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

16 April 2015

Road trip(s)!

Clark @ 8:11 am

Several events are coming up that I should mention (“coming to a location near you!”):

If you’re anywhere near Austin, you should check out the upcoming eLearning Symposium May 7 and 8. I’m speaking on the L&D Revolution I’m trying to incite, and then offering a half day workshop to help you get your strategy going.  There’s a nice slate of other speakers to help you dig deeper into elearning.

I’ll also be speaking on Serious eLearning at Callidus Cloud Connections in Las Vegas May 11-13.  If you’re into Litmos, or thinking about it, it’s the place to be.

If you’re near Atlanta, I’ll be busting learning myths in an evening session for the ATD Chapter on the 2nd of June, and then running a learning game workshop on the 3rd.  You’ll find out more about learning and engagement; you can and should add game elements to your learning design.  I’m serious when I say that “learning can, and should, be hard fun“.

And I’ll be touting the needed L&D Revolution up in Vancouver June 11, keynoting the CSTD Symposium.  There’s a great line up of talks to raise your game.

I would love to meet you at one of these events; hope to see you there (or there, or there, or there).

15 April 2015

Cyborg Thinking: Cognition, Context, and Complementation

Clark @ 8:25 am

I’m writing a chapter about mobile trends, and one of the things I’m concluding with are the different ways we need to think to take advantage of mobile. The first one emerged as I wrote and kind of surprised me, but I think there’s merit.

The notion is one I’ve talked about before, about how what our brains do well, and what mobile devices do well, are complementary. That is, our brains are powerful pattern matchers, but have a hard time remembering rote information, particularly arbitrary or complicated details.  Digital technology is the exact opposite. So, that complementation whenever or wherever we are is quite valuable.

Consider chess.  When first computers played against humans,  they didn’t do well.  As computers became more powerful, however, they finally beat the world champion. However, they didn’t do it like humans do, they did it by very different means; they couldn’t evaluate well, but they could calculate much deeper in the amount of turns played and use simple heuristics to determine whether those were good plays.  The sheer computational ability eventually trumped the familiar pattern approach.  Now, however, they have a new type of competition, where a person and a computer will team and play against another similar team. The interesting result is not the best chess player, nor the best computer program, but a player who knows best how to leverage a chess companion.

Now map this to mobile: we want to design the best complement for our cognition. We want to end up having the best cyborg synergy, where our solution does the best job of leaving to the system what it does well, and leaving to the person the things we do well. It’s maybe only a slight shift in perspective, but it is a different view than designing to be, say, easy to use. The point is to have the best partnership available.

This isn’t just true for mobile, of course, it should be the goal of all digital design.  The specific capability of mobile, using sensors to do things because of when and where we are, though, adds unique opportunities, and that has to figure into thinking as well.  As does, of course, a focus on minimalism, and thinking about content in a new way: not as a medium for presentation, but as a medium for augmentation: to complement the world, not subsume it.

It’s my thinking that this focus on augmenting our cognition and our context with content that’s complementary is the way to optimize the uses of mobile. What’s your thinking?

14 April 2015

Defining Microlearning?

Clark @ 8:32 am

Last week on the #chat2lrn twitter chat, the topic was microlearning. It was apparently prompted by this post by Tom Spiglanin which does a pretty good job of defining it, but some conceptual confusion showed up in the chat that makes it clear there’s some work to be done.  I reckon there may be a role for the label and even the concept, but I wanted to take a stab at what it is and isn’t, at least on principle.

So the big point to me is the word ‘learning’.  A number of people opined about accessing a how-to video, and let’s be clear: learning doesn’t have to come from that.   You could follow the steps and get the job done and yet need to access it again if you ever needed it. Just like I can look up the specs on the resolution of my computer screen, use that information, but have to look it up again next time.  So it could be just performance support, and that’s a good thing, but it’s not learning.  It suits the notion of micro content, but again, it’s about getting the job done, not developing new skills.

Another interpretation was little bits of components of learning (examples, practice) delivered over time. That is learning, but it’s not microlearning. It’s distributed learning, but the overall learning experience is macro (and much more effective than the massed, event, model).  Again, a good thing, but not (to me) microlearning.  This is what Will Thalheimer calls subscription learning.

So, then, if these aren’t microlearning, what is?  To me, microlearning has to be a small but complete learning experience, and this is non-trivial.  To be a full learning experience, this requires a model, examples, and practice.  This could work with very small learnings (I use an example of media roles in my mobile design workshops).  I think there’s a better model, however.

To explain, let me digress. When we create formal learning, we typically take learners away from their workplace (physically or virtually), and then create contextualized practice. That is, we may present concepts and examples (pre- via blended, ideally, or less effectively in the learning event), and then we create practice scenarios. This is hard work. Another alternative is more efficient.

Here, we layer the learning on top of the work learners are already doing.  Now, why isn’t this performance support? Because we’re not just helping them get the job done, we’re explicitly turning this into a learning event by not only scaffolding the performance, but layering on a minimal amount of conceptual material that links what they’re doing to a model. We (should) do this in examples and feedback on practice, now we can do it around real work. We can because (via mobile or instrumented systems) we know where they are and what they’re doing, and we can build content to do this.  It’s always been a promise of performance support systems that they could do learning on top of helping the outcome, but it’s as yet seldom seen.

And the focus on minimalism is good, too.  We overwrite and overproduce, adding in lots that’s not essential.  C.f. Carroll’s Nurnberg Funnel or Moore’s Action Mapping.  And even for non-mobile, minimalism makes sense (as I tout under the banner of the Least Assistance Principle).  That is, it’s really not rude to ask people (or yourself as a designer) “what’s the least I can do for you?”  Because that’s what people generally really prefer: give me the answer and let me get back to work!

Microlearning as a phrase has probably become current (he says, cynically) because elearning providers are touting it to sell the ability of their tools to now deliver to mobile.   But it can also be a watch word to emphasize thinking about performance support, learning ‘in context’, and minimalism.  So I think we may want to continue to use it, but I suggest it’s worthwhile to be very clear what we mean by it. It’s not courses on a phone (mobile elearning), and it’s not spaced out learning, it’s small but useful full learning experiences that can fit by size of objective or context ‘in the moment’.  At least, that’s my take; what’s yours?

8 April 2015

Starting from the end

Clark @ 8:20 am

Week before last, Will Thalheimer and I had another one of our ‘debates’, this time on the Kirkpatrick model (read the comments, too!).  We followed up last week with a live debate.  And in the course of it I said something that I want to reiterate and extend.

The reason I like the Kirkpatrick model is it emphasizes one thing that I see the industry failing to do.  Properly applied (see below), it starts with the measurable change you need to see in the organization, and you work backwards from there. You go back to the behavior change you need in the workplace to address that measure, and from there to the changes in training and/or resources to create that behavior change.  The important point is starting with a business metric.  No ‘we need a course on this’, but instead: “what business goal are we trying to impact”.

Note: the solution can just be a tool, it doesn’t have to always be learning.  For example, if what people need to access accurately are the specific product features of one of a multitude of solutions that are in rapid flux (financial packages, electronic hardware, …), trying to get it in the head accurately isn’t a good goal. Having people able to access the information ‘in the head’ is an exercise in futility, and you’re better off putting the information ‘in the world’.  (Which is why I want to change from Learning & Development to Performance & Development, it’s not about learning, it’s about doing!)

The problems with Kirkpatrick are several.  For one, even he admitted he numbered it wrong.  The starting point is numbered ‘four’, which misleads people.  So we get the phenomena that people do stage 1, sometimes stage 2, rarely do they get to stage 3, and stage 4 is almost non-existent, according to ATD research.  And stage 1, as Will rightly points out, is essentially worthless, because the correlation between what learners think of the learning and the actual impact is essentially zero!  Finally, too often Kirkpatrick is wrongly considered as only to evaluate training (even the language on the site, as the link above will show you, talks only about training). It should be about the impact of an intervention whatever the means (see above).  And the impact is what the Kirkpatrick model properly is about, as I opined in the blog debate.

So, in the live debate, I said I’d be happy for any other model that focused on working backwards. And was reminded that, well, I proposed just that a while ago!  The blog post is the short version, but I also wrote this rather longer and more rigorous paper (PDF), and I’m inclined think it’s one of my more important contributions to design (to date ;). It’s a fairly thorough look at the design process and where we go wrong (owing to our cognitive architecture), and a proposal for an alternative approach based upon sound principles.   I welcome your thoughts!

7 April 2015

Labeling 70:20:10

Clark @ 8:42 am

In the Debunker Club, a couple of folks went off on the 70:20:10 model, and it prompted some thoughts.  I thought I’d share them.

If you’re not familiar with 70:20:10, it’s a framework for thinking about workplace learning that suggests we need to recognize that the opportunity is about much more than courses. If you ask people how they learned the things they know to do in the workplace, the responses suggest that somewhere around 10% came from formal learning, 20% from informal coaching and such, and about 70% from trial and error.  Note the emphasis on the fact that these numbers aren’t exact, it’s just an indication (though considerable evidence suggests that the contribution of formal learning is somewhere between 5 and 20%, with evidence from a variety of sources).

Now, some people complain that the numbers can’t be right, no one gets perfect 10 measurements. To be fair, they’ve been fighting against the perversion of Dale’s Cone, where someone added numbers on that were bogus but have permeated learning for decades and can’t seem to be exterminated. It’s like zombies!  So I suspect they’re overly sensitive to whole numbers.

And I like the model!  I’ve used it to frame some of my work, using it as a framework to think about what else we can do to support performance. Coaching and mentoring, facilitating social interaction, providing challenge goals, supporting reflection, etc.  And again to justify accelerated organizational outcomes.

The retort I hear is that “it’s not about the numbers”, and I agree.  It’s just tool to help shake people out of the thought that a course is the only solution to all needs.  And, outside the learning community, people get it.  I have heard that, over presentations to hundreds of audiences of executives and managers, they all recognize that the contributions to their success came largely from sources other than courses.

However, if it’s not about the numbers, maybe calling it the 70:20:10 model may be a problem.  I really like Jane Hart’s diagram about Modern Workplace Learning as another way to look at it, though I really want to go beyond learning too.  Performance support may achieve outcomes in ways that don’t require or deliver any learning, and that’s okay. There’re times when it’s better to have knowledge in the head than in the world.

So, I like the 70:20:10 framework, but recognize that the label may be a barrier. I’m just looking for any tools I can use to help people start thinking ‘outside the course’.  I welcome suggestions!

2 April 2015

Measurement?

Clark @ 10:55 am

Sorry for the lack of posts this week; Monday was shot while I migrated my old machine to a new one (yay)!  Tuesday was shot with catching up. Wed was shot with lost internet, and trying to migrate the lad to my old machine.  So today I realize I haven’t posted all week (though you got extra from me last week ;)!  So here’s one reflection on the conference last week.

First, if you haven’t seen it, you should check out the debate I had with the good Dr. Will Thalheimer over at his blog about the Kirkpatrick model.  He’s upset with it as it’s not permeated by learning, and I argue that it’s role is impact, not learning design (see my diagram at the end).  Great comments, too! We’ll be doing a hangout on it on Friday the 3rd of April.

The other interesting thing that happened is on the first day I was cornered three times for deep conversations on measurement. This is a good thing, mostly, but one in particular was worth a review.  The discussion for this last centered on whether measurement was needed for most initiatives, and I argued yes, but with a caveat.

There was an implicit thought that for many things that measurement wasn’t needed. In particular, for informal learning when we’ve got folks successfully developed as effective self-learners and a good culture, we don’t need to measure. And I agree, though we might want to track (via something like the xAPI) to see what things are effective or not.

However, I did still think that any formal interventions, whether courses, performance support, or even specific social initiatives should be measured. First, how are you going to tune it to get it right? Second, don’t you want to attach the outcome to the intervention? I mean, if you’re doing performance consulting, there should be a gap you’re trying to address or why are you bothering?  If there is a gap, you have a natural metric.

I am pleased to see the interest in measurement, and I hope we can start getting some conceptual clarity, some good case studies, and really help make our learning initiatives into strategic contributions to the organization.  Right?

27 March 2015

Juliette LaMontagne #LSCon Keynote Mindmap

Clark @ 9:39 am

Juliette LaMontagne closed the Learning Solutions conference with the compelling story of the Breaker project, connecting kids to real world experiences.  

  

26 March 2015

Michael Furdyk #LSCon Keynote Mindmap

Clark @ 7:01 am

Michael Furdyk gave an inspiring talk this morning about his trajectory through technology and then five ideas that he thought were important elements in the success of the initiatives he had undertaken. He gave lots of examples and closed with interesting questions about how we might engage learners through badges, mobile, and co-creation.

25 March 2015

Tom Wujec #LSCon Keynote Mindmap

Clark @ 7:02 am

Tom Wujec gave a discursive and well illustrated talk about how changes in technology were changing industry, ultimately homing in on creativity.  Despite a misstep mentioning Kolb’s invalid learning styles instrument, it was entertaining and intriguing.

 

24 March 2015

Tech Limits?

Clark @ 8:26 am

A couple of times last year, firms with some exciting learning tools approached me to talk about the market.  And in both cases, I had to advise them that there were some barriers they’d have to address. That was brought home to me in another conversation, and it makes me worry about the state of our industry.

So the first tool is based upon a really sound pedagogy that is consonant with my activity-based learning approach.  The basis is giving learners assignments very much like the assignments they’ll need to accomplish in the workplace, and then resourcing them to succeed.  They wanted to make it easy for others to create these better learning designs (as part of a campaign for better learning). The only problem was, you had to learn the design approach as well as the tool. Their interface wasn’t ready for prime time, but the real barrier was getting people to be able to use a new tool. I indicated some of the barriers, and they’re reconsidering (while continuing to develop content against this model as a service).

The second tool supports virtual role plays in a powerful way, having smart agents that react in authentic ways. And they, too, wanted to provide an authoring tool to create them.  And again my realistic assessment of the market was that people would have trouble understanding the tool.  They decided to continue to develop the experiences as a service.

Now, these are somewhat esoteric designs, though the former should be the basis of our learning experiences, and the latter would be a powerful addition to support a very common and important type of interaction.  The more surprising, and disappointing, issue came up with a conversation earlier this year with a proponent of a more familiar tool.

Without being specific (I’ve not received permission to disclose the details in all of the above), this person indicated that when training a popular and fairly straightforward tool, that the biggest barrier wasn’t the underlying software model. I was expecting that too much of training was based upon rote assignments without an underlying model, and that is the case, but instead there was a more fundamental barrier: too many potential users just didn’t have sufficient computer skills!  And I’m not talking about programming code, but instead fundamental understandings of files and ‘styles‘ and other core computing elements just were not present in sufficient quantities in these would-be authors. Seriously!

Now I’ve complained before that we’re not taking learning design seriously, but obviously we’re compounded by a lack of fundamental computer skills.  Folks, this is elearning, not chalk learning, not chalk talk, not edoing, etc.  If you struggle to add new apps on your computer, or find files, you’re not ready to be an elearning developer.

I admit that I struggle to see how folks can assume that without knowledge of design, nor knowledge of technology, that they can still be elearning designers and developers. These tools are scaffolding to allow your designs to be developed. They don’t do design, nor will they magically cover up for lacks of tech literacy.

So, let’s get realistic.  Learn about learning design, and get comfortable with tech, or please, please, don’t do elearning.  And I promise not to do music, architecture, finance, and everything else I’m not qualified to. Fair enough?

 

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