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

22 May 2009


Clark @ 12:11 PM

Several things got up my nose yesterday (and I don’t mean literally :).  I listened in on the Corporate Learning Trends event in the morning, and in the evening participated in #lrnchat.  Don’t get me wrong, both events were great: great presentations organized by Tony Karrer, with examples coordinated by Judy Brown on mobile, Bob Mosher on performance support, Karl Kapp on games & simulations, and Tony on asynchronous elearning (all folks I know and respect); and a great lrnchat session as always with Marcia Conner coordinating fantastic participation by a whole host of great folks.  It’s just that several continuing beliefs surfaced that we’ve really got to address.

The first one was the notion that games and simulations are about tarted up quiz shows.  Let me be clear, these are a last resort!  When you’ve addressed the important decisions, and there’s still some knowledge that absolutely has to be memorized, not looked up, they’re ok.  But they’re not your starting point!  Games should be first thought of as your best practice environment for skills, not knowledge recitation.  What’s going to make a difference in learner (and organizational) performance is not rote knowledge, but meaningful decisions.  That is where games shine.

Ok, as Treena Grevatt pointed out, these ‘frame games’ may serve as the easiest entry point for organizational acceptance, but only if you ‘get it’ really, and are only using them as an entry point to do meaningful stuff.  Otherwise, it’s still lipstick on a pig.

The problem is, we already have a problem with our formal learning being too knowledge focused, and not skill focused, and a tool to make drill and kill easy isn’t going to help us remedy the problem.  So, please: first get that games are really deeply contextualized, immersive, challenging skill practice.  Then, when your analysis has addressed that and there still are knowledge components, bring in the quiz show games.  If you ‘get’ that, then you might use a stealth policy, but only then.

The second problem had to do with mobile learning.  There were still notions that mobile learning could be about courses on a phone  and that there’s not really an audience.  Look, depending on what metrics you pay attention to, the mobile workforce can be anywhere from 20-40% of your workforce.  Sales reps, telecommuters, field engineers, execs, the list goes on. And that doesn’t even tap into the folks who want access for convenience!

And it’s not about courses.  It has been, and can be done, but that’s not the real win.  As an adjunct to a course, absolutely.  Reactivate knowledge (developing learners), update it with podcasts (Chris von Koschembahr had a nice way to interview yourself, controlling the outcome :), review stories, solve problems, review with mentors, etc.

The real win, however (as Judy and Bob both pointed out), is performance support. This can include references, job aids, how to videos, connections to experts, and more.  This is huge, yet people don’t seem to be seeing this opportunity yet.

Mobile is ready for primetime. There are ways to deal with screen sizes, security, and cross-platform differences.  Next to social learning, I reckon it’s the greatest missed opportunity going.

Speaking of performance support, I do have to admit how surprised I was that people were thinking that single sourcing content to populate help systems, manuals, and training was a new idea.  This really isn’t a misconception, it’s just surprising.  I led a project developing such an approach years ago now, and it’s another big opportunity.  Still ahead of the curve, though, more so than the other two.

The point being, the more you tie these together, the greater the synergy: the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. And having been out saying these things for years, it continues to surprise me that the meme hasn’t propagated any further than it has.  And that’s my learning, that changing minds is a tough job.  But still an important one.  Evangelism, anyone?


  1. I totally agree on the issue of mobile performance support tools. I work in heavy industry
    and I believe one of the great opportunities is job aids, 3-D equipment explpoding views,
    step by step instructions that can be carried to the field with an e-book type device. I
    believe the equipment suppliers would be the right people to develop these and this service
    could differentiate them from the competition. This ideas works for my company which is a
    cement manufacturer, but the applications are everywhere.

    In addition to the canned material, the device could have links to the suppliers and other

    Comment by Mark Morgan — 22 May 2009 @ 12:24 PM

  2. Mobile is definitely the GREATEST untapped frontier in eLearning. I’m finally getting my brain around augmented reality and it looks like its ready for primetime too…and not just on desktop computers, but on MOBILE devices of all kinds. I’m hearing rumors of iPhone apps that allow you to use the camera and screen as a window into the real world. You see what the iPhone camera sees in real time AND you get info overlayed on top. AND utilizing the GPS you could do some VERY innovative learning solutions.
    The augmented reality apps using FLASH are simply amazing and will absolutely be a BIG part of the future of performance support. I have NO doubt about this. We have some key players that I am VERY excited to have presenting at DevLearn09 that will be showing some VERY cool augmented reality case studies and “how to’s”. I can’t wait!

    Comment by Brent Schlenker — 22 May 2009 @ 1:36 PM

  3. Mark, love to hear more about how you’re using mobile in the cement industry!

    Brent, ARG is definitely hot. And the camera/screen thing: I remember an old Treo game (yes I know, you and you’re Treo had relationship issues :) ) where you panned around, and what the camera saw showed up on your screen, but so did aliens that swarmed around you, and you shot them. Imagine taking that same approach, but leveraging it for more important things in the environment (or that *could* be there).

    And, of course, there’s our old ‘sales training demo’ that I still think is a hot ARG idea.

    Comment by Clark — 22 May 2009 @ 2:39 PM

  4. I would ove to tell you more if I had more. I was reacting to your posting with some ideas
    I have been working on. I have a lot of things in my head, and just strted to get more
    exposed to this community. So I’m trying t work out how to do things.

    Comment by Mark Morgan — 23 May 2009 @ 5:26 AM

  5. I completely agree on the performance support front. In my experience, the best results come from exhausting options in this order:

    (1) What tools can I provide (job aids) to help the performer get the job done?
    (2) Are there any skills / knowledge that the tools just don’t hit well enough? What can I do to fill those gaps?
    (3) People are generally smarter than we give them credit for. What can I provide that can help folks figure things out for themselves (little things)?

    When I taught electronic systems repair eons ago, we re-engineered my six week course down to a three week dual completion by following this option order. We reworked all of the job aids and retuned all of the materials so that they helped the performer on the job, better meshing with and supporting the use of the technical manuals (monster manual set). We started with performance support.

    We then reworked all of the goofy activities we did in class that didn’t benefit everyone equally. Before we handed out colored pencils and had students trace signal paths through miles of circuit schematics. After, we handed them schematics with the important signal paths already colored (I redrew hundreds of schematics and block diagrams on the computer – we only had copies of copies from technical manuals or hand drawn blocks). Result of this simple change = students paying attention when we were talking about the application of that knowledge vice carefully plotting crayon marks with an oversized ruler.

    We separated the need to know from the nice to know. Even though we cut down on the lecture time by 60% or so, the early test cases were finishing the practical portion of the labs in around half the time. So we doubled the amount of practice to compensate:) A serendipitous improvement.

    We implemented electronic projection of the course materials, replacing our overhead projector. The class size also went up from 6 to 10. But at two weeks some of the students left, having completed the smaller vessel maintenance portion. When the rest of the students graduated they had actually completed two courses… in half the time of the older course.

    Some students hated the new format. But performance scores don’t lie. Our level three evaluations also indicated no decrease in ability between the older course and the revised course.

    On the mobile front I do think that there’s untapped potential. We need to rethink our modes and goals before we hit the sweetspot. Don’t think we are there yet. For our organization, mobile device availability, consistency, and use is hot and cold. The most reliable mobile platform for us is the ubiquitous ‘paper’. For now, paper based alternatives and supplements are going to have to tide us over until someone else bleeds on the edge:)

    I’m interested in the ARG. But I have a sense that we are farther away from keen implementation of consistently usable applications that many might think. Think about voice recognition. A decade ago, the technology promised so much that it failed to deliver. We’ve had a decade of Moore’s law and we haven’t gained much ground on the voice recog. front. I’ll be happy to be wrong:) But it feels like the devices aren’t packing the power to do much more than track a single target to show off the promise of the technology.

    On the voice recognition topic… I’ve always thought that an adaptive voice response system would be an excellent performance support resource. So, you have xyz problem. You have a telephone (everyone has one of these). You dial a phone number (the main interchange uses the same number). A synthetic voice comes on and says ‘Please state your issue.’ You say what you are working on, what problem you have, what issue you have, etc.. and the system confirms or asks more questions before sending you to the response chain that will help to guide you down the right path (OR the system calls the expert that’s in the system ON THE PHONE to connect you with the right resource). The plain old telephone system is an oft forgotten, yet sterling performance support device.


    Comment by sflowers — 25 May 2009 @ 6:50 AM

  6. Hmm… Pretty interesting demonstration / library. I think that this is what Brent was referring to above. Pretty slick.

    This works pretty well if you have clearly recognizable patterns. Pattern recognition becomes the barrier. I’m pretty impressed with the demonstration.

    Comment by sflowers — 26 May 2009 @ 12:54 PM

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