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

28 September 2010

Levels of learning experience design

Clark @ 3:47 AM

If you want to achieve meaningful outcomes in the space of the important work, you need to ensure that the process is optimized. This means that you want to streamline formal learning, maximize the utility of resources, and facilitate optimal interaction. This is the realm of learning experience design.

Learning experience design can, and should, operate at several levels. For one, you want individual learning experiences to be optimal. You want a minimalist approach that combines effective cognitive design with engaging emotional design. You want the formal resources to be designed to mesh with the task and provide effective information design. And you want the social learning tools to be organized around the way the team coheres.

Here we are talking deeper instructional design, information mapping, and aligned social media.

At the next level, you want your learning development processes to make it easy to do good learning design: you want your tools and templates to scaffold proper outcomes (and preclude bad design), and you want your oversight to be based upon sound principles.

Here we are on about design processes and teams, as well as tools. We can be talking about content models and delivery architectures as well.

At a higher level, you want your components of learning to complement one another, so courses are designed in synchrony with your resources and networks, and vice versa, and you want your IT infrastructure to be based upon structures that maintain security, reliability, and maintainability with flexibility so as not to preclude new directions.

Here we are talking content frameworks and hosting architectures, semantics, and organizational alignment and culture.

Unfortunately, most organizations in my experience, are using flawed models at the first level, are embryonic at the second, and are oblivious of the top. Yet, the competitive advantage will increasingly come from just such an optimized structure, as working *smarter* will increasingly be the only sustainable edge. So, are you ready to move ahead?

27 September 2010

Learning malpractice

Clark @ 7:26 PM

Richard Nantel tweeted about Chris Dede talking about Educational Malpractice. Unfortunately, while it does accurately characterize the education space, it is not inappropriate to apply to the workplace as well. I would extend that to Training Malpractice, but I want to take it further. Because organizations are committing crimes at more than just the training level.

Let’s start with formal learning, or training. Remember, our goals are retention over time until the learning is needed, and transfer to all appropriate situations, not just ones that are seen in the learning experience. Now, realize that one of the worst things you can do to lead to long term retention is to try to have all the learning condensed into one session.. Consequently, the ‘massed practice’ of the learning *event* is a broken model! Similarly, the ‘knowledge test’ as a form of assessment has essentially no transfer value to meaningful practice. Yet these are the trusted hallmarks of corporate learning.

But wait, there’s more! Beyond courses, there are performance support resources. Are they organized by need, so that each performer has a unique portal? Well, no. (“Portals? Yeah, we’ve got hundreds of them!”). Every unit has it’s own place to put things for others, and the poor worker has to search high and low to find resources. No wonder they give up. Worse, courses are designed in lieu of any cognizance of the resources.

And while informal learning, as facilitated by search and social networks, may not be actively discouraged, the lack of any cohesive effort to coordinate the network, let alone aligning with resources and formal learning, characterizes the average workplace. Sharing may not be valued or even punished!

The levels above this (systems, strategies) are even more broken. How, when companies supposedly believe that “employees are our most important asset”, can this wholesale malfeasance continue? Please, help right this wrong. If you need help, ask, but don’t continue these mistakes. For your company and your own self-respect.

23 September 2010

Shifting perspectives

Clark @ 10:37 AM

In the Internet Time Alliance chat, yesterday, we were discussing the apparently difficultly some are seeming to have with the necessary mind shifts to comprehend the benefits of social media for organizational learning.  It seems to me that there are 3 roles and each has an associated shift.


The old thinking was that the thinking is done from the top and percolates down.  Whatever skills are needed are brought in or identified and the learning unit develops it.  There’s a direct relationship between the specific skills and the impact on the business.

The new thinking is that the goals are identified and made clear and then the employees are empowered to achieve the goals in the ways that seem best.  They can provide input into the goals, and adapt the skillsets as needed.

The is important because of speed, productivity, and outcomes.  First, the world is moving faster, and there is no longer time to plan, prepare and execute. It has also been demonstrated that employees are more productive when they’ve bought into the plan and have responsibility.  It’s also the case that bringing more brains ‘online’ to help achieve goals ultimately makes better decisions.

The necessary components are that workers need a context where they can contribute safely and are empowered to work.

The Learning Unit

The old thinking was that the learning unit was about ‘training’.  That the learning unit responded to identified skill needs, created training, delivered it, and then measured whether employees thought it was worthwhile.  The focus was on courses.

The new thinking is that the learning unit is about ensuring that the necessary complement of skills and resources are available.  That the responsibility is not just for formal learning, but performance support, and social interchange.  That the role is facilitation, not delivery.

This is important because the workforce needs to be focused on the task, with the tools to hand, but the nature of the important work is changing. It’s no longer about doing something known, but about dealing with the unknown.  Really, any time you’re problem-solving, research, design, creating new products and services, by definition you don’t have the answer and the skills necessary are meta-skills: how to problem-solve, get information, trial solutions, evaluate the outcomes.  It’s about working together as well as independently.

The necessary components are to define and track the new skills, to provide an infrastructure where learners can take responsibility, and to track outcomes and look for opportunities to improve the environment, whether the performer skills, the tools, or the resources.  Yes, there are still courses, but they’re only one component of a bigger picture, and they take a format that is conducive to these new skills: they’re active and exploratory.

The workforce

The old thinking was that they did what they were told, until they could do it without being told.  The strategic thinking was done elsewhere, and they took a defined role.

The new thinking is that workers are told what the goals are, and have to figure out how to accomplish it, but not just alone. It’s a collaborative effort where there are resources  and tools, and we contribute to the outcome while reviewing the work for opportunities to improve.  Workers contribute at both the execution and the innovation level.  They have to take responsibility.

This is important because, as stated above, what with automation, the work that really matters is shifting, and organizations that try to continue to sequester the important thinking to small sections of the organization will lose out to those that can muster larger brain trusts to the work.

The necessary components are leadership, culture, and infrastructure. Workers have to comprehend the goals, believe in the culture, and have the tools – individual and collective – to accomplish the goals.

Hopefully, the contrasts are clear, as are the opportunities.  It’s the shift from hierarchy to wirearchy.  What am I missing?

21 September 2010

Augmenting Learning

Clark @ 6:43 AM

In looking for a title for my forthcoming book on mobile learning, Aaron Silvers took one of the key principles, augmenting performance, and, combining it with a neat complement to my previous book, Engaging Learning, came up with Augmenting Learning.  I liked it very much, as it elegantly captured several meanings I’m keen on, and I like the principle of having a title that works in a couple of ways.

Unfortunately, the publisher didn’t like it. Worse, the eminent Allison Rossett thought augmenting wasn’t a good word. C’est la vie.

So, what is the title?  Well, to hit the marketing goals of being clear to the audience, yet keeping with something I can live with (you do not want to know what other suggestions were floated), we’ve ended up with

Designing mLearning: Tapping Into the Mobile Revolution for Organizational Performance

I like the part before the colon, and the publishers like the part afterward.  At least the shorthand title will be Designing mLearning, which I can definitely get behind.  And I am excited about the book; I think there are a lot of useful ways to think about mLearning in it (in my completely objective and totally unbiased opinion ;).

Just briefly, however, I want to go into why I thought Augmenting Learning would be a good title.  First, it captures the notion that mLearning is not about providing a full learning experience, it’s about supporting a full learning experience: with additional resources, access to learning resources (calendar, content, etc), and a stretched out learning experience.  That is, complementing whatever formal learning resources you bring to bear with mobile-accessible components.

Moreover, it’s about augmenting formal learning with informal learning.  Performance support, personal, and social learning are all ways in which mobile delivers unique advantages. Whichever of the 4 C’s of mobile learning you bring to bear, you are increasing the ability to perform, both in the moment and overall. Of course, slow learning is a goal I’d be supportive of as well.

Regardless, all the above fall under the rubric ‘designing mlearning’ as well as ‘augmenting learning’, and it passes the sniff test with people more concerned with commercial viability than conceptual elegance. And, if I really do want to have an impact, I have to care about the former as well as the latter.  The book does accomplish the goal of providing pragmatic advice, but in a way commensurate with the goal of providing conceptual clarity, and I can live with that.

17 September 2010

Small addition to ‘right tech for schools’

Clark @ 6:03 AM

The discussion on ITFORUM this week has been deeply about mobile learning (if you’re into mlearning, it’s worth checking in!). Based upon this week’s guest’s question about experience with devices, I opined in ways that should be familiar:

Coming out with a book on mobile learning (mostly organizationally focused), and with kids of my own, I’ve naturally thought about what I think the role of mobile devices could/should be in schools:

I like what Elliot Soloway said many years ago, that a laptop was the wrong form factor for a kid. He used PDAs, but it was more for content creation than consumption.  I actually think we want separate devices; a PDA form-factor for field work, and a tablet for in-class content creation.   I think a PDA sized device for data capture (audio and video for instance) is more plausible than a tablet, and vice versa for serious content consumption and creation.

I think Kindle’s and Nooks are great text consumption devices, but I’m thinking we want more even in the consumption mode: audio, videos, and animation for instance, but I really think the real opportunity is interactivity, and a monochrome screen just isn’t going to cut it.  Yes, the dedicated readers are better for reading, but I want a more general purpose device: simulations/games, for example.

Then there’s content creation. I want kids writing, diagramming, drawing, editing video and audio, and more.  That more would be actual model building.  I think that makes sense for a device bigger than a PDA, e.g. tablet-sized.

And I think the touchscreen approach is right for for much of what I’d like kids to do. Works for me, too ;). (Ok, a keyboard’s good for text entry, so maybe that’s ‘available’).

Those are conceptual arguments, here’s my pragmatic situation.  I never bought an e-reader; I’ve liked print just fine.  I did not intend to get an iPad; I’m ‘frugal’ (read: cheap), and I don’t spend money typically until I understand the full value proposition. However, between the announcement of the iPad and it’s actual availability, I realized that it had significant roles separate from my iPhone (which I already had).  And those were content creation, not consumption (tho’ I’ve now taken advantage of those, too).  I haven’t traveled with a laptop since I got my iPad, and am seriously glad I spent the money.

[Slight alteration] I’ve also blogged about how not allowing cross-platform development tools (read: Scratch, perhaps a HyperCard or clone) really is a bad move on Apple’s part for the education community.  Their recent loosening of the rules gives some hope, but the lack of ability to import code is still a problem. Maybe HTML 5 will give us a browser-delivery environment.

It’s not that new, but still I think puts a slightly different spin on the situation than my last post. I welcome any thoughts you have!

15 September 2010

What’s the right technology for schools?

Clark @ 6:39 AM

At the end of a conversation the other day, the topic turned to technologies in schools.  I was asked what I thought about the iPad in schools, and as I thought it through, I saw both pluses and minuses.

Let me, of course, make this generic to tablets and PDAs. And not smartphones, as there are problems with phones in schools that I don’t want to get into.  Having a wifi PDA (e.g. iPod Touch) is good enough for the issues at hand.

Now, many years ago Elliott Soloway decided that the form-factor of a laptop was not appropriate for kids, and created what ended up being the GoKnow suite of PDA apps.  Back then he was working on Palm devices and then Windows PDAs.  I think he had that right.

However, now that there are tablets, I think they have advantages for schools too.  They’re not too big (by and large), and are better for both content consumption and creation than laptops or even netbooks (though an additional keyboard might be handy).

As I thought more about it, I’d like the tablet in class (and maybe at home), but I’d like a PDA when kids hit the road.  Elliot had sensor-equipped PDAs being used to collect river pH measurements. There a host of reasons to get kids out gathering data and working on projects, including problem-based and service-learning type projects.  Having the devices available for accessing answers to questions when on field trips or taking notes also makes sense.

You can have these as separate devices, synching them into a common database, but I was reminded of an early proposal for a processor ‘block’ that could plug into a variety of devices, and your files would remain on the ‘block’.  You could do it with a U3 system, I suppose, but I really want that processor with it for consistency of OS, etc.  For example, running an OS (WebOS, iOS, Android, etc) on a PDA (w/ camera, etc), and then the PDA could be plugged into a tablet and the tablet would take over as the I/O channel.  Some may not get it, but I think it’s preferable to having to sync two devices.

This, I think, would provide the portability for field moves with screen real estate for creation and communication.  Of course the device would be equipped with a camera, microphone, wifi, bluetooth, etc, and a suite of software, but I really think that one platform isn’t enough, and two is too many, and a PDA is too small for creation and consumption and a tablet too small for fieldwork, so what you want is a hybrid hardware platform. Could there be a happy medium, perhaps, but I’m not sold.  What do you think?

14 September 2010

Enterprise Thinking, or Thinking Enterprise

Clark @ 6:14 AM

I realize, with recent releases like Jane Bozarth’s Social Media for Trainers and Marcia Conner & Tony Bingham’s The New Learning (both recommended, BTW, reviews coming soon, with standard disclaimer that I’m mentioned in both) that the message is finally getting out about new ways to facilitate not just formal learning and execution, but informal learning and innovation.  But there’s more needed. It takes new thinking at the top.  You need to think about how the enterprise is thinking.

So what do you want for your enterprise thinking?  Shows like The Office make us laugh because we identify with it. We know the officious types, the clueless, the apathetic, the malevolent, the greedy, the ones just marking time.  They’re definitely not thinking about how to make the organization more successful, they’re thinking more about what will make their life most enjoyable, and there’s little or no alignment.  That’s not what you want, I’ll suggest, but is what’s seen, in various degrees, in most places.

Instead, you (should) want folks who know what the goal is, are working towards it individually and collectively.  That are continually looking for opportunities to improve the products, processes, and themselves.  This is where organizations will derive competitive advantage.

How do you get there?  It takes coordinating several things, including the dimensions of the learning organization: leadership, culture, and practices), and the information infrastructure for working well together.  You need to have the tools, you need to understand the behaviors required, you need to know that working this way is valued, and you need to be informed as to what the goals are.

We want to be empowering people with the models that help understand the shifts that are happening and how to cope, so they’re part of the movement.  They  need to understand things like networks and complexity, so that they’re equipped to contribute at the next level.

It’s time to stop thinking patchwork (“we’ll just put in the tools”, or “we’ll move in the direction of more open leadership”), and starting thinking systemically and strategically.  Identify and acknowledge where you are now, and figure out a path to get where you need to be.  It’s not likely to be easy, but it’s clearly time to get started.

7 September 2010

Brainstorming, Cognition, #lrnchat, and Innovative Thinking

Clark @ 6:05 AM

Two recent events converged to spark some new thinking.

First, I had the pleasure of meeting up with Dave Gray, who I’d first met in Abu Dhabi where we both were presenting at a conference. Dave’s an interesting guy; he started XPlane as a firm to deliver meaningful graphics (which was recently bought by Dachis Group, and he’s recently been lead author on the book Gamestorming.

What Gamestorming is, I found out, is a really nice way to frame some common activities that help facilitate creative thinking.  Dave’s all over creativity, and took the intersection of game rules and structured activities to facilitate innovative thinking, and came up with a model that guides thinking about social interaction to optimize useful outcomes.  The approach incorporates, on a quick survey, a lot of techniques to overcome our cognitive limitations. I really like his approach to provide an underlying rationale about why activities that follow the structure implicitly address our cognitive limitations and are highly effective at getting individuals to contribute to some emergent outcomes.

I also happened to have a conversation with a lady who has been creating some local salons, particular get-togethers that have a structured approach to interaction (I’ve attended another such).  Hers was based upon biasing the conversation to the creative side, a very intriguing approach. Not only was she thinking of leveraging this for tech topics, but she was also thinking about leveraging new technologies, e.g., a Second Life Salon.

Which got me thinking that there were some relationships between Dave’s Gamestorming approach and the salons . I wouldn’t be surprised to find salons in Dave’s book!  Moreover, however, was that there are intriguing potentials from tapping into virtual worlds to remove the geographic constraints on such social interactions.

What was also interesting to me, reflecting on an early experience with the Active Worlds virtual world, your attention eventually focused on the chat stream, because that’s where all meaningful interaction really happened.  Which is really what #lrnchat is, a chat.   One of the nice properties of a chat is that you’re not limited to turn-taking.  A problem in the real world is that the more people you add, the less time each gets to contribute in a conversation. In a simultaneous medium like #lrnchat, everyone can contribute as fast as they can, and the only limitations are on the participants ability to process the stream and contribute (which are, admittedly, finite).  Still, it’s a richer medium for contribution, as I find I can process more chats in the same time only one person would talk (of course, the 140 char limit helps too).

The important thing to me is that social media have new capabilities to enable contribution, and achieve the innovation end that Dave’s excited about in ways that maximize the outcomes based upon new technology affordances that we are just beginning to appreciate.  Can we do better than we’ve done in the past, leveraging new technologies?  I think Dave’s model can serve for virtual as well as real events, and we may be able to improve upon the activities with some technology capabilities.  To do so, however, means we really have to look at our capabilities in conjunction with new technologies.  Yeah, I think we can have some fun with that ;).

1 September 2010

Thou Shalt Learn!

Clark @ 6:31 AM

Like that will work…not!  Seriously, there are several things that have to line up to get social media working for you (which, if you’ve been paying attention, is the new and only sustainable competitive advantage).  As I discussed a couple of days ago, your learners have to have the skills.  But there are a couple of other things you have to have in place.

First, you have to have the tools.  And, frankly, not just any tools.  There are some nuances that will likely make a difference.  Certainly usability is one. The closer the necessary usage steps are to a) familiar uses and/or b) user goals, the more likely the tools will be used. Similarly, the more they’re aligned with the user’s task flow, and tasks, the more likely they’ll be used to the benefit of the organization.  The notion is that the tools are ‘ready to hand’ as the need strikes.

You also have to have a culture where contributing is accepted: safe, even rewarded.  I previously commented on the dimensions necessary, including a supportive learning environment, leadership, and concrete processes and practices.  People won’t contribute if it’s not safe, valued, and rewarded.  As my ITA colleague Jon Husband says, wirearchy is based upon trust and credibility, as well as information and knowledge.  Marcia Conner and Tony Bingham, in their new book The New Social Learning, similarly emphasize trust.

The fact of the matter is, if you build it, they may not come.  There are lots of reasons why people may be hesitant, and really you have to actively recruit and support their participating in most cases.  They have to experience it, perceive the value, and still be supported in adopting the regular use of a social infrastructure.  It will take time, but the outcomes are powerful.  Just don’t go into it naively; either be willing to take the time to experiment and learn, or bring in the outside help to accelerate your use of social learning to accelerate learning in the big sense: problem-solving, experimentation, research, creativity, etc (all those areas that contribute to organizational innovation and success).

Social media is the key to leveraging the power of people, to learn, and you don’t want to leave it to chance.  Really, it’s learn or die.  Which are you keen on?

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