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

23 February 2010

eLearning Learning

Clark @ 5:38 PM

Just to note that Learnlets is now part of the blogs recorded in Tony Karrer’s eLearning Learning.  Tony’s made an architecture that allows blogs and articles on a particular topic to be aggregated and searched.

As part of a Personal Learning Network for those in elearning, such a searchable repository is quite useful. I used it as a recommended resource for the upcoming Foundations Intensive elearning introduction event as part of the Learning Solutions conference.

You can search on a topic, or just use the keywords on the left.  You can see what’s new in the center, and the blogs trolled on the right.

Tony’s been quite active in looking out for new ways technology can serve the elearning community, and it’s nice to be a part of one of his solutions.

17 February 2010

Proliferating Portals

Clark @ 9:02 AM

After my last blog post, a commenter asked a pertinent question:

Many organizations/companies have multiple intranets, wiki sites, and so forth, often making it difficult for employees to know where to go when they want an answer or more information. Let’s say you are the Director of a company’s Education/Training department and you want to move more toward information learning. While your department creates online and classroom courses on how to use the company’s main products, you see the need for more advanced-level training. As the Director, you want to harness the knowledge within and have the experts bring their conversations to a wiki site. You want to provide a platform for this knowledge to be shared, discussed, and build upon. Your vision is that once the wiki site is up for awhile, your instructional designers can take some of the knowledge that’s posted and create a job aid, reference document, and so forth that could be distributed more formally.

Do you move forward with yet another wiki site and not worry about all of the other internal wiki sites, intranet, and so forth?

In general, I don’t like site proliferation, at least of one sort. I hear it all the time: I ask “are you using portals?” and the reply is “oh, yeah, we’ve got hundreds”.  Hundreds? How does anyone know where to go for what? And BTW, I’m treating wikis and portals somewhat interchangably here, as wikis can be portals, but portals are another way of users providing resources to each other, and I see technology support for communities of practice to include both the capabilities of collaborative editing of resources (wikis) and storing other relevant materials (portals). I use portal as the overarching term as well (also including discussion forums, blogs, profiles…).

The problem isn’t really the number, however, it’s how they’re being organized.  Typically, each business unit is providing a portal of their information for others to use. The problem with this is, it’s organized by the producer’s way of viewing the world, not the consumer’s. Bad usability. Which is usually confounded by only one way of organizing, a lack of ways of reorganizing, and sometimes not even a search capability! (Though fortunately that’s now being baked into most tools.)

So people wonder where to go, different units create different mythologies about what portals are useful, some sites aren’t used, others are misused, it’s a mess.

On the other hand, I do want users to seize control and create their own sites, and there are reasons for groups to create sites.  If you have hundreds of user communities, you should have hundreds of portals.  The real organizational principle, however, should be how the users think about it.  There are two ways to handle that: you can do good usability, with ethnographic and participatory methods of finding out how the users think about the world, or better yet, let the inmates run the asylum (and provide support, back to the facilitation message).

For formal information – HR, product sheets, pricing, all the stuff that’s created – it should be organized into portals by role: who needs this different information. You can use web services to pull together custom, user-centered portals on top of all this information.  And, then, you should also empower communities of practice to create their own portals as well.

So, to answer the question, I think it’s fabulous to create a site where experts can put up information, and the learning unit can mine that for things they can add value to. However, do it in conjunction with the experts and users.  Let their self-organization rule who plays and how the playground is structured, don’t dictate it from above.

I saw an example of that in a recent engagement, where a group offering software training couldn’t keep up with the changes in the software, so they started putting it up on a wiki, and now they’re devolving control to the user experts.  It’s just coping, but it’s also strategic.  Tap into the knowledge of your groups.

I laud the questioner for the desire to find a way to broaden responsibility and empower the users.  Do it anyway, do it right, but then also start evangelizing the benefits of ensuring that the other proliferation of wikis, portals, etc, are also user-focused, not department or silo focused, and suggesting portal integration as well as proliferation.

Now, does that make sense?  Is your answer to the question different?

16 February 2010

Formalizing informal learning?

Clark @ 7:03 AM

The Entreprise Collaborative has a new question, asking whether we can formalize informal learning.  I have to say, I don’t get the question.  That is, I understand what they’re asking, and like the response they give, but I really think it’s the wrong question.

To me, it’s not about formalizing informal learning so much as explicitly supporting it versus ignoring it.  Like the proverbial ‘stuff’, informal learning happens.  Period.  To me, it is more a matter of providing infrastructure to support informal learning, and facilitating informal learning as well.

When I talk about providing infrastructure, I’m talking about putting in place tools that can be used for informal learning.  That means ways to share media (whether text, audio, or video), to comment, to edit and improve, to collaborate, etc.  Part of that supporting is looking at new tools, and seeing if they provide new ways to work.  Wikis are a major advance on top of emailing documents around in many ways, and similarly microblogs have provided new capabilities.

Then there is the facilitation of that informal learning.  I see two roles. One is optimizing the tool use, and the other is facilitating the associated skills.  For the former, tools can be used poorly or well. For example, it’s no good having portals if they’re multiple, organized around institutional silos instead of tasks, roles, or interests.  There’s a role for integrating tools into a coherent user experience.

The second role is to develop individual ability to use the tools for learning, both independently and socially.  To repeat a regular refrain, don’t assume the ability of learners to be effective self- and social-learners.  There are specific meta-cognitive skills that should be made explicit, promoted, and supported.

This, to me, is how you optimize an organization’s ability to learn: by making the environment conducive to informal learning.  In the process of facilitating, you may find opportunities to add value by taking some information and formalizing it, e.g. building a job aid around some information generated by users, or providing some guidelines about capturing videos, but I don’t think of that as wrapping structure around informal learning so much as transferring information.  Are you formalizing informal learning?  I don’t really care what you want to call it, to be honest. What I care about is empowering organizations to change in productive ways.  And that’s an important goal no matter what you want to call it.

8 February 2010

Writing and the 4C’s of Mobile

Clark @ 7:03 AM

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m writing a book on mobile learning.  My only previous experience was writing Engaging Learning, where the prose practically exploded from my fingers. This time is different.

The prose actually does flow quite easily from my fingers,  but I find myself restructuring more often than last time.  This is a bigger topic, and I keep uncovering new ways to think about mobile and new facets to try to include.  As a consequence, as the deadline nears (!), I find myself more and more compelled to put all free time into the text.

There’s a consequence, and that is a decreasing frequency of blogging.  I’m coming up with some great ideas, but I’ve got to get them into the book, and I’m not finding time to rewrite them.

When I do have ideas in other areas (and I always do), I’m finding that they disappear under the pressure to meet my deadline. And there are ancillary details still to be taken care of (photos of devices, coordinating a few case studies).

Further, as neither blogging or the book (directly) pay the bills, I’ve still got to meet my client needs.  Also, I’m speaking at the Learning Solutions conference and involved in various ways with several others, and some deliverables are due soon. I’m feeling a tad stretched!

So, in many ways, this is an apology for the lack of blog posts, and the fact that it will likely to be sparse for another month and some.

As a brief recompense, I did want to communicate one framework that I’m finding helpful.  I’ll confess that it’s very similar to Low and O’Connell’s 4 R’s (for which I can’t find a link!?!, from my notes: Record, Recall, Reinterpret , Relate), but I can never remember them, which means they need a new alliteration.  Mine’s a bit simpler:

  • Content: the provision of media (e.g. documents, audio, video, etc) to the learner/performer
  • Compute: taking in data from the learner and processing it
  • Capture: taking in data from sensors including camera, GPS, etc, and saving for sharing or reflection
  • Communicate: connecting learners/performers with others

I find this one of several frameworks that support ‘thinking different’ about mobile capabilities.  I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts.

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