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

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.


  1. Clark, an insightful point. I’ve been in distance-learning situations where the presenter/facilitator seemed critical of people who didn’t leap right in. From my viewpoint as a participant, some of those people couldn’t figure out where to leap in, some couldn’t figure out how, others couldn’t figure out why. The facilitators seemed to believe in “you really oughta wanna.”

    Also, in some organizations, information dumps and sage-on-the-stage are the models for training (often seen as learning). Not that that’s how it should be — but, for instance, I’ve seen technical people (engineers, programmers) quite content with dense, PowerPoint-driven delivery. The key was that the content (often factual matter extending the current expertise of the audience) was seen as having high value. If I really need or want to learn about controlling menus with CSS, then maybe I’m not too interested in discovery learning or the wisdom of crowds.

    Comment by Dave Ferguson — 25 November 2008 @ 3:43 AM

  2. Dave, there are times when new information is relevant, to practitioners and experts who know what they need and why. That’s the point of the ‘performance ecosystem’; Hodgin’s ‘right stuff’: right info to the right person at the right time, and so on. So, sure, sometimes we don’t need fancy pedagogy. But we do need self-directed learners, I reckon!

    Comment by Clark — 25 November 2008 @ 7:25 AM

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