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

31 August 2007

Principled Innovation?

Clark @ 1:13 PM

It’s a continuing phenomenon (and a cliche’) that we use new technologies as we used their predecessors, so the first television was people standing in front of microphones, performing. Does this have to be true? Can we, on principle, advance beyond? I’d like to suggest that the answer, at least sometimes, is yes.

I’ve previously talked about ‘affordances‘, for mobile and virtual worlds (at least implicitly, for the latter). Elliot Masie just raised the issue (strange he doesn’t provide a useful URL) for virtual worlds (only a year behind the times ;), saying we should not get carried away with hype, and I agree. The point being that technologies have certain inherent capabilities they support, though we may discover new hidden affordances. I’d like to suggest two things:

First, that we can on principle determine what learning affordances a technology has, and assess it’s utility. Sure, there might be a bit of the ‘Hawthorne effect‘ (and we should consider deliberately exploiting that), but we also should be direct.

Second, we should be looking at the capabilities we don’t have, and imagine how we might achieve them.

As I’ve mentioned before, our limits are no longer technological. So let us dream what we want, and make it so!

30 August 2007

Learning Experience

Clark @ 3:05 PM

I’ve written in the past about Pine & Gilmore’s Experience Economy, enough so that I apparently got on their radar. As a consequence, I was contacted by Bob Dean, who’s VP of Learning & Talent Development at Heidrick & Struggles. He shares my passion for learning, with an impressive track record in industry, and was so taken with the implications of the Experience Economy for learning that he became certified in the models and principles thereof.

It’s an intriguing proposition. Certainly, I’m a fan of the role of experience in learning, because as I’ve argued, Engaging Learning is about how to design engaging and effective learning experiences. Or, rather, meaningful practice, but I’ve also argued for wrapping learning events with preparation and follow-up to make the learning experience optimally effective (which is why I’m so excited about mobile learning), and the need for using organizational change to successfully implement elearning. Among other things.

Bob pointed me to The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning, and provided a synopsis. I could see why it caught his attention when the second discipline is to design the complete experience! The other disciplines are valuable too, in particular focusing on achieving real business outcomes, as well as the afore-mentioned follow-through. If I had one complaint, it might be that it appears to focus on training and not include performance support, though I haven’t read it completely. Of course, major organizational skill shifts will require more than just job aids or updates.

I’m fascinated that Bob sees experience principles as relevant for learning, and would have to agree. I think that when we hear that the total customer experience is the new business differentiator, it does make sense for our learning, too. Certainly if we want it to stick. I’m of course interested in how technology can facilitate the total experience, have lots of cognitively-based principles that we’re largely missing, and that I’d love to implement. Your thoughts?

28 August 2007

Swimming, Surfing, and Learning

Clark @ 8:59 AM

Sorry if I’ve been sparse this past week, but I was traveling to LA and San Diego to visit my Mom, pick up my son from surf camp with his friend, and visit my brother. The last day at my brother’s we went to the beach, and a glorious time was had by all.

The water was so warm we could stay in as long as we wanted (a couple of hours) without wetsuits! My brother had several surfboards along (we forgot the boogie boards), and the kids took turns riding them, to various degrees. His older son has a soft foam board and had been several times before. My son had only his 3 half days of camp, but we’d talked about some of the principles. They were both catching waves and standing up to ride them in. His younger son and my daughter took some turns riding in on their bellies. My brother and I both took some time paddling out and catching waves for ourselves too (I was so thrilled that my work to get my arms in shape for paddling really paid off!).

The neat thing was the degree to which the kids advanced even during that one day. I’d once tried to teach my kids swimming, and forgot to break it down into the basics and get those drilled. I haven’t made that mistake since after hearing how the swim coach (and friend) we hired for a few hours per day for a week did what I’d not. Since then I’ve tried to find just one thing to point out and comment on for a day or so that will improve them the most, and it’s worked much better. When you’ve the time, and are working on major conceptual shifts…

Speaking of concepts, it pleases me my how my lad (in particular), can be given a concept and he will use it to guide his own performance. His soccer coaches say he’s “coachable”, and that’s great to hear. He’s not big for his size or particularly fast, but he quickly understands and applies. His sister is more the ‘practice practice practice’ type, but advances quickly. Two different approaches (sort of like the two different parents: I’m more like him, my wife’s more like her).

I learn so much about learning from watching them learn. And it’s fun, too.

22 August 2007

How to solve problems, and learn to…

Clark @ 6:25 AM

I’m unduly proud of having now served on two eLearning Guild research reports – ILS (read: games) and mobile. I’ll argue that it’s due to my approach rather than genius (I know too many people that are way smarter than me), and of course from having great mentors. It’s believe it’s because I try to have a conceptual understanding of many models as tools to think and solve problems, both frameworks and approach. My PhD advisor’s focus (at the time) was on applied cognition, and that’s what I try to bring to bear. It necessarily includes an understanding of how our brains work, how to be systematic in examining problems and trialing solutions, organizations, and quite a bit of background in technology.

I’d started drafting this post and then read Jay Cross’ comments on lots of models, loosely joined, rather than one overarching approach. Exactly!

I want to suggest that these are great curriculum goals as well. Understanding the societal context, including economics and business, understanding technology systems, and how people think and interact, are critical components of an ability to meet the coming needs. Also having systematic processes of information gathering, design/problem-solving, and execution, driven again by a conceptual understanding of where and how they work (so you can adapt them to the situation) is a component.

Of course, your pedagogy has to have you working on complex problems and pulling models in to solve them, so you have practice and can meta-reflect as well. We’ve the knowledge, and the technology, now if only we had the political will. I’m afraid it won’t be done tinkering around the edges of No Child Left Behind, but throwing out the whole thing except the notion that we might want to assess learning, and starting again. I suspect the end result will be annotated portfolios, with profiles of performance, not ‘scores’. But I’ll leave that to the people who solve this particular problem.

21 August 2007

Interfacing smart phones…

Clark @ 4:00 PM

You’ve heard me rant about the iPhone’s lack of cut/copy/paste. Well, someone’s come up with a brilliant video that shows how it could be done in the parameters of their existing interface, and does it as a spoof of their current tutorial. Brilliant. Which doesn’t cover some other gaps I’ve railed about. Others have noted gaps, too.

Which brings me to this eloquent lambasting of Palm’s lack of innovation around the Treo (the major iPhone competitor, IMHO). It does a great job of pointing out how the Treo (my current smartphone) hasn’t really been updated in any significant way in several years (which is an eon in tech circles). Lack of multi-tasking, weak browser, no wi-fi are just a few of very reasonable complaints.

It has been a bee in my bonnet that I can’t select text on the Treo with the jog-dial (four direction arrows and center button) and the keyboard (and of course it could, if you used the shift key like you do on a laptop). In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the Treo should be *completely* operable from the buttons, and never need the touchscreen (except as a backup option for speed in certain circumstances).

Which would be an interesting contrast: the total keyboard control of a Treo versus a total touchscreen experience of the iPhone. One for ‘the rest of us’, one for the powerusers, for instance. There’s lots of space in this market, I reckon…

19 August 2007

Mobile report update: free webinar…

Clark @ 9:37 AM

An update: there’s a free webinar you can sign up for to hear (most of) us talk about the report.  I don’t know if it’s eLearning Guild members only, but you should be one anyway!

18 August 2007

Mobile report released…

Clark @ 6:35 AM

The eLearning Guild’s just released their Mobile Learning report (disclaimer: I’m one of the authors). They’re really cranking out an impressive suite of elearning research reports, and in addition to the articles by the chosen authors (a who’s who, present company excepted), which include case studies and resources, there’s the ability to access data collected from and regularly updated by the eLearning Guild’s membership (typically covering over a 1000 respondents with representation across industries, sectors, and nations).

You can download the abstract from the link at the bottom. The report and access is not free, but if you’re in the mobile learning business, or looking to take advantage of the powerful learning opportunity mobile learning provides, I do want to encourage you to see if it’s for you. And I get nothing based upon how well it sells, so I have no vested interest in encouraging this other than that I know Steve Wexler, their director of research, puts great effort into making sure that the reports are as good a piece of work as can be done. Check it out!

17 August 2007


Clark @ 12:39 PM

Because my wife and kids are at day camp all week, I’ve been pitching in on cooking, and it’s reminded me of one of my favorite ‘challenges’. I prefer dealing with whatever’s left over in the fridge (make a meal out of what’s sitting around) to actually going out and shopping. Even when I have to go shopping, I prefer to pick up some things I want to figure out how to make go together rather than knowing how they’ll go together. Not always, but, in general, I don’t like measurements, and I like taking more than one recipe and picking the best parts out of each (which, BTW, did not work for Hot and Sour Soup, and is why I do not bake).

Cooking is my creative outlet, aside from my passion/work/vocation/avocation, which is learning technology. Using principles of flavor combination (as a graduate student, someone turned me on to Elisabeth Rozin’s Flavor Principle cookbook), I feel pretty comfortable taking ingredients and turning them into various cuisines such as Mexican, Cajun, Thai, etc (ok, I have a predilection for spicy food).

There’s a learning principle here, however. It’s about having models, frameworks, that you can use to guide your solution seeking. I do it in cooking, and I do it in solving interesting learning technology problems (and I enjoy both). Having a suite of useful models makes it easier to deal with uncertain situations. Which is why, I think, that I love challenges where someone says “we have this really tough problem that we can’t solve”. I’ve had a recent spate of fun challenges where I’ve come in and been able to provide useful feedback by integrating models to provide tailored solutions. Following existing processes wouldn’t work, but by taking principled approaches and adapting them to pragmatic contexts, unique and successful solutions could be found.

This drives at least one of my beliefs about curriculum goals for the new era: systems-thinking. You need to be able to reason in terms of models. And experience with more models, and deliberately trying to map them across domains, can build the sort of flexible thinking that drives innovation. When I looked at design a number of years ago, what I found were models that talked about exploring outside the normal design solution space, and ones that talked about melding two different approaches together. You do that by having a quiver of approaches to hand, and being systematically creative. And that’s not an oxymoron.

So, do, please, think in terms of models, promote model-based thinking, and have fun with thinking outside of the box.

16 August 2007

A quick modeling capability test

Clark @ 7:24 AM

In the type of learning games I talk about, to go beyond branching scenarios you need to build a model. That is, a branching scenario captures the underlying relationships and consequences implicitly in the branches, but to build the underlying simulation for an engine/rule-driven game, you’re going to have to capture the relationships and causality explicitly. It’s not difficult, but it’s a unique skill set that not everybody has. And you need it to be successful in creating a design that can be documented and produced.

So, people often ask what the ‘reality check’ is for the type of person who’s likely to be able to do this. My short answer used to be anyone who programs, though that’s a much more limited set than we’d like. It’s got to be someone who can map some statements about relationships into some unambiguous representation such as rules, formulas, or look-up tables. And it typically should not be the same person who’s being creative (hard to be both the creative diverging, and the modeler converging). I thought of a better answer, however.

I think a good indicator is whether you have ever captured your thinking in a formalism. A couple of frequent ways people do this is to create a working mail filter rule, create a new macro, or build a complex spreadsheet. It’s got the same notion of capturing a relationship that programming does.

So, I guess I’d claim that if you’ve been successful at that sort of task, you’re probably capable of doing the modeling. If not, e.g. you avoid the sort of tasks I’m talking about, you should find someone else to handle that on your design team, and take the creative role.

15 August 2007

Design trumps production!

Clark @ 3:30 PM

The other day, the following comment appeared in the Serious Games discussion list:

This gets to an issue that I believe is important, what does it cost an average team to build a good game. I have seen RFPs that had ambitious, laudable goals, such as aids education. … But the budget was in the low six figures. If the game was built for that kind of money there is no way it could achieve the goals.

And it really made me mad! It’s driving me nuts that folks are saying that meaningful games have to cost in the high six or low seven figures, because you don’t need that much; you can get meaningful learning outcomes in games in the mid-high five and low six figures. How do I know? Because I’ve done it, and know I can do it reliably and repeatedly.

On principle, the point is that if you get the design right, you don’t need to spend lots on production. If you know what you’re doing (and you should), you focus in on the key decisions, work them into a setting, sweat the details, model the design, and produce it. Now, I admit that these aren’t Wii-quality games, rather they’re likely going to be Flash on the web, but that works. You don’t need 3D scrolling graphics and rendered worlds (in fact, they can get in the way).

So, before you write off creating real engaging games, make sure you’re not buying the pricetags some folks would have you believe. If you do have that type of budget, I can help there too ;), but seriously, unless you need an America’s Army or some other mass-market quality game, don’t think you’ve got to break the bank!

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