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

31 December 2007

2007 Reflections

Clark @ 5:11 PM

It was an interesting year, starting with some sojourns in Taiwan and Norway, and ending with some time in Colombia and Denmark. That has been my most international year yet with Quinnovation, and I hope it’s a sign that a deeper approach to elearning is being recognized everywhere as the way to go.

I hoped that this past year would be the year of the model, and did my best to make it happen. Interestingly, I had lunch today with a guy who has had great success training programming and has made some initial moves to eLearning. It sounded very much like he was proving my proposed approach (providing the model, some examples, and then picking a series of disparate problems to practice that drill applying the model in different practices). This means you don’t have to train all the possible situations, just a representative-enough selection to facilitate abstraction and transfer. There’re details of course, such as ensuring that the alternatives to the right answer address the reliable misconceptions, having the feedback explicitly refer to the model, etc, but it should be a most effective way to train.

I also felt that, this year, (serious) games, aka ILS, moved firmly into the mainstream. Similarly, it’s becoming clear that mobile is how where games were a year or two ago, poised for a push into the spotlight, to be followed by mainstream in the near future. I’m hoping that a few other clear opportunities also will soon see attention, such as effective portals, structured content and single-sourcing, etc. It’s time to fully populate the performance ecosystem.

Which, of course, requires thinking broader than just training, and really just learning. It’s not about learning, after all, it’s about doing. Of course, making that transition on thinking requires some transitions in other organizational mindsets and cultures. I did see more of it this year, and really felt like the whole notion of strategic elearning was beginning to be heard. I do recommend, BTW, Marc Rosenberg’s Beyond eLearning, which does a nice job of setting up that way of thinking.

Overall, I had great conversations with my colleagues, and many of you, over Immersive Learning Simulations, Mobile Learning, and more. I also had the chance to work on some very interesting projects, continuing to push the envelope over how we use technology to support people achieving their goals. I hope that the next year continues to provide deep learning, wise use of technology, and meaningful outcomes for us all, and may it be our best year yet. Happy New Year!

21 December 2007

Virtual World affordances?

Clark @ 4:13 PM

I’ve never yet had that conversation with Tony O’Driscoll about virtual worlds, though I caught up again with my colleague Claudia L’Amoreaux (Second Life), and I’m hoping to have that conversation with her. Tony just pinged several of us bloggers to mention his forthcoming workshop on virtual worlds (I’d never have thought to ask, myself), and I was going to chide him for never having that call with me (this serves, eh?), but I did find his 10 minute video on learning in virtual worlds with his list of seven sensibilities:

  1. The Sense of Self
  2. The Death of Distance
  3. The Power of Presence
  4. The Sense of Space
  5. The Capability to Co-Create
  6. The Pervasiveness of Practice
  7. The Enrichment of Experience

That’s the list I’d been hoping for, talking about the unique affordances of virtual worlds. Though, of course, now that I see it, I have to quibble.

You may recall that I’d previously suggested that the unique affordance was the collaborative co-creation, his number 5. When you need to collaboratively create in 3D, it’s a great potential. If only in 2D, it might be better with a collaborative drawing tool with VoIP. Not that I know any, off hand. Still, the overhead is daunting.

Let’s go through the rest of the list, however. First, I’ve already blogged about self. There may be something there, but I’d argue that’s only true for the long term, not short-term learning situations.

The 2nd one, distance, isn’t unique to virtual worlds, but is true for many forms of distance learning.

The 3rd one, presence, I’m not sure I really get. Sure, you’re co-located, but how is that uniquely different than with a webinar? Unless it’s the virtual world, but that seems to be what the next one is about…

4 is about space, about having a 3D world. Which is cool, but what’s unique about it? It’s only valuable, I’d suggest, if your learning objectives involve 3D (which can be true, and then virtual worlds are very powerful, as had been demonstrated).

6 talks about practice, and Tony cites the fact that folks are regularly asking each other “how do you do x?” However, I wonder if that isn’t an artifact of the difficulty of figuring out how to do 3D building (which is mostly what you do, at least in Second Life). You do have to be a learner, but much of it is how to use the world, rather than specific learning objectives! Granted, it’s immersive practice, but you can get that from (serious) games.

7 talks about the enrichment of experience, but it seems to tap into two of the previous points, the self and the 3D. The example is people being able to dance together from a distance, but I don’t see this as a unique element.

So, the 3 main things I see are 3D, self, and co-creation. Which can be quite powerful, but not generically, again it’s instead for objectives that have spatial components. At a cost of substantial overhead in getting setup and capable.

I can’t be at the workshop since I’m not attending Training 2008, so what have I missed, Tony?

19 December 2007

Paging web 2.0 one pagers

Clark @ 8:14 AM

Brent Schenkler points us to these great one page introductions to Web 2.0 stuff by Tim Davies. The idea is very reminiscent of John Carroll’s minimalist instruction approach: a brief concept about and why, steps to get started, and some tips. With good visual support. I’ve seen worse professional job aids!

The point is to give people the minimum guidance needed to get going. Carroll found that focusing on people’s goals, on the minimal instruction, and clear presentation trumped formal instructional design. I think too often we don’t give enough credit to our learners. These are good models for other new tools you’re introducing to folks too.

Brent says he guesses it didn’t take any ISD knowledge, but I’d say it took either a good knowledge of information mapping, ISD, applied cognitive science, or some way of matching how our brains work to the task at hand. It may be implicit, but there’s a repeated template that suggests some forethought. Check ’em out!

18 December 2007

Blended Doing

Clark @ 11:52 AM

I was reading last week’s issue of the Economist (I don’t always agree with them, but their analysis is quite enlightening) including their technology quarterly, and a really interesting thought struck me. The issue was rife with fascinating advances, but an overarching pattern emerged.

Let me set some context: in elearning we talk about blended learning, and I regularly say it’s not about learning, it’s about doing. Really, the view of elearning I’m trying to propagate is more like blended doing, where technology partners with us to make a more effective problem solver. This comes from Don Norman‘s point that from the problem’s point of view, a human augmented by technology is a more fearsome force than just the human alone.

Look, our brains are good at pattern matching (see above) and big picture, but bad at remembering rote things and details. Technology is just the opposite! That’s what performance support is all about. Of course, sometimes our brains need major skill shift changes, and there’s a role for courses, but some times we need information, and sometimes we need people, and sometimes we need support for massive computation.

Jim Schuyler has a mechanism he uses to authenticate comments on his blog. With Captcha, it’s the familiar challenge/response where you type in the familiar image of letters, with a twist. There’re two words, and while the first is known to the system, the second comes from some OCR text with a word it’s not sure of. So not only are you showing you’re human, you’re assisting the digital archiving of some important text.

The Economist mentioned this type of blending that gets people to do a difficult task for computers in what otherwise is a computing intensive task. They mentioned the ESP game where people playing also get some work done, in this case tagging images on the web.

They also talked about evolutionary algorithms (I first learned about them through John Holland’s work on genetic algorithms at UMichigan) to design things. You match a design problem to a set of parameters that then try to evolve to solve the problem, using mutation and selection to populate the solution space. Holland et al were looking to match how the brain works (getting solutions similar to those with neural nets, but with a less directly mappable approach), but others are just attacking design challenges.

Where a human would get massively bored searching through every permutation, this approach turns it into a computation problem and the computer merrily works away. There’s no guarantee of solution, but it really gets into situations where brute force can work and elegance might not. They mention some great outcomes, including better wireless antennas, optic cable designs, and more.

The point being to consider a different point of view, not of the performer, but of the task, and what’s the best solution to achieving the goal? A clue: if it requires rote-memorization on the part of the human, particularly of a set procedure, it probably should be automated. Let computers do what they do well, and let us do what we do well!

So, think of the tasks your performers need to accomplish, and don’t be afraid to think out of the box when you look for solutions. I’ll suggest that what will make a difference going forward isn’t focused on knowledge, but on problem-solving and innovation.

16 December 2007

Another way to get listed in a blog

Clark @ 9:02 AM

You know, it’s pretty simple, so I can’t understand why some people can’t seem to get it. For example, it’s probably no secret that I’m fond of my Treo, and try to protect it. I previously wrote about my dissatisfaction with Seidio. Well, I subsequently purchased a Speck Products holster for my skinned Treo. It too finally snapped at the latch (honest, it’s not me; and it’d lasted a good long time). When I called, wanting to purchase a replacement, they offered to send a new one. Since I was going right by (they just happen to be here in the Bay Area), I offered to stop in and pick it up, saving the cost of shipping. I went there and they promptly gave me two new ones, in case one broke again! Now THAT is customer service!

Guess what; I’ll start with them next time I’m looking for a solution. I still give Seidio bad comments on product design and customer service every time I see anyone reviewing one of their holsters, and I used to mention Speck’s alternate solution. Now I’ll also mention their great customer service. You gotta reckon that’d be worth a lot more than it would’ve taken to at least respond to my request. It’s not like this is rocket science! I suppose I ought to offer the opportunity to help Seidio with their customer service processes…they sure seem like they could use it.

15 December 2007

The US (lack of) class system…

Clark @ 7:56 AM

Ok, this is a gripe and somewhat political; fair warning.

My son has a VSD, a ventricular septal defect. It’s a tiny hole in his heart wall, not growing, so the doctors say “don’t operate”, and he’s perfectly (almost obnoxiously :) healthy. Our insurance provider, however, says that unless we cut into his healthy body, they won’t cover him. They have to, actually, because of HIPAA (thankfully). BUT, they won’t cover him under our family plan (which has gone up 400% in the past 4 years), and we have to have a second, separate, and much less coverage policy for him.

This makes him, effectively, a second class citizen.

As an independent consultant, I can’t get small business insurance where a plan would have to cover the whole family (and can’t just employ my wife to qualify). So let me be clear that I’m for the US to move to a one not-for-profit medical insurance system, nationally. Don’t tell me it doesn’t work, because I lived in Australia for seven years where they have it and it works. It’s not perfect, but it’s bloody well better than our system here in terms of coverage for everyone. And of course you should’ve seen the results that show the US system is worst and most expensive of the major countries. Scandalous.

I’m a bit dismayed that the major candidates’ plans aren’t willing to go this far. And, by and large, their plans won’t help my health care costs. Given that the forecasts are for more independent workers, this should be of more concern.

The alternative would be a regular job, but so far no one’s come through with an offer that affords me the level of contribution I can and want to make. So, anyone want an ‘on call’ elearning expert for the cost of health, disability, and retirement benefits for me and my family?


14 December 2007

Requirements to do a web biz ‘play’

Clark @ 3:18 PM

Guy Kawasaki spoke at Xerox PARC yesterday, on How I built a Web 2.0, User-Generated Content, Citizen Journalism, Long-Tail, Social Media Site for $12,107.09. He’s an entertaining speaker, and he had a very interesting point.

As background, he was Apple’s Evangelist, and then started a venture capital fund (Garage Technology). He recently chaired a panel of guys talking about how they built web businesses on the cheap and were making millions of dollars (in advertising), which got him thinking, and so he took a shot at it. He told how he got the site up and running, but of course he cashed in a lot of favors that he’d built over the years so it’s not clear anyone could do it for $12K.

However, it was clear that it’s not that much more. Say, on the order of tens of thousands of dollars (or, for those nerds among us, O($10K)), you could make a web play, even if you can’t program. That’s a far cry from the several million he gets pitches for in his role of VC. And that’s the real point. If it’s a lot cheaper to take a shot, then a lot more shots will be taken, and we’ve a very dynamic environment. Sure, there may be a lot of dreck (he talked about his site was called the ‘worst website ever’, which he loved since it drove huge traffic), but some good should come out.

By the way, if we take Pine & Gilmore seriously on the transformation economy, learning ‘experience’ sites could be big. Which might have been what Paul Saffo was saying to the eLearning Guild audience at DevLearn about their promising position. So, I’m getting my project ready. How about you?

13 December 2007

Clive on resources vs instruction

Clark @ 10:00 AM

That may not be how he’d think of it, but Clive Shepherd’s got a post about whether to provide well-structured learning solutions (using a balanced meal metaphor) or a suite of resources (I think of a buffet to extend the metaphor). My suggestion is to have the buffet, with some support on choosing a balanced meal. That is, don’t assume the learner’s good at self-learning, but don’t force them into a cookie-cutter solution either.

Why don’t we spend more effort on helping learners acquire self-learning skills? It seems such an obviously valuable investment that Jay Cross and I spent some time carrying the torch and still feel it’s valuable (he’s got a whole chapter on it in his Informal Learning book). If you don’t, I reckon you’re not equipping your workers for ultimate success. It’s like leaving money on the table.

11 December 2007

Neural meta-learning

Clark @ 6:13 PM

Getting my PhD where they arguably started the field of cognitive science, I got exposed to philosophy, sociology, anthropology, and neuroscience as well as psychology. One of the blogs I like to follow is Eide Neurolearning, and in their most recent post, they talk about complex thinking. The take-home I’m fascinated by is this:

Maybe basic skill sets for schooling should not be thought of as the 3 R’s (reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic), but rather beyond the memorization of facts and procedures, the efficient working of working memory and long term memory, the strategic use of brain resources for dynamic problem solving and multi-tasking, and the organization of ideas and perceptions for all types of output: verbal as well as non-verbal.

I’m not quite sure, off-hand, how we might teach the efficient working of memory (though they may be exercised, ala Brain Age), but I strongly support guided practice in problem-solving (which David Jonassen elegantly talks about; see his forthcoming chapter in Michael Allen’s eLearning Annual from Pfeiffer). It’s clear to me that the curriculum we need to worry about is about not passing knowledge tests (see Ken Carroll on the Chinese system).

What’s nice here is some evidence about the types of things we can and cannot do, and what the implications are for learning. I think this is relevant from K-12 to lifelong learning, and corporate learning as well. When we need to innovate and problem-solve, and I argue we do, then we better make sure we are developing the skills of individuals. Learn on!

7 December 2007

Greater Integration

Clark @ 10:42 AM

In my elearning strategy approach, I have a step called “greater integration”. While it encompasses several steps, at core it’s about consolidating your content development and knowledge management. And the key is single-sourcing, coupled with semantics, writing once to populate multiple outputs, with structure and tags indicating what the content is in multiple ways. It’s become a theme in the content community, and is beginning to be explored in elearning as well.

The benefits are that you write less, and you get more flexibility, such as auto-populating your help systems, customer and employee training, and manuals. You also can deliver web, print, and mobile. The costs are up-front analysis and content management, which should be done anyway, and tighter constraints around elements, which requires more discipline.

XML of course helps here, and SCORM does too, but there’s another layer which adds meaning on top of the content: DITA. This allows you to define what things are and are about, which isn’t intrinsic to SCORM, and provides an elegant structure on top of XML. I’ve recognized the potential from work on Intellectricity, an adaptive learning system we built from ’99 to ’01, on a subsequent performance support system that we populated from the same content that was going into the print manual, and most recently on a project moving an organization from content development to online experience. What I didn’t have was any real evidence of it being applied to elearning content, though I know it should.

Reuben Tozman from edCetra Training spoke on the use of DITA at the DevLearn conference last month. I didn’t get to attend his session (too many interesting things at once), but I followed up with him and had a great conversation. His firm did early work on structuring content into models using DITA that got picked up on in several places and got him invited to join the OASIS DITA Learning and Training Content Specialization SC. This is a group working on developing DITA standards for elearning. He was kind enough to help clarify my understanding of DITA’s role vs SCORM (semantics vs packaging), and to mention several examples. Not surprisingly, IBM is working here, but apparently Sun is also.

What with flexible components of software systems being coupled by web services, similarly flexible content components (including media and interactivity, we’re not talking static here) can be coupled by tags and business rules to create custom/personalized/optimized content for individuals based upon roles, tasks, context, etc (see Delivering the Dream white paper, PDF). Even without the customization, however, we can stop the redundant development of content that means that sales training, customer training, and support systems are rewriting the same marketing and engineering material.

The benefits start with efficiency, but the flexibility is the real win. It requires breaking down some organizational silos, but that’s something that should be happening anyway.

I suggest we’ll see more of this in the future. I was touting games a number of years ago, and finally saw it cross the chasm into the mainstream. I’m thinking mobile’s there now. I predict that smart content will be there in maybe a year or two. Who’s ready for the future?

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