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

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.


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    Pingback by Working/Learning Blog Carnival - May 2008 « One-Stop Resource for Instructional Designing — 18 May 2008 @ 5:30 PM

  2. Your comment about “hard fun” doesn’t sound contrarian so much as just good sense. If this setting is too easy (” I already know this stuff”), people aren’t likely to learn; if it’s too hard, they’re going to stop trying.

    When what I’m learning connects clearly with what I want to do, and I’m able to see progress even as I grapple with challenge, then I’m going to keep going.

    Even in a non-immersive situation, a person would be crazy to overlook that potential incentive. As part of three days of computer application training, we had to show people how to use a clunky interface to connect to an important mainframe system. There was nothing fun or interesting or, alas, automated about the setup.

    The way we handled it: we asked for a volunteer. We said, if you can put up with about 40 minutes of setup chores, you’ll be able to print the MASTERS reports anytime you want.

    People could try following the steps themselves, or watch and see what happened to the volunteer first. We knew the process would work, but we knew that willing partners would succeed it would in turn build the confidence of their peers. When you know it works, and you value the benefit, then the arduous steps of the setup weren’t nearly so arduous.

    Comment by Dave Ferguson — 21 May 2008 @ 12:26 PM

  3. Hi Clark,

    Really interesting post! Learning should be hard fun and people can truly be successful if they integrate work and learning. Organizations often hide behind challenges of budgets and deadlines and dream of fostering self learning cultures at the same time. This dichotomy is not dubious, I think. Rather it is perhaps the paucity of tools and knowledge/availability of methods that prevent them from creating anything more than page turners on a large scale.


    Comment by Viplav Baxi — 21 May 2008 @ 12:33 PM

  4. Thanks for the comments. Dave, I like the approach of showing the benefits, modeling the behavior, and allowing others to try on their own. Viplav, yes, organizations like to think they support learning, but don’t align incentives and rewards, aligned with it! It may be paucity of tools and methods, but really it’s more about really ‘getting’ what reflection brings in the longer term.

    Comment by Clark — 21 May 2008 @ 2:20 PM

  5. There was a time when I’d have been much more reluctant to let people try something on their own. I’d like to think that stemmed from a desire not to have the learner get too frustrated. But I came to see that learning shouldn’t be too easy. (Pardon me for referring to my own post, but it’s got the best feedback line I’ve every received as a designer: “Damn, Dave, why didn’t you teach this stuff first?“)

    This applies whether you’re talking about serious games, workshops, or learning on your own. As a simple albeit non-learning example, adults in general don’t care to play tic-tac-toe, Daniel Levitin says, because once you know the strategy, it’s not challenging. If you go second, the best you can manage is a draw (unless the other person goofs), so there’s nothing much to involve you.

    In contrast, I

    Comment by Dave Ferguson — 22 May 2008 @ 8:00 AM

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