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

28 June 2006

Innovation, Creativity, & Problem-solving

Clark @ 3:22 PM

You’ve heard me talk about the importance of innovation, creativity, and problem-solving, and recently I had a chance to explore it further.

On Sunday on my way to the airport, I had breakfast with Dr. Chris Stevens and David Burroughs of Creative Mastery at Lori’s Diner in San Francisco (a classic American diner) to talk about innovation. At the UK eLearning Mission last month, I had chatted with Charles Jennings of Reuters about trying to generate innovation, and he suggested I contact Chris.

As background, my PhD thesis focused on improving general (analogical) reasoning skills, while the whole lab was focused on user interface design. As a consequence, I started teaching interaction design at the University of New South Wales in 1991, and got interested in the design process itself, naturally wanting to transfer that to learning system design as well.

Looking at design naturally led me also to look at innovation and creativity, other general purpose skills. Given the increasing pressures on organizations for problem-solving and innovation, I’m increasingly thinking that has to be an explicit focus for curriculum. And can be. Naturally, my interest is also in how technology might facilitate this.

Creative Mastery provide interventions around organizational creativity. It’s clear that they were passionate about the need, knowledgeable about the solutions, and professional about the implementation.

Their business has been the ‘creative’ industries, but we agreed that this is going to have to go global across any industry that will need innovation to thrive or even just survive. There are component skills, but their position is that there’s more about the mental space needed. This is in consonance with Don Norman’s points about the effects of emotional design, a positive affects supports lateral and associative thinking. It also takes ongoing support to develop it as a culture, not just a one-off workshop.

There’s lots of cognitive science research that problem-solving support is domain-specific, but increasingly our knowledge workers are getting into new domains, and the value of more general approaches makes sense, and there are some more domain-general approaches (e.g. engineering’s Triz approach). I think making support available, whether formal courses, or informal resources, is an obvious first step, but I’m also thinking about ways in which we can ‘bake’ this into our IT infrastructure. An opportunity for innovation and creative problem-solving; I’d love to hear from you if this interests you.

20 June 2006

Self Evaluation

Clark @ 2:32 PM

In the previous post about reflection, I was reminded about a trick we used when we couldn’t auto-evaluate learner responses. The topic was Media Skills, and after some earlier simpler tasks like identifying a well-formed statement, ordering elements, and choosing an appropriate response, we needed to get the learners to respond on their own.

We continued this careful scaffolding (ala Cognitive Apprenticeship), where first they wrote into a text box, but then we needed more immediacy. We rigged up an automated phone system that you dialed in and navigated to questions that you would answer. First, you knew the questions that were coming (the website gave them to you before giving you the number to call), and then you wouldn’t. Not quite as rigorous as facing an interviewer, but plenty challenging regardless. There was a cover story about choosing the different news agency, print, radio, or TV, and a particular reporter, so that you had a reason to navigate the system to where you needed to go.

While I still think this was extraordinarily clever (it was a team effort, not just me :), the important thing was how to evaluate it. We couldn’t evaluate their written prose (at the time, and even now Latent Semantic Analysis would be overkill), let alone their verbal responses. What could we do? We gave them model answers, and asked them to compare their responses to our model ones.

I would (I frankly can’t recall, now, whether we did this) add in a set of heuristics about how to evaluate your responses: what to look for, to note whether you did or not. If you knew common mistakes, and you would, you could prompt for those, too.

The reason this is so important, beyond being pragmatic, is that asking learners to self-evaluate leads them another step along the way towards internalizing the concept and self-monitoring, becoming self-improving learners. So go for grander tasks, ask learners to self-evaluate (with support, which you might gradually remove), and really accelerate your learners towards self-sufficiency. Now, to go practice what I preach…


Clark @ 2:19 PM

I stumbled across the term Heutology, which is a word coined to talk about self-directed learning. It’s very similar to the ideas Jay Cross talks about for informal learning, but it is proposed as a successor to Malcolm Knowles Andragogy, wherein the role of the instructor is lost. I’ve argued that you can’t take self-directed learning capability for granted, as you can’t assume everyone’s developed the skills. And even then, you may need help.

For instance, even though I think of myself as a fairly capable self-learner, I need help on getting past my self-marketing barriers, and have been involved in one of Robert Middleton‘s Marketing Action Groups. A great resource for guidance on marketing yourself as an independent professional.

But I was reflecting on reflection as a critical tool of meta-learning or learning to learn. We don’t do enough of it, generally, though those I see as highly successful usually have a reflection process built into their lifestyles. Organizations say there isn’t enough time for reflection, we have to do, yet reflection is one of they keys to learning, and learning will be the key to ongoing creativity and innovation that will be differentiator for success going forward.

On a more practical note, I’ve been thinking about reflection as a part of our learning design. Of course we provide feedback, and we often have ‘thought questions’, but I’m convincing myself that we don’t do enough. I’ve started ending the scenarios I develop with a series of thought questions (credits to Deborah Zimmerman, of Agile Mind, who first tossed this into a scenario we developed on nursing) to generalize the learning. In scenarios you can only present so many contexts, and for transfer to broader contexts you can ask questions like:

  • “How would that play out in a different situation?”
  • “What would this look like in your own work situation?”
  • “Can you hear this in your own life?”

I’d like to suggest that you consider wrapping up any learning content with some reflection questions before you close the experience, as a practical step. And find time to reflect in your own life, becoming clear about what you’re looking for.

12 June 2006

Emotion in Game Experience

Clark @ 7:54 PM

Today I was working with a team (coordinated by my long-time mentor/colleague/friend Jim Schuyler, who knows the most interesting people) to design an experience for an upcoming event. Dialed in for a big part of the planning session was Nicole Lazzaro, a real revelation!

Nicole gave us a rundown on her insightful take on the four “fun keys” that serve as emotional signposts in the gaming experience. They’re a different cut through the elements I draw upon, and are insightful and well-based in her research on game playing. Moreover, she taps into an element I have largely ignored (owing to my own ‘non-social’ learning style; I’m not asocial, I’m just shy and kind of independent), the social aspect.

Her elements were:

  • Fiero: an Italian word capturing individual triumph over adversity (requiring frustration beforehand). This is something that movies don’t do well, she asserts (and certainly vicarious triumph isn’t quite the same). I was pleased to hear her use ‘hard fun’, which those who know me is a concept I tout, though her take was more specific than mine. I align this with a perfectly-pitched ‘challenge’.
  • Curiosity: this is an ‘easy fun’ which is interleaved with the hard fun, providing choice and opportunity to explore. I have choice and novelty which are combined to some extent here. Her take is that this leads to wonder, surprise, and/or awe. Delightful!
  • Relaxation/Excitement: I didn’t quite get the nuances here, obviously, because this seemed like a twist on the shift between fiero and Curiosity. It’s a continuum, but the bits that did ‘stick’ included playing to learn and achieving goals, and also the importance of meta-cognition. These are concepts near and dear to my heart, so I’ll have to pursue these further.
  • People fun: Here she included the joy of working with others, and also Shadenfreude “pleasure taken from someone else’s misfortune”. I tend to focus on individual learning experiences, and so she’s providing valuable new perspective to me here. This incorporates all the social emotions from envy and jealousy to camaraderie, gratitude, and generosity.

I have written about emotion in elearning(a PDF), but this is an elegant analysis of emotion in the gaming experience, and valuable for learning game design as well. There’s a brief introduction in a Gamasutra article summarizing a session on emotion that Nicole participated in (free registration may be required). Have at it!

11 June 2006

Learning Culture

Clark @ 1:38 PM

Someone pinged me, asking about learning culture, and in particular a Learning Culture Index. I don’t know of a Learning Culture Index, but this triggered a couple of interesting thoughts:

First, I was talking to my students at the face-to-face weekend get together about the benefits of diversity, and mentioned Hofstede’s dimensions of national character (Power Distance, Individualism, Masculinity, Uncertainty Avoidance, & Long-Term Orientation). This was part of an effort to get the students to work well in groups.

At a multi-cultural learning workshop I attended when I taught in Australia, they argued that you shouldn’t create different learning cultures but instead use the best culture and assist learners into it from whatever their initial learning culture is. So what is the best learning culture?

It seemed to me that an ideal would be low power-distance, a cooperative learning situation; low individualism, working collaboratively (though that must be tempered with ownership of one’s own responsibility for learning); low masculinity, not feminity but gender neutral; low uncertainty avoidance, being willing to wrestle with ambiguity and uncertainty since by definition the material is not known; and a long-term orientation.

I think you could characterize an organization’s learning culture, though I’m less certain it would differ from the organization’s culture as a whole.

I was also reminded of Samantha Chapnick’s thorough elearning Readiness Assessment. There was an instrument, but it seems to have withered away.

Somewhere between Hofstede & Chapnick I suspect there’s a valuable approach. Then you have to ask, what would you do with a learning culture index? Understanding it would be a first step and then determining useful directions, and assessing readiness to progress would be next, and then finally executing, leading to more nimbleness, greater innovation, and all the other benefits that can accrue.

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