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

28 May 2008

eLearning Strategy Presentation

Clark @ 1:57 PM

I gave my eLearning Strategy presentation to the eLearning Division of ASTD’s LA Chapter. Despite some technical hiccups (GoToWebinar doesn’t seem to have a chat feature, nor does it allow Mac users to be presenters, ahem), the presentation went off reasonably well. And now, it’s available online. It takes quite a while to load (guess it’s *huge*), but you can hear the whole hour+. I’d welcome your feedback!

23 May 2008

Manga on the rise…

Clark @ 3:41 PM

I’ve long been a proponent of comics for learning, recognizing some great cognitive and emotional properties they possess, so I was thrilled when, in a sales presentation the potential client suggested using manga as a communication vehicle. It’s usually a hard sell, and here he was asking for it!

More is happening these days, thankfully. Tom King mentions a presentation on story and comics I’m sorry I missed, and talks about how Dan Pink’s new book on career guidance in the new generation is also in manga form.

I’d be thrilled if we can break down the corporate barriers to comics, graphic novels, etc (the potential client was in the K-12 education space). We need to overcome perceptions of lack of substance, but I suppose we also need to find out reliable and cost-effective ways to get them produced. Anyone?

21 May 2008

Anxiety, ergonomics, and performance

Clark @ 10:29 AM

I’m a little under the weather today. Not sick, but I’ve had a procedure done (minor, really), and have been a naughty boy on my keyboard. They’ve combined to jump on me this week, and there are some interesting side effects.

First, a number of years ago I was teaching in a department of Computer Science (I taught interface design). Here were faculty members who used computers for their research, their teaching, everything. And, of course, started suffering the side effects of too much keyboard use. In teaching HCI/interface design I talked about ergonomics, and still was as guilty as the rest. Fortunately, the administration recognized the problem, and hired some guidance and was willing to invest in products to remedy the problems including chairs, keyboards, etc.

I rightly noted that just telling folks about how to do it ‘right’ and giving equipment wasn’t sufficient, and that they’d need support in making the change to new ways. Which didn’t happen, so I don’t know how well the lesson stuck for others, but I did put in place support for myself, specifically a piece of software that threw me off every 30 minutes for 5 minutes. It worked after I got rid of the unix terminal on my desk so I couldn’t switch to the other machine in those 5 minutes…

I’ve got a good chair now, and have adjusted the ergonomics to match recommended guidelines.

OSHA seating guidelinesWhat I didn’t do was use the mouse properly. I had a wrist rest that I used while mousing, not just in-between. I’ve got pain in my right wrist now. I thought I might’ve broken it snowboarding or skateboarding, but it was x-rayed and that wasn’t the issue. Referred to a physical therapist, it appears to just be overuse again (maybe a WoW side effect?). And a big deliverable.

I’ve moved the mouse to the left side for the time being (as I did before) to get some rest, and am working to get better habits going (tho’ I just noticed I was typing with my wrists on the wristrest for the keyboard!). I usually am jumping up for something, so I typically don’t spend too much time at the keyboard in one go, but there are times when I’ve got to be more careful.  I’ll get better and switch back (it’s tough at first, and while you get used to it, I’ll be happy to switch back).

Before I draw on the learnings from this, I’ll confess to one other issue. I just had a minor procedure done, that involved some cutting. It was a followup to a previous one. The first one wasn’t a problem, but for some reason this one had induced more anxiety than I expected. I was trying to type a message while waiting for the anesthetic to kick in (local), and my fingers were shaky! I’m fine, but the effects of anxiety were brought home to me in a big way.

So, what are the take-homes here? First, be careful out there! Watch out for your own computing, and keep yourself practicing safe keyboarding (as well as safe surfing). As the therapist said, she’s surprised by how many folks say they’re too busy, but don’t realize that they’re more effective overall if they take the necessary breaks.

Second, how important it is in behavior change to get support. If you don’t provide support, it’s too easy to backslide into bad habits. And by the time symptoms manifest, you’re already damaged.

Finally, don’t forget to make a safe learning environment. There’s an (upside-down) u-shaped curve for performance, where as anxiety/pressure increases, there’s improved performance to a point, but then it falls back down fairly quickly. That high point in relation to pressure shifts a lot depending on the learner. Be careful to ensure that any anxiety is reduced sufficiently to allow learning to be effective (and now so low as to similarly interfere with learning).

Here’s to safe and effective keyboarding and learning.

17 May 2008

Better Learning Design

Clark @ 11:30 AM

A few recent blog posts have listed elements of better learning, and I’m pleased to see that the elements they talk about are ones I’ve previously touted in my white paper “The Seven Step Program” (PDF) for better elearning design. These are the same principles that I talk about in my conference presentations on designing for the way people really learn.

Karl Kapp talks about using stories in training after hearing Stephen Denning talk about stories in business. (I’ve read Stephen, but not heard him.) Karl reiterates some of my points about portraying the consequences of not having the knowledge as a way to motivate the learner, and talks about reconnecting the learner back into the world at the end, but there is some great value from taking the perspective of story rather than learning.

Clive Shepherd points to 10 facts about learning that include a number of my points as well and some other great ones. He talks about it being meaningful to the learner, about prior knowledge, about relevant practice, and stories as well. A recommended read!

Just for the sake of completeness, Donald Clark has a list of ten learning facts with very little overlap, but important stuff to know.  I think his link of semantic to text and episodic to visual is misguided, but otherwise there’re some good points, for example “learn by doing”.

Check it out!

16 May 2008

Work at learning; learning at work

Clark @ 11:53 AM

I agreed to be part of the third edition (this coming Monday) of Dave Ferguson’s Work/Learning Blog Carnival, and I start from a contrarian perspective, because I think “learning can, and should, be hard fun“. That is, properly done, learning is a positive experience, where you’ve balanced the challenge, set up the initial meaningfulness, have the learner playing an interesting role, providing the appropriate support and feedback, etc. I suppose the point is that the ‘hard’ part of the fun is work, but it isn’t toil or tedium. So, the distinction between the two is suspect. However, my principles about engaged learning are typically when we design the experience for another, but the topic here is, to me, self-learning.

And I do believe passionately in self-learning; if I’m not learning, I may as well be dead. Play is learning, and I intend to keep playing.. :) So I blog, and talk to colleagues, and continually challenge myself with new tasks (like accepting this opportunity). But I do it mindfully, deliberately pacing the challenge, searching for personal meaningfulness, and finding the fun in it all. I take responsibility for making it hard fun. I think the most successful people are those who can find not a balance, but an integration between work and learning.

Let me take it to the next step, now, talking about organizational learning. In addition to the obvious implications of how we design learning experiences, I think the less obvious implication, but perhaps the more important one, is helping people to become not only toiling self-learners, but joyful self-learners.

To me, the increasing rate of change means that fixed competencies – the notion that an organization can anticipate, design, and deliver the needed learning – is going to go away. The true competitive advantage will not be in just hiring the needed skills, but in developing folks who can continue to self-learn. Too many are still tied into the “we can hire the talent”, but the folks who’ve done well in school have succeeded in a system that doesn’t match the way the world outside of school works. And there’ll be increasing competition for the folks who demonstrably can succeed in a dynamic environment. Trusting that you can acquire sufficient talent seems like a riskier bet than instilling that capability in the organization.

Imagine really unleashing your organization. Yes, it’s Senge’s Learning Organization, and more. We know what this entails, but I’m still searching for organizations who really want to execute against it.

15 May 2008

(Serious) Games in 5 paragraphs

Clark @ 5:38 AM

Just as I did for mobile, here’re 5 paragraphs on games:

Serious Games (or, to be Politically Correct™, Immersive Learning Simulations) have hit the corporate learning mainstream, so you should be asking yourself: “why are people excited?” Quite simply, because games (I’m not PC™) are probably the most pragmatically effective learning practice you can get. Sure, mentored real performance is the ideal, but there are two potential hiccups: scaling individual mentors has proven to be unrealistically expensive, and mistakes in live practice often are expensive, dangerous, or both. Why do you think we have flight simulators?

For principled reasons, the best learning practice is contextualized, motivating, and challenging. Interestingly, so are the most engaging experiences. It turns out that the elements that cause effective educational practice line up perfectly with those that create engaging experiences. Thus, we can safely say that learning should be ‘hard fun’.

Then the issue becomes if we can do this reliably, repeatably, and on a cost-effective basis. It turns out that the answer to this question is also in the affirmative. While you can’t just shove gamers and educators in a room and expect the result to work (all the bad examples that led to ‘edutainment’ becoming a bad word are evidence), if they understand the alignment above, systematically follow a creative process (no, systematic creativity is not an oxymoron; why do we have brainstorming processes?), and are willing to take time to ‘tune’ the result, we can do this reliably.

The question is really: when to use games. The answer for engine-driven (read: programmed, variable) games is when we have a need for deep practice: when there are complex relationships to explore, or making the change will be really hard. Branching scenarios are useful when we want to experience some contextualized practice but we don’t need a lot of it. And the principles suggest that at minimum, we should write better multiple-choice questions that put learners into contexts where they must make decisions where they’re applying the knowledge, not just reciting it.

And, yes, we can spend millions of dollars (I can help :), but for many needs we may not need to. While there isn’t any one tool that lets us do this, there are a number of cost-effective ways to develop and deliver on the resulting design. As I like to say “if you get the design right, there are lots of ways to implement it; if you don’t get the design right, it doesn’t matter how you implement it”.

Further resources include:

  • My book on designing games
  • The eLearning Guild’s Research Report on ILS
  • The Serious Games site
  • Clark Aldrich’s blog on learning games
  • My other game blog posts

14 May 2008

Mobile in 5 Paragraphs

Clark @ 4:29 PM

A colleague asked me for 5 paragraphs on mobile:

Let’s get that straight right from the beginning: mobile learning is not about courses on a phone. mLearning is where we really bring home the message: “It’s not about learning…it’s about doing”, because while there are learning implications for mobile devices, it’s really about performance support. Yes, one of the applications of mobile devices is learning augmentation, extending the learning experience over time through distributed presentations, examples, and practice, but the real opportunities are providing context-sensitive support for the mobile workforce. Increasingly, the workforce is mobile, whether directly for work or indirectly, e.g. commuting, and they have the devices (“Have you already purchased a mobile learning device?” “Let me rephrase the question: do you have a cell phone?” “Hello…”). Not taking advantage of it is just leaving money on the table.

The variety of mobile devices is vast, spanning media players, handheld gaming platforms, PDAs, cell phones (though that name is no longer apt; cellular technology is long gone), and, increasingly, smartphones. There are convergences, however, where many mobile devices are now phones, media players, PIM (Personal Information Management, read: contacts, calendars, memos, and ToDos), GPS, and more. If you’re having trouble with any of these TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms) BTW, you can do a search on them to get them defined.

The issues are in how to develop content and resources for these devices, and the answers stack up like a pyramid. The bottom is the proverbial “low hanging fruit”, the content you already have that can be made available “as is” or converting the files to mobile formats. So, your PDFs, your audio recordings of presentations, any videos, and of course your web pages/HTML. The next level is taking all the content you will continue to produce, and proactively capture it (if you’re not) and ensure that it’s an automatic feature of your process to produce mobile ready versions. The top is to develop specific mobile resources, and that’s where we’re reaching the tipping point: instead of custom tools, we’re seeing the major tool providers now providing mobile output options. The mobile web is another increasing option, as more and more mobile devices include browsers. As I say, “480 x 320 is the new 1024 x 768”. Mobile is hitting the mainstream.
And, it is hitting it in many ways. There have been instances of successful courses on mobile devices, but that’s not the sweet spot. One of the more useful options is in augmenting online or face-to-face courses.

We know learning retention fades fast unless reactivated, and mobile gives us a great way to do that. We can send out different ways of thinking about it, more examples, and even new forms of practice. In fact, we should start rethinking the course, moving to blending including mobile as part of the extended experience! The second major big win is in making accessible support for the mobile workforce. We can provide manuals, trouble-shooting, even remote part ordering, to the field engineer. We can bring customer refreshers and updates, cross-selling recommendations, and purchasing capabilities to our mobile field force. And more.

Organizationally, the workforce is more distributed, more mobile, and needing to be more opportunistic and contextually optimal. Mobile is an enabler of increased individual and organizational performance. You need to treat it like any other initiative, managing the change process, but it also leverages other changes that might be happening. Knowledge or content management, mobile device deployment, webinars, many are the initiatives that, with a marginal extra effort, make mobile an additional delivery channel and opportunity. Take advantage of this new direction!
Further resources include:

13 May 2008

Learning content in scenarios

Clark @ 7:21 PM

We’re developing a scenario (code word for serious game :), and I’ve come into a situation where I can see a plausible case for either side, and don’t know of any research results.

The scenario is serving as a the major organizing focus for a course (this specifically is designed for the formal education system). We’ve got a contextualized task that requires applying the curriculum material, and want to make the curriculum material available for access during the scenario.

Here’re the two options I see:

  • One is to have all the tutorial material available from within the scenario. The notion is that once there’s a need, having the information available will optimize the moment of learning. The fear is that taking time to access the information could break the flow of the scenario experience. So, if you couldn’t decide how to set up the quantum physics experiment, you’d access a tutorial on said topic from the lab library.
  • The other is to have a digested down version of the information (in a ‘performance support’ model, that serves as a reference guide and you stay very much ‘in the moment’, but if you don’t know the material, you exit the scenario to get the concepts, and then you go back into the scenario experience, and use the guides for assistance but they’re not sufficient to actually learn from (unless, of course, you’ve already got some foundation). So, if you couldn’t set up the quantum physics experiment with the ‘checklist’, you’d leave the scenario motivated to read the tutorial and then restart/reenter the scenario.

The tradeoff is learning material available versus any effect on ‘breaking the wall’ between the scenario and the external learning environment.

We’re building the scenario, so we’ll actually have the second, and of course if that’s insufficient we’ll add in the first, but I wondered if there’s any ‘a priori’ information. Research solicited, opinions welcome.

10 May 2008

New White Paper: Mobile Devices

Clark @ 12:23 PM

I’d started writing up mobile learning for either a book or a chapter. However, the part on mobile design got written into the eLearning Guild’s 360 Research Report on Mobile Learning (which I highly recommend, with great chapters by David Metcalf, Judy Brown, and more). With that out there, I was at a loss as to what to do with the rest.

Well, I first finished writing the part on the technologies, the devices and the networks, and figured I’d make it available while I decide whether I want to write more about tools than I already have. You can find this 10 page 3.1 MB PDF here. I welcome feedback on whether you like it, find it useful, what’s missing, etc.

7 May 2008

Evaluating Serious Games (er, ILS)

Clark @ 4:00 PM

I’ve been working with a group creating the rubrics for evaluating submissions in a 2nd Life serious game competition. It’s an interesting issue, as there’re broad variances in what folks are thinking. As a reaction to a draft consensus of opinion, I rewrote the criteria to be evaluated as:

Comprehensiveness of alternatives to right answer
Match of game decisions to learning objectives
Appropriateness of feedback

Appropriate interface match to action
Interface navigation

Naturalness of feedback mechanism
Continuity of experience
Seamlessness in embedding decisions into game world
Appropriateness of world to audience
Relevant to irrelevant action ratio
Appropriate challenge balancing
Level of replay (linear, branching, engine-driven)

I know this can be done better.   Your thoughts?

It’s an effort to combine my aligned elements from both education and engagement (the theoretical basis for my book on learning game design): clear goals, balanced challenge, thematic context, meaningfulness of action to story, meaningfulness of story to player, active choice, direct manipulation, integrated feedback, and novelty (see below), with the more standard elements necessary to make a successful online experience.

Alignment of Engagement and Game Elements

I find it useful to revisit principles from another angle, as it gives me a fresh chance to put a reality-check on my thinking. I think my older model holds up (and has continued to over the years), and the extras are not unique to learning games. Some elements cross boundaries, such as feedback having to components: one being the relation to the learning, and the other to the action.

The principles state that, done properly, the best practice (next to mentored real performance) ought to be games. Or, as I like to say: “Learning can, and should, be hard fun!”

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