprocal teaching.  In this model (generalized from the original focus on reading), everyone takes  a turn performing (including instructor) and others critique the performance.  Of course, there have to be ground rules, such as talking about the performance not the person, making it safe to share, small enough steps between tasks, etc.  However, the benefits are that you internalize the monitoring, becoming self-monitoring and self-improving.

As another data point, I think of the Online Role Playing as characterized by Sandra Wills, Elyssabeth Leigh, and Albert Ip. Here, learners take roles and goals and explore virtually over time.  The original one they reference was done by John Shepherd and Andrew Vincent and explored the mideast crisis. Learners got engaged in the roles, and the whole process really illuminated the tensions underlying the topic.

When I put these together, I see a powerful tool for learning.  You should design the roles and goals to explore a topic, and unpack an issue.  You should prep learners to help them do a fair job of the role. And, most of all, you have to make it safe.  The instructor should be willing to take on the challenging role, and similarly be seen to fail, or maybe everyone does it in groups so no one group is in front, then you facilitate a discussion.  I’ve done this in my game design workshop, where everyone pairs up and alternates being a SME and being an ID.

I understand that performing is an area of fear for many, but I think that role playing can be a powerful learning experience without anxiety when you manage the process right.  Bad design is bad design, after all (PowerPoint doesn’t kill people…).  What say you?

8 July 2014

Align, deepen, and space

Clark @ 8:12 am

I was asked about, in regards to the Serious eLearning Manifesto, about how people could begin to realize the potential of eLearning.  I riffed about this once before, but I want to spin it a different way.  The key is making meaningful practice.  And there are three components: align it, deepen it, and space it.

First, align it. What do I mean here?  I mean make sure that your learning objective, what they’re learning, is aligned to a real change in the business. Something you know that, if they improve, it will have an impact on a measurable business outcome.  This means two things, underneath. First, it has to be something that, if people do differently and better, it will solve a problem in what the organization is trying to do.  Second, it has to be something learning benefits from.  If it’s not a case where it’s a cognitive skill shift, it should be about using a tool, or replaced with using a tool. Only use a course when a course makes sense, and make sure that course is addressing a real need.

Second, deepen it.  Abstract practice, and knowledge test are both less effective than practice that puts the learner in a context like they’ll be facing in the workplace, and having them make the same decisions they’ll need to be making after the learning experience.  Contextualize it, and exaggerate the context (in appropriate ways) to raise the level of interest and importance to be closer to the level of engagement that will be involved in live performance.  Make sure that the challenge is sufficient, too, by having alternatives that are seductive unless you really understand. Reliable misconceptions are great distractors, by the way.  And have sufficient practice that leads from their beginning ability to the final ability they need to have, and so that they can’t get it wrong (not just until they get it right; that’s amateur hour).

Here’s where the third, space it, can come in.  Will Thalheimer has written a superb document (PDF) explaining the need for spacing. You can space out the complexity of development, and sufficient practice, but we need to practice, rest (read: sleep), and then practice some more. Any meaningful learning really can’t be done in one go, but has to be spread.  How much? As Will explains, that depends on how complex the task is, and how often the task will be performed and the gaps in between, but it’s a fair bit. Which is why I say learning should be expensive.

After these three steps, you’ll want to only include the resources that will lead to success, provide models and examples that will support success, etc, but I believe that, regardless, learners with good practice are likely to get more out of the learning experience than any other action you can take. So start with good practice, please!

7 July 2014

Quinnovating for Jobs

Clark @ 9:24 am

It’s now official, so I figure it’s time to update you all.  I’ve taken on a role of Chief Learning Architect (a slightly better title than the one originally considered) for the Wadhwani Foundation. It’s an initial 6 month contract, so Quinnovation isn’t going to cease to exist, just have (much) more  limited availability.  I’m still passionate about the Serious eLearning Manifesto, and the Revolution message, and I’ll still be thinking out loud here and on Twitter.

The Foundation’s mission is to create jobs and prepare people to take them.  They’ve started with Entrepreneurship programs to create new businesses, and are supplementing with job training to prepare people to staff them.  A third leg will be innovation grants.  It’s a noble mission, the vision of the founder.

My role is to refine the learning design to increase success.  Partnerships and content development are already underway, so it’ll be a challenge to influence processes, but it’s a chance to have a real impact on something that matters.  I start today, and fingers crossed.  We’ll see if I can practice what I preach, eh?

3 July 2014

Resources before courses

Clark @ 8:18 am

In the course of answering a question in an interview, I realized a third quip to complement two recent ones. The earliest one (not including my earlier ‘Quips‘) was “curation trumps creation”, about how you shouldn’t spend the effort to create new resources if you’ve already got them.  The second one was “from the network, not your work”, about how if your network can have the answer, you should let it.  So what’s this new one?

While I’ve previously argued that good learning design shouldn’t take longer, that was assuming good design in the first place: that you did an analysis, and concept and example design and presentation, and practice, not just dumping a quiz on top of content.  However, doing real design, good or bad, should take time.  And if it’s about knowledge, not skills, a course doesn’t make sense. In short, doing courses should be reserved for when they are really needed.

Too often, we’re making courses trying to get knowledge into people’s heads, which usually isn’t a good idea, since our brains aren’t good at remembering rote information.  There are times when it’s necessary, rarely (e.g. medical vocabulary), but we resort to that solution too often as course tools are our only hammer.  And it’s wrong.

We should be trying to put information in the world, and reserve the hard work of course building when it’s proprietary skills sets we’re developing. If someone else has done it, don’t feel like you have to use your resources to do it again, use your resources to go meet other needs: more performance support, or facilitating cooperation and communication.

So, for both principled and pragmatic reasons, you should be looking to resources as a solution before you turn to courses. On principle, they meet different needs, and you shouldn’t use the course when (most) needs can be met with resources. Pragmatically, it’s a more effective use of your resources: staff, time, and money.

 

1 July 2014

Wearable affordances

Clark @ 8:10 am

At the mLearnCon conference, it became clear it was time to write about wearables.  At the same time, David Kelly (program director for t he Guild) asked for conference reflections for the Guild Blog. Long story short, my reflections are a guest post there.

25 June 2014

Karen McGrane #mLearnCon Keynote Mindmap

Clark @ 9:54 am

Karen McGrane evangelized good content architecture (a topic near to my heart), in a witty and clear keynote. With amusing examples and quotes, she brought out just how key it is to move beyond hard wired, designed content and start working on rule-driven combinations from structured chunks. Great stuff!

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24 June 2014

Larry Irving #mLearnCon Keynote Mindmap

Clark @ 10:03 am

Larry Irving kicked off the mLearnCon with an inspiring talk about the ways in which technology can disrupt education. His ideas about VOOCs and nanodegrees were intriguing, and wish he’d talked more about adaptive learning. A great kickoff to the event.

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23 June 2014

THE Social Learning Handbook

Clark @ 8:10 am

I’ve been a fan of Jane Hart since I met her through Jay Cross and we joined together in the ITA (along with colleagues Harold Jarche and Charles Jennings). And I’d looked at the previous edition of her Social Learning Handbook, so it was on faith that I endorsed the new edition. So I took a deeper look recently, and my faith is justified; this is a great resource!

Jane has an admirable ability to cut through complex concepts and make them clear. She cites the best work out there when it is available, and comes with her own characterizations when necessary. The concepts are clear, illustrated, and comprehensible.

This isn’t a theoretical treatment, however. Jane has pragmatic checklists littered throughout as well as great suggestions. Jane is focused on having you succeed. Practical guidance underpins all the frameworks.

I’m all the more glad I recommended this valuable compendium. If you want to tap into the power of social learning, there is no better guide.

19 June 2014

From the network, not your work

Clark @ 8:18 am

Too often, Learning & Development (L&D) is looking to provide all the answers.  They work to get the information from SMEs, and create courses around it.  They may also create performance support resources as well. And yet there are principled and pragmatic reasons why this doesn’t make sense.  Here’s what I’m thinking.

On principle, the people working closest to the task are likely to be the most knowledgeable about it.  The traditional role of information from the SME has been to support producing quality outputs, but increasingly there are tools that let the users create their own resources easily.  The answer can come in the moment from people connected by networks, not having to go through an explicit process.  And, as things are becoming more ambiguous and unique, this makes the accuracy to the context more likely as workers share their contexts and get targeted responses.

This doesn’t happen without facilitation. It takes a culture where sharing is valued, where people are connected, and have the skills to work well together.  Those are roles L&D can, and should, play.  Don’t assume that the network will be viable to begin with, or that people know how to work and play well together. Also don’t assume that they know how to find information on their own. The evidence is that these are skills that need to be developed.

The pragmatic reasons are those about how L&D has to meet more needs without resources.  If people can self-help, L&D can invest resources elsewhere. I suggest that curation trumps creation, in that finding the answer is better than creating it, if possible.

When I talk about these possibilities, one of the reliable responses is “but what if they say the wrong thing?”  And my response is that the network becomes self-correcting.  Sure, networks require nurturing until they reach that stage, but again it’s a role for L&D.  Initially, someone may need to be scrutinizing what comes through, and extolling experts to keep it correct, but eventually the network, with the right culture, support, and infrastructure, becomes a self-correcting and sustaining resource.

Work so that performers get their answers from the network, not from your work.  When possible, of course.

18 June 2014

Curation trumps creation

Clark @ 8:36 am

In the past, it has been the role of L&D to ascertain the resources necessary to supporting performance in the organization.  Finding the information, creating the resources, and making them available has often been a task that either results in training, or complements it. I want to suggest, however, that the time has changed and a new strategy may be more effective, at least in many instances.

Creating resources is hard.  We’ve seen the need to revisit the principles of learning design because despite the pleas that “we know this stuff already”, there are still too many bad elearning courses out there. Similarly with job aids, there are skills involved in doing it right.  Assuming those skills is a mistake.

There’s also the situation that creating resources is time consuming. The time spent doing this may be better spent in other approaches.  There are plenty of needs that need to be addressed without finding more work.

On the flip side, there are now so many resources out there about so many things, that it’s not hard to find an answer.  Finding good answers, of course, is certainly more problematic than just finding an answer, but there are likely answers out there.

The integration here is to start curating resources, not creating them.  They might come internally, from the employees, or from external resources, but regardless of provenance, if it’s out there, it saves your resources for other endeavors.

The new mantra is Personal Knowledge Mastery, and while that’s for the individual, there’s a role for L&D here too: practicing ‘representative knowledge mastery’,  as well as fostering PKM for the workforce.  You should be monitoring feeds relevant to your role and those you’re responsible for facilitating.  You need to practice it to be able to preach it, and you should be preaching it.

The point is to not be recreating resources that can be found, conserving your energy for those things that are business critical.  One organization has suggested that they only create resources for internal culture, everything else is curated.  Certainly only proprietary material should be the focus.

So, curate over create. Create when you have to, but only then. Finding good answers is more efficient than generating them.

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