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

31 July 2014

Layering on success

Clark @ 8:03 am

In a previous post, I talked about the layers around learning design.  One of the layers that’s increasingly interesting to me is the notion of the success skills, or meta-skills that are involved.  For example, the SCANS competencies are a decent suite of skills that recognize the general skills for success that cross different disciplines.

However, you really can’t focus on such skills in isolation. Like most meta-skills, they need to be applied in a domain.  As a consequence, they really need to be worked on while developing some other skills. That is, when  you’re developing a curriculum, you have opportunities to require using those skills, but they need to be explicitly included and better yet, assessed.

In the field of educational software, there have been many ‘games’ that claimed “develops problem-solving skills”. This wasn’t accurate, as most of them required problem-solving skills, but there was no development. Development would require assessing performance and providing feedback. And that’s what we want to do to develop these skills.

Competencies across curriculaSo my suggestion is to layer on these requirements across the curriculum, and assess them separately.  The skills, like organizing, problem-solving, communicating, researching, etc, are naturally part of an activity-based curriculum, but need to be deliberately inserted at reasonable rates and tracked.  It’s not hard, you choose this assignment (task/activity/practice) to include a presentation, that one to require research, another to require a design task, etc.  And you assess them across assignments.

So, you look at their repeated performance on each skill at each time they’re inserted.  You can provide support and gradually remove it (as you do for other skill-development practice).

The point is to not only develop the learner’s ability to acquire the curricular skills, but also to acquire the meta-skills.  For instance, if you are helping people acquire job skills, you are also developing their ability to hold the job, and self-improve over time.

Think of it this way.  People acquire a job by their ability to do X, but they will need to know how to work in a job context regardless of whether it’s X, Y, or Z.  Also, X will change to X+ and X++ over time, and the skills to keep up to date and move up require the meta-skills.

I think of this as one of the pillars of a successful education practice; develop the learners not only in the domain, but as learners.  Developing them as people, not only as practitioners of a competency.  I think this is a practical approach, what do you think?

29 July 2014

Recharging

Clark @ 8:03 am

For many of the past 10 years, I’ve gone walkabout with some friends into the mountains to, well, many things.  It’s fun, it’s thoughtful, it’s invigorating, and it is also hard work.  I’ll paint a picture to contextualize the picture.High Sierra Lake

With two friends (one I’ve known for 30+ years), we drove up into the hills, spent the night in a tent cabin, and the next morning parked and started hiking. We followed the trail up to May Lake, which is already a gorgeous high Sierra lake just above timberline. From there, my two friends had got adventurous.

So, we went around the lake and took off cross country up the ridge.  This was up rock, as we were above timberline, and off trail so it was where we figured we could go.

At the top of the ridge, we had the view you see in the picture, and we headed down to the left to get to the lake. We camped in some stunted trees off to the right of the lake out of the picture.  We of course had to carry our tents, stoves, water filters, sleeping bags, clothing, everything with us.

And I learned a valuable lesson. I packed in a flurry of trying to get other things done, and missed just a couple of things I should’ve brought, checked, etc. I ended up ok, but forgetting the sleep pad led to some discomfort.  I could’ve been in worse shape, though my friends would’ve helped out if I didn’t have enough fuel.  If I’d used the checklist my colleague created, I’d have been better off!

We day hiked the next day.  You can see small plumes of smoke in the background, as there was a ‘management fire’ going on at the time. We got a blast for about 20 minutes or so, but it cleared up so I didn’t have to panic. Right before nightfall, we saw some hovering against the wall of the ridge to the left (1000′ above us, and we were at 9000′+), and I feared that it might settle down overnight.

Indeed, we woke up the last morning in smoke, and hiked back out only to find out that May Lake, Tenaya Lake, and as far as we could tell all of Tuolomne Meadows was covered.  The gorgeous views were tarnished, but we feared that the fires were not those that were being managed, and indeed so we subsequently discovered.  My thoughts to those who are suffering.  Fortunately, we got out safe and sound.

The conversation we shared veered from philosophical discussions, personal details, and of course ridiculous humorous dialogs.  There were also periods of no discussion, merely contemplating and enjoying nature.  There’s something restorative about being in the wild, with vistas, wildlife, and the sounds of wind and water.  You don’t have to get out there with the level of exertion and immersion we choose, but I believe there’s something primal and necessary in getting away from the daily hustle and bustle regularly.

So, how do you recharge?

22 July 2014

Top 10 Tools for Learning

Clark @ 8:05 am

Jane Hart compiles, every year, a list of the top 10 tools for learning.  And, of course, it’s that time again, so here we go. I like what Harold Jarche did about tagging his list with the steps of his Seek-Sense-Share model for Personal Knowledge Mastery, so I’m adding that as well. In no particular order:

1. Word: I write most of my articles and books in Word.  The outline feature is critical for me (and the main reason I haven’t switched to Pages, it’s just not industrial strength) in structuring my thoughts, and writing is one of the ways I think out loud. Sense & Share.

2. WordPress: the other way I write out loud is on my blog (like this), and my blog is powered by WordPress. Share.

3. OmniGraffle: diagramming is the other way I think out loud, and I’m regularly getting my mind around things by diagramming. Sense.

4. Google: the core tool in my searching for answers for things.  Seek.

5. Twitter: a major source of input, pointing to things of interest.  Seek.

6. Facebook: also a source of insight. Seek.

7. Skype: continues to be the way I stay in touch with my ITA colleagues (Seek, Sense, & Share)

8. Mail: email is still a major tool for getting pointers, staying in touch, asking questions, etc. (Seek, Share)

9. Keynote: creating presentations is another way I organize my thoughts to share. Sense & Share.

10. OmniOutliner: another way of organizing my thoughts.  A different tool for the same purpose.  Sense.

What tools do you use?

16 July 2014

Models for learning

Clark @ 8:10 am

In a previous post, I suggested that we should not do the ‘click to learn more’, as it was just about presenting content.  But we do need to present content, so what content makes sense?  Obviously, examples are one thing, but let me make the case that the ‘how to’, the concept, should be in the form of a model.

There’s a problem in that Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) don’t have access to the what they do,but they have access to what they know, so it’s real easy to get a knowledge dump. And it’s hard work to make sense of it, sometimes, and it’s easier to just recite it. For example, expertise in many areas requires careful distinctions (e.g. such as in instructional design between the elements of learning).  However, it’s hard for learners to acquire all those careful distinctions without the underlying rationale of how they differ.

Similarly, most procedures to do something are guided not by arbitrary reasons, but instead are sequenced because of inherent constraints.  These constraints guide the proper procedures.  There’s a reason you do X before Y, and then a causal relationship that explains what you look for before deciding to do W instead of Z.

Too often, I see someone presenting learners with an arbitrary list of different things, when there are conceptual reasons why they differ. Similarly, I’ll see steps presented without a rationale for why. And in both cases, learners will remember better, and perform more robustly (particularly in environments with changes), if they have the model that explains what to do as well as the information.  While this might seem like more information, it’s really not, as the model minimizes the amount of arbitrary information you present. And it leads to better outcomes, so it would be worth it anyways.

Models give us a couple of useful things; they help us explain what has happened, and predict what will happen (e.g. if we do A, we’ll see B).  Which makes us more flexible in our actions, a useful trait.  As an aside, models also can draw upon metaphors to facilitate developing a useful understanding. Whether it’s flows, transformations, whatever, finding a concrete equivalent in the world can help recollection and application.

The problem, of course, is getting the model. It’s not always there, nor even easily inferable.  Which doesn’t mean you can ignore it.  The designer must be willing to work until they can understand it.  But it’s doable, and valuable.

So, please, model your learning design on the model of good learning with models. (Ok, I went too far there :)

15 July 2014

Click to learn less

Clark @ 8:06 am

All too often, when I review content, I see a recurrent interaction. And I really can’t figure out why, except a thorough lack of understanding of learning, and a determination to put interaction in regardless. Click here to learn more.

It’s not just the next button I’m railing about here, but instead that, on a screen, there’ll be n things, tabs, boxes, something, with the instructions to ‘click to learn more’. The point being that information is available but not directly. It appears that the designer has a lot of content to present, and yet just presenting lots of content is obviously wrong, so we’ll make it more interactive by chunking it up and then showing it iteratively with clicks. That’s more interactive, yes?  Yes, and it’s bad. Two problems: the content, and the interactions.

First, if you’ve got so much content to present, it’s a strong indicator that something’s wrong. People aren’t good at remembering large bits of information. They retain gist, not details. If you’re presenting a lot of content, you’re undoubtedly presenting too many details. Put the detail in the world if it has to be accessible. And my guess is that lots of it is ‘nice to have’, not ‘must have’. If it really has to go in the head, you are really going to have to do a lot more than just have them read it, you’ll need drill and kill. Instead, find the core model that predicts the right actions, and have them learn the model. Then give them practice in applying it, which leads to the second problem.  Reading once just isn’t going to have much impact.

Learners should be having meaningful interaction. The learner should be using the content to do something. Which isn’t a click each, it’s a click the right one. It’s making a choice, taking an action, applying the knowledge in context to make a decision. What will make a difference to the organization is not the ability to recite knowledge (leave that to videos, documents, chatbots, what have you), but instead the ability to make better decisions.

You can do the ‘reveal’ in certain circumstances, such as to present an example: present the initial situation, then reveal to show the complication, then reveal to show the solution, and the results. (Here’s the story: click here to see the problem that arose, click here to see the alternatives considered, click here to see the decision made, click here to see the consequences). So, it might be a somewhat engaging way to present an example, but good writing would trump that. Or you might have alternative actions and click to see the consequences of that action. Which wouldn’t make sense if there were a right answer, or you should immediately be getting them to first commit to a choice and then provide feedback.

Where does this come from? I think it comes from the fact that Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) don’t have access to most of what they actually do, but they do have access to all they know, so they tend to put out information. There are processes to get around this, but designers have to have the gumption to stand up to knowledge dump on the part of the SMEs and fight to find out how that information is used. It’s not necessarily easy (though it gets easier with practice), but it is necessary.

So, please, avoid the ‘click here to learn more’ and instead look for ‘click here to choose an action to take’.

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.

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