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

28 June 2010

Getting strategic

Clark @ 10:26 AM

Was on a call with my Internet Time Alliance colleagues, and we were talking about how to help organizations make the transition from delivering courses to supporting the full performance ecosystem.  Jane Hart has had a recent series on what she calls ‘performance consulting‘, and its a good way to look at things from a broader perspective.  She was about to give a presentation, and we were talking through her slides.

Charles Jennings pointed out that they layer above her slides to the Learning and Development group was a missing ‘governance’ role, which he’s been thinking about quite a bit.  The point being that someone needs to be assisting in the strategic role of ensuring the coverage is addressing the broad needs of the organization, not just courses.

Harold Jarche pointed out that just mimicking the Human Performance Technology (HPT) approach (e.g. ISPI) would miss the same things it misses.  I’ve been a fan of HPT since it goes beyond ADDIE in considering other potential sources of problems than just skills (e.g. performance support, incentives), but Harold’s right that it doesn’t inherently cover social learning, let alone engagement.

Jay Cross reminded us we can’t just ignore the fact that their perspective is strongly focused on compliance and other such needs.  They have LMSs, and if we try to say that’s irrelevant we’ll be ignored as being out of touch.  The fact is that there is a role for formal learning, it’s just not everything.

5 types of org learningMy takeaway was that we need a combined approach to help folks understand the bigger picture.  From Rand Spiro’s Cognitive Flexibility Theory, we need to provide multiple models to increase the likelihood that the audience will find one that resonates. Whether it’s the continuum from novice through practitioner to expert, Jane & Harold’s 5 types of org learning (e.g. FSL, IOL, GDL, PDL, & ASL), or Jay’s point about continual change meaning formal methods aren’t sufficient, there are multiple ways it helps to think about the full spectrum of learning design.  It’s also important to point out how supporting these is critical to the organization, and that it’s a way to take a strategic role and increase relevance to the organization.

Similarly, there are some sticks available, such as increasingly irrelevancy if the L&D department does not take on this role.  If they allow IT or operations to take it over, a) it won’t be run as well as if learning folks are involved, and b) they’ll be the ones seen providing the necessary performance infrastructure and adding value to the enterprise.

Finally, what’s also needed is a suite of tools and processes to move forward. It’s clear to us that there are systematic ways to augment existing approaches to move in this new direction, but it may not be obvious to those who would want to change what they should start doing differently.  We talked about ‘layers’ of extension of operation, starting with adding engagement to the design of learning experiences, and incorporating performance support and eCommunity to the potential solution quiver.  Next steps include considering Knowledge Management and Organizational Development.  Governance also needs to work it’s way into the mix.  My barrows include mobile and deeper content models in addition to the others.

Quite simply, it has to start with the first step: analysis of the problems.  For example, if the answer is changing quickly, if the audience are experts, or it’s easier to connect to the right person than to develop content, facilitating communication may be a better solution than developing content.  It helps to have the tools available in the infrastructure, a platform approach, which is why we advocate thinking about having a portal system and social networking in place in the organization, so you don’t have to build a whole infrastructure when  you see the need.  The learning processes will have to be richer than existing ones, and that will require new tools, I reckon.  However, it will also require a new attitude and initiative.

The L&D group may not be the right group for the message, it may have to go higher (as Charles and Jay continue to suggest), but we’re looking to figure out how to help folks wherever they may be.  The final solution, however, has to be that some group that understands learning is facilitating the learning function in the organization at a systemic level. That’s the goal. How your organization gets there will depend on where you’re at, and many other factors, but that’s what any organization that wants to succeed in this time of increasing change will have to achieve.  Get it on your radar now, and figure out how you’re going to get there!

25 June 2010

On magic, or the appearance thereof

Clark @ 10:09 AM

Many years ago, I responded to a broad query by Jefferey Bonar asking what was the interface metaphor we really wanted.  I responded something to the effect of wanting ‘magic’.   This was in the early days of the desktop metaphor, and we were already looking to go beyond, and I was looking for the ultimate metaphor of control.

Now I didn’t mean magic in the ‘legerdemain’, sleight-of-hand type of thing, nor the magic I feel when sitting on the deck on a warm summer evening with my family, but instead the classic form with incantations, artifacts, etc. What I really wanted was to be empowered, and the best metaphor for total power I can imagine is having the ability to bring things into being, to have questions answered, to control the world with mere gestures and commands. And yet, even that has to have some structure.  As Clay Kallam wrote in a recent column comparing two recent fantasy books:

“The plot of both books relies heavily on the magic, but Coe is careful to explain how his works and its limitations and impact.  Drake seems to just call on some whenever it suits him, and nothing is explained.”

So, what I meant was that there was rigor underlying the metaphor of magic, rigor that roughly parallels the structures of programming languages.  For example, Rob Moser (my PhD student) prototyped a game for his thesis that taught programming via learning to cast magic spells in a fantasy world.  My vision was that in any place you wanted to, you could learn the underlying magic (language) to accomplish what you wanted, but if you didn’t, you’d be able to buy artifacts (e.g. wands, crystal balls, etc) that did specific things that you wanted without having to program.

The reason I mention this, before you think I’m going off with the fairies and unicorns, is that there are reasons to start thinking about magic.  As Arthur C. Clarke has said:

Any truly advanced technology is indistinguisable from magic.

And I really think we’re there. That is, our technology has advanced to the point that the technology is no longer a barrier.  We can truly bring any information, any person (at least virtually), anywhere we want.  We can augment our world with information to make us substantially more effective: we can talk through ‘mirrors’ (video portals) to others, actually seeing them; we can bring up ‘demons’ (agents) to go find information for us, we can send out commands to make things happen at a distance, we can unveil previously hidden information about the environment to start making conceptual links between there and our understanding to make us smarter.

There’s more required, such as Andi diSessa’s “incremental advantage”, and more accessible ways to specify our intentions, but with really powerful metaphors emerging (styles is something everyone should get their minds around), with gestural interfaces, and the ability to control games with our bodies, and with augmented reality aka Heads-Up Displays for civilians, we’ve got the tools.  What we need is the perspectives and the will.

This is important from the point of view of designing new solutions.  Years ago, when I taught interface design, I told my students that one of the pieces in their exploration of the design space should be to imagine what they would do when they had ‘magic’.  To be more specific, once you’ve gathered the requirements, before you see what others have done and start limiting yourself to pragmatics, imagine what you’d do with no limitations (ok, except mind-reading, I’m just not going there).  Given that among our cognitive architectural pre-dispositions is to prematurely converge on solutions, we need lateral input.  By exploring the possibilities space in a more unhampered way, we might come across a solution that’s inspired, not tired, and revolutionary, not evolutionary.

This, however, is not just interface design, but specifically learning and performance support design.  What would you do if you had magic to help meet your learning and performance needs?  Because you have it.  Really.

So think magically, not in the trivial sense, but in the sense that we have awesome powers at our command.  The limitations are no longer the technology, the limits are between our ears (and, occasionally, in our wallets or will).  Go forth and empower!

23 June 2010

Stop with the bad social media marketing!

Clark @ 7:27 AM

What I’m now keeping as a note to paste in reply to these solicitations:

You clearly do NOT read my blog. If you had, you’d see that there’s been an ongoing flurry of attempts at getting me to pay attention to online degrees and either similar or the sister sites, and I blogged that it’s not what I do.  Whether it’s a “can I write a guest post (pointing back to my degree biz site)”, or “don’t you want to blog about my blog post (at my degree biz site)”, it’s bad social marketing.

I blog about what I find personally interesting, and that’s usually something someone I’m following on twitter has retweeted, or something that’s come up in my work, or at a conference.  Not what gets sent unsolicited.

If you don’t know me, don’t send me unsolicited email unless you have some value proposition a little bit more pertinent than “I have this blog associated with a business and if you give us attention it might result in more business for us, what you get I don’t know”.

Am I missing something?  Otherwise, please take me off your list.  Forever.  Please.

Update: the same goes for any other learning ‘product’ that there’s a new free trial for, or a raffle, or any other such social media marketing.

22 June 2010

7 questions from the University of Wisconsin-Stout ID Program

Clark @ 9:02 AM

The program at the University of Wisconsin-Stout Online Professional Development’s Instructional Design program regularly asks someone to answer a series of questions from their students. I think these sorts of efforts are worthwhile to see a variety of different ideas, and consequently I agreed. Here’re the questions and my answers as presented to the students:

Learning Design Evangelist Clark Quinn Answers Questions
June 2010

1. Are there any critical gaps in knowledge that you frequently encounter in the ID industry?


Several: The first is folks who only know the surface level of ID, not understanding the nuances of the components of learning (examples, concepts, etc), and consequently creating ineffective designs without even being aware. This is, of course, not the fault of those who’ve taken formal training, but many designers are transported from face-to-face training without adequate presentation.A related problem is the focus on the ‘event’ model, where learning is a massed event, which we know is one of the least effective mechanisms to lead to long-term retention.

Another gap is a focus on the course, without taking a step back and analyzing whether the performance gap is caused by attitude, motivation or other issues besides skills and knowledge. The Human Performance Technology approach (ala ISPI) is a necessary analysis before ADDIE, but it’s too infrequently seen.

The last is the lack of consideration of the emotional (read: affective and conative) side of instructional design. Most ID only focuses on the cognitive side, and despite the efforts of folks like John Keller, Michael Allen, and Cathy Moore, among others, we’re not seeing sufficient consideration of engagement.

2. In a world where technology changes daily, do you feel we place too much emphasis on the latest and greatest delivery method? Do you foresee a future where higher education is delivered primarily through distance learning?


Yes, we do see ‘crushes’ on the latest technology, whereas we should be focusing on looking at the key affordances and matching technologies appropriately to need. I’m a strong proponent of the potential of new technologies to create new opportunities, but very much first focused on the learning outcomes we need to achieve. Which is why I have complicated feelings about the future of higher ed. In a time of increasing change, I think that the new role of higher education will increasingly be to develop the ability to learn. The domain will be a vehicle, but not the end goal. Which could be largely independent of place, but I liked the old role of new and independent mentorship beyond family and community, and always felt that there was a socializing role that university provides. I’m not quite sure how that could play out via technology mediation, but I do note the increasing role of social media.

3. Is there an elearning authoring tool you would endorse?


Paper and pencil. Seriously. I wrote many years ago of a design heuristic, the double double P’s: postpone programming, and prefer paper. An associated mantra of mine is “if you get the design right, there are lots of ways to implement it; if you don’t get the design right, it doesn’t matter how you implement it”. Consequently, I prefer the cheapest forms of prototyping, and rapid cycles of iteration, and you can do a lot with post-it notes (e.g. the Pictive technique from interface design).

4. What impact, if any, do you think that the shortened attention span habits dictated by most social media will have on e-learning?


I think that you should be very careful about media-manufactured trends. Our wetware hasn’t changed, just our tolerance of certain behaviors. We’ve always had short attention spans, it’s just that our schooling forced us to mask it. We’ve also been quite capable of multi-tasking (ask any single parent), but it does provide a detriment to performance in each task, or cause the task to take longer. (Other seriously misconstrued ideas include digital natives, learning styles, and generational differences).

I think we should look to learning that optimizes what’s known about how we learn (and see Daniel WIllingham for a very apt critique of brain-based learning), which includes smaller chunks over a longer period of time. That’s just one component of a more enlightened learning experience predicated on a longer-term relationship with a learner.

5. Is there current research that shows whether employers view fully online degrees programs any different than a traditional degree program? Do employers care that an applicant may have not attended any face to face classes while earning an advanced degree?


Frankly, this is research I haven’t really tracked. I do know recent research shows that online is better than face-to-face, but most likely due to quality of design (instructors aren’t necessarily experts in learning design, sadly) than media.

6. What skills are critical to the survival of a new ID professional? What skills must be focused upon in the first three critical years of business?


The skills that are necessary are much more pragmatic than conceptual. While I’d love to say “knowledge of learning theory”, and “enlightened design”, I think in the initial stages proper time/project management will probably pay off more immediately. Also, the ability to know what rules to break and when. That said, I think you absolutely need the domain knowledge, but street smarts are equally valuable.

However, the core one is the ability to learn effectively and efficiently. I argue that the best investment a business could make is not to take learning skills for granted but document them, assess them, and develop them. Personally, I’ll say the same: the best investment you can make is in your ability to learn continuously, eagerly, even joyously.

7. What areas of growth do you see in the ID market?


With lots of caveats, because I’m involved in many:

Right now I’m seeing growth in the social learning space. Understanding and taking advantage of social learning is trendy, but offers the potential for real learning outcomes as well. Naturally, the only problem is separating the snake oil from the real value. My involvement in the Internet Time Alliance is indicative of my beliefs of the importance.

I think the whole ‘cloud’/web-based delivery area is seeing some interesting growth too, with everything from rich internet applications to collaborative authoring. The opportunities of web 3.0 and semantic technologies are still a ways off, but I think the time is right to start laying the foundations (caveat, I generally find I’m several years ahead of the market in predicting when the time is ripe).

An area that I’m seeing a small uptick in is engagement, fortunately, the use of games and scenarios. Having a book out on the topic makes it gratifying to see the growth finally taking off.

And mobile is finally taking off! Having just left the first biz-focused mobile learning conference, I was thrilled to see the amount of excitement and progress. (Snake oil disclaimer: I’ve been on the stump for years, and finally have a book coming out on the topic. :)

16 June 2010

Ito #mlearncon keynote mind map

Clark @ 9:41 AM

Mimi Ito presented a deep social analysis of youth use of mobile devices to deliver four core unique mobile features.

15 June 2010

Tomi Ahonen keynote at #mlearncon

Clark @ 9:58 AM

Tomi Ahonen gave a very entertaining keynote here at the Guild’s mLearn Conference. Here’s my mind map:

11 June 2010

Wizardly Collaboration and HyperCard

Clark @ 6:45 AM

I was talking to my colleague Harold Jarche the other day about the changes in work needs and it triggered a thought. Normally, when we talk about performance support and collaboration, we think of creating job aids. Yet I believe that, increasingly, interactive performance support will be more valuable in generating meaningful outcomes. It occurred to me that there was a missed opportunity: editable wizards.

Now, when I talk about wizards, I mean software tools that interact with us to ask some questions and then can use that information to do complex things for us like filling out our taxes or configure our email. This is fine for things that are static, but increasingly, things are dynamic. The question then becomes how we make more flexible, less brittle, tools.

In content, we are using wikis as tools that are open for collaborative updating. Wikipedia of course being the best known example. These are powerful ways for a community to keep a body of knowledge up to date. Can we have an intersection?

The idea that occurred to me was to have collaborative wizards; wizards written in a simple but reasonably powerful language that are open for editing. Rather than Wikzard, I thought I’d call it a Wizki (pronounced “whisky”, of course :).

Admittedly, having a simple but powerful language is non-trivial, but then I was reminded of HyperCard (which several of us reminisced about fondly just a short while ago). HyperCard was a simple environment to build applications in, with the property of ‘incremental advantage‘ that Andi diSessa touted years ago. Imagine having a collaborative HyperCard! It could be done.

Of course, there are other simple programming environments (Scratch comes to mind), but we really need a simple (and cross-platform!) environment to develop applications again, and moreover a collaborative one is the next logical step in user-generated content.

I reckon it is past time to develop passive content, and start sharing interactions. What do you say?

6 June 2010

I’ve been podcasted!

Clark @ 11:00 AM

Rob Penn, CEO of SuddenlySmart (makers of SmartBuilder, one of the new breed of authoring tools), interviewed me last fall about engaging learning: game design, simulations, etc.  It followed one by Professor Allison Rossett of SDSU (also available at the site).

I always find it hard to listen to myself (my voice sounds much better in my head :), and the audio is a little murky, but I hit the usual important notes about focusing on decisions that learners need to be able to make, getting challenge right, capturing misconceptions, and more.

Rob also gets me to discriminate between simulations, scenarios, and games (simulations are just models, scenarios have an initial state and a goal state learners should get to, you can tune a scenario into a game), and I also elaborate how you go from multiple choice, through branching scenarios, to full simulation driven engines (jumping off from Rob’s question instead of first answering it, mea culpa!).

Feedback welcome!

2 June 2010

John Romero keynote mind map #iel2010

Clark @ 11:47 AM

Here’s my mind map of John Romero’s keynote on social gaming (again, done with OmniGraffle on my iPad) (smaller then Kay, as he only talked for half an hour):

Alan Kay keynote mindmap from #iel2010

Clark @ 9:18 AM

Today, one of my heroes, Alan Kay, gave a keynote to the Innovations in eLearning conference. The mindmap can’t convey the broad range, but to get it out there…

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