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

27 October 2006

Hard work (motivation and tasks)

Clark @ 7:33 AM

Too much hard work has kept me from blogging recently, but there’s a lesson here. David Batstone’s Right Reality newsletter the WAG, a great source of inspiration, pointed me to a report that says that hard work, not natural talent, is the key to success.

While people have often suggested it’s both, the research suggests that there’s no such thing as a natural talent for a specific thing. Moreover, the fact that some people continue on to greatness in any particular thing is due to ‘deliberate practice’: “activity that’s explicitly intended to improve performance”.

I think there’re two parts to that. One is finding or knowing the right thing to do, and the second is maintaining persistence through an increasing level of difficulty. Neither is a given. Maybe the natural talent is to figure out what you want to do and be willing to pursue it. The necessary adjunct is arranging the necessary support.

Really, that’s what I think we should be doing with good learning game design, using the story and setting the level of challenge to maintain motivation, and then ensuring that the embedded decisions are the necessary skills we want to develop.

There’s more, properly representing the concept, providing useful models of applying the concept to the context, supporting reflection to cement and extend the learning, but not only is this great news for anyone who has a passion, it’s also a boost for the value of good learning design.

9 October 2006

Technical Communication

Clark @ 1:52 PM

Last week I presented at the DocTrain conference on customizing information. This is a conference for technical communicators interested in documentation and training. On exhibit were a wide variety of content management systems and content development, QA, and other tools. My presentation followed JoAnn Hackos’ keynote about the importance of structure in content, and included a mention of DITA, the Darwin Information Typing Architecture which provides a way to describe the structure of content in meaningful ways that synergize with ontologies and topic maps as ways to describe what the content’s about.

JoAnn was gracious in person, and eloquent about the power of models for content. This was a great setup for my talk about how to exploit models of content, task, user, and context to create customized information delivery (Wayne Hodgins’ the Right Stuff: the right information to the right person in the right place at the right time in the right way on the right device…).

However, the message didn’t really seem to take hold (except for one gent who didn’t have a business card).

Now, I suppose this shouldn’t surprise me. I was on about games for a couple of years before I started getting traction, and the same pattern was seen with mobile several years before it took off (which is just now beginning to make headway). So maybe the idea is still ahead of it’s time?

Or maybe I didn’t seed the ground well enough at the beginning. I’m also willing to believe it may be partly my presentation, which can be a bit conceptual at times (I’m working on it, OK?). And it may not have been quite the right audience, perhaps more the communicators and the administrators instead of the managers.

So, I’m willing to let this one instance go, but not the whole idea. We can’t just trust to Jay Cross’ Informal Learning, much as that’s necessary (and Jay gets this, working with me as he has on meta-learning). We can’t just create an ecosystem of learning resources, though we need to do this too, but we also need to educate our folks about how to use the system, and we also need to optimize information flows for and to them. And we do this through models, with logic to glue them together.

Not sure where to carry this message forward, but it’s part of the push to stop the silo separation: documentation separate from training separate from support. It’s about performance, at the end of the day, and as long as we don’t have that overall perspective that integrates the elements, we’ll keep having redundant content development, proliferating portals, and confused and ineffective performers.

LCB Big Question of the Month

Clark @ 10:44 AM

Tony Karrer & Dave Lee over at the excellent Learning Circuits Blog (where I got my start in blogging) have started a “Big Question of the Month” series which sounds like a lot of fun.

The first question is whether all learning professionals should be blogging. I think the answer is clearly no. However, all learning professionals should be systematically reflecting, and blogging is a great way to do it.

On the other hand, it’s not the only way, nor does the reflection need to be public. You could keep a journal, or make a wiki, or record podcasts. The thing is to go through the effort to be explicitly reflective.

We know that explicitly capturing our thoughts adds some rigor that we can miss when we just think. And that reviewing our thinking regularly is a valuable act in terms of learning and improving. I just don’t think everyone has to be public and in the written form. I often create graphics to capture my understanding (I’ve got to figure out how to easily add images to my blog!).

I look forward to further questions, and the dialog that goes along with it.

4 October 2006

Slow Learning <> Lifelong Learning

Clark @ 9:23 AM

My colleague, and Adobe’s Ambassador for eLearning, Ellen Wagner, was teasing me this morning about whether my interest in ‘slow learning’ isn’t just “lifelong learning”. Frankly, I hadn’t looked at lifelong learning, but my initial take was that it wasn’t.

So, I googled “lifelong learning” and the wikipedia entry confirmed my suspicions:

Lifelong education is a form of pedagogy often accomplished through distance learning or e-learning, continuing education, homeschooling or correspondence courses.

I realize that this is undoubtedly not all of lifelong learning, this bit elaborates a bit:

Lifelong learning sees citizens provided with learning opportunities at all ages and in numerous contexts: at work, at home and through leisure activities, not just through formal channels such as school and higher education.

Which could be what I’m talking about, but I want to be very clear about what I mean by ‘slow learning’. Not to diminish the importance of the other components, but the concept I’m talking about is not receiving sufficient attention and I want to tease it out.What I’m talking about with slow learning are little interventions dribbled out over long periods of time. The metaphor is not attending an event, but having a personal mentor guiding you throughout your life, with an intervention pattern of a small amount of content or activity at a particular moment.

While there’s a role for the course, there’re problems. Some behaviors and attitudes are not amenable to quick fixes. Other changes are really long sequences of development. We need courses, but I want to argue that a useful, perhaps necessary, adjunct is a long-term development approach.

So there, Ellen!

2 October 2006

Organizational Consciousness

Clark @ 3:57 PM

As I mentioned, we were meeting on Consciousness, and Jerry Talley led us to talk about organizational consciousness. He started by mentioning the film The Corporation (which I have not seen; we have children, not a life :) and how it proposes using psychiatric assessment on the behavior of organizations (self-obsessed, ruthless, etc) and concludes that on the whole organizations are psychopaths. This, naturally, is not a ’good thing’, and Jerry was curious how organizations could be raised in consciousness.

Jerry proposed four critical elements necessary for corporate consciousness: perception of both the external environment and of internal states and processes, ongoing memory of corporate activity, models for shared meaning (yes!), and a capacity to experiment. I’d tease the last part out into an ability to reflect and a willingness to act up on it. There’s certainly an analogy between individual consciousness and organizational consciousness!

Jerry argued that most organizations have none or few of these, and was eager to hear of any one who had all of them. Scary, really. Certainly we know organizations are working on beginning to capture memory (knowledge management), and increasingly we see corporations trying to track competitive intelligence in real time. We’re using stories to create and share understanding, and companies are beginning to realize the need to make their values explicit, though we don’t do enough about using models (but I’ve gone off on this enough already).

The last issue is the reflection and willingness to act on it. Of course, you can’t do the latter if you haven’t done the former. But that reflection doesn’t happen. We talked about a number of large well-known organizations whose culture doesn’t let them admit failure. We all know the managers who think that time for reflection is a waste. Even if you have ideas, the ability to take a chance is fraught with risk for many. We also noted, on the positive side, Google’s support (mandate?) for at least their folks to spend 20% of their time on their own projects.

It was clear that our societal focus on short-term shareholder returns is in contrast to the long-term success of organizations (and for society, but that’s another story; check out David Batstone in the meantime). If you’re looking for the greatest short-term return, your decisions can’t focus on other important elements like impact on society and the world, or even on long-term success (I was reminded of Akio Morita’s (chairman of Sony) analysis of Western business in The Japan That Can Say No).

The point being here that, except for a few isolated fits and starts, our organizations are not functioning optimally (and that’s true in the moment, not just in the long term). It’s partly an issue of organizational culture, partly a situation that technology can help. I’m happy if we work on both together. You really have to, after all.

Consciously Conscious

Clark @ 3:29 PM

On Friday I had the pleasure of gathering with some very interesting people (including the Schuylers, Betsy Burroughs, and Jeff Saperstein) at Doug Englebart’s house to discuss Consciousness. Yassi Mogahaddam started us off asking what consciousness is. It’s clear that any time we’re awake we’re technically conscious, but there are appear to be two different types of consciousness.

To illustrate, we used the situation of driving. There are times when the driving is automatic, and our minds can wander to solve problems or listen to the radio. Then there’s the case where someone swerves in front of us and we can no longer rely on our automatized processes and we’re in the moment. We might even get angry. All this is ‘in the moment’ still, or what Don Norman terms ‘active cognition.

Then there are the times when we think about what we’re doing, observing ourselves being angry perhaps, and as someone pointed out, integrating our different modes of perception. Don called this ‘reflective cognition’, but there’s more. Eastern wisdom tells us about being centered, and clearly there are times when we’re consciously reflecting on our own learning and thinking (meta-cognition and meta-learning).

Of course, consciousness means many things, and more than one attendee mentioned efforts to achieve higher consciousness. I naturally had to bring up wisdom, and we talked about how we might achieve it.

We reviewed historical notions of consciousness and the development of our intelligence and attitudes (the ability of the ancient Greeks to spend time philosophizing comes in some part from their use of slaves, despite their analyses of the importance of freedom), and of points of view.

The point I want to make is that self-improvement is not necessarily a natural state, and it takes cultivation to turn people to a path of seeking more than what’s just best for themselves. Robert Sternberg has argued that we should explicitly teach wisdom in classes, and I think it should be made intrinsic to our curriculum. And this holds true at the organizational level as well!

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