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

29 March 2008

Serious About Games, and podcasting

Clark @ 8:47 AM

Lisa Neal and I have co-written an article about whether there are topics that serious games weren’t appropriate for. If you know me, you can probably guess where we come down on the topic ;).

Her blog has a bunch of interesting 10 things lists. For instance, her most recent post presents 10 reasons why text is better than podcasting. I responded:

I recall a story about an organization where the engineering groups produced white papers that the others wanted to read but didn’t have time. The training group had someone read the white papers to make audio files, so the engineers could listen to them on their commutes. The engineers demanded more! (How often do training groups get demands for more of their services?!?!)

So, while I personally am not particularly auditory, and you make good points, there are times when they’re the best tool for the job, as the other commenters suggest.

And, of course, there’s ‘voice’ . So, two topics of conversation. What do you say?

28 March 2008

Innovation & Execution

Clark @ 10:47 AM

I’ve been thinking quite a bit recently about how to improve organizational performance. It’s part of thinking broader about how technology can be used to support performance, but then you have to have a picture of organizational learning as a whole. As I look at organizations, many are focused on excellence in execution, and quite a few have recognized that the competitive advantage comes from continual innovation. What I’m not seeing enough of is recognizing that the two are intimately linked. They’ll focus on innovation in engineering, and execution in customer service, but not connect the two across the organization.

For example, I’m seeing organizations supporting execution with training, and supporting innovation with knowledge management or eCommunity. I’ll see training groups supporting execution, and management invoking innovation exercises, but management not worrying about training, and training not worrying about innovation.

The thing is, you develop people from novice, through practitioner, to expert. You might hire experts, but you can also develop them. And even experts won’t innovate unless they see the big picture of where the field and organization are going, and are in a supportive culture. And if they’re not developed internally, you’ll have some barriers getting them steeped in the organizational goals and culture.

When I talk about a performance ecosystem, I’m usually talking about the technology infrastructure to support it, but I’m also implicitly talking about the culture and mission. And I’ve been finding it quite useful, with clients, to use that framework to help them look at the larger picture. My question is, are others seeing this too, or am I missing something? Because if others are seeing the concept like I am, and aren’t seeing the implementation, as I’m not, we’ve got a need and an opportunity here to really help some organizations take a significant step forward. What are you seeing?

25 March 2008

ILS Report (free) Webinar

Clark @ 2:43 PM

I previously mentioned the second edition of the eLearning Guild’s research report on Immersive Learning Simulations (read: Serious Games). You can now sign up for a free webinar about it that will be held Thursday morning.

I will talk a bit about my cost screed, and Anne and Kevin will be there to talk about their bits, and of course Steve will overview the data. Hope to see you there.

18 March 2008

New eLearning Guild report on ILS

Clark @ 10:42 AM

On Thursday the eLearning Guild released their second Immersive Learning Simulation (read: serious games) research report. The important things are the new research results where people who said they were going to be doing ILS show results, a nice piece by Anne Derryberry debunking ILS myths, a practical piece by Kevin Corti looking at implementation, some more great case studies and interviews, and Angela van Barneveld’s updated list of resources and glossary. Disclaimer: it also includes a piece by me about ILS costs, and an unattributed (sigh) game design checklist I developed.

Coupled with the first report, including articles by Mark Oehlert on implementation, Clark Aldrich on the biz case, Jeff Johannigman on game design, and yours truly on ILS design, as well as the initial interviews and case studies, we’re talking a pretty good suite of information. If you’re thinking about serious games/immersive learning simulations (and you should be), you’d be well placed to look at this as a good source of information.

The Guild’s research program, superbly led by Steve Wexler, is a valuable contribution, and is to be lauded. Given the cost (free to Guild members, and associate members who fill out the survey), it’s hard to go wrong with the reports. Yes, it costs to get access to the data, but that’s real business value and it’s appropriate. I know it might seem self-serving to say so, but discounting me, the people on the reports are by and large the right ones, and I’ve seen the detailed work that goes into the surveys. I personally couldn’t say it if I didn’t really mean it; these are really good. Check ’em out!

16 March 2008

Mobilized reactions

Clark @ 9:30 AM

In this (anonymous) post on the Learning Technologies conference blog, there’s a reaction to my previous post on mobile tipping point. Two pertinent quotes: “To my mind mobile learning will always be one of two things – either a niche delivery mechanism to tackle particular issues, as with BT, or (and less commonly within organisational L&D) a general delivery mechanism for ‘just-in-case’ learning.” and “I also find it difficult to imagine mobile learning being used as the primary mechanism for a general, on-going programme of organisational learning and development.”

The response I posted:

Yes, it’s not about putting a full course on a mobile devices, it’s performance support or learning augment.
But it is about the technology to the point that once mainstream content development/authoring tools start having mobile-capable output as an easy option, it will cross the chasm, and that appears to be happening. The devices are out there, but it’s not yet easy enough to get content onto them.

It’s really about ‘just in time’ learning, not ‘just in case’, ala the Zen of Palm showing mobile use is in short amounts frequently, versus desktop. There are more ‘just in case’ delivery options including, specifically, podcasts, and ebooks, but that’s really about convenience rather than ideal opportunity. Yes, it’s another specialist tool.

However, there’s a wide swath of space under the “niche delivery mechanism to tackle particular issues” with many nuances, and really a wealth of opportunity. “mLearning” may be the wrong monicker, maybe ‘mPerformance’, but the organizational impact potential is truly worth exploring. Adventure, anyone?

14 March 2008

The Apple of my Design

Clark @ 2:17 PM

There’s an interesting article on Apple’s design process at BusinessWeek (no, I don’t read it; I learned about it somewhere else :). Now, I’ve taken a long look at design over the years from a lot of perspectives, partly because I taught interface design for a while, but mostly because I want to know how to execute good design in general (and how to support it). I’ve similarly looked at what makes effective learning, what makes engaging experiences, etc. And design’s fun!

Along the way, I looked at graphic design, instructional design, architectural design, industrial design, etc, and design in domains like writing, comics, etc. Design’s interesting, in that you’re trying to explore a potentially vast space of possible solutions, and you don’t want to miss any areas of the overall space in case you miss out on a great solution. We tend to prematurely converge, bringing in subconscious constraints from our cognitive limitations like functional fixedness, set effects, etc. So, what we look for are ways to help keep us be highly divergent before we get convergent.

Across disciplines, you see repeated effort to do this. Brainstorming is of course common. An approach I knew a small interface design house used was to have to parallel teams working separately on a design before choosing one to develop further, and in Apple’s approach we see a much bigger version thereof.  Egoless design (sharing and being open to constructive feedback), no-limits design (what would you do if you had magic), kitchen-sink design (look at what others have done; as far as your lawyers will let you, plagiarize), etc, are a few of the rubrics I came up with to help facilitate thinking out of the box. They are all tricks to help widely populate the design space. Systematic creativity is not, in fact, an oxymoron, but the result of the fact that certain processes increase the likelihood of the best solution (yes, it’s probabilistic).

Apple’s approaches of the multiple solutions, and the parallel meetings really do help partner systematicity with creativity in demonstrably effective ways. There are interesting lessons here. Design is a key component of the ability to continue to innovate, which is a critical survival skill, even more so going forward. Design on!

13 March 2008

Always blogging, always learning

Clark @ 5:54 AM

After the panel at TechKnowledge, one of my fellow panelists lauded the way I handled a particular question. Naturally pleased, I also had to admit that I had handled the question before. Where? Here in my blog! And that’s the point.

There are many reasons to blog, but I started this primarily to practice what I preach: use technology to be smarter (or wiser). You should see that (as a relation used to say), “me, I’m thinking all the time”. I really do try to make the posts my ongoing reflections about learning. It keeps me always on the lookout for my own learning, which I believe is a valuable thing. It keeps me open to new ideas, and processing those ideas to see what’s a new opportunity.

That sort of mindset, consciously scanning the horizon, is not only a ‘learning to learn’ thing, it’s a necessity for the almost cliched exponential increase in information, and decreasing half-life of knowledge. I was talking today with the strategic team for our school about what’s needed for our new generations, and it definitely includes an attitude of continual learning. Blogging is a ‘forcing function’ that, if you’re committed to continually refreshing the content, serves the purpose. There are others, but it’s certainly a low overhead, high return option.

As an extension of yesterday’s post, this is one way I keep myself continually looking for new ideas. And I find that I’ve already considered a lot about things other people end up thinking about, and having some thoughtful responses (which I’ll suggest is valuable). What are your thoughts about that?

12 March 2008

Learning to eLearn

Clark @ 6:04 AM

Lisa Neal’s put a nice list of hints and tips to be a better elearning professional. Her tips focus on how to get deeper into formal learning, which Scott Leslie expands in a comment. However, there are some good additions from Jay Cross and Saul Carliner about how to broaden the fields you draw upon.

The point being, you’ve got to be a consistent and persistent self-learner, which is a meta-learning topic. Things are dynamic and changing, and you’ve got to keep pushing the envelope. It takes little time (Lisa’s talking about 10 minutes per day), and yet it may be the best investment you can make personally. I’ll also argue that helping learners to learn (what Tony Karrer calls “building learning skills”) is probably the best investment an organization can make!

What are the ways you keep yourself continually learning?

11 March 2008

60 Minute Master’s

Clark @ 8:44 AM

In an asynchronous ‘interview’, I was prompted to provide examples of elearning I liked. It was an odd list, with games, animations, etc, but one which I wanted to mention is Clive Shepherd’s 60 Minute Master’s (used to be 30 minutes, but it got longer ;). (Disclaimer, I, among others, contributed to the original wiki used to generate it.) I found an aberration requiring an enrollment key which he’s kindly removed, so now all you have to do is register (I haven’t received any unsolicited email yet ;).

This is a great service, as it’s designed not for the instructional designer (though many could benefit), but instead to be a quick course for SMEs to learn enough to be viable rapid elearning partners. It’s been done as a public service, yet it’s got an appropriate amount of polish, and some pretty good illustrations.

I’m, of course, thrilled to see them talk about hooking in the emotions at the beginning, providing guidance for augmenting and streamlining information presentation, about making meaningful practice, and about wrapping up. I recommend those who are developing online learning to have a look!

10 March 2008


Clark @ 2:52 PM

My wife was away, so I had the kids and a big deliverable. Life was hectic until Friday, and we had the weekend to kill. Both kids were looking for downtime, so I had a chunk of time at my disposal. Now it was time to do something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time: I signed up for the free trial of World of Warcraft (which, in case you somehow don’t know, is *the* massively multiplayer online role playing game, or MMORPG, set in a ‘swords & sorcery’ fantasy).

Now, this isn’t a frivolous pursuit; as I tell the attendees at my (learning) game design workshop, to do this well you have to be on top of the different forms of media experiences and what makes them engaging, to have the broadest repertoire of sources to draw upon. I also say that it’s important to try games outside your area of comfort. Being ever mindful of financial issues, I note that a great way to do this is to try out the free trial demos of all the different games that are available. So, it was with serious intent that I started my trial…oh, the heck with it, I like fantasy, and I was looking forward to it. OK?

Now, it’s a bit of a confession to admit that this was my first MMORPG, but I also to get to admit that it wasn’t much different than I imagined. You move around, and fight monsters, gaining levels, attempting to get more powerful weapons and armor. That said, there are some very interesting features, and some frustrations.

The world is quite simply gorgeously realized. It may not rival the best console games, but it’s certainly stunning, particularly as it’s playing over a network! And the entrance for new players is quite reasonable. They do suggest you read the manuals (which I’ve yet to find), but they give you hints as you go along, and set you a series of quests that develop your skills. The nice thing about the quests is that they’re reasonably well set in the world.

It’s quite impressive, BTW, just how much they can cram into a small area.  You don’t go far to be questing after new goals, even surrounded by a bunch of other folks doing the same.  It doesn’t feel crowded, but right next door to a previous quest is a new one.   You didn’t realize that just beyond that rise, there was a whole new camp of evil creatures, yet when you make that traverse it’s totally plausible that they were there all the time.

The difficulty goes pretty linearly, the farther from your home you go.  The world is constrained to have you doing things in this area, then this next, one, and each gets gradually  harder.  If you go too far too fast, you’ll die.  Of course, dying is of no real consequence, either, you can go back and revive your corpse and keep playing (and it’s not morbid, really).

It *is* a multiplayer world, with all that conveys. There are other people clearly doing the same quests you are, and you can all do them independently, but you do realize that it’s a ‘setup’. And there are the predictable puerile folks doing things like creating inappropriate names and yelling obscenities. However, as a trial user I couldn’t join groups, and the quests were capable of being done alone. I could see how coordination would help on some I’m currently at right now, but I worked out one on my own via some strategic thinking.

There are only a couple downsides. For one, some of the interface elements are not ‘safe’ enough. I was trying to look through my stuff to trade and sell, and I think I bought something and then sold it back again before I realized it. Unfortunately, the price you get is less than the price you pay, so it was a very quick act of unintended philanthropy. It’s also surprisingly hard to find good information about certain constraints. As I mentioned, the manual is hard to find, and it’s tough to find answers to specific questions. I’ll admit that I have a tendency to charge ahead (at least, in games ;) and just try things, which isn’t bad but may lead me to inappropriate actions that I’d rather have warnings about at the beginning. And it’s a very rich world.

It’s well done, and it’s clear what a big budget will let you do. I think that there are some real good ideas in helping new folks (newbies) get up to speed, when you have a large investment in time to pay off. and, it really is fun, but ‘hard fun’, and I’m going back ’til my trial is over.  Then I’ll stop. Other things to do, and no need to acquire yet another time sink. But I’m glad it’s a limited time trial!

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