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

30 July 2008

Mobile Devices now available at Learning Circuits

Clark @ 8:33 AM

Just a brief note to say that my mobile devices document (PDF) has been adapted and is now available on Learning Circuits.  This is the companion piece to my mobile design piece in last year’s Guild Research Report on Mobile Learning.

Future of the Book?

Clark @ 6:25 AM

Last nite was the NextNow event on the future of the book/publishing/? Jay Cross really helped by adding significant data around and input to the discussion; a very public thanks.  He’s also blogged it, with video.  We had a very diverse audience of around 30 or so; many were authors, there were CEOs & entrepeneurs, artists and musicians, noted scientists, and more. Many shared one or more of my own publishing experiences, including as author, board member of a not-for-profit that publishes, editorial board member of a journal, and, of course, as a blogger.

After introductions, which already raised many issues, Jay walked us through the history of the book (Guttenberg was an entrepreneur, the first totable book was sized to fit in saddle bags), and we talked about the pros and cons of books.  We discussed our varied experiences with publishers, and there were quite a few unhappy ones.  Then we got into the issues.

As I mentioned earlier, Jay and I had come up with a few, including editorial ‘voice’ (who’s vetting the information), interactivity, volatility, ownership, and money.  Interestingly, as the discussion continued, others emerged.  Michael Carter raised an interesting point, that we were conversing about books and publishers, and they’re not the same things, and that it was really about matching ignorance with knowledge.  He also mentioned that the current chapter and book size is arbitrary, which is something I’ve seen in textbooks.  Christine Walker mentioned how our cognition might change without the book experience.  There was considerable optimism about setting information free, which I didn’t squelch with my concern about the need for ‘filters’.

We covered the ‘collected papers’ model, where proactive instructors or good editors choose appropriate contributions to a definitive compilation (with my note that most instructors just want to choose a text, and there are compilations that are just vanity projects without a representative or definitive sampling for the topic).  We also talked about marketplaces, and Laleh Shahidi mentioned a learning object model of content, of which there’ve been several experiments (including Propagate, a system that Peter Higgs launched way back around 1998!).  One of the ideas would be to have several authors to choose from, but then you’d need ‘templates’ for topics, with agreed structure.  One of the current situations is that authors present totally different takes on subjects.

At the end, it appeared that publishing is about 4 things:

  • development: the right choice of message and author for the knowledge gap
  • production: the right choice of presentation of the information
  • marketing: the right marketing of availability to need
  • money: the business model that surrounds the first three

The interesting thing is that with the internet (and on-demand printing), the production costs have essentially hit zero. There’s clearly a role for editorial choice, but at some point everyone can publish, and we need ways to find what we want, which is really about the marketing, which was clearly where many authors (including yours truly) felt that they were let down.  We heard of an interesting experiment in viral marketing, with Amy Jussell mentioning a blog-produced book. The question is whether such an effort is replicable. Of course, there’s still the cachet that comes with having a publisher choosing.  The flip-side is tha traditional publishers still take months from final manuscript to final print.

So, no answers, but lots of interesting issues.

29 July 2008

A Moving Experience…

Clark @ 6:39 AM

Yesterday, we moved furniture (OK, so bad puns are an occupational hazard :) ).  More specifically, a large solid wood entertainment center piece that even empty is surprisingly heavy.  And had to come down six steps and then up three.  Just my wife and myself (and for those who don’t know me or us, we’re not large people).  We seriously debated hiring two or four laborers to assist moving it.  However, we found another way…

Sitting down and thinking, we decided we could break it down into little steps.  First, we waltzed it over to the top of the steps. This was the most scary part, controlling it going down.  We put it on it’s back, and slid it down the carpeted steps onto some blankets, controlling the slide.

Now, the harder part, getting it up the three steps to the next room.  We stood it back up rather than take it up on the back; that had been important going down, but wasn’t for the upward trip.  We got my son to push from the back (didn’t really need it, but he was hanging around…), and we each took the front up a step at a shot.  Finally, I went to the back, lifted it up, and pushed while my wife tugged it forward.  Success!

The reason to recite this is not the impress you with our meager strength and effort (as if), but instead to highlight the lesson that taking a monumental task and breaking it down into littler steps is a really useful meta-learning technique.  Sitting down, working through the alternatives, imagining how you’d manage that particular approach and what you’d need.  With patience, a willingness to stop and rethink, and a little bit of courage, you can move mountains!

28 July 2008

Wild Learning

Clark @ 1:06 PM

I’m a fan of the wilderness, because I believe that the genetic source of diversity found in wildness is critical to a sustainable world.  And, as I’ve mentioned before, I believe it’s important to pass this on to my kids.  So, just like last year, we went up to Yosemite for a couple of days, backpacking up to May Lake High Sierra Camp (HSC).

A lot was the same, staying in Tuolomne Meadows lodge the night before, packing in a little over a mile with our tents and sleeping bags (letting the May Lake staff handle breakfast and dinner), and doing a day hike between the two nights.  This was because the (younger) girl’s backpack was a wee bit big last time, and we wanted to make sure this year that they both were capable before taking on something bigger next year (it jumps from 1.2 to 5.x miles for the next shortest hike to a HSC).

Again, the goal was to minimize the exertion for the kids, having them get a chance to appreciate nature in a fun way.  While it wasn’t any more difficult, really, they did experience it as a bit more challenging as our day hike had the uphill bit on the way back.  Amazing how that little change affects their perspective!

The real important learning about learning, however, is something my better half picked up on first.  We weren’t doing enough to ensure that their learning steps were at the appropriate stage!  We quickly did focus on ensuring that they were getting support and guidance in making everything easier.  For instance, mentioning that ‘little steps’, at a pace that was sustainable, was better than trying to charge up and then stopping for a long time.

They came back positive, and while a wee bit uncertain about a substantially longer hike, I reckon they’re actually ready to handle it.  So, again a success, and a learning experience for me about how better to make it a positive learning experience for them!

The point being that there are ways to help individuals see the bigger benefit picture, scaffold their expectations, and manage the experience to make learning fun and effective.  Which is the goal, after all!

26 July 2008

Future of Publishing?

Clark @ 10:39 AM

Based on a strange twist of circumstance, Jay Cross and I will be leading a discussion on the future of publishing in an online era here in the Bay Area next Monday (July 28).  He and I prepared some days ago, and came up with several issues, including who owns IP, new business models, moving from content to experience, increasing rates of change, and more.

The fact of the matter is that the day of the (non-fiction) book is at an inflection point.  That’s not to say we won’t still want to read books from time to time, at least those of us ‘of an age’ ;).  But what, where, when, and how will be our primary sources of information, moving forward?  My book cover

Certainly there are some interesting experiments going on.  On ITFORUM, Bev Ferrell and others have been citing a number of initiatives of self-publishing and open textbooks.  Certainly fodder for thought (particularly when I’m working with publishers on several projects, and have had a book published!).

We aren’t providing answers, but we’ll be with a very knowledgeable cohort and hope to work through to some interesting ideas.  If you’re in the area, and are interested, let me know and I’ll lob coordinates at you.

25 July 2008

Guild’s Web 2.0 Survey live

Clark @ 9:07 AM

As part of the eLearning Guild’s ongoing research, they’re now collecting data about organizational web 2.0 use.  Their survey is now live, and I highly encourage you to fill it out.  Web 2.0 uses in online learning are increasing, and are an increasingly important component of the performance ecosystem.

I suspect that preliminary results will be reported at the Summer Seminar on Collaborative Learning.  We’re needing to cover more than just courses, and these tools are part of the learning technology solution needed.  Having a real look at what people are doing is an important step in understanding where we are and what’s possible.

21 July 2008

Off the grid

Clark @ 7:01 AM

High SierrasIt’s time to get away from electronic diversions, and spend some time in nature, once again. Off to the high Sierras, up near timberline, lakes, rocks, trees, and wild critters.  There’s no phone connection, so no internet, email, etc.  And with nought but a twitch and a shudder, I shall endure :).

On a side note about mobile, I’ve got two invitations to talk mobile at the beginning of next year.  A sign that we’re finally hitting our stride?

Back at the end of the week. Hope you too are finding time to recharge your batteries.

16 July 2008

Deeper ID: Coming FRIDAY to a browser near you!

Clark @ 8:47 AM

The eLearning Guild runs a great set of Online Forums (standard disclaimers about my involvement). They’re offering one tomorrow and Friday on Creating Innovative Instructional Content – Advanced Theory and Application, and for mysterious reasons needed a pinch-hitter.  So, my involvement continues, and I’ll be on Friday at 10:15-11:30 Pacific Time, talking about Deeper Instructional Design.

This is a topic that I continually see a need for, sad to say.  As I just wrote for the blurb: “The evidence is clear; it’s too easy to find eLearning with a rote knowledge focus, verbose writing, boring introductions, fact recitation, useless examples, meaningless practice, and a consequent rapid atrophy of the experience.  What we want is meaningful outcomes, and what we get is a painful experience to be avoided.”

What I’ll be doing is working through the various components of instructional design: intro, concept, example, practice, and summary  (which don’t have to be used in this order, but there’s only so much a person can cover in one presentation), and talking about the cognitive and motivational underpinnings that make these elements work.  For each, I’ve specific ways to improve.  It’s not necessarily new, but too few folks seem to know about it!  Yet the research points to greater learning outcomes.

I’ll be in good company; the line-up of speakers has some known names, and some important topics.  Problem-Based Learning is definitely noteworthy, as are the Semantic Web and Competencies & Roles, and I’m personally intrigued by Video Interactive Learning Objects. The other sessions promise similarly interesting ways to rethink design.   Karen Hyder coordinates the presentations, and she is great at making sure that presenters are comfortable and presenting effectively.  So, if you’re looking for greater depth and quality in your elearning, I recommend the forum.  A great conference from your own browser in two half-day sessions!  Hope to see you there.

14 July 2008

Learning by doing

Clark @ 2:39 PM

Well, this weekend was an interesting one.  On Saturday morning I not only resurrected my site, but got my Twitter experiment advanced by managing to insert a tweet feed into the blog sidebar. Of course, it formats strangely, and I haven’t been able to fix it yet.  I tried using the span command, but around the Javascript it didn’t seem to work.

Then it was changing the bathroom light fixtures.  Successfully, following on a recent toilet replacement exercise.  In between was an absolutely great block party our neighbors organized, with activities for the kids, food and drink for all.  Learnings from each exercise!

One of the things I tweaked to was that if we sit down and start using the right tool for the job, have patience and persistence, and be willing to stop and think, we can get more done that we thought, we just have to be brave (he stays, still in anxiety mode over making a deck on the slope in the backyard).  Of course, we’re benefited to the extent we see more standards in tools and equipment (I like that they’re standardizing on electrical hardware, which makes it pretty much plug-and-play, even if it took some creativity to end-run two different boxes in two different bathrooms, ahem).  Slowly but surely, the house is being transformed.

The second learning is on community.  By pulling together all the neighbors on our cul-de-sac, we’re building an awareness of each other, which supports us helping each other.  The usual suspects pitched in, and some new folks were invited to join.  It was a lovely evening though the breeze picked up to the point where people started heading out for sweaters before coming back.  I had to think: why can’t the whole world be getting together in their neighborhood and having a party?  Of course, it’s hard when they’re bullets flying by, bombs going off, etc.  Sigh.  Still, creating the right environment for getting together creates the right environment for sharing, and that’s where learning happens.

So, use the right tools, set the right context, and be willing to work and reflect and improve and continue on.  Hope you too had a good weekend!

12 July 2008

Model madness

Clark @ 8:35 AM

Well, if you happened to hit my blog between yesterday and today, you might’ve noticed some slight changes to the format.  Unintentional.  I’ve just started tweeting (using Twitter), and had seen how your tweets could appear in a window in your blog.  I wanted to do the same, but my blog template is old.  I wanted to look at another template so I clicked on it, and it installed the new theme, not just giving me information.  Which wiped out the header and some of the customization on my sidebar.

I pinged my ISP, who’s also a friend/colleague/mentor, and was my boss a couple of times.  Sky let me know that the themes are just different sub-directories that get swapped between, and if I just clicked on another theme I’d eventually get mine back.  Which worked, and it’s now back, but there’s a lesson in there.

First, I’m reasonably tech literate.  I programmed for a living (for Sky, actually) before I went back to grad school.  I’ve maintained a knowledge of what tech can do, though I no longer maintain fluency in any languages.  I’ve maintained, updated, and have customized my sites as well (this blog, my book site, and my company site).  However, my understanding is more conceptual these days; e.g. while I know what CSS is and why it’s good and you should use it, I’m pretty much at the crayon level with it.

However, the lesson is that having taught interface design (and studied with Don Norman) I know that the interface could be doing a better job of helping me build a conceptual model of how my blog site operates.  They recently changed the blog entry interface, and actually made it worse because the ‘tag’ interface is no longer on the screen initially, it’s hidden down below and you need to scroll to get to it (which means I forget sometimes).  But overall, I really don’t understand where and how they’re using files to compile this site.

Now, I also don’t know PHP (or javascript, or Python, or… the point being that there are so many different web technologies I can’t keep up with them all; it’s not how I add value to the endeavors I’m engaged in), but I’ve managed to muddle through adding things to the files like the Feedblitz signup (if you want to read via email, like I do).  The old interface made it really hard to find a file to edit that you hadn’t edited recently, and the new one’s better (some things get worse and others get better, but really things should steadily get better). I realize web interfaces are going to be weaker than application ones, but it doesn’t have to be this hard.  Of course, as far as I know it’s free, so I shouldn’t complain too much.

Still, one of the things we know is that if there is a conceptual model underlying how something’s implemented, making that conceptual model clear (or even available) will help people work with a system when they’re using it intermittently.  There’re no clues for me in WordPress.  Now, their working assumption for people who’ve installed their own copy is that they’re reasonably facile with PHP and probably more regularly generating code, so maybe I’m not one of their target users.  Still, there’s little to be lost, and a lot to be gained by making the underlying model clear.

I do recommend you read Don’s Design of Everyday Things book, which helps explain why mappings and models are powerful guides to action. Everyone who designs solutions for others should read it; it’s an easy and short read, and it will definitely change the way you look at the world.  In a positive way, and that’s a good thing, I reckon.  Oh, and do include conceptual models in your learning designs. It leads to much more persistent and flexible performance.

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