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

30 November 2008

Extending elearning?

Clark @ 2:33 PM

A contact asked me what I saw as the link between Sharepoint and elearning, and I started to give my standard answer about portals fitting in with the whole performance ecosystem. Last I played with Sharepoint, it seemed like a portal solution; a place to deposit files.  Obvious extensions I would infer from social networking would include wrapping discussion around resources (and, of course, having a way to make the resources accessible from multiple points of view, search, and other features in support of reasonable information architecture).

However, I decided to update myself on Sharepoint features, and went to look at Microsoft’s page.  They tout collaboration, content management, and search as well as portals.  This sounds like they’re beginning to incorporate real eCommunity/social networking capabilities (they mention blogs & wikis, and expertise finders). Of course, what they have in their marketing versus what’s actually there in full capability is an open question (and I’m not bagging Microsoft here; just look at LMS vendors and them trying to match a ‘checklist’ of necessary features).  Integration with Office is, for most business, a plus.

However, I’m skeptical as it’s not as easy as just putting it all together, it has to be well done.  That may be a services issue and not a technology one, however.  The point I want to make here, however, is that augmenting formal courses with resources and eCommunity is the natural progression.

On principal, there are a number of reasons to think about this augmentation.  Some obvious ones include:

  1. When performance analysis indicates that tools are a better solution than courses
  2. When it’s a combination of tools and training, the training can/should include the use of portals, and then the resources should be available on the portals
  3. Individuals can be introduced into a community after formal learning
  4. User-generated content can be mined for new courses
  5. Courses might be made available via the portal, or at least presentations decks
  6. Media files to augment courses could be made available via the portal

It may not seem obvious to the training practitioner that this is part of supporting elearning, as it really goes beyond the event, but I’ll argue that those who don’t look to extend their responsibility to the performance at all levels of competency are limiting their organizational relevance and consequently their value to the organization.  And that’s just a missed opportunity.

24 November 2008


Clark @ 3:32 PM

It came up in the Corporate Learning Trends conference last week that one person was responsible for knowledge workers who were, as she claimed, passive learners.  This is a really interesting issue, because it crosses several different areas.

In research on education, it’s been found that what learners believe about their role in learning has an impact on the outcomes of learning interventions.  That is, if learners believe that their role is to recite back what they’ve heard, or that learning ‘happens’ to them, the results are not as effective as if the learners have a belief that they have to be active in the role.

I have seen this as a college instructor, when students don’t want to take responsibility for their own learning.  I adapted by stating my expectations at the beginning, and what would and would not work in being successful in class.

This has also played a role in the success of distance learning. The early initiatives in online learning found that the students who were successful were the self-directed learners, and they increased success by focusing on supporting the learning behaviors of students.

As we talk more about creating communities where learners work together, we should not take learning skills nor epistemologies about learning for granted.  I think that, in this time of increasing change, growing information overload, shorter half-life of knowledge, etc, that the most useful information we can provide is how to be a better learner.

So, don’t just look at the tools you provide, and your culture for learning, but also consider your learners and how they learn.  You’ll be investing in them in a powerful and valuable way.  And that’s a win all around, I reckon.

21 November 2008

Does Education Need to Change?

Clark @ 5:22 PM

George Siemens asks in his blog:

1. Does education need to change?
2. Why or why not?
3. If it should change, what should it become? How should education (k-12, higher, or corporate) look like in the future?

I can’t resist not answering.  1. ABSOLUTELY!  Let me count the ways…

K12 Education is broken in so many ways. We’re not engaging our students in why this is important, we’re not giving them problems to solve that resemble the ones that they’ll face outside, we’re focusing on the wrong skills, we don’t value teachers, we’ve crumbling infrastructure, we’ve beggared the budgets, the list goes on.

We need new curricula and new pedagogy at least. We should be focusing on 21st century skills (not knowledge): systems thinking, design, problem-solving, research, learning to learn, multimedia literacy, teamwork and leadership, ethics, etc; my wisdom curriculum.  We need pedagogies that engage, spiral the learning around meaningful tasks, that develop multiple skills.

We need this at K12, at higher education, and in the workplace.  We need technology skills infused into the curriculum as tools, not as ends in themselves.  We need teachers capable of managing these learning experiences, parents engaged in the process and outcomes, and administrations educational and political that ‘get’ this.  We need learners who can successfully segue into taking control of their learning and destiny.

Yes, a tall order.  But if we don’t, we basically are hobbling our best chances for a better world.  Look, the only way to have functioning societies is to have an educated populace, because you just can’t trust governments to do well in lieu of scrutiny. So, let’s get it started!

20 November 2008


Clark @ 10:59 PM

Sorry for the dearth of postings, but what with last week’s DevLearn conference and this week’s (free, online) Corporate Learning Trends (CLT) conference, and background kitchen remodel, client work, etc, I’ve been wiped out by the end of every day.  Today was no different, but…

Tonite I went from my son’s soccer end-of-season party to our first of the year YGuides meeting.  At the soccer part, the coach made the usual nice speech about how the team individually developed during the season, and learned to work together.  The assistant coach made a clever poem that mentioned all the boys by name, and included some of the funny and important moments during the season. Rushing off, we managed to hit the important stuff of the YGuides meeting, with the circle, reciting our values, and creating a shared understanding (no, not some cult thing, this ain’t Scientology).

And  I was reminded of something that came up in the CLT ‘reflection session’.  The CLT is timed for Europe and America, holding sessions in the morning Pacific Time, midday East Coast Time, and evening European time.  Which is, basically, the middle of the night for the Western Pacific.  They rightly complained about access (they can view captures of the sessions, but not participate), and I decided to host an afternoon Pacific time discussion.  It’s been small but good.  Nancy White, who I hadn’t known but became a fan of based upon her presentations at the CLT conference and chat session participation (awesome multi-tasking), graciously came in to tonite’s session and really had great stuff.

Nancy was opining about her work with small teams, and I was asking about the larger picture.  My ongoing question has been about transitioning from wrapping social networking around formal learning to being members of communities of practice. In the CLT, Dave Wilkins of Mzinga talked about the ‘Amazon’ model of tools around a learning resource (as a formal learning model) and the community model of tools embedded in a community.  Naturally, I wanted to find the segue between the two.  Nancy made a great point about having a comfortable space for novices to express themselves, and an opportunity crystalized for me.  What if we used the same tools, but created a safe space for novices?  Of course, the question then is, how do we scaffold the transition, and the notion of ceremony and ritual came to me.

I looked at myth and ritual a while ago (I look at lots of stuff), searching for how we might make changes beyond knowledge to beliefs & behaviors.  What I found is that ritual is linked to mythologies about how the world works (in the sense of creation stories, not false beliefs), and signifies action in accordance with the associated values.  In more simple terms, holding transition celebrations are important acts in supporting changes.

What I think we miss in much of corporate behavior is the signification of transitions.  It may appear to be ‘hazy cosmic jive’ or too Californian, but I believe it’s meaningful.  So, I could see that the completion of a course augmented with social networking activity could include an introduction to the larger practitioner community.  The instructor becomes a shaman, training the initiate and then welcoming them to the anointed.

The funny thing is that just such symbology is what we do with our kids in the right circumstances (and we’ve lost it in so much; what I remember of high school graduation wasn’t ritual as much as farce; it’s hard to have a meaningful event with 900 participants), and is what we forget to do in our workplace activities, real or virtual. So, here’s a proposal: we do formal segues from training to practitioner Communities of Practice, welcoming the new members.

There’s so much that’s been developed across cultures about how to become a member of a community; are we taking sufficient advantage of what’s been learned?  What’s the digital equivalent of rites of passage, story-telling, vision quests, etc?  Am I going too far?  I can feel the skepticism, but somehow it feels like .  (And, yes, I’m a native Californian :).

18 November 2008

Coping personally, organizationally, and societally

Clark @ 3:55 PM

Having just come back from DevLearn (which rocked; my hearty thanks to all participants and organizers), and now engaged in the Corporate Learning Trends conference (free, online), I’m seeing some repeated themes, and interests.  It’s a busy time, since we‘re deeply engaged in the latter, but some messages are coming through so powerfully that I’ve got to reflect on them.

In this time of economic uncertainty or outright fear, one of the resonant themes is ‘how to cope’. Marcia Conner, one of our forward thinkers, is going to be talking about the topic of coping tomorrow at 10 AM PT, and I’m looking forward to it!I believe that’s important at the societal level as well.  We need to invest in our capabilities when things are down so we’re poised to capitalize on the upswing. Jay invited me to share his breakfast byte at DevLearn on the topic.

We brainstormed with the attendees, and came up with some interesting points.  At the personal level was to be nimble, strategic, and develop yourself.  Tony Karrer talked today about investing in knowing how to use the tools effectively, building upon all the tools that Robin Good and Jane Hart had described yesterday (simply amazing tools).

The organization level of that is to develop infrastructure and capability.  Dave Pollard today talked about moving from Knowledge Management 1.0 to 2.0, empowering people to self-help. What can you do to foster creativity and innovation on a shoestring when you can’t cope with full-fledged initiatives?  Can you get a small social networking tool initiative going that can help people help each other?

A couple of recurrent themes were selling this to management, and managing the proliferation of tools.  For the former, I reckon it’s about helping more than just novices, but providing self-help.  It depends, of course, on what your needs are and consequently what you choose to implement, but the outcomes can clearly be linked to organizational goals and problems, like reducing time-to-information, increasing productive collaboration, and sharing.  For the problem of tracking the tools, I think the key are the needed affordances.  I’ve been focused on finding the affordances of the tools, but it’s another thing to think about the affordances an organization needs and map tools into them.  Briefly, it’s about collaborative representations (prose, graphics), pointers to relevant topics, etc.  More work to be done here, I reckon.

These topics are being discussed at the Corporate Learning Trends social site this week (and ongoing, hopefully) and you can join in.

Note that I think these are relevant societally as well.  We developed some serious infrastructure through the WPA, and the Interstates, and it’s crumbling.  At some point you need to build it back up (rebuild differently?) to meet the needs.  That may increasingly be things like networks (and healthcare) as well as things like bridges.  I think this is key to thinking about how to invest for the tough times; focus internally until times get good again and be poised to rebound.   It’s like your body rebuilding while you’re asleep so you can restart the new day. Of course, you need to have hoarded the resources.  May be a way short-term shareholder returns damage long-term survivability?

Here’s hoping the economic situation is short and mercifully gentle, and that you all survive and prosper!

14 November 2008

Medina keynote on Brain Rules at DevLearn 08

Clark @ 10:20 AM

John Medina gave the closing keynote at DevLearn, based upon his book Brain Rules.  He covered two of his 12 rules, on memory, and on exercise.  He spoke fast, was enthusiastic, funny, and knowledgeable.  He talked about myths of learning, and said that he didn’t think there was a lot neuroscience had to say to learning design (thankfully, cf Willingham).

One of his points was that our brains evolved to provide ongoing performance guidance over hours of constant motion (evolutionarily).  This leads to implications that are contrary to most of our learning contexts!

His first rule was about memory, and he covered the basic model of cognitive models of memory, but then pointed out that it’s about 10 years from initial exposure to fixed memory, and requires extensive repetition.  During that period, distortion can occur. This explains the rule of thumb that you have to be doing something for 10 years before you can be considered an expert.  It probably takes 10 years of doing things before they’re solidified in useful experience to apply.

The second rule he covered was the relation between exercise and learning.  It was really exercise and thinking, and there’s a positive relationship.  The difference between sedentary and moderately active lifestyles is big in terms of mental acuity.  And reintroducing it for a reasonably short period (16 weeks) can reignite.  Memory improvements take longer, like 3 years.  It works for kids too, and if they stop, it drops off.

He made several observations how revising schools would work better, sadly too true.  So, repeat if you need it to stick (a great opportunity for mobile learning), and do get exercise for your own health, and maybe have an organizational incentive as well!  Here’s my concept map (it was hard as quick as he spoke, so didn’t get all the data):

12 November 2008

DevLearn 08 Keynote: Tim O’Reilly

Clark @ 10:31 AM

Tim O’Reilly, Web 2.0 guru, talked to us about what web 2.0 is and led us to his implications for what we do.  He started off talking about tracking the ‘alpha geek’.  These are the folks who manage to thrive and innovate despite us, rather than because of us.  He’s essentially built O’Reilly on watching what these folks do, analyzing the underlying patterns, and figuring out what’s key.

He talked about the stories that Web 2.0 is about open source, or social, were surface  takes, and by looking at leading companies, e.g. Google, there was something else going on. It’s not just user-generated content, but mining user-generated data for value, and then adding value on top of it.  “Data is the intel inside.”

This led him to key competencies going forward being machine learning, statistics, and design.  It isn’t about well-structured data, but about finding the nuggets in messy data.  And it is about design as an “architecture of participation” that gets users to act in the ways you’d like.

His take home message was six points that boil down to watching your alpha geeks, and use them to help guide what you should be doing, to help others achieve their potential.  An inspiring message in a very geek-cred way :).

I concept-mapped it:

8 November 2008

User-Centered System Design

Clark @ 10:08 AM

Back when I did my PhD, I was fortunate to be in Don Norman’s group when they were developing some of the primary design principles about designing for how people really think (“cognitive engineering”).  It focused on designing for the way people work (my twist was designing for how people learn).  I recently ranted about animated gifs, and I’ve got a similar catalyst here.

As background, people don’t do many things exactly the same way. We’re really bad at rote stuff, and instead are widely creative.  If you want information from someone, it might come in many different ways: if you asked how to get somewhere, you might get a map, a set of instructions, a series of landmarks, directions to MapQuest or GoogleMaps, etc.

When you’re designing a web site (or application) that asks for information, you can do several things.  The right thing to do is to have the backend processing be smart.  Put the burden on the system to tolerate user preferences.  For instance, I like that several different address book applications I’ve used accept phone numbers in several different ways: (925) 200-0881, 925.200.0881, 925-200-0881, etc, and remap it to their internal format.  You put it in in a different way, and it comes back in their canonical format.  That *might* drive you mad, but if you vary to widely, it’ll accept your variety just as you want.  Same with dates in many applications.  Great user experience.

Alternatively, if you want to put the burden on the human, provide guidance.  Next to the field, put either instructions (“9 digit starting with area code, no separators”), or better yet, an example (“925-200-0881”) next to the field. This puts the burden on the interface designer to communicate, and the user to adapt so is slightly less elegant, but may be more likely to lead to valid data.  However, it’s at least claer.

The worst case is not to tell the user (presumably not to spoil an elegant interface, cough cough), but to provide feedback if they get it wrong.  The advice above comes after you don’t follow their preferred format.  This is not proactive, but at least it’s helpful, at least if you think that there’s only a small chance they’ll choose any way but the way you expect.

So, of course, I just ran into a bad example where I was entering email addresses.  They had to be separated in the one field, so I could use: spaces, commas, or put them on separate lines.  I tried the latter, and was told it wasn’t in the right format, without telling me what the right format is!  Bad designer, no twinkie!

I’m sorry, but these things were known 15 years ago when I was teaching interface design.  And learning design typically includes some interface design. I mean, you want the learners to be acting, so you’ve got to design interactions, so you’re about usability design as well.  I do believe learning designers need an understanding of usability, even if development really should have all the right skill sets for the necessary jobs: that is a writer for prose, a graphic designer for look and feel, usability expert for interactions, instructional designer for the learning, audio, video, etc.  In the real world, however, you’re likely going to have to do some, or at least evaluate the toolset capabilities, so do get some exposure to basic usability.  A great start is Don Norman’s Design of Everyday Things.  Easy and fascinating read, and you’ll never look at the world in the same way again.

However you do it, be sensitive to aesthetics and usability.  You’ll be a better designer, even if you will be a wee bit less tolerant of bad design.  But I think that’s a good thing, or we’ll never move forward!

7 November 2008

Learnscaping on tap

Clark @ 3:12 PM

Over several months now, Harold Jarche, Jane Hart, Jay Cross, and I have been working on getting our arms around assisting people with the informal side of organizational learning.  Ever since Jay’s book, Informal Learning, people have wanted specific ways to go about supporting this component of the organizational environment.  And we’re close to a concrete solution.

The goal is to support organizations to start implementing web 2.0, in a lightweight way.  To do so, you need an environment and support to develop competency.  We wanted to address both.  You’ve got to be trying it out, to get it, but you don’t want a monolithic solution at the beginning.

We’re providing the services, of course.  We’ve been collaborating to develop a ‘best practices’ approach that we’ll couple with an experimental focus.  We’re already trialing it in a couple of instances, and have a couple more in process.

For the platform, we similarly want it to be lightweight: easy to trial, simple, easy to expand, but solid underpinnings.  And implementing the performance ecosystem suite of eCommunity capabilities.  Ning’s an example, but we needed more flexibility and control.  We’ve identified a partner to move forward with.

I’m excited, as it’s a great group to work with, positive attitude, heaps of experience, and understanding at both the vision, the strategic and the tactical level.  It’s also a real need, which I see again and again in organizations I assist.  We’re looking to get a placeholder site up Real Soon Now, and we’re working behind the scenes to get stuff ready. We’ll be talking about it at several places including DevLearn next week, and the Corporate Learning Trends conference.  You can read up more about it, and sign up for more information here.   Stay tuned!

4 November 2008

Upcoming events to be excited about

Clark @ 3:25 PM

Next week is DevLearn, and as it’s run by the eLearning Guild, it’s always good.  I’ll be switching time between two pre-conference symposiums, one on games, and one on mobile.  Then I’ll be presenting on Deeper Instructional Design, doing Breakfast Bytes on (learning) games in the organization and one with Jay Cross on hot topics from the conference, and will be part of Jay Cross’ Learnscaping presentation.  Whew!

The learnscaping will resurrect for the Corporate Learning Trends conference.  Run by George Siemens, Tony Karrer, and Jay Cross, it’s got good content, and the price is right (free, as in beer).  The Learnscape co-conspirators here, Jay, Harold Jarche, Jane Hart, and myself will be talking about our thinking behind it.  We’ll also be running a learnscape environment alongside the conference.

I won’t be at TechKnowledge 2009 at the end of January, but it’s a good conference. I’ve been involved in the past, and can vouch that it’s well organized, and works hard to have a solid line up.

In February, there’s the Training 2009 conference in Atlanta, and I’ll be running a mobile certificate program beforehand (I’ve designed what I think are some really valuable activities), as well as talking on mobile and deeper ID.

I haven’t heard yet about the eLearning Guild’s Annual Gathering in Orlando next spring, but it’s worth keeping an eye out for.  They throw great events.

Finally, the last one on my schedule as of now is ASTD’s International Conference and Exposition.  I’ll be running a one day pre-conference workshop on eLearning Strategy, and I’m really excited about getting into the details of how you tie together the individual tactics of courses, portals, eCommunity and more into a coherent solution.

Remember, this is part of your professional development, and they’re a lot of fun usually, too.  If you attend one of these, do say hello!

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