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

19 May 2009

Developing Learners

Clark @ 1:47 PM

Charles Jennings makes a brilliant observation about how Learning & Development folks are taking the wrong path in his post: When the Game’s Up. He points out that L&D practitioners are focused on Instructor Led Training, and:

ILT may be helpful for some change management and big-picture ‘concept’ development, but it is demonstrably the least effective and certainly the least efficient approach for most learning that’s required.

In short, we’re just not doing what we need to be doing.  I was revisting my previous thoughts on slow learning and distributed learning, and I realize we’re missing a major perspective.  We seem to have two extremes on the continuum: the ‘event’ or informal learning.  There’s more.

I had a tour of Q2Learning‘s environment today, courtesy of John Darling, and while I’m not conducting a thorough point by point evaluation, one element struck me as relevant.  Their platform’s ‘DNA’ came from social learnng, but their formal model (client driven) is based upon proficiency, and if not mandating, certainly enables what they call a ‘proficiency’ approach.

mixedassessmentlearningmapWhat I like about it is it takes a longer term view of skills. The sample he showed (and of course I realize it’s presented in the best light) was a learning map for a course, but with lots of components spread out over time (sample map shown).  There’s a priori assessment, content, activities with managers, etc.; a mix of activity, practice, reflection, just the sort of model we should be designing.  We know spaced practice matters, with reactivation, reflection, etc. It’s also valuable to go  back to the workplace, and then check-in later to see how things are going.  It’s a fuller picture of what learning’s about.

John mentioned some need formal features, such as the ability to assign journals as an activity, and similarly assign posting to a discussion board and then commenting on other posts (and tracking this!).  Given that these were two of three activities I used in my own online course (and mentioned here), I asked about the third activity: assigning group work (e.g. collaborating through a wiki) and handling the submission.  It wasn’t there, but could be added as another of their templates of ‘activities’.

The important thing, to me, is the point that a system to support formal learning should be able to link together and track a sequence of activities that develop a person over time, not just through an ‘event’ perspective.  Integrating the same social tools from the informal side also provides hope that there can be an elegant segue from the formal to the informal.

We agreed that one of the problems on the informal side is assuming that people are skilled at self-learning (or even group learning, I’ll add), and that we shouldn’t take it for granted.

All told, I think it’s an important different perspective on learning to think about developing people along a continuum, not a ‘spray and pray’ approach to learning.  Now, to only get the L&D function to start looking beyond their zone of comfort, and into the area of relevance.  Otherwise, we’d be better off, as Charles suggests, taking the training money and letting them spend it at the pub, at least reducing their stress and developing some morale!


  1. Great stuff Clark. That’s exactly where I think we should be focused. Learning benefits from process / journey more than it does from one-off events.

    This year we started reframing our goalposts and principles for design and development of eSolutions with an organizational learning goal:

    * The product design and packaging must be respectful of the performer’s time and environment
    * The product design must be focused on value and relevance

    We boiled a heap of concerns down to two pretty simple principles. We use these principles to gauge every concept, proposal, objective, activity , etc.. As a result, we are finding an amazing amount of early process refinement that is sensefully tuning the output. We are focusing on what’s important (need to know and do vs. nice to know) and have been taking a building blocks approach. This approach doesn’t try to push magic pills. Instead we look for winsome opportunities to do simple things that create pathways.

    We’ve changed our focus from ‘page / screen’ to ‘activity’. It’s all a work in progress, but we are projecting gains in solution responsiveness and maintenance in addition to integrating the building blocks across the organization.

    Comment by steve flowers — 20 May 2009 @ 1:14 PM

  2. Steve, your comments as always are great. I like the focus you suggest, what gives maximum value, and systematically building. This is the type of strategy I’ve been working with organizations to develop (for *their* situation). Activity is a really nice mental framework, particularly if it can include ‘finding the right person’, finding the right ‘resource’, etc. Good luck!

    Comment by Clark — 20 May 2009 @ 1:36 PM

  3. Thanks, Clark;) You are right on with the activities – a real world activity, including finding the right person / mentor / discussion ignitor, etc.. are fair game. Reading is also a valid activity (the lost art of reading) reading – when coupled with some reflective interactions via virtual conversations, real conversations, personal extensions, etc.. – should both be easily maintained as well as focused and strategic. All the stuff that seems simple and natural – it comes down to having a good set of strategic principles. Goal posts do wonders.

    If we get our way we won’t see another conveyer belt of content broken up into bite size chunks come out of our organization… Essence of page turner.

    Comment by steve flowers — 20 May 2009 @ 3:14 PM

  4. I sorta disagree with this quote though – in some ways:

    ILT may be helpful for some change management and big-picture ‘concept’ development, but it is demonstrably the least effective and certainly the least efficient approach for most learning that’s required.

    A lot of the training we do is vocational. So perhaps ILT isn’t the most accurate acronym. Expert Facilitated Experience (EFE) would readily describe 50% of the spent classroom time in 90% of the training my organization conducts. That would make the referenced quote easier to swallow.

    The good question here is – could the other 50% of the resident program be abstracted into packaged trailheads and mileposts to decompress the knowledge components and produce that slow learning? The answer is probably – yes.

    For us, the EFE is a necessary component when we are talking about law enforcement, boat operations, equipment maintenance, search and rescue and other stuff that an organization that mostly does active stuff with a high consequence of failure:)

    Comment by sflowers — 20 May 2009 @ 6:21 PM

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