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

30 November 2010

Harnessing Magic

Clark @ 5:47 AM

This is the extended abstract for the presentation I’m leaving today to give in Berlin at Online Educa on mobile learning on Dec 2.

Increasingly, workers are mobile.  When we look not only at field-deployed individuals, but also those who occasionally must travel to meetings, make site-visits, are away at conferences and workshops, or even are commuting, the number of mobile workers can be considered from half to most of the workforce. When we consider how many have a mobile device of some sort, and that these devices are increasingly powerful, we have a big opportunity to have a business impact.

To examine the opportunities, we must first consider the range of activities mobile can support. Let us be clear, mobile learning is not about courses on a phone, at least in large measure.  There are circumstances where this makes sense, but it is not the main opportunity on tap. First and foremost, mobile is about quick access; just-in-time, just enough. The prescient Zen of Palm documented how desktop computers are accessed not that many times a day, but for long periods, whereas mobile devices are the reverse, accessed many times for short periods. This suggests a different model of use.

Think: how does your mobile device make you smarter? If you are typical, you may use it to keep information you want to look up, like contact details or your calendar. You may also use it to capture data: a note, a photo or video, or a voice memo.  You may calculate something like the tip due the waitstaff or how to split the bill. And, of course, you may reach out to someone like a friend or colleague through voice or text.  These are what I call the Four C’s of mobile: Content, Capture, Compute, and Communicate. This maps much more closely to performance support than formal learning, and indeed mobile likely plays more of a role in performance support and social/informal learning, the companions for formal learning.

It is useful to view computation conceptually as a complement to our cognitive systems. Our brains are really good at pattern matching and executive decision-making, but really bad at remembering rote information and completing complex calculations. Over our history, we have developed many physical and cognitive tools to augment our capabilities.  Computers, in a sense, are the ultimate cognitive adjunct, with limitations due more to our imaginations (and pocketbooks) than to the technology.  When we have mobile computational capabilities, we are now able to augment our thinking wherever and whenever we are. We can respond in the moment, not with a delay.  This makes us both more effective and more efficient.

Which brings us to the business impact of mobile tools. We can augment performance in ways that can address barriers that have arisen in the past. We should, indeed, start with those situations where there have been performance barriers.  Where, with a small bit of support, could we get sizable improvements?  And realize that small improvements, when aggregated, can mean big returns.  For example, cutting down on one extra visit to get information on an unanticipated problem, when multiplied by a lot of calls for a sizable workforce, becomes a substantial savings.  That could come from accessing a job aid, a colleague, or even sharing a picture of the situation. Similarly, sales would likely increase if a quick calculation could show the immediate cost versus benefit relationship, and orders could be placed immediately.  More importantly, employees could be made productive earlier if specific information on a client or situation is scaffolded to support the novice practitioner.

Optimizing performance is a marginal game, but margins are the difference between success and failure.

Let us not forget, however, to also consider how mobile tools can augment learning as well as performance.  Those same Four C’s can be applied to extending and enriching the learning experience just as they can support in-the-moment performance. The activities that support fostering retention and transfer, our learning goals, can have mobile support. For example, you can reactivate knowledge by delivering content, or having learners apply their knowledge to problems and challenges at times other than a learning event. You can have learners capture data from the field and bring back to the discussion. And, of course, learners can discuss and collaborate with one another.

The key to business impact from mobile devices is to think performance; what small tweaks will change our key business metrics in big ways.  While mobile does provide transformative opportunities, the near-term impact will come from optimizing current opportunities for performance support and social communication and collaboration, with resulting aggregate outcomes that provide tangible return on investment.

29 November 2010

The Power of Role-based e-Learning

Clark @ 5:45 AM

The Power of Role-Based e-Learning: designing and moderating online role play is a new book out that talks about simple methods to get powerful learning outcomes from collaborative games.  Written by Sandra Wills, Elyssebeth Leigh, and Albert Ip, esteemed Aussie colleagues all with lots of experience in this area, it’s a thoughtful presentation of why, and how, you should use these techniques to get valuable outcomes.

Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

Written for educators seeking to engage students in collaboration and communication about authentic scenarios, the power of role-based e- learning offers helpful, accessible advice on the practice and research needed to design online role play. Drawing on the experiences of world- leading practitioners and citing an array of worldwide examples, it is a readable, non-technical, and comprehensive guide to the design, implementation, and evaluation of this exciting teaching approach.
Issues discussed include:

  • designing effective online role plays
  • defining games, simulations and role plays
  • moderating engaging and authentic role-based e-learning activities
  • assessment and evaluation

The power of role-based e-learning offers a careful analysis of the strengths and learning opportunities of online role play, and is realistic about possible difficulties. Providing guidance for both newcomers and experienced professionals who are developing their online teaching repertoire, it is an invaluable resource for teachers, trainers, academics, and educational support staff involved in e-learning.

Also note that it’s designed for education, but the lessons are valuable for organizational application as well.

As I state in the foreword:

This book stakes out important ground for e-learning, demonstrating how clever design trumps the miracles of flashy technology in achieving just such a practical approach.  While the power of gaming for learning has been the topic of a number of books, the particular, er, role of role-playing has been insufficiently explored and exploited.  Yet, as this book makes manifestly clear, there are powerful outcomes available, using simple mechanisms but capitalizing on deep understanding of learning.

The book also looks forward, talking about virtual worlds and, yes, mobile learning. Alternate Reality Games are a really interesting opportunity here.

Allow me to strongly encourage you to check out this book, and see for yourself how thoughtful understanding of learning trumps technological finesse when it comes to creating meaningful  experiences.  We need more good learning design, and as much help as we can get.

22 November 2010

Death by reorg

Clark @ 6:08 AM

Even if you haven’t experienced it, you’ve heard about it, seen it, and now it’s a epidemic. The familiar reorganization: changing management structures, reporting relationships, moving units around.  It can happen infrequently, but in many organizations it seems to be a regular occurrence: every 2 years, every year, or more frequently.  The expression ‘drive-by reorgs’ isn’t hard to countenance.

The reasons for reorganizations can be several, both pragmatic and political.  I remember reading a screed that suggests it’s inevitable: organizations will have to align to customers for a while, until efficiency falters, then they reorganize along operational lines until customer satisfaction drops.  Of course, there are the typical new manager reorganizations as well; it’s easy to hypothesize that they have to be seen to be doing something.  Even if, as Petronius Arbiter wrote about reorganization: “. . . a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency,and demoralization“.

However, it occurred to me to think that reorgs may be a symptom of an approach to management that’s seeing it’s last days.  My ITA colleagues have been talking about how we need to moving in a new direction, away from hierarchy to Jon Husband’s wirearchy.  Reorganizations restructure the top-down approach to guiding performance, where one person thinks for several.  The alternative is network approaches, where everyone understands the goals and is empowered to achieve the goals.

Really, if an organization is restructuring regularly, it’s probably a sign that it’s trying to adapt structurally to an environment that is increasingly chaotic.  And that approach just isn’t going to work anymore. Organizations have to become more flexible than rigid structures can accommodate, and more flexible management approaches are needed.

Seriously, Death by Reorganization (warning, PDF) is the potential endgame.  What is the alternative?  Creating a learning culture of trust and responsibility, empowered with resources, with leadership that embodies a clear vision and lives the sharing of learning.  Reorganizations could be the sign of failing leadership, rather than innovative leadership.  Where are you and your organization?

16 November 2010

Big ‘L’ Learning

Clark @ 6:04 AM

We’ve been wrestling for a while about how to deal with the labeling problem. The problem is that when you mention learning to anyone but the L&D team, they immediately hear ‘training’ (and, frankly, too often so to does the L&D team). And, of course, really the issue is performance, but too often that can mean machine throughput or semi-conductor yield or something other than the output of the human brain. This has continued to be a barrier for having meaningful conversations.

I also want to address the broader suite of human brain outcomes: research, creativity, design, etc., as you’ll have read here before. The answers aren’t known, and this is likely to be the important work. Other than creating a portmanteau, or making up a new word entirely, however, I’ve been at a loss for a label.

Recently, I’ve started talking about “big L learning”. ‘Inspired’ by the fact that the Liberal party in Australia is really the conservative party (leave it to the Aussies :), so they have to distinguish between big L and little l liberal, I’ve decided that perhaps we can distinguish between little ‘l’ learning and big ‘L’ learning. If nothing else, it might get someone to ask what I mean and provide an opportunity to open up the discussion.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m more than open to an alternate suggestion, but in the interim, I’m going to keep playing with this. I’ve been wrestling with this for years, and haven’t come up with anything better. I welcome your feedback.

15 November 2010

Higher^2 Education

Clark @ 6:15 AM

I have just been at my first WCET conference, which is focused on higher ed distance eLearning. Mostly, it’s focused on those in the trenches, that is those who are charged with making it happen. This is not a bad thing, as these are good folks trying to do good work. What is missing, however, is a way to address the next level, and the one above that, in a systematic and effective way. And, yet, we must.

Let’s start with President Obama’s recent call to raise the level of US higher education.  And, frankly, there are more countries that need to heed the call of reforming post-secondary education.   I’ve talked before about the needed changes in higher ed, but even the short term changes are hard to see happening.

There were some inspiring talks, including Mark Milliron of the Gates Foundation, and a ‘debate’ between Peter Smith of Kaplan (and author of a new book on the topic of higher education) and David Longanecker of WICHE (WCET’s ‘parent’).  What became clear to me is that the goal of seriously raising the number of higher education graduates – whether associate, baccalaureate, or higher degrees – isn’t going to happen through incremental change. The problem is multi-faceted: the degrees available increasingly have little appeal, the pedagogies aren’t aligned to success, and the approaches don’t scale.

While the for-profit schools are providing competition to drive more market-focused courses, the time taken to get a program approved, and an institution accredited, provide barriers to being truly market-driven. That is of course, not the only goal, but things are moving faster than programs can be expected to cope.

I have to admit that I was also somewhat dismayed by a lack of pedagogical focus that mirrors the problems we see in corporate settings.  There seemed to be little leeway to challenge faculty members to raise quality levels of learning experience beyond just the traditional content model.

Finally, the resources dispersed across institutions are not well-aligned with a goal of pervasive quality that can be replicated across the curriculum.  Most institutions, even the big for-profits, seem to have approaches aligned for efficiency at the sake of effectiveness.

I admit big change is hard, but the stated goals are big, the need is big, and the opportunities are likewise.  It would take a massive infusion of resources, however, to make a big change within the system. Which led me, naturally, to think of a big change outside the system.

I started thinking about curricula as a separate thing from the learning activities (content and more), from the products of learning generated, and from the mentoring. In particular, the varied mentoring that would go into vetting the curricula, the choice of learning activities, and the feedback on the products.  The quick question is whether these could be disentangled from the academy.

Could we, in fact, either crowd source curricula or support self-definition and approval? Could the choice of resources and activities be scrutinized separately, both for quality and as an opportunity for lessons in becoming a self-capable learner in a discipline? Even system-selected?  And could the feedback on products come from an appropriate suite of stakeholders?

That’s a relatively radical proposition, I recognize, but when you need transformative outcomes, you may need transformative approaches…

More prosaically, I remain dismayed by the continuing lack of strategic thinking in higher education, particularly the public sector.  Small elements, like recognizing that the overall quality of teaching impacts an institution’s reputation, that devolving responsibility to domains will undermine a unified effort, that a systemic consideration of learning technology provides efficiencies as well as opportunities for effectiveness, etc. remain as missed opportunities.

What’s missing from what I see is a unified quality approach. What if Steve Job’s took on higher education? My take is that we’d see something like:

•   We will deliver a totally killer learning experience

•   We will not only develop your knowledge and skills, but you as a learner and performer

•   We will be a partner in your success

That, to me, is the value proposition that we can, and should, deliver. If we are not aligned with that, we are not really offering the services that an education provider should be shooting for.  Or an organization, for that matter.

So, are you aiming high enough? The time is now.

11 November 2010

Engineering both the front- and back-end

Clark @ 12:06 PM

I had the pleasure of meeting Bob Glushko a couple of weeks ago, and finally had a chance to dig into a couple of papers if his (as well as scan his book Document Engineering). He’s definitely one that you would call ‘wicked’ smart, having built several companies and now having sold one, he’s only hanging around doing cutting edge information science because he wants to.

The core of what he’s on about is structuring data, as documents, to facilitate transactions that for the basis of services. He focuses on the term ‘document’ rather than data to help emphasize the variety of forms in which they manifest, the human component, and most of all the nature of combining data to facilitate business interactions. At the heart is something I’ve been excited about, what I call content models, but he takes much further to support a more generic and comprehensive capability.

He makes a useful distinction between ‘front-end’ and ‘back-end’ services to help highlight the need to take the total service-delivery system into account. The front end provides the customer-facing experience, while the back end ensures efficiency and scalability. It can be difficult to reconcile these two, and yet both are necessary.

This is important in learning experience design as well. Having served on either side, both, and as the mediator between, I know the tension that can result from the caring designer crossing swords with the focused developer.

I have talked before about the potential of web 3.0, system-generated content, and that’s what this approach really enables. Yes, there are necessary efficiencies and effectiveness enough to justify this approach in your learning experience system design, but the potential for smart adaptive experiences is the new opportunity.

If you’re building more than just content, but also delivery systems and business engines, you owe it to yourself to get into Document Engineering. If you’re going further (and you should), you really need to get into the whole services and information science area.

There are exciting advancements in technologies, going beyond just XML to learning focused structures on top, and solid concept engineering behind these that are the key to the next generation of learning systems (and, of course, more).

9 November 2010

On the road, again

Clark @ 6:00 AM

The eLearning Guild‘s DevLearn was a blast, as always.  I was so involved that I hardly got to see any sessions, but had great conversations.  And afterward the Internet Time Alliance really solidified our plans.  Exciting times ahead.

And there’s quite a bit of travel coming up.  On Wed I depart to La Jolla to attend WCET’s conference, where I’ll be talking on mobile learning.  Then on Sunday I head to Phoenix for the Virtual School Symposium.

This precedes the Online Educa in Berlin December 1-3, where I again talk mobile.

On Dec 13-14, we’ll be running an ITA event in Maastricht, and then on the 16th, we’ll have one in London.  If you’re interested in working smarter and the future of organizational learning, and you’re in Europe, you should try to hit one.

In between, I  may have some free time, so let me know if you’re interested.

Early in the new year, I’ll be running the mobile design workshop in San Jose for ASTD’s TechKnowledge conference.

Further ahead, I’ll be at Sydney for the Australasian Talent Conference in May, and Wisconsin for the the Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning in August.  For both of those, the topic is more the bigger picture of how learning can be facilitated with technology.

I’d welcome seeing you at any of the events.  If you attend, make sure to say hi!

3 November 2010

the Power of Pull

Clark @ 10:58 AM

John Seely Brown has given the leading keynote to the DevLearn conference with an inspiring talk about how the world needs to move to scalable capacity building using collaboration (we’re totally in synch!)

John Seely Brown Keynote Power of Pull

Beyond Reason

Clark @ 6:43 AM

Night before last, I had my ITA colleagues over for dinner.  We’ve been conversing for close on two years, but other than Jay, I’d met each only once: Jane, I’d met last year when she was here, and Harold and Charles I’d each met several years ago briefly.  I don’t think Harold and Charles had met before.

So how was it that if felt like old friends getting together? Quite simply, the varied conversations we’d had had created something more than just intellectual convergence.

Now, you have to understand, we have pretty typically met once a week, via voice or video conferencing during that time. We also have a Skype chat we keep open and there are conversations that continue most every day.  We’ve also had one on one conversations by phone when needed or wanted.  We share our travels, interests, issues, concerns, and more.

This is a friendship, built virtually but still connected by all the elements that make friendships: trust, authenticity, shared concerns, and mutual goals. And, yet, we still wrestle with, and advance, our understandings of the work we’re trying to do as well.  We coordinate events, and gigs, working together as well as helping one another.

I mention this to reinforce the point that real communities can be built with virtual tools. With the right emotional connections, environment, and commitment, our cognitive commitments are effectively met , and perhaps even augmented, relative to meeting face to face.  Sure, we’ll have a couple of days of face to face work to take care of some stuff that we’ve been working on, but we’ve built the relationships and done useful work as well, and it will continue.

To me, that is the power that’s on tap, the offer we must seize to the benefits of our organizations, and society.  We welcome you to join us.

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