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

28 November 2009

Who authorizes the authority?

Clark @ 12:06 PM

As a reaction to my eLearnMag editorial on the changing nature of the educational publishing market, Publish or Perish, a colleague said: “There is a tremendous opportunity in the higher ed publishing market for a company that understands what it means to design and deliver engaging, valuable, and authentic customer experiences–from content to services to customer service and training.”

I agree, but it triggered a further thought. When we go beyond delivering content as a component of a learning experience, and start delivering learning experiences, are we moving from publisher to education provider?  And if so, what are the certification processes?

Currently, institutions are accredited by accrediting bodies.  Different bodies accredit different things.  There are special accrediting bodies (a.g. AACSB or ACBSP for business[2?], ABET for applied science).  In some cases, there are just regional accreditation bodies (e.g. WASC).   There’s overlap, in that a computer science school might want to align with ABET, and yet the institution has to be accredited by, say, WASC.

And I think this is good, in that having groups working to oversee specific domains can be responsive to changing demands, and general accreditation to oversee ongoing process.  I recall in the past, this latter was largely about ensuring that there were regular reviews and specific improvement processes, almost an ISO 9001 approach. However, are they really able to keep up?  Are they in touch with new directions?  The recent scandals around business school curricula seem to indicate some flaws.

On the other hand, who needs accreditation?  We still have corporate universities, they don’t seem to need to be accredited except by their organization, though sometimes they partner with institutions to deliver accredited programs. And many people provide coaching services, and workshops.  There are even certificates for workshops which presumably depend on the quality of the presenter, and sometimes some rigor around the process to ensure that there’s feedback going on so that continuing education credits can be earned.

My point is, the standards vary considerably, but when do you cross the line? Presumably, you can’t claim outcomes that aren’t legitimate (“we’ll raise your IQ 30 points” or somesuch), but otherwise, you can sell whatever the market will bear.  And you can arrange to be vetted by an independent body, but that’s problematic from a cost and scale perspective.

Several issues arise from this for me.  Say you wanted to develop some content (e.g. deeper instructional design, if you’re concerned like me about the lack of quality in elearning).  You could just put it out there, and make it available for free, if you’ve the resources.  Otherwise, you could try to attach a pricetag, and see if anyone would pay.  However, what if you really felt it was a definitive suite of content, the equivalent of a Master’s course in Instructional Technology?  You could sell it, but you couldn’t award a degree even if you had the background and expertise to make a strong claim that it’s a more rigorous degree than some of those offered by accredited institutions, and more worthwhile.

The broader question, to me, is what is the ongoing role of accreditation?  I’ve argued that the role of universities, going forward, will likely be to develop learning to learn skills. So, post your higher ed experience (which really should be accomplished K12, but that’s another rant), you should be capable of developing your own skills.  If you’ve developed your own learning abilities, and believe you’ve mastered an area, I guess you really only need to satisfy your current or prospective employer.

On the other hand, an external validation certainly makes it easier to evaluate someone rather than the time-intensive process of evaluation by yourself.  Maybe there’s a market for much more focused evaluations, and associated content?

So, will we see broader diversity of acceptable evaluations, more evaluation of the authorial voice of any particular learning experience, a lifting of the game by educational institutions, or a growing  market of diverse accreditation (“get credit for your life experience” from the Fly By Night School of Chicanery)?

19 November 2009

Internet Time Alliance Podcast

Clark @ 4:42 AM

Earlier this month, Charles Jennings, Harold Jarche, Jay Cross and I got together, virtually, to represent the Internet Time Alliance for a discussion around organizations and social media with Xyleme Learning.  Dawn Polous elegantly and eloquently hosted us, providing the starting questions and segueing between the comments.

They’ve gathered them up in a series of podcasts, and if you’re curious about what we’re up to, I recommend you go have a listen.

18 November 2009

Competing conference contexts

Clark @ 11:34 AM

Last week I was at the excellent-as-always DevLearn, and this week I attended the Virtual School Symposium (VSS; for the first time).  Both are about online learning, but the former is in the corporate world, and the latter is in the K12 world.  There are a lot of differences!

There are similarities, for example both are great conferences.  Both are experiencing growth, offer good lineups of presentations, have appropriate exhibitions, good food, and socializing. Both also have a passionate attendee base, as you would expect from the growth. Both conferences are also tech literate: there was free wifi, and both had a lively tweet stream.  And, ultimately, both are concerned about achieving meaningful goals under pragmatic constraints, and there are lots of different experiments going on.

On the other hand, there were some differences.  It’s clear that the cyberschool area is an area of great growth, as most of the folks from the schools were quite leery of talking to me once they found out I was a consultant! (To be fair, I wasn’t speaking, so they had no way to really know if I could add value or just was trolling for victims. :)  I suspect that they’re being attacked from all sides with propositions in a ‘gold rush’ context, and of course couldn’t know that I was just there to listen and learn at the behest of a partner. DevLearn is a more business-focused and mature marketplace, and people are much more able to tolerate a discussion about barriers, opportunities, etc.  Educators are more resistant to ‘business’, with their drivers being passion for helping kids, and often working under more government benediction and resources.

The online school area is, however, more sophisticated in their technology awareness.  There were few people who aren’t reasonably on top of tech for learning, at least conceptually, and more aware of online pedagogy. There were more exhibits around simulations and virtual worlds, for example.  This isn’t hard to understand, as being online is their core business, as opposed to DevLearn attendees who can include those who have been thrust into the learning role.

Topics at the VSS ranged a bit higher in scope, with issues about government policies, quality standards, and operational methods and assessment.  They’re also more focused on critical thinking skills (it’s a market differentiator for them).  At DevLearn, it a bit more down into the weeds, like topics on specific technologies (e.g. mobile) and approaches (e.g. social).   I was somewhat surprised to not see as much on things like new pedagogies at VSS, but wish we were talking more about standards at DevLearn.

There were some other differences: DevLearn had a pre-conference online game, while VSS had a dinner at the local history museum.  I’d rather have both ;).

Overall, two great experiences (even if it is exhausting to hit two conferences in a row).  The growth in the online school market right now is surpassing the growth in use of technology in organizations, but there are lots of economic reasons to at least partially explain it.  And the growth in the ways people are using technology to achieve real and new learning outcomes is exhilarating!

13 November 2009

Promoting social media

Clark @ 2:59 PM

The Big Question of the Month is “How do I communicate the value of social media as a learning tool to my organization?”.  Now, this is late, but it’s because I’ve been getting ready for and then attending DevLearn (as always, was a great event), but Jay Cross and I spent a day talking about this issue in the larger picture of social learning in the media.

Then, in last night’s #lrnchat, the question was asked again as part of the usual 3 question format.  So, I decided to pull out my tweeted contributions and elaborate on them a bit as my response.  These are the unique answers, not including my responses to others, re-tweets of poignant statements, and snarky comments.

don’t talk about social learning, talk about innovation, problem-solving, creativity, research, experimentation…

As Andrew McAfee told us in his keynote, the term ‘social learning’ isn’t going to carry a lot of weight where it matters.  You need to talk about benefits.  My message is that learning should be considered as a very  broad umbrella, as it should include all those activities where we don’t have an answer and have to ‘learn’ one.  Therefore, I feel quite comfortable talking about the outcomes of informal learning: innovation, problem-solving, creativity, research, experimentation, design, insights, new products, new services, and so on.

focus on: biz case; need to go beyond execution to continual innovation; collective intelligence.

Organizations don’t want concepts, they want results.  In this case, talk about the concrete outcomes of collective intelligence.  Greater rates of new product and service generation.  More problems solved, and more c0mplex problems solved.  More valuable ideas generated.  Hearing from more members of the organization.  Talk about impacting those things that will make a difference to organizational success.

I point others to @dwilkinsnh excellent list of success stories: http://bit.ly/K16NU

One of the things that helps is having good case studies. Dave Wilkins has collected quite a few in his blog, and more are popping up everywhere.  In particular, showing that the competition is doing it (as one of our workshop attendees intended to do) is a good incentive, and having relevant ones for the particular initiative you choose is important.

standard org change: start small, focus on a good success story, leverage the er, heck out of it

Speaking of initiatives, really the same strategy that goes for most organizational changes holds true, in general.  Start small where the cultural tendencies are supportive and there’s a fairly obvious positive outcome to be had, and get a win.  Then use that to argue for more initiatives.

It’s not easy, there are lots of factors to gaining success, but in the long term it’s really adapt or die.  The most agile will win, and agility comes from aligned inspiration.  Good luck!

Who are mindmaps for?

Clark @ 10:12 AM

In response to my recent mindmap of Andrew McAfee’s conference keynote (one of a number of mindmaps I’ve done), I got this comment:

Does the diagram work as a useful way of encapsulating the talk for someone who was there? Because, speaking as someone who wasn’t, I find it almost entirely content-free. Just kind of a collection of buzz-phrases in thought bubbles, more or less randomly connected.

I’m not trying to criticise his talk – which obviously I didn’t hear – or his points – which I still have no idea about – but the diagram as a method of conveying information is a total failure to this sample size of one. Possibly more useful as a refresher mechanism for people who got the talk in its original form?

Do mindmaps work for readers?  Well, I have to admit one reason I mindmap is completely personal.  I do it to help me process the presentation. Depending on the speaker, I can thoughtfully reprocess the information, or sometimes just take down interesting comments, but there are several benefits: In figuring out the ways to link, I’m capturing the conceptual structure of the talk (really, they’re concept maps), and I’m also occupying my personal bandwidth enough to allow me to focus on the talk without my mind chasing down one path and missing something.  Er, mostly…

Then, for a second category, those who actually heard the talk, they might be worthwhile reflection and re-processing.  I’d welcome anyone weighing in on that. I don’t have access to someone else’s example to see whether it would work for me.

Then, there are the potential viewers, like the commenter, for whom it’s either possible or not to process any coherent idea out of the presentation.  I looked back at the diagram for McAfee’s keynote, and I can see that I was cryptic, missing some keywords in communicating. This was for two reasons: one, he was quick, and it was hard to get it down before he’d moved on.  Two, he was eloquent, and because he was quick I couldn’t find time to paraphrase.  And there’s a more pragmatic reason; I try to constrain the size of the mindmap, and I’m always rearranging to get it to fit on one page.  That effort may keep me more terse than is optimal for unsupported processing.

I will take issue with “more or less randomly connected”, however.  The connections are quite specific.  In all the talks I’ve done this for, there have been several core points that are elaborated, in various ways by talk, but each talk tends to be composed of a replicated structure.  The connections capture that structure.  For instance, McAfee repeatedly took a theme, used an example to highlight it, then derived a takehome point and some corollaries.  There would be ways to more eloquently convey that structure (e.g. labeled links, color coding), but the structure isn’t always laid out beforehand (it’s emergent), and is moving fast enough that I couldn’t do it on the fly.

I could post-process more, but in the most recent two cases I wanted to get it up quickly: when I tweeted I was making the mindmap, others said they were eager to see it, so I hung on for some minutes after the keynotes to get it up quickly.  McAfee himself tweeted “dang, that was FAST – nice work!”

I did put the arrow in the background to guide the order in which the discussion came, as well, but apparently it is too telegraphic for the non-attendee. It happens I know the commenter well, and he’s a very smart guy, so if he’s having trouble, that’s definitely an argument that the raw mindmap alone is not communicative, at least not without perhaps some post-processing to make the points clear.

Really valuable to get the feedback, and worthwhile to reflect on what the tradeoffs are and who benefits. It may be that these are only valuable for fellow attendees.  Or just me. I may have to consider a) not posting, b) slowing down and doing more post-processing, or…?  Comments welcome!

12 November 2009

Zimmerman Keynote Mindmap DevLearn 09

Clark @ 11:14 AM

Eric Zimmerman spoke eloquently on games as the second day keynote at DevLearn.  In it, he talked about how systems thinking was important, how games are systems of rules and consequently develop systems thinking.  He talked about how our play brings meaning to the rules, and that creating spaces of possible outcomes allow us to explore.

He ended up advocating that we design for possibilities of unexpected outcomes to create meaning for our learners.  Cammy Bean has blogged the presentation too.


11 November 2009

McAfee Keynote at DevLearn 2009

Clark @ 11:17 AM

Andy McAfee gave us a lively and informative presentation on his view of Enterprise 2.0.  Punctuated by insightful examples, he defined Enterprise 2.0 as “”use of emergent social software platforms by organizations in pursuit of their goals”, and characterized it more simply as ‘bringing web energy into organizations’.

Along the way, he emphasized points about emergent behavior, inherent altruism, emergent process, developing innovation, the intelligence of crowds, and real business benefits.  A 20% improvement in innovation was one concrete result.  He also warned us of the ways to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

BTW, Cammy Bean’s has posted a prose recitation of the talk.  With no further ado:


10 November 2009

Distributing Learning

Clark @ 7:03 AM

I pitched an idea that I’ve found exciting to the eLearning Guild, and they gave me the opportunity to present it at their DevLearn conference.  Owing to my own mistake, I thought I was doing something else, but I’m thrilled to find out that I’m getting to do this cutting edge content!

What’s driving the idea is the recognition that our old approach to learning is broken in so many ways.  There was an intriguing research project done for the Army that recognized that the standard classroom approach is about the worst thing you could do if you were trying to achieve successful learning!

In short, our learning goals are retention over time until it’s needed, and transfer to all appropriate situations.  Most learning events are based upon a learning event with a concentrated learning experience and assessment.  Of course, that learning atrophies relatively quickly, without reactivation.

So what do we have as opportunities?  Several things cognitive, and several things technological.

Cognitively, we recognize that learning is better when it is contextualized, is better when the learning is spaced, is better when we negotiate understanding, and better when we have the appropriate resources to hand.  We realize that most active cognition includes external representations, contextual cues, and shared responsibility.  Distributed cognition is a nice way to view the overall process.  The fact that spaced learning is more effective than massed practice is also relevant.  An approach that develops learners over a long period of time, a slow learning approach, makes sense.

Technologically, we have mobile technologies, social technologies, and semantic technologies.  We can deliver information when and where we need it, given both the ubiquity and power of the emerging devices, and their increasingly ability to be ‘always on’, and aware of their location.

When we put these together, we have new ways to match learning to real needs.  The goal is to contextualize learning, to space learning, and to provide performance support while we develop learners.  We can do this with the technologies we cite.

With semantic technologies we can deliver customized information to the learner.  We can ensure that it’s appropriate to the context, we can ensure it’s appropriate to the learner, and we can deliver to the appropriate device.  We can also connect learners with other learners and with the output of joint thinking.  With content models, we can ensure we have careful definition around the content and use rules to pull out the appropriate content.  With user models, we know what they know, what their role is, and what their task is.  Together, we can optimize learning delivery.

The point is, we can move beyond the old models of learning. We can provide performance support, and wrap learning material around it.  We can turn real-world experiences into learning experiences.  We can develop learners slowly over time systematically.  And this isn’t to preclude the ability to categorize and characterize real interpersonal interactions and build them into the learning experience as well.

Frankly, we’re at a new stage where our only limitations are our imagination.  It’s time to pull together our real understanding of learning and the ideal ways to support performers.  The technology we have is, essentially, indistinguishable from magic.  Now that we have magic, what should we do?

9 November 2009

Engaging Learning

Clark @ 7:03 AM

How do you systematically design learning experiences that effectively engage the learner?

This was the question I set out to address more than 5 years ago.  Based upon years of deep investigation into learning & instruction theories and design processes, and practical experience in designing games, I wrote Engaging Learning: Designing e-Learning Simulation Games.

The book was based upon work I’d published as an academic, but was focused very pragmatically.  There were already a few books out about the value of computer games to support learning, notably Marc Prensky’s prescient Digital Game-Based Learning, and Clark Aldrich’s Games and the Future of Learning was also already out.  Subsequently, books by Gee, Shaffer, and others have highlighted the opportunities.

However, I thought and think that my book had a unique contribution, being quite specific around:

  • the principles that underpin why games are the best learning
  • how to modify your design processes to successfully design games

Having looked at the books out there, I still feel it does the best job of making the case.

ElementsAt core was an alignment between what makes effective learning practice, and what makes engaging experiences.  Looking across educational theories, repeated elements emerge. Similarly with experience design.  It turns that they perfectly align.  If you recognize that, and can execute against it, your learning will be greater than the sum of the parts, and will both seriously engage and truly educate.  Learning can, and should, be hard fun!

The workshops I’ve run based upon the book have been very well received, reinforcing the value of the book.  Similarly, the content has been solicited as a component of both Silberman’s Handbook of Experiential Learning, and the Guild’s Immersive Learning Simulation report.  I’ve now heard Tony O’Driscoll talk about the design principles for learning experiences in Virtual Worlds (in his and Karl Kapp’s coming book on the topic), and they’re the same principles!

So why hasn’t the book penetrated corporate learning more than it has?  There are several contributing factors.  First, the work I published as an academic didn’t hit the mainstream.  I was part of the international society on computers, and a member of the group specifically about learning through computers (IFIP WG 3.3). They’d just started their own journal, and I wanted to support it (and get a publication). In retrospect, it would’ve been better to publish in one of the more recognized journals on the topic.  As I was overseas, the work never hit the US academic awareness.

Second, I didn’t really understand book marketing then, and trusted that the publisher did.  At the time, they weren’t very pro-active in developing a joint understanding of responsibility (that’s changed), and my book fell through their cracks (and I’m not a marketing person).  (Still, I’m going to be a bit more proactive on the mobile learning book, and they have promised likewise.)

I still firmly believe that the book is the best guide to designing meaningful learning experiences that are centered on deep practice, and a guide for everything from better multiple choice questions to full on simulation-driven serious games.  I’ve tracked the rest of the books out there, and they do a good job of arguing why games are a powerful learning environment, why they make business sense, and more.  However, Engaging Learning is still the best book out there that tells designers how to go about making them.  Sure, I recommend having the workshop to actually get a chance to practice the skills (you know, get your whole team to lift their game), but many who have read it have told me they found value in the book on it’s own.

I don’t say this to generate sales; I get so little it’s not going to make a difference.  I say this because I really worked hard to ensure there is a lot of value in it for you.  I’m just trying to make sure there’s better learning out there, and there’s a lot more need than I can service individually.  There are other good books, Michael Allen’s Guide to eLearning being one, but my book focuses specifically on helping you make more meaningful practice, and that’s a big area of needed improvement, and a major opportunity in making your learning more meaningful.

Please, wherever you draw inspiration, however you figure it out, make more engaging learning. Align the elements of effective practice and the elements of engaging experiences, and make your learning rock. For your learners’ sake, please!

7 November 2009

Convenience vs Context

Clark @ 4:54 PM

What are the real opportunities in mobile learning?

One of the several sessions I’m doing at DevLearn next week (in addition to a pre-conference workshop with Jay Cross, a mobile development session with Richard Clark, and another session on the future of orgnanizational learning) is a mobile learning design introduction.  In thinking through it, I reflected on a distinction I make between convenience and contextualization, and as usual I got into diagramming as a way to get a handle on it.

ContextConvenienceI’ve argued before that mobile is not really about learning, but about performance support.  That said, there are roles for mobile in courses, either as a learning augment or even microcourses (but not putting a whole elearning course on a mobile device).  In talking about mobile, I distinguish between convenience and context.

Convenience is when you access content at a time that’s not at work but you have free.  So, listening to a podcast while commuting, or viewing a video while waiting in the queue at the grocery store, both would qualify. So would doing a little quiz while waiting for your flight, or reading a document on that flight.

Contextualization, on the other hand, is much more specific.  Here, you’re doing something relevant to where you are. In performance support, this is a huge opportunity: providing location specific information (about this device, or this client), or event-based support (providing a quick reference sheet for a negotiation, having a reflection session afterward).

Even for learning, however, there could be specific location information (“this is where X happened”, or “an application of Y is seen here, where…”).  That can be enacted by the device sensing location (GPS, RFID, etc), or by actively reading a location marker (cf QR code).  Similarly, event information could be provided (“for your review meeting, remember to focus on the behavior, not the individual”).

The point is that while convenience is a win, contextualized information is the big win.  It takes a bit more design, but by doing it systemically, the opportunities for really relevant learning are definitely worth considering.

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