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

31 October 2007

Reflecting and data

Clark @ 4:34 PM

My Mom’s been here the past few days visiting (hence the lack of action here). She hadn’t been up in a long time since my Dad wasn’t strong enough to travel, and after he passed away she’s been afraid to leave since she’s trying to sell her mobile home. However, I finally convinced her she didn’t have to be around for the place to sell. She had a great time, having been afraid the logistics would be difficult, but they weren’t.

It’s been a time for a multitude of reflections, about aging, slowing down, but also about learning and trying to be wiser. Age brings gifts as well as infirmities. If you pay attention (and that can be a big if), you have the opportunity to learn from the events in your life, and also across them. Most of us do the one, but I think the larger one, looking for patterns, is less ubiquitous.

Speaking of looking for patterns, I was reminded of the value of collecting data. On a project I learned about the Personal Software Process (PSP) from Carnegie Mellon’s Software Engineering Institute, which is about documenting your estimates, your actual work effort, and then the Team Software Process (TSP) where within the team you circulate your work to find errors, and document those too. The point is to improve your estimates, and your code. The interesting thing is that there’s no reason that applies only to software! They say that the overhead is more for a couple of weeks, but then drops down. I confess I haven’t tried it, but that’s partly because what I’m doing varies so much I can’t figure out how to categorize it.

Ideally we have people to work with who can provide good feedback, but that’s not always possible or easy. I think one of the things about software is the ‘cowboy’ mentality where they crank out code without reflection and often without review. Extreme programming has helped, and recently someone posted about using that approach in elearning design. I’m having a senior moment remembering who said it, but it’s an idea worth thinking about. Speaking of senior moments, I learned the term from my Mom. Having come full circle, I’ll stop there.

26 October 2007

Graffling, and out of the (OS) Closet…

Clark @ 6:56 AM

My name is Clark and I’m a Macaholic. My grad school experience was largely around applied cognitive science, particularly interface design, and I’d followed the leading edge work at PARC that made it into the Mac (after the Lisa flopped). If you care about user experience, you sorta have to practice what you preach and use a Mac if you can (and I understand if you can’t).

I recognize that Microsoft won the workplace war (Apple shot itself in the foot), but the superior design of Apple is finally getting wider acceptance (c.f. the iPod). Not that I don’t know how to use Windows (we have a PC in the kitchen, next to a Mac), but when I want to get work done, rip my MacBook Pro out of my cold dead hands (which of course was how I felt about the Treo until the iPhone came out, now I’m split :).

The reason I bring this up, however, is to laud a program that runs on the Mac that is exemplary of how to design a program to match the way you think. I have no idea if it’s similar to Visio (which I haven’t used), but it’s superb in working the way I think about things, making it easy to do the things I want to do. And I know I’m not taking full advantage of it! It’s often amazingly intuitive (an over-hyped concept in interface design), usually knowing how I want to finish what I just initiated. I’ve had really great customer service from them as well.

This program is OmniGraffle, which is a Mac only graphing program. You’ve seen the output if you’ve looked at any of my diagrams (e.g. the models page). I went back and recreated all my diagrams in OmniGraffle once I started playing with it because it’s really close to fun to use it. And you’ve got to admit that’s a powerful thing to say about what’s essentially a tool!

My academic integrity (still extant after these years away :) means I couldn’t laud a program I didn’t really believe in, so trust me that this is truly an avid fan’s unsolicited testimony. The colleagues I’ve pointed towards it also rave. If you use a Mac and create diagrams, I recommend checking out the free trial. If you use a PC, you might try to find a way to sample it just to see what an interface *could* be (try, for example: creating a shape, then cutting it and pasting a second one and moving it where you want it, then paste again and see where it ends up).

Jane Hart had a very clever idea and surveyed learning folks’ favorite tools, but I’m particularly interested in ones you use to think better (I use diagrams as my way to model and understand the world, as well as outlines in MS Word to write). I’d welcome hearing your ThinkerTools.

25 October 2007

Virtual Learning

Clark @ 4:39 AM

I’ve previously expressed my thoughts on virtual learning, looking for the key affordances. I’d wanted Tony O’Driscoll, who’s keen on them, to outline why he was excited. He’s put up a graph as part of a post that I think somewhat answers my questions.

His ‘”co-creation” is the area I am excited about (though the tools are still somewhat onerous), though of course role-play (if he means Immersive Learning Simulations) is possible in virtual worlds too though may be cheaper other ways. Obviously, I’m more interested in learning tasks above facts and concepts, so I’ll have to find out what he means by “operation application”. And, to me, the overhead of a virtual world for social networking isn’t quite obviously worth the cost when there are lighter weight ways of achieving that end. But I’m willing to be wrong.

Worth looking at.

24 October 2007

The Zen of Mobile Design

Clark @ 7:35 AM

Yesterday I railed against the limitations of the US mobile phone market. One of my pleasures has been using the Treo, which has a very open software market (I still haven’t switched to the iPhone, despite incredible longing, since it’s not ready for biz yet. Sprint, my current carrier, is working hard to drive me away, however, so it won’t be long.) This article explains why the Treo has been such a satisfying platform (except for the creakiness of the OS), documenting the design principles behind the Palm environment and how to design applications for limited devices. I found it through a history of Palm, starting with Jeff Hawkins way way back with the Zoomer. The principles are useful for mobile in general.

And these principles are really good, including the sweet spot (and how to extend it), using the Pareto principle (the 80/20 rule) to hit the 80% of the capabilities people need. Another great way to think differently: the inverse relationship between PCs and mobile devices – short interactions frequently versus fewer longer usages.

There’re some really cute zen riddles (which they answer) that help you think differently, too. For example: how do you fit a mountain in a teacup? (Mine the diamonds; do you really want the rocks and dirt?) With such a sound basis for those first four apps: Memos, ToDos, Calendar, and Address Book, how could Apple miss two of them?

Overall, a nice exercise in thinking mobile design and worth a look. I’ll likely have to incorporate some of this into my mobile presentations, e.g. as part of the mobile learning pre-conference symposium at DevLearn, in Colombia at eLearning 07, and possibly TechKnowledge.

23 October 2007

Mobile Madness…

Clark @ 7:43 AM

Walt Mossberg has concisely and elegantly laid out the problems affecting the mobile phone industry in the US (where I’m located). He talks about our carriers and how they have the ability to dictate what phones we can use with their services, and even the software that we can use.

It’s not that way elsewhere.  Anyone can buy a GSM phone in Europe and then choose a carrier. In Australia when I visited a couple of years ago, my friends loaned me one of their old phones, and I went a bought a SIM card (the hardware you change to run with one carrier versus another) with a fixed amount of minutes that let me call for the 2 weeks we were there. I brought my Treo, but only to use as a PDA, since it was a CDMA not a GSM phone (we have two systems in this country that don’t play well together), and even if it’d been a GSM phone, the card probably would’ve been inaccessible.

Why is this important? Mobile learning will advance faster if there’s more interoperability, as investments will amortize farther. Moreover, many possibilities will not see the light of day due to the requirements of working with the carriers who’s short term profits demand onerous fees to use their capabilities. Several of us had a new service to offer until we realized what it would cost to try to make it work with the carriers. Or, as Walt puts it:

“It severely limits consumer choice, stifles innovation, crushes entrepreneurship, and has made the U.S. the laughingstock of the mobile-technology world…”

Oof!  I’ve seen similar problems elsewhere: the cost of data in Taiwan, for instance, keeps them from really taking advantage of their concentrated population and opening up new commerce areas. There are amazing things happening in places where there is an open field, and even amazing things happening despite these barriers. I just wonder what could be done without these self-defeating approaches…

18 October 2007


Clark @ 8:49 AM

One of the questions that continually comes up is what tool to use. Particularly for model-driven games, where the interactions are driven from an underlying simulation instead of from fixed branches (where the relationships are implicit in the links, not explicit in a model), everyone wants a tool to make it easier. And I’m pretty sure that can’t happen. Sure, you can use a tool for modeling a specific domain, e.g. Excel for business sims, but there can’t be anything more general than a programming language (e.g. Flash) for building any game you might need. From a response I sent to a correspondent:

Basically, there’re so many different types of relationships you’d want to model that any tool would have to be focused on a subset, otherwise it’s so general that there’s no advantage. Not sure what Stottler-Henke’s claim on SimVentive is, but the overhead looks pretty heavy to me. Other than that, Stella might be general enough, but for instance Excel will work as an engine for business models and other numerics, but could have trouble with softskills, etc. So I still think a high-level programming language is the best tool. Even game engines (e.g. Unreal) are optimized for certain things, and shoe-horning other types of games into them may compromise the learning goals or add unnecessary overhead (read: cost).

There are tools for branching sims (Captivate has added that capability since 2 and advanced it in 3 as I understand, and SimWriter is potentially the best ‘industrial-strength’ tool focused on that capability), but for model-driven interactions I haven’t seen it and am pretty convinced for principled reasons that you can’t have it. Hey, I’d like to have such tools available, for everybody, so I’m not pushing a negativity barrow here.

And I don’t want this to put you off going the extra level to get a model/simulation-driven interaction. When lots of practice is necessary, it’s the best way (branching scenarios have limited replay, and at some point it gets cheaper to do a model-driven interaction that multiple branching scenarios). Further, if you focus tightly on the decisions that will have the biggest impact, and focus on design rather than production, it’s not that hard and not that expensive.

Of course, match your needs to the solutions available, work with knowledgeable partners, but consider deeply immersive practice when it really matters.

17 October 2007

Labeling Games

Clark @ 1:30 PM

I’ve mentioned before how I got into this field, and back then what we were doing was creating educational computer games. Playing the original Colossal Cave adventure, I realized how we could put meaningful skills into these environments (not really what we were doing at DesignWare). Still, I thought of them as games.

Later, when I built a game requiring analogical reasoning (based upon my PhD thesis) and then with Quest, and more, I continued to think of them as games. When I finally wrote about how to design them, I used the phrase Simulation Games in the title, partly at the prodding of my publisher. So it’s been interesting to see the recent struggles with naming that are going on.

Ben Sawyer, moderator of the Serious Games discussion list, recently had a post discussing the various nuances of the term ‘serious games’. He differentiated his interpretation from what the eLearning Guild has called Immersive Learning Simulations (ILS). Interesting, the Guild chose that name when they received serious feedback (1784 respondents represented here) from their great research tool that the phrase ‘game’ was seriously problematic:

eLearning Guild ILS research report findings on naming fieldAs you can see, there was a strong feeling that the name had to change. On the other hand, there was speculation that the reason the ILS symposium at the upcoming DevLearn conference was cancelled due to low signups may well be because of the label. So, what’s going on?

It is true that some of us are focused on the corporate space with these, while others are almost definitely not interested in that space, instead being in, for the lack of a better term, the political/social action space. I like to think that my design principles work for either, but Ben’s message made clear that using games to ease kids pain, to exercise, etc, don’t qualify in his mind. I don’t quite agree, as my approach starts with an objective and provides systematic steps to achieve that objective, but there are things that wouldn’t qualify.

The issue for labeling in corporate learning is that some companies are concerned enough (concerned being a diplomatic euphemism) to actually block the term ‘game’ from any search through their firewall (!). As I’ve said before, a simulation is just a model, when you put the simulation in a particular state and ask the learner to take it to a goal state it’s a scenario, and when you tune that experience until engagement is achieved it’s a game. Clark Aldrich says it slightly differently, putting ILS at the intersection (think ‘Venn Diagram’, I can’t find a copy on his site) of Simulation, Games, and Pedagogy (I agree if you essentially equate the word ‘games’ with ‘engagement’ :).

Regardless, if you’re not at least considering deeply immersive practice through scenarios (though the one connotation that scenarios mean branching is too limited), you’re missing a powerful learning experience. More, there are very good reasons to think that tuning the experience, at least to some degree, makes the learning even more powerful. Finally, as I’ve said before, they’re not as expensive as you might fear.

So, regardless of name, consider the outcome, and make your learning practice as powerful as possible!

16 October 2007

FALLing down…and picking up

Clark @ 4:27 PM

My wife always insists that fall is my busy time, and I never get it. This year I am so getting it. In addition to speaking all over the place next month (and the attendant house-keeping details like actually creating the presentations!), people have been asking for assistance with grant applications & proposals, the list goes on.

The good thing is I can’t complain about being bored. The bad thing is that attempting to keep up with the surge in workload means I find it harder to blog. Not just to find time, but it’s hard to be reflective when you’re in active cognition mode. AKA “when you’re up to your a** in alligators, it’s hard to remember that your original objective was to drain the swamp”.

So for one thing it’s an apology, but it’s also a recognition that this curse is hurting organizations. Several years ago, when Jay Cross and I were pushing the notion of ‘learning to learn‘ (still one of the best cost/benefit values I can think of), people would say “we don’t have time to reflect”. And I can see it is still true.

Yet, it’s not wise. You need to take time to reflect, and companies that have built it into their DNA are reaping the benefits (Google being the poster-child). Yes, there’s increasing competition, and pressure, but the way you succeed is by out-thinking, not outworking. Are you freeing up your innovators and problem-solvers to think ahead, as opposed to addressing other people’s concerns? Are they in tune with the organization’s mission and thinking how to take it to the next level?

Sow what do you do? I think you go beyond the Theory of Constraints type of management and create a learning culture, inspire people, and them empower them with a performance ecosystem. Are you taking the time you need now to get the advantage you’ll need tomorrow? Yes, it’s an investment, but one I think you can’t afford to miss if you want to still be here the day after…

…which is when I head off to a board meeting, so I better get back to work (he says, bringing the conversation full circle).

13 October 2007

A business blind spot?

Clark @ 9:57 PM

I’ve mentioned before that I think there’s a strategic framework behind elearning implementation, and have been talking about it a bit here and there. Of course, the real test is if anyone says “hey, that’s me”. I’m not seeing it, and I’m curious why, as I believe I see it all over the place.

I got into the space through a partner organization, where their clients who’d been doing tactical stuff started asking for assistance with the longer-term picture. It became obvious there is a higher level, and an emergent way to look at it. I increasingly see organizations who’d benefit, but getting to the right person, and getting them to see the need, and of course most importantly getting them to actually buy into trying a solution has been difficult. An earlier post talked about someone who needed it, but was looking for free assistance. Probably worth every cent it cost.

I’m actually wondering if this is an unseen need. That is, organizations need it and don’t realize it. I’ll be talking about it in various ways at several upcoming events, , but I’d welcome your feedback on whether it’s too early, too obvious, too obtuse, or what.

11 October 2007

A sleazy tactic

Clark @ 1:50 PM

Because of the blog, I occasionally (increasingly?) get pointed to check out some things. Some of them clearly are marketing/PR but not labeled as such, others are just clueless (asking me to support a paper-writing service?). This one was clearly marketing, but they were offering value. It’s a game where you drag and drop countries onto a European Map.

The game itself is interesting: the countries are identified by shape and two letter URL code. Even when you get it in the right place, you’re not told what the country is by name. At the end you get feedback about what you missed. It’s hard at first, when you get a country that’s landlocked and there’re no boundaries shown. Also, I confess I didn’t know what country .by was (still don’t).

So I missed several because I have no idea where they are (never studied European geography, but I’m one who survived his schooling), and others because I didn’t get them in quite the right spot with no other countries to line up. It’s got some flaws from helping you learn the countries, but it’s fun and it will help you learn their relative locations. The order seems to be the same each time, which isn’t good. If you could put in the ones you know, you might be able to build up to the ones you don’t know. Still, it seemed some interest, some value, some fun.

And I was going to give you the link, but then I found they’d a sneaky way to get their code into my blog. I’m sure they thought it’d be cool to embed the link and the game right in my blog, but I prefer to choose what appears on the page. If they’d said that I could get a link and embed, I might have, but not having it done when I was trying to cut and paste the countries I’d missed (I’m was willing to own up about them).

I had to edit the code to get it out! That’s sleazy. So, no link for them, just an object lesson on what not to do.

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