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

31 October 2010

Review: Gary Woodill’s The Mobile Learning Edge

Clark @ 6:09 AM

In the context of having my own book on mobile learning in press, I’m well-primed to review Gary Woodill’s The Mobile Learning Edge: Tools and Technologies for Developing Your Teams. It could be awkward as well, as I could be considered to be a competitor, with no vested interest in helping.  So, accept the potential for bias, but I feel, fortunately, this is not a problem.

For context, the time is clearly right for mobile learning, what with the increasing prevalence of mobile devices, particularly smartphones, the increasing availability of tools, and an increasingly mobile workforce. As a consequence, there is a clear opportunity to provide guidance.

Gary Woodill’s book, as you might imagine for a senior analyst (his title at Brandon Hall Research), is exhaustively researched.  The book is full of quotes about mobile learning, has a variety of examples, and points to a suite of sources of information.  It is also, not surprisingly, well-written, with a business focus.

Which raises the question of the audience.  This book is clearly written for managers and executives who either are considering a mobile strategy for their employees or as a business.  While covering more prosaic issues like development tools and design approaches, with guest chapters on business and content strategy, this is clearly aimed higher in the organization.

And this brings up the differences between our two books.  When Gary found out we were both doing mobile books (for different publishers), he astutely reached out, and we discussed our approaches and recognized we were shooting for different audiences.  Compared to Gary’s focus, I am instead mostly addressing those who will be charged with executing the actual design.  Yes, his book addresses design, and yes, mine addresses strategy, but they have relatively different emphases. For example, his book has a much greater span of the history of mobile devices, while I’ve tried to focus on the relevant recent past. He also has a current snapshot of tools, while I’ve tried to write in a way that isn’t constrained by changes in the environment.

Overall, I think the books complement each other well. I think if you’re contemplating a mobile business plan, his is the way to go.  If you’re looking for guidance in how to take advantage of mobile to empower your employees, I’ve designed mine to be the one you should choose.  Mine is for people who are thinking about, want to, or have to do mobile.  Gary’s is for those who have to decide about it. To put it another way, Gary’s is the one that should be in the research library and on the executive shelf, and hopefully mine is the one that should be on the shelf of the designer and manager.

This is a very good book; readable, valuable, and interesting.  If you’re interested in mobile, you should definitely give it a look.

27 October 2010

The role of the university?

Clark @ 6:13 AM

Unhappy in many ways with the current status of education, particularly here in the US, I’ve been thinking a lot about what would make sense. What’s the role of K12, and then what’s the role of a university?  Some thoughts recently coalesced that I thought I’d put out and see what reaction I get.

The issue, to me, covers several things.  Now, I talked some time ago about my ongoing search for wisdom, and the notion of a wise curriculum coupled with a wise pedagogy very much permeate my thinking. However, I’m probably going to be a bit more mundane here.  I just want to think what we might want to cover, and how.

Let me start with the premise that what needs to be learned to be a productive member of society needs to be learned before university, as not everyone goes further.  If we truly believe (and we should) that 21st Century skills of learning, research, communication, leadership, etc, are skills everyone needs, then those are K12 goals. Naturally, of course, we also include literacy of many sorts (not just reading and writing), and ideally, thinking like a mathematician and scientist (not science and math).

However, if those are accomplished in K12 (when I’ve previously argued learning how to think might be the role of the university, and now think it’s got to be before then), then what is the role of university?  Given that the half-life of knowledge is less than four years, focusing on preparing for a lifetime of performance is out of the question.  Similarly, pursuing one fixed course of study won’t make sense anymore, as the fields are beginning to change, and the arbitrary categorizations won’t make sense. So what then?

I’m thinking of going back to the original Oxbridge model.  In the old days, you were assigned a tutor (and advisor), and you met with that person regularly. They’d have a discussion with you, recommend some activities (read X, solve Y), and send you on your way. It was a customized solution.  Since then, for a variety of reasons (scale, mostly), the model’s turned into a mass-production model.  However, we now have the power of technology.

What if we moved to a system where individuals could spend some time exploring particular areas (like the first two years or so of college), and then put together a proposal of what they wanted to do, and how they’d pursue it, and the proposal would be vetted. Once approved, there’d be regular updates. Sure, there’d likely be some templates around for learning, but it’d be more self-directed, customizable, and put the appropriate responsibility on the learner.

I may be biased, as I designed my own major (UCSD’s Muir campus had a mechanism to design your own degree, and as they didn’t have a learning technology program…) as an undergraduate, and again you propose your research as a PhD candidate, but I think there’s a lot to recommend a learner taking responsibility for what they’re going to study and why. Granted, universities don’t do a good enough job of articulating why a program sequence has particular courses in it, but I think it’s even better if a learner at least has to review and defend it, if not choose it themselves.

Naturally, some domain-specific learning skills would emerge, but this would provide a more flexible system to match how specializations are changing so dynamically, serve as a model for life, and put the responsibility of faculty members more to mentorship and less to lecture. It would necessitate a change in pedagogy as well.

I think, in the long term, this sort of model has to be adopted.  In the short term, it will wreak havoc with things like accreditation, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, given the flaws we’re beginning to see in the existing system, both non- and for-profit.  I reckon the for-profits might be able to move quicker, but there will be battles.  And, of course, changing faculty minds reminds me of the old joke: “How many academics does it take to change a lightbulb?”  “Change?” (And I *was* one!)

Naturally, this has implications for K12 too, as many have articulately argued that the pedagogy needs to change there as well, following the learners’ interests.  Likewise the notion of educational publishing (where is that iPad replacement for my kid’s texts?).  Those are topics for another day.

So, does this make sense? What am I missing?

26 October 2010

ITA and DevLearn!

Clark @ 6:40 AM

I’m excited to say that all the Internet Time Alliance (Jay, Jane, Harold, Charles, & myself) are all going to be at DevLearn this year.  I’m excited because I’m looking forward to having us all together, given that normally Jane & Charles are in the UK, Harold’s hangs out above the east coast of Baja Canada, and Jay and I populate the west coast.  At least, when we’re home.  While we’re in touch every day, and have gotten together in subgroups, we never have we been together in one place!  Practicing what we preach…

Of course, I’m also excited because DevLearn is always a great conference, and this year is shaping up to be the best yet.  The eLearning Guild team (Brent, Heidi, David and the rest) continue to improve on the excellent job they always do, the exhibit hall is sold out, I’m sure the attendance will be high, and some of the folks who I’ve most been looking to meet will be there (Jane Bozarth, I’m looking at you ;).  And, of course, my friends from previous conferences, Aaron, Marcia, Mark, Koreen, the list goes on.  The keynotes look great (JSB, Marcia!), and the lineup of other speakers reads like a who’s who of elearning.

Given that the ITA will be together, we’ll be mind-melding for a couple of days afterwards.  To that end, I strongly encourage you to find us and talk to us, individually or collectively, and let us know what you’re thinking, what your concerns are, what barriers you are facing, and so forth.  We’ll be attending each others’ sessions, and others, as well as in all the usual places (expo halls, watering holes,…).  Please give us a chance to meet you and hear from you.

Jane Hart will be speaking at 10:45 on Wed the 3rd, on The State of Learning in the Workplace Today (session 110).  Jay Cross will be speaking at 4 PM on Working Smarter: Learning is the REAL Work! (session 310).  Finally, I’ll be speaking on Thursday the 4th at 10:45 on Rethinking eLearning: Performer Augmentation (session 410). I reckon we’ll all be at each of our sessions. I will also be part of the Mobile Learning Jam at 3PM on Wed, speaking with Paul Clothier and Rovy Brannon on An ISD Discussion of Mobile Learning (though I don’t necessarily expect my ITA colleagues to be there for that session).

And, of course, please just do say hello.  I look forward to meeting you or seeing you again!

25 October 2010


Clark @ 6:33 AM

In a presentation yesterday by Dr. Deborah Everhart, talking about Web 2.0 and the future of teaching and learning at Berkeley’s new Center of Next Generation of Teaching and Learning, she used the familiar mechanism of transitions from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0.   One of the transitions she described, from Buying to Self-Publishing sparked a thought. This was very much in the context of higher education, but it extends further.

For context, realize that we’re being inundated with knowledge.  One of the roles of our personal learning networks is to follow people who sort through the memes coming along and reframe them into new ideas, posts and more. People like my ITA colleagues and many others (e.g. #lrnchat instigators) are worth following (virtual mentorships) because they are essentially serving as curators for knowledge.

So these people are self-publishing.  In higher education, we think of authors of textbooks, although in a sense they’re curating knowledge as well. And we’re seeing movements where teams are beginning to author texts, not just for publishers but in open access contexts as well.  If we extend this, communities are, increasingly, similarly curating information.

And, really, they’re co-curating. Wikipedia ends up being the ultimate co-curated body of knowledge.  It’s co-creation, but because it’s pulling together bits of knowledge from other places. In the case of innovation, where experts are solving new problems, that’s co-creation, but capturing resources around topics and combining them is a combination of curation and creation, co-curation.

I note that this is not a new term, as librarians have been apparently using it for a while, but I think it’s an important concept in the overall context of learning together; co-creating libraries (have you ever received a request for the books you think are most critical for X :) of resources and references.  It’s a part of the larger picture of creating personal learning environments, personal learning networks, and personal knowledge management.

When I reflect on the fabulous learning that comes from my networks (such as those listed above and ITFORUM), I am really really grateful to those who contribute so that we all learn together. Thanks!

21 October 2010

Experience Rules

Clark @ 6:24 AM

The cry used to be “content is king”.  Then it became “well then, context must be emperor”.  Well, I want to tell you that Experience Rules.

Here’s the deal.  Content is important, but of any by itself, it doesn’t lead to learning.  You can show someone content, but if they’re not prepared (mentally and emotionally), it won’t stick.  You can design content to help prepare them but…

They have to apply it.  And abstract application doesn’t transfer, you need to apply it in context.  If it’s the right context, then the content could be valuable.  But context alone isn’t enough, you’ve got to combine the content delivery with the right context.  And now, we’re talking experience design.

Experience design is really about setting up the emotional expectations, and then delivering a series of content-resourced contexts to achieve the desired outcome.  This typically is formal learning, but can be delivering performance support tools in the workflow as well as creating access to social media in ways that match the way the learner is thinking about it.  It combines play/gaming, usability, and learning design into a coherent whole.

Of course, at another level, it’s designing the org unit to make the above an integrated component of achieving the organizational goals.  Which likely means a more distributed, wirearchical structure.  And culture is certainly a part of it, because an experience where you contribute, for example, happens better when it’s safe and rewarding to contribute!

(And while I don’t mean this in the sense of “old age and treachery, er experience, trumps youth and energy”, though it does, there is also the recognition that it takes  years of experience to be considered an expert and that’s part of it too.)

Really, combining context and content to achieve engagement and effective learning outcomes is experience design, and that’s what really needs to rule.  So, do you, er, measure up?

20 October 2010

Serendipitous revisiting

Clark @ 8:21 AM

In many ways, it can seem like we revisit the same old ideas again and again.  I’ve ranged over design, social, games, mobile, strategy and more in many different ways.  I try to write when there are new ideas, but many times the same themes are reviewed, albeit extended.  This might seem tiresome (more so, perhaps, to me than you :), but there’s value in it.

I’ve talked previously about explorability.  As I mentioned, I heard the concept while doing a summer internship, and was excited by it.  The other part is that I brought it back to our research lab (focused on interface design at the time), and the reaction was essentially nil. Fast-forward a couple of years, and when discussing some nuance of usability (perhaps affordances), I raised it again, to wide excitement!  What had changed?

The lesson I learned is that not only do you need the right idea, but you also need the right context.  I find that matters I talked about years ago will be just right for someone now.  So the work I did laying out the appropriate elements for game design in 1998 were appropriate for a book in 2005.  I talked about learning games from about 2002 on, and finally it went from ’emerging technologies’ to mainstream in the program track around 2008.  I’ve been talking about mobile since 2000, and finally have a book coming out in January. I wonder when mlearning will cross the chasm.

So the point is that you have to keep putting ideas out there, again and again, to find the right time for them to take hold.  Not like advertising, but like offerings.  It’s not planned, it’s just at the idea strikes, but I reckon that’s a better heuristic than a more calculated algorithm. At least, if you are trying to inspire positive change, and I confess that I am.

18 October 2010

The New Social Learning by Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner

Clark @ 6:25 AM

Marcia Conner & Tony Bingham’s book The New Social Learning is, quite simply, a must-read if you are in either responsible for learning in, or running, a business.  In short, eloquent, and yet highly readable chapters, they cover both the natural ways we learn, and how the new technologies both support and enhance these capabilities.  The focus is clearly on organizational success.

After a opening that sets the stage of how the world’s changing, Tony and Marcia go through a series of tools and opportunities in systematic ways: community, video, twitter, wikis, virtual worlds, and face to face events.  For each, they provide vibrant examples, core concepts, recommendations, and ways to address criticism.  The elements are all relevant and apt.

If you’ve followed this blog at all, you know that social learning is the key to competitiveness and survival. This powerful book helps make abundantly clear just what is on offer.  Illustrated with anecdotes and quotes from the major players jn the space (usual disclaimer), the message could not be clearer.  They’ve done the homework to illuminate the way the world is moving.

I wish they had talked more about mobile, as I think that’s a dimension to this area that is going to be a serious game-changer. It’s implicit in their work, particularly talking about face-to-face, but could use emphasis.

Overall, this is a great complement to Jane Bozarth’s Social Media for Trainers, and our Working Smarter Fieldbook. Together, they provide the big picture and the practical guidance organizations need to take the next step in organizational development. Buy it, read it, apply it, and proselytize it. Let’s make the world a smarter place.

8 October 2010

Learning Experience Design in Action

Clark @ 6:46 AM

I was working with one of my clients/partners on an opportunity to develop classroom learning on a tablet.  The first push is to get something to show teachers and trial in a classroom.  It’s not yet going to be socially enabled, nor particularly mobile, nor yet augmented with resources; the point now is to demonstrate capability to develop compelling interactives (pretty much regardless of whether it’s a tablet or not).

As context, they’d sent me some storyboards that I’d responded to with some comments.   They actually started from a good point, but there were nuances that needed to be teased out.  Their questions  led me to think through some principles that underpinned my recommendations.  In the course of their questions, I talked about these perspectives:

Start with visceral experience: I want to ground the learning in their world.  I want to start with phenomena that they understand, and have them do a little free exploration followed by some focused tasks, but at a qualitative, experiential level. Drill down from the bigger picture in the world, to intermediate issues, to why this in particular is important, and have them actively explore the relationships.

Connect conceptual to formal: after the learner has an experiential basis, then link it to formal representations.  Help the learners connect their actions to the tools used to structure our understanding.  At the end of the day, at least in this domain, we want them to be able to use the formal representations to solve problems that their capabilities can’t solve with their bodies (e.g. applying forces in microjoules or gigajoules).  As a guide, the point is not to teach science, say, but instead to teach them to be scientists, using tools to solve problems.  Finally, they should be taking measurements, transforming to manipulable representations, transforming the representations to a solution, and then applying that back to the world.

Focus on action, not content: rather than require learners to view this video or that document, make them available.  Ideally, the only required elements would be the series of activities, and the information resources surround the activities as options.  The challenge of the activities, and quality of the content, would ideally drive the learner to the resources, but there might be required quick overviews that point to deeper resources, and individuals who struggle might be pointed to the content.

Launch with a meaningful context: I suggested an overall task that would ultimately need to be performed, using a recognized problem as the motivation for learning this content, though there are other ways.  However, you do want to harness learners hearts as well as their brains in the endeavor.  In this case it was about saving people’s lives that motivated going through the course to be prepared to come back and provide the knowledge of what force to apply, in what direction.

And in one I didn’t convey, but is implicit in the learning situation but could and should be implicit in the development of the learning experience:

Scaffold the learning process: don’t assume that the learner is equipped for learning this way, provide support. Pedagogical support can be through an agent, and there has to be feedback involved both addressing the content and the process.  If only requiring the activities, the evaluation, inadequate performance might trigger a requirement to view content, for example.  A pedagogical avatar could be useful.

All of this is based upon a research base in learning theory, even the emotional side.  There could be more involved, as I had ides for options in being social, and actually being mobile, which are currently beyond the scope of their engagement, but the point is to start with a visceral and active base upon which to drive motivation for content, formalisms, and ultimate mastery.

5 October 2010

A request for help

Clark @ 6:05 AM

I regularly review what I offer and do, trying to ensure an alignment between what the market needs and what I can offer, as is incumbent upon a consultant.  It’s all part of life in the age of perpetual beta.  Now, I think I have a pretty good idea of what I can do, and what the market needs, but there is the potential for some ‘blind spots’.

Ordinarily, I make my best stab and move on, but after working with my ITA colleagues and refining my understanding of the value of crowd-sourcing, I recognize that my perceptions may not be aligned with market perceptions about what I do or what is needed.  So, I’m putting out a request, and asking that you contribute.  Obviously, I’m hoping that if you’ve been reading this blog and/or know me, you will have some feel for what I (can) offer.

I’m asking that whether through comments on this blog post, by twitter (@quinnovator), or email or phone, you provide input on any or all of the following questions for me (as Quinnovation):

  • What services does and should Quinnovation (that is, me) offer?
  • What is, or should be, Quinnovation’s unique market position or value proposition?
  • What problems does or can Quinnovation solve as well or better than anyone?
  • Who is or should be Quinnovation’s target market?

Yes, ultimately it’s my responsibility, but it’s worthwhile to get your input.  Also, please feel free to be brutally honest; I’d rather have insight than inaccurate gentleness.  I welcome your feedback.  Thanks in advance, and eager to see what shows up!


4 October 2010

Quip: Quality

Clark @ 6:41 AM

I had the (dubious) pleasure of picking up an award for a client at an eLearning awards ceremony a number of years back. There’s been some apt criticism of the whole awards industry thing overall, but it did give me a chance to see what was passing as award-winning content.  And I was dismayed.  One memorable example had traditional HR policy drill-and-kill tarted up into a ‘country fair’ theme. It was, frankly, quite well produced and visually attractive.  And complete dreck, instructionally.  Yet, it had won an award!

My client typically fights the good fight when they can (hey, they use me ;), but sometimes they can’t convince the client or know not to bother. In another instance, I actually took on the design for a project, and at the end the client’s manager asked what was so special. After I walked him through it, he was singing the hallelujah chorus, but there’s an important point here.  I’ve heard this tale from many of my colleagues as well, and it indicates a problem.

Quality design is hard to distinguish from well-produced but under-designed content.

To the layperson, or even perhaps the ordinary instructional designer, the nuances of good content aren’t obvious. If the learning objective is focused on knowledge, it’s because that’s what the SME told us was important. So what if the emotional engagement is extrinsic, not intrinsic, it’s still engaging, right?  We cover the content, show an example, and then ensure they know it.  That’s what we do.

SO not.  Frankly, if you don’t really understand the underlying important elements that constitute the components of learning, if you can’t distinguish good from ordinary, you’re wasting your time and money.  If that were the only consequence,well, shame on the buyer.  But if there’s a Great eLearning Garbage Patch, it gets harder to pitch quality.  If you don’t care that it ‘sticks’ and leads to meaningful behavior change in the workplace, you shouldn’t even start. If you do care, then you have to do more.

Hey, low production values aren’t what make the learning occur, it’s just to minimize barriers (“ooh, this is so ugly”).  Learning is really a probability game (you can’t make a learner learn), and every element you under-design knocks something like 10-50% off the likelihood it’ll lead to change.  Several of those combined and you’ve dropped your odds to darn near zero (ending up working only for those who’ll figure it out no matter what you do to them).

And the problem is,  your client, your audience, doesn’t know.  So you can lose out to someone who shows flashy content but knows bugger all about learning.  You see it everywhere.

So, we have to do more.  We have to educate our clients, partners, and the audience.  It’s not easy, but if we don’t, we’ll continue to be awash in garbage content. We’ll be wasting time and money, and our effort will be unappreciated.

If you’re a designer, get on top of it, and get good at explaining it. If you’re a customer, ask them to explain how their content actually achieves learning outcomes.  Or get some independent evaluation.  There are still vulnerabilities, but it’s a push in the right direction.  We need more better learning!

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