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

28 April 2010

Pointer to a new article

Clark @ 9:36 AM

I just had an article published on Rethinking elearning that’s another take on the point of my last post on designing for an uncertain world.  It’s in the well-edited Learning Solutions ezine published by the eLearning Guild.  Check it out!

23 April 2010

Reflections on ISPI 2010

Clark @ 7:00 AM

Early in the year, I gave a presentation online to the Massachusetts chapter of ISPI (the international society for performance improvement), and they rewarded me with a membership. A nice gesture, I figured, but little more (only a continent away). To my benefit, I was very wrong. The ISPI organization gave each chapter a free registration to their international conference, which happens to be in San Francisco this year (just a Bart trip away), and I won! (While the fact that my proximity may have been a factor, I’m not going to do aught but be very grateful and feel that the Mass chapter can call on me anytime.). Given that I just won a copy of GPS software for my iPhone (after seemingly never winning anything), I reckon I should buy a lottery ticket!

Now, it probably helps to explain that I’ve been eager to attend an ISPI conference for quite a while. I’m quite attracted to the HPT (Human Performance Technology) framework, and I’m ever curious. I even considered submitting to the conference to get a chance to attend, but their submission processes seemed so onerous that I gave up. So, I was thrilled to get a chance to finally visit.

Having completed the experience, I have a few  reflections. I think there’s a lot to like about what they do, I have some very serious concerns, and I wish we could somehow reconcile the too-many organizations covering the same spaces.

I mentioned I’m a fan of the HPT approach. There are a couple of things to like, including that they start by analyzing the performance gaps and causes, and are willing to consider approaches other than courses. They also emphasize a systems approach, which I can really get behind. There were some worrying signs, however.

For instance, I attended a talk on Communities of Practice, but was dismayed to hear discussion of monitoring, managing, and controlling instead of nurturing and facilitation. While there may need to be management buy-in, it comes from emergent value, not exec-dictated outcomes the group should achieve!

Another presentation talked about the Control System Model of Management. Maybe my mistake to come to OD presentations at ISPI, but it’s this area I’m interested via my involvement in the Internet Time Alliance. There did end up being transparency and contribution, but it was almost brought in by stealth, as opposed to being the explicit declarations of culture.

On the other hand, there were some positive signs.  They had enlightened keynotes, e.g. one talking about Appreciative Inquiry and positive psychology that I found inspiring, and I attended another on improv focusing on accepting the ‘offer’ in a conversation.  And, of course, Thiagi and others talked about story and games.

One surprise was that the technology awareness seems low for a group with technology in their prized approach. Some noticed the lack of tweets from the conference, and there wasn’t much of a overall technology presence (I saw no other iPads, for instance). I challenged one of the editors of their handbook, Volume 1 (which I previously complained didn’t have enough on informal learning and engagement) about the lack of coverage of mobile learning, and he opined that mobile was just a “delivery channel”. To be fair, he’s a very smart and engaging character, and when I mentioned context-sensitivity, he was quite open to the idea.

I attended Guy Wallace‘s  presentation on Enterprise Process Performance Improvement, and liked the structure, but reckon that it might be harder to follow in more knowledge-oriented industries. It was a pleasure to finally meet Guy, and we had a delightful conversation on these issues and more, with some concurrence on the thoughts above. As a multiple honoree at the conference, there is clearly hope for the organization to broaden their focus.

Overall, I had mixed feelings. While I like their rigor and research base, and they are incorporating some of the newer positive approaches, it appears to me that they’re still very much mired in the old hierarchical style of management.   Given the small sample, I reckon you should determine for yourself. I can clearly say I was grateful for the experience, and had some great conversations, heard some good presentations, and learned. What more can you ask for?

17 April 2010

Designing for an uncertain world

Clark @ 9:42 AM

My problem with the formal models of instructional design (e.g. ADDIE for process), is that most are based upon a flawed premise.  The premise is that the world is predictable and understandable, so that we can capture the ‘right’ behavior and train it.  Which, I think, is a naive assumption, at least in this day and age.  So why do I think so, and what do I think we can (and should) do about it?  (Note: I let my argument lead where it must, and find I go quite beyond my intended suggestion of a broader learning design.  Fair warning!)

The world is inherently chaotic. At a finite granularity, it is reasonably predictable, but overall it’s chaotic. Dave Snowden’s Cynefin model, recommending various approaches depending on the relative complexity of the situation, provides a top-level strategy for action, but doesn’t provide predictions about how to support learning, and I think we need more.  However, most of our design models are predicated on knowing what we need people to do, and developing learning to deliver that capability.  Which is wrong; if we can define it at that fine a granularity, we bloody well ought to automate it.  Why have people do rote things?

It’s a bad idea to have people do rote things, because they don’t, can’t do them well.  It’s in the nature of our cognitive architecture to have some randomness.  And it’s beneath us to be trained to do something repetitive, to do something that doesn’t respect and take advantage of the great capacity of our brains.  Instead, we should be doing pattern-matching and decision-making.  Now, there are levels of this, and we should match the performer to the task, but as I heard Barry Schwartz eloquently say recently, even the most mundane seeming jobs require some real decision making, and in many cases that’s not within the purview of  training.

And, top-down rigid structures with one person doing the thinking for many will no longer work.  Businesses increasingly complexify things but that eventually fails, as Clay Shirky has noted, and  adaptive approaches are likely to be more fruitful, as Harold Jarche has pointed out.  People are going to be far better equipped to deal with unpredictable change if they have internalized a set of organizational values and a powerful set of models to apply than by any possible amount of rote training.

Now think about learning design.  Starting with the objectives, the notion of Mager, where you define the context and performance, is getting more difficult.  Increasingly you have more complicated nuances that you can’t anticipate.  Our products and services are more complex, and yet we need a more seamless execution.  For example trying to debug problems between hardware device and network service provider, and if you’re trying to provide a total customer experience, the old “it’s the other guy’s fault” just isn’t going to cut it.  Yes, we could make our objectives higher and higher, e.g. “recognize and solve the customer’s problem in a contextually appropriate way”, but I think we’re getting out of the realms of training.

We are seeing richer design models. Van Merrienboer’s 4 Component ID, for instance, breaks learning up into the knowledge we need, and the complex problems we need to apply that knowledge to.  David Metcalf talks about learning theory mashups as ways to incorporate new technologies, which is, at least, a good interim step and possibly the necessary approach. Still, I’m looking for something deeper.  I want to find a curriculum that focuses on dealing with ambiguity, helping us bring models and an iterative and collaborative approach.  A pedagogy that looks at slow development over time and rich and engaging experience.  And a design process that recognizes how we use tools and work with others in the world as a part of a larger vision of cognition, problem-solving, and design.

We have to look at the entire performance ecosystem as the context, including the technology affordances, learning culture, organizational goals, and the immediate context.  We have to look at the learner, not stopping at their knowledge and experience, but also including their passions, who they can connect to, their current context (including technology, location, current activity), and goals.  And then we need to find a way to suggest, as Wayne Hodgins would have it, the right stuff, e.g. the right content or capability, at the right time, in the right way, …

An appropriate approach has to integrate theories as disparate as distributed cognition, the appropriateness of spaced practice, minimalism, and more.  We probably need to start iteratively, with the long term development of learning, and similarly opportunistic performance support, and then see how we intermingle those together.

Overall, however, this is how we go beyond intervention to augmentation.  Clive Thompson, in a recent Wired column, draws from a recent “man+computer” chess competition to conclude “serious cognitive advantages accrue to those who are best at thinking alongside machines”.  We can accessorize our brains, but I’m wanting to look at the other side, how can we systematically support people to be effectively supported by machines?  That’s a different twist on technology support for performance, and one that requires thinking about what the technology can do, but also how we develop people to be able to take advantage.  A mutual accommodation will happen, but just as with learning to learn, we shouldn’t assume ‘ability to perform with technology augmentation’.  We need to design the technology/human system to work together, and develop both so that the overall system is equipped to work in an uncertain world.

I realize I’ve gone quite beyond just instructional design.  At this point, I don’t even have a label for what I’m talking about, but I do think that the argument that has emerged (admittedly, flowing out from somewhere that wasn’t consciously accessible until it appeared on the page!) is food for thought.  I welcome your reactions, as I contemplate mine.

6 April 2010

The (Initial) iPad Experience

Clark @ 5:05 PM

I’m usually a late adopter of new technology, largely because I’m frugal. I don’t like to spend money until I know just what the value is that I will be getting. So, when I heard about the iPad, I wasn’t one of those who signed up in advance. Which isn’t to say that I didn’t have a case of techno-lust; I am a geek, a boy who loves his toys. And, after all, I am on the stump about mobile learning.

So, I followed the developments closely. I looked at the specs, and I tracked the software app announcements. And I reflected a lot about the potential learning applications of this new platform.

The decision

What I didn’t expect was to get transfixed by a new possibility: that this device could provide a new capability to me, that of a laptop replacement. When I travel, I use my laptop to work; I write, I diagram, I create presentations, and catch up on email. The iPad, however, was announced as coming with (or having available) software for word processing (Pages), diagramming (OmniGraffle), presentations (Keynote), and email (Mail). It would also, when in range of WiFi, do standard web stuff like browse the web and use Twitter.

It began to look like maybe this device did have a justifiable case, such that m’lady was agreeable. There were some considerations: did I need the 3G version, which would come later, and how much memory (16, 32, or 64 GB)? Given that I already have an iPhone, which would meet immediate email, twitter, and/or web needs when not in WiFi range, I figured I could go with the first one coming out. However, my iPhone at 16 GB is already half full, and I’d likely be adding more apps and documents, so I thought I better go for 32 GB (I also figured with aggressive memory management, I could skip the 64 GB version). So my decision was made, with one problem.

The purchase

I hadn’t signed up for delivery, and now that deadline was being pushed out. And, I had a trip planned before the next shipping date. Now that I’d decided I could use it as a laptop substitute, I already wanted it. I wasn’t frantic, and I hate to wait in lines, so I wasn’t going to queue up at the Apple store. However, I did discover that other Apple retailers would have them, particularly BestBuy, which has a nearby store. So my plan was made: I would swing by there just around opening time, and if there wasn’t a huge queue, I’d see if they had any left. I wasn’t particularly optimistic.

So, after breakfast on the 3rd, I headed out in time to get there 5 minutes before they opened, and while there was a small queue, it wasn’t too bad. I checked it out, and a guy told me that they’d been handing out tickets for the iPad, and they seemed to have plenty. They didn’t come out again before the doors opened, but I knew I’d have my answer, one way or another, in a few minutes. And lo and behold, they had stacks of iPads. My transaction was complete within 7 minutes of the door opening, and I had my new device! And once I tweeted this outcome, I very shortly thereafter had several requests for this blog post! (The Apple lady in the BestBuy said the same thing happened with the iPhone releases: queues at the Apple store, and walkin service at the BestBuy; now you, good reader, are in on the secret.)

I also had to accessorize. BestBuy didn’t have the case, but I got a neoprene one with a pocket. Then Apple did have the case when I called, so I swung by late in the day. The place was packed but they also had iPads left! I also got the display adapter so I can present from it, and AppleCare.

The experience

Now it was time to play. I got it home, connected it to my Mac, and started setting it up. One almost immediate surprise was that it wasn’t charging. Turns out that is not uncommon, you need to have a relatively powerful USB port to both power and synch, and I guess my old laptop isn’t up to the job. However, it was fully charged and I got 2 days of intermittent use before it got close to needing a charge. Still, a bit of a pain to swap the cable between synching and charging… However, it was recognized right away and synched just fine. I made a mistake and synched everything (all photos, music, etc) when I really just wanted the limited set I had on the iPhone, but I was able to rectify that.

And then it was time for software. I’m as frugal with software as with hardware, so while I took some interesting free new IPad apps (solitaire, I confess , as well as weather and news, a calculator, etc), I was more picky with paid software. I did get Pages and Keynote (not Numbers, as I’m not a spreadsheet jockey, tho’ I may well get it if I start getting a lot of Excel sheets). I also got a PDF reader, GoodReader, as I had an immediate need. So far I’ve held off of OmniGraffle (which I *love* on the Mac), as it’s surprisingly expensive and the first reviews suggested it may have speed and interface problems. I’ll keep tracking the reviews, as I have faith in the company. I’m looking for a good note taking option, that will handle both text and sketches and/or quick diagrams, but the one or two examples I’ve found have had mixed reviews.

Finally, the ultimate question is how does it work. And the answer is, very very well. The battery life is almost phenomenal. The display is superb. The overall user experience is compelling. Tweetdeck (Twitter), Safari (browser), and Mail look great and work effectively. And it’s pretty functional; I’m touch-typing this with the onscreen keyboard in Pages on the plane, with the case folded to hold the iPad in landscape, tilted so I can use the onscreen keyboard and still see the screen.

There’s still some software to come (diagramming, note-taking with sketches), and accessories (maybe bluetooth keyboard), but it’s working well for me already. (Update: it was a battle to get this posted!) I’m on a short 3 day trip with just the iPad and iPhone, laptop-less, and we’ll see how it goes. (I do have a pad of paper and a pen. :) Stay tuned!

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