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

30 June 2008

Consumer’s revenge

Clark @ 2:15 PM

Thanks to Harold Jarche, I tuned into this site, named for the first person to create a mall. Harold points out how it’s led to some negative reaction, but my reaction was hilarity. The site is for an Aussie telly show: “Each week two of the advertising industry’s finest agencies are pitted against each other and challenged with selling the unsellable.” The sample ads I saw were funny and effective, but what really struck me was a particular section of the site.

They’ve created a really clever web app. They provide some stock ad footage as clips for a beer, a bank, and a beauty creme, and the ability to create your own ads, with text, voiceover, or whatever. Of course, you can download the stuff and edit it with your own tools, as well. There’s a gallery, too, where what’s been created can be seen, and that’s where I was LOL.

What’s been created (at least, what I viewed) is wickedly funny, albeit occasionally crude and not Politically Correct ™ by any means. While I can see that advertising agencies might be upset, as Harold notes, there is an advertising lingo glossary and a list of ad roles which does a nice job of explaining the business and creative functions of agencies. You may know I’m interested in helping individuals buy smarter, and understanding advertising is a key.

What’s interesting is the underlying design.  By giving people differing views of the same situation, they allow people to choose how to put it together, and in doing so, they’ve given them the tools to understand.  Not that it’s guaranteed folks will learn about advertising by playing with it (tho’ clearly some have, demonstrating they’ve internalized the concepts by using the concepts to have fun), which is why we learned that we need guided discovery environments unless you can guarantee motivated and effective self-learners, but scaffolded tools are a great start to a learning experience.

So, if you’re looking for some entertaining and educational fun, have a look at the Gruen site.

27 June 2008

Learning out loud

Clark @ 6:12 AM

In an article I was reading, they mentioned how Patagonia was tracking the environmental footprint of some of their products. The point they made, however, was that doing this was part of their ongoing experimentation/research that they were publicizing to get others to join in towards making this a more sustainable world (my inference). The phrase they used that intrigued me was the quote that they were “learning out loud”.

One of the reasons it intrigued me was that I realized that what I’m doing with Learnlets is indeed ‘learning out loud’. But I hadn’t really reflected on what that could mean, and I think there are some really interesting opportunities here. First, by learning explicitly, we can reflect on our own learning processes, looking at how we learn, essentially initiating double-loop learning.

Second, others can watch us learn, and learn with us. They can also learn to learn. Learning together, we can learn more effectively. I think this is a critical component of the Work Literacy movement looking at how to improve at work; they’re making their thinking explicit and asking for participation.

One of the Big Questions was Should All Learning Professionals Blog, and I replied. My answer then was that all should reflect, and I’ll add now that doing it publicly (blog or otherwise) is an opportunity to have others participate and even add value. Yes, there’s a risk involved, but I’ll suggest you throw ego to the wind, and take a chance on greater learning.

So I’ll keep on learning out loud, and hope to hear you, too. Let’s learn together; better, and have more fun doing it.

26 June 2008

It’s hard to reflect…

Clark @ 10:08 AM

…when you’re up to your, er, backside in projects (paraphrasing the old alligators/swamp draining story).  It’s been a whirlwind week or so, and this is an apology of sorts for the lack of blogging. Several projects are getting busy at the same time, and we also took a trip south to see family. It’s hard to be reflective when you’re just trying to keep the wheels on.

The trip itself was a whirlwind; we had to be flexible (“willows, blowing in the wind” as my wife kept saying) to accommodate other folks plans and the extreme heat. We were making hotel reservations on the fly, night by night pretty much, and shuffling folks around trying to get people together. However, the kids got to play with their cousins, and we managed to make all the important connections (with the caveat that we missed my brother and one of his kids, as they were overseas at the time we had to come down). Saturday was ‘water play’ day; even though we’ve got water restrictions here in California, it was also too hot to go anywhere, so we got a slip-n-slide and some water guns. Note: it’s never too late to have a happy childhood, as I’ve how had the slip-n-slide experience I never got to try when I was young!

Work’s also blazing along. I had a couple of conference calls while we were on the road (not the easiest), and didn’t make much progress on projects ranging from online learning to corporate elearning strategy. Now it’s catch up time. The good thing is that together with my various partners on the projects, I think we’re adding real value to the organizations we are assisting.

Still, while various thoughts have crossed my mind, nothing’s coalesced sufficiently that I’ve been able to post, and it’s hard to justify the time away from pressing needs. Which is the case everyone faces, I know, but it’s important to take time to reflect. And I have, but it’s been about specific projects and taking a larger picture on them, which typically is not appropriate here (too specific, and of course confidential).

Still, lots of thoughts are percolating, and you can expect more soon. Hope your summer is fun and productive!

17 June 2008

Buy Smart!

Clark @ 5:13 PM

Don’t ask how my thoughts got here, but I was reflecting on the fact that the western economy is largely predicated on a free market (whether we truly achieve that is a different rant). Which, to work properly, needs consumers to be ‘optimizing’. That is, for the free market to drive improvements and fair prices, people have to vote effectively with their dollars.

Which isn’t the case. Herb Simon, the polymath who won a Nobel Prize in economics before becoming one of the world’s top cognitive scientists, coined the term ‘satisficing’ for consumer behavior. That is, folks will settle for what’s good enough. Worse, they’ll settle for how they’ve been manipulated (read: advertising).

My proof is simple (though it works better in Australia where there’s more comprehension of the example): if market pressures worked, every fish and chips shop in Australia would make perfectly light, crispy fish and chips. I mean, we know what it takes to do that. Instead, it’s real easy to find greasy, soggy fish and mealy fries. Someone is buying that fish! QED.

Which is why one of the serious games I’d really like to do is have the player try to succeed in an advertising agency. (Thought I’d written about this before but couldn’t find it. Apologies if I have.) Such a game would help folks understand just how advertising works and ideally help folks become more resistant to it.

But there’s more. I suggest (educated and interested amateur speaking) that our current system doesn’t truly allow for tracking individual contributions (or good teachers would be wealthy :). There are economic systems that do this tracking, but to my understanding, the overhead is unwieldy and ultimately impractical. So, rather than try to change the system, my simple answer is to educate folks (hence my passion for learning).


Where my thinking led me was to a ‘buy smart’ campaign. I wonder what we could do if we just managed to get profile to the message that folks should research the bigger picture of your purchase: looking at maintainability, repair, longevity, ideally also including environmental and social impact (can’t help it, I’m a wilderness person :). The more we look for the right choice, not just the easy or popular choice (extraneous of the immediate price pressures we’re currently seeing), the more we end up matching the assumptions of the economic system we are using. And that’s got to be better, right?

I guess it’s just that same wisdom schtick again, thinking longer term and with broader responsibilities. Yet, I can’t help thinking raising awareness could be a small step toward a better future. You think?

16 June 2008


Clark @ 10:52 AM

I now get an occasional request from some educational organization or initiative, where they tell me about something or point me to it, and then suggest (or request) that I blog it. I generally don’t. I also get offers to link to someone educational, and they’ll return the favor. I haven’t done this, ever.

Why? First, because this site isn’t about creating a money stream (at least, not directly). This blog is about my personal learnings about learning, so unless there’s something I think is interesting or illuminating, I have nothing to communicate. It may keep this blog more ‘esoteric’, but that’s what I believe is the value proposition.

It’s also, to be perfectly honest, a way to let you know my thinking in case it’s of interest to you personally or professionally, and in the later case it’s inherently a form of marketing, but marketing for me, my thinking, and my capabilities. I haven’t thought about monetizing it, in that I haven’t considered putting ads on (not even sure how I’d do that ;).

It does mean that unfortunately there are times when I’m a little slow to keep posting, like when I’m on the road, busy, or on vacation, but that’s the tradeoff. No promises that things won’t change, but I do intend that any changes will be to make a more interesting and informative experience.  That work for you, or do you have some other suggestions?

13 June 2008

Summer Seminar Series

Clark @ 7:56 PM

With the caveat that I’m one of the speakers, I’d like to bring the eLearning Guild’s upcoming Summer Seminar Series to your attention. They’ve put together two back-to-back seminars that cover the latest trends.

Summer seminar series

The two seminars cover social networking, and serious games. The first seminar is led by Mark Oehlert and Brent Schenkler, who not only are fun, dynamic, individuals, but are totally into new tools. And that’s a good thing, because they’re insightful and articulate about the role these new technologies can play in organizational improvement. I track both their blogs just to keep up with what’s happening in these arenas. I’ll get to kibbitz (and learn), but they’re the two leaders of this session.

Which leaves Jeff Johannigman and myself to lead the second workshop on serious games, ILS, etc. Jeff’s got a commercially-validated track record of successful games and a consequent insight into how to create compelling experiences, and provides the perfect foil for my focus on the learning side. Of course, he’s now focused on learning, so we’ve got enough overlap to make this fun (we’ve co-presented before on games at the ILS symposium at the last Guild conference). I expect Mark and Brent will likewise kibbitz on the side in this one. We’ll augment some of the best parts of my workshop on ILS design with his insights on game design, as well as covering issues of development, corporate relevance, etc.

If you can’t tell, I’m excited about this series! I think that together, they cover some important components of acheiving the performance ecosystem: advanced ID and eCommunity. Being run by the eLearning Guild, of which I’m a fan because they do such a good job of providing value for money just reinforces the expectations that the experience will be worthwhile. So, if you’re looking to get in-depth on either topic, or better yet both, this is a great opportunity. Set your calendars for August 11-14, and definitely hope to see you there!

12 June 2008

‘Good’ Theft

Clark @ 3:22 PM

On Gamasutra (the game developers site), there’s an article that uses the new release of Dungeons and Dragons to inspire thoughts about improving games. What I want to note is the following quote, which nicely captures what I try to tell attendees at my game design workshop:

Being inspired by concepts is not just a good idea. When your skill reaches a high enough level, it becomes a state of mind. Start by analyzing games in similar genres for good ideas. Dissect those ideas and learn from them. Then jump to similar games in different genres. Pen and paper role playing games and board games are a great next step.

A true epic-level master of concept-yoinking like Shigeru Miyamoto can take gameplay features from abstract activities like gardening. Pay attention to everything you see, from movies to conversations with friends to patterns in the ceiling tiles. Where do designers get the inspiration for new games? It’s all thievery.

I remember when Lewis & Reimann, in their online HCI text, said something to the effect of: ‘plagiarize, as far as your lawyers will let you’. The point being not to reinvent the wheel when there’re good examples out there already. You may be the da Vinci of game design, but it’s not the way to bet. Use tried and tested solutions from the world around you; you’ll have plenty of challenge integrating them into a coherent whole without having to reinvent genres.

What I tell my learners is that they have a new, onerous responsibility: they have to start taking in lots more quantity and variety of popular culture – read more novels, watch more movies, play more games, etc (ok, so I’m joking about the ‘onerous’ part :). The reason being, they need richer grounds to mine for ideas to improve their games. They need to consciously evaluate what’s working for them, or others (even if it doesn’t work for them).

When I looked at design a number of years ago, one of the models that came out was a process of modifying (mutating) existing designs or combining elements from more than one previous design. Design is good, streamlined design is better in most instances where pragmatism holds sway, like limited resources, scope, and or schedule (“fast, cheap, or good: pick any two”). So, be an integrator, a synthesist, a problem-solver. Hey, if Shigeru is doing it, you’ll be in good company!

11 June 2008

Work Literacy

Clark @ 8:37 AM

Tony Karrer, one of our top bloggers/thinkers on elearning, pointed me to WorkLiteracy a few weeks ago, and I’m really excited about the idea, though have yet to have time to really dig in (was in Boston two weeks ago, NJ and LA last week, and several big projects right now; my apologies for the lack of posting). It’s about identifying and developing the skills of the knowledge worker, tapping into the social network.

Naturally I’m quite excited by all this, as it taps into two of my key memes: meta-learning (or learning to learn), and 21st Century Skills. It’s all about helping people learn to be more effective (meta-learning), and focusing on the skill-set for the future (21st Century Skills).

I’m thrilled to see this emerging here, as well as the movements I’m seeing in other places as the recognition grows that the skills of the past aren’t going to carry us into the coming years. We’re seeing it come from corporate groups thinking about the skill sets they need, futurists looking at trends, and now people at the coal face coping with their own roles and thinking about the longer term implications and broader concerns for society (a wise perspective, to be sure).

So, I fully intend to participate, but there’re already a good group of folks, and it’s too important not to get you started. Check it out!

4 June 2008

Innovating by Conversation

Clark @ 8:42 AM

Innovation is an increasingly important element in organizational survival, I’ll suggest. If we accept the increasing rate of change and growing speed of execution, innovation in products and services will be critical to maintain competitive advantage. Whether it’s completing in ‘red ocean’ markets, or exploring ‘blue ocean‘ opportunities, the ability to continually generate new ideas will be a necessary component of organizational strategy.

So, what do we know about innovation? Naturally, I’m curious (Quinnovation Logo:).

First, Tony Karrer, blogging at ASTD’s ICE conference, cites Malcolm Gladwell outlining the principle (which I’d heard before, but can’t recall where) that there are two types of innovators: the one-shot wonder, and the steady innovator. The former has something big that they accomplish largely on their own (and tend to get known for), and then there’s the more common, less heralded steady innovator who works with teams to bring ideas to fruition (I’m immodestly hoping I’ve demonstrated the latter). Also, as Sawyer tells us (as I blogged before), innovation is not generally individual, but builds upon others. Certainly, it’s the way to bet. Now, how do we implement it?

Surowiecki’s Wisdom of the Crowds, Tapscott’s Wikinomics, and Libert & Spector’s We Are Smarter Than Me, are telling us to tap into the wisdom of crowds, and with lots of examples of how creating conversations with folks can spark new insights. The old saying is that the room’s smarter than the smartest person in the room, though with a caveat: if we manage the process right (e.g. it can’t be that the loudest person gets to win).

As a start, it’s time to get your own people working together in effective ways. You need to build eCommunity, getting your people talking to one another, helping one another, and making explicit what’s currently tacit. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. In talking with an organization that facilitated organizational innovation for others, most of their work was not teaching innovation per se, but making an innovation culture.

Starting internally is a first step, but also consider opening it up to customers, partners, and more.
The time to start experimenting is now. If your culture’s not supportive, start finding ways to shift. It’s only one component of an overall eLearning strategy, but one that may be the most important for the organization to get in place.

1 June 2008

Virtual Worldly

Clark @ 2:26 PM

The Learning Circuits Blog Big Question of the Month for June is about Second Life. They elaborate the question:

In what situations, do you believe it makes sense to develop a learning experience that will be delivered within Second Life?

If you were to develop a training island in Second Life, what kind of environment and artifacts would you consider essential for teaching?

Just as there are considerable differences in blended learning and virtualclassroom training, what are some of the major differences (surprises) in training within virtual worlds?

I’ve made my thoughts on virtual world affordances clear before: virtual worlds (of which Second Life is one) are 3D environments where one can interact with others through an avatar (it’s not a profile, but an alternative representation of yourself that you can craft), and the key two components are the spatial representation, and the ability to invest a personalization in the avatar.

If you’re not doing spatial, there are other vehicles for doing collaboration textually or visually. The social aspect with the 3D representation of one’s self may have unique learning aspects as well, though the overhead (the time to learn, craft an avatar, the download, bandwidth requirements, etc) is significant for that capability. I think the jury is still out on the benefit of the purely social aspects of Second Life, and consequently I’m still on the fence about the learning environment if your goals aren’t inherently spatial as well.

There are other aspects to Second Life, including the economy, but that’s not necessarily yet germane to organizational learning goals. There is considerable potential for an individual learning opportunity in Second Life, but that’s yet to be seen on a broad scale.

So, to me it comes back to spatial situation, but this is not a niche application. I’ve argued that systems-thinking is part of the new skill set we need to have, and spatial modeling and using spatial representations gives us an extra representation dimension to comprehend and communicate.

A very special version of this is co-collaboration. Second Life lets you work together on creating things, and having disparate experts able to negotiate developing a 3D model to capture their understanding. What’s more, you can make dynamic representations, with scripts, which really takes you into systems-thinking. The overhead is high, as modeling is difficult in Second Life, and scripting more so, but this is a truly awesome opportunity.

To answer the questions, I wouldn’t use Second Life for all teaching, but specifically where we want people to understand inherently spatial relationships (e.g. the internals of devices, places, or spaces) or relationships we’ve mapped into spatial ones. And when I want to let folks jointly create new understandings in a very rich way.

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