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

30 January 2006

iPod Uni

Clark @ 10:25 AM

We’ve been hearing heaps about podcasting, and new applications keep appearing. A natural mix is iPods and universities, such as Duke’s abortive experiment (they gave every first year student one, but the next year they abandoned it except for those courses that were actually using it, not allowing the necessary percolation). Now Apple itself is getting into the act with iTunes U.

My colleague, Professor John Ittelson of Cal State Monterey, was hyping Stanford’s pilot during the final weekend get together of the course we co-taught last semester, and the notion of having every lecture captured and available for automatic download into your iPod is extremely compelling. With the regular iPod you can capture ‘audiographics’ (e.g. narrated powerpoints, using the ability to insert albumcovers), and of course with the video iPod you could actually capture the full lecture.

The one thing I’m still waiting to see are actual quizzes or, better yet, interactive scenarios (you just have to read the book to see why I’m so excited about them :) presenting situations with images and dialog/narration, and then the learner having to use the jog dial to navigate menus to make decisions (pre-touch screen). They can already present games, so we just need learning games. And if the rumors are true about wireless iPods coming soon. An interactive iPod, programmable in Flash…

Web 2.0

Clark @ 10:10 AM

Yes, I, too, am on the Web 2.0 bandwagon. Have been for quite a while actually: SOAP, OWL, and heaps of other things are giving us some powerful learning opportunities. And there’s still stuff for me to learn (e.g. the ‘long tail’). It’s the next wave of empowerment through the web, and think what’s happened already! I could go on, but there’s a better way…

Tim O’Reilly, *the* O’Reilly (definitive software books, Safari U, etc), has a somewhat long but very thorough and compelling article outlining what Web 2.0 is.

My wise brother, who teaches information technology at community college for the security and free time to pursue his entrepeneurial activity, as well as to contribute to the next generation (and he’s good at it), has a sabbatical to stay abreast of what’s happening. He’s looking at conferences, and I pointed him to the (apparently expensive) Semantic Web conference and and to this article as the rationale, which reminded me to recommend it to you.

24 January 2006

Emotional Trajectory…

Clark @ 2:44 PM

I was talking about learning games a year or so ago, and mentioned a concept that’s slowly been percolating since. The idea was based upon the notion that we don’t design content, we design experiences, and therefore it could be useful to think of a learner’s emotional trajectory through the experience.

In words I described it as “wry recognition (of the necessity), followed by some slightly apprehensive anticipation, which would segue to growing confidence and finally a feeling of growth and then closure.

I’ve take my first stab at capturing it:

Emotional Trajectory

The notion is that, as you progress, your confidence should increase and your anxiety decrease, while motivation develops for the learning from the beginning, and then is maintained until the end. Your feedback solicited.

22 January 2006

Informal University?

Clark @ 1:20 PM

I had lunch the other day with Jay Cross and we talked, among other things, about our mutual interest in his current campaign for informal learning (he’s got a forthcoming book on the subject). On my subsequent drive from Berkeley to Cal State Monterey Bay (I’ve been teaching a course there), I had a chance to think about the implications.

I wondered what would be covered at the Informal University; not a place where you learn informally (an oxymoron), but where you learn to learn informally. It fits nicely with my thoughts about what the new, wise, curriculum needs to be to cope with the increasing rate of change (where the half-life of information is much less than the length of a career). Just what do we need to know to be good informal (read: self-) learner?

Of course, we need to take a richer view of learning, so in addition to covering learning and meta-learning (learning to learn), we’d cover problem-solving and design, research, sources of data. We’d look at models, and systems-thinking. We’d also discuss tools, when, and how to effectively use them. And we’d talk about values, and wisdom.

I think, moving forward, that the type of curricula I want my kids seeing in school, and at university, will be to provide ways of thinking and attitudes, with less emphasis on core knowledge that will increasingly rapidly be out of date.

20 January 2006

Little things matter…

Clark @ 1:45 PM

I was on a call yesterday with a team that had developed a stunning engine-driven scenario. It had rich complexity, good visual and interaction design, appropriate challenge, etc. This was something I’d be proud to show.

However, they’d had a focus group testing which had soundly rejected it. I was helping them try to understand was how could this happen.

What became clear was that a couple of simple, and avoidable, mistakes doomed the result. Mistakes that had little to do with the monumental task of creating the underlying model, and all to do with user perceptions.

First, the system threw you out the first mistake you made. And with no feedback about why! There were people who played it systematically to figure it out (your typical gamers), but the average audience was frustrated. This is easy to fix, by the way.

The second mistake was that they hadn’t set expectations for the focus group. The younger folks were unhappy it didn’t have the polish of a commercial game, and the older folks complained that the simulation didn’t have the depth of the real experience. Both of these could be addresssed by setting expectations up front (and the beginning information was typically dull and dry, not matching the dynamic music and going on way too long).

I suggested that with minimal work that focus group result could be turned around. A review before bringing it to the focus group would’ve caught this.

The end result was that the business decision was made to pull the plug on the project, and would regroup to think about whether to try again. It’s a shame, since they’d spent a reasonable amount of money (actually quite little for what they’d gotten), had a great core, and only needed to do a little window dressing. It’s also a lesson on just how important it is to sweat all the details.

16 January 2006

Tools for Game Design

Clark @ 4:24 PM

As I work with more folks in developing learning games (er, sorry, scenarios or simulations, we can’t use the ‘g’ word :)), I refine my understanding of how to streamline the process (and make it more pragmatic). I’ve just added two tools to the resources on the site for the book: templates/guides for a concept document and the storyboard.

I’m now focusing on using the notion of decisions, with correct choices (in a setting) and consequences, and misconceptions and their consequences, as the core design framework.

In developing a design, I use a concept doc to capture the initial objective, representative decisions and associated misconceptions, etc. It also pragmatically captures a proposed storyline (to advance the discussion).

Once the concept doc is signed off, you start work on the storyboard, which captures the look and feel, each screen (or screen type), prose, rules, variables, etc.

I welcome feedback on either, as well.

14 January 2006

Classic books?

Clark @ 3:55 PM

The Association for Computing Machinery has been collecting recommendations for classic books in Computer Science, and it made me think of the key books that have influenced my thinking. This is part of a broader consideration of what books people doing learning technology should read.

I have an eclectic view, trying to take a broader view of technology supporting performance support, Knowledge Management, informal learning, etc, so I largely ignore traditional instructional design approaches like Gagne’ and Merrill. I’m a fan, note, and have read lots of Merrill for instance, but lets take that as a baseline and move beyond. (I recommend Reigeluth’s survey’s of instructional design approaches.)

So here’s a brief annotated list of readings I think are seminal:

  • Don Norman’s Things That Make Us Smart gives us a valuable perspective on how to support people’s performance (everyone should’ve already read his Design of Everyday Things…).
  • John Carroll’s Nurnberg Funnel, a landmark book touting a minimalist approach focusing on respecting (and leveraging) your learner’s real world knowledge.
  • Allen Collins & John Seely Brown’s Cognitive Apprenticeship is not a whole book but either a chapter (with Susan Newman) or an article (with Ann Holum). In either case, it’s the best model for designing learning that I know, abstracting across work by Palincsar & Brown, Scardemalia & Bereiter, and Shoenfeld.
  • Jeroen van Merrienboer’s Training Complex Cognitive Skills presents the best model for separating out knowledge from skills and addresses both.

In addition to these full thoughts, several other elements contribute to my design approach. Reigeluth’s Elaboration Theory talks elegantly about starting from a broad context and drilling down. Spiro’s Cognitive Flexibility Theory emphasizes the importance of multiple representations. Sweller’s Cognitive Load Theory helps us understand the importance of providing appropriate support in performance and even in representations. Mager’s specification of objectives helps us emphasize the resulting performance. And Keller’s ARCS model helps us incorporate the emotional side of learning.

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