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

31 December 2010

Update: Designing mLearning

Clark @ 6:00 AM

Well, it’s been a bit of a saga, but there are some new developments about my forthcoming: Designing mLearning: Tapping Into the Mobile Revolution for Organizational Performance. It’s the usual good news/bad news scenario, but only mildly.

First, for the bad news.  The book, which I’d been told would be available “around” January, will be available around January, if you agree that February counts.  The book, I’m now assured, will ship on 2 February.  I’m glad to have a firm date, and the only real problem with 2 Feb is that it makes a dodgy proposition of having the book available for the very good TechKnowledge conference (where I’m presenting a mobile learning workshop on 1 February).  Though, of course, you’ll be able to order the book (and you can preorder now).

The good news is I’ve finally got a downloadable PDF sample of the book, including what I think is a clever cover design (caveat, my idea :), the ‘about the book’ section, Ellen Wagner‘s gracious foreword, and the short section introduction and first chapter.  It tells the story of what the book’s about and why it should be of interest to the target audience (which hopefully includes you).

I’ll also be giving some webinars to promote the book to a variety of audiences, including the always great eLearning Guild, ASTD, and Training Industry Quarterly.  Stay tuned to your usual channels, which includes the Quinnovation News page (which always points to what I’m up to).

For my sins, of course, it appears there’s more mobile writing in my near future, which will likely impact my blogging a bit, but as always I’ll try to keep a balance.  At least the travel’s done and holidays are essentially past.  Hope your holidays have been good so far!

22 December 2010

My path to ITA

Clark @ 5:00 AM

Internet Time Alliance logoAs my colleagues Harold and Jane have done, I thought I’d capture my learning journey that led me to the Internet Time Alliance.  I started out seeing the connection between computers and learning as an undergraduate, and designed my own degree. My first job out of college was designing and programming educational computer games, which led me back to graduate school and a Ph.D. in applied cognitive science to find out how to design learning solutions better.

That has been a recurrent theme across academic endeavors, some government-sponsored initiatives, and an internet startup: designing solutions that are innovative and yet pragmatic.  It was really brought home to me when we were recently discussing a new initiative, and while my colleagues were looking at the business opportunities, my mind was racing off figuring out how to design it.

This continued in my consulting, where I moved from designing the individual solutions to designing the processes and structures to reliably deliver quality learning experience design, what I’ve called learning experience design strategy.  However, as I’ve worked with organizations looking to move to the ‘next level’, as happened with and through some of my clients, I regularly found a recurrent pattern, that integrated formal learning with performance support and eCommunity (and some other steps).

So I was focusing on trying to help organizations look at the bigger picture.  And what I recognized is that most organizations were neglecting  eCommunity the most, yet as I learned more about this from my colleague Jay Cross, the social and informal learning were the big and missed opportunity. When Jay started talked about grouping together to address this part of the space, it made perfect sense to me.  The opportunities to have large impacts with challenging but not costly investments is a natural.  So here I am.  Based upon my previous work on games and now mobile, there are some design strategy opportunities that fall to Quinnovation, but I’m eager to help organizations through ITA as well.  Hope to talk to you in the new year about whatever is relevant for you from here.

12 December 2010

Working Smarter Cracker Barrel

Clark @ 10:51 PM

My Internet Time Alliance colleague Harold Jarche is a clever guy. In preparation for an event, he makes a blog post to organize his thoughts. I like his thinking, so I’ll let him introduce my post:

Next week, at our Working Smarter event hosted by Tulser in Maastricht, NL, we will have a series of short sessions on selected topics. Each Principal of the Internet Time Alliance has three topics of 20 minutes to be discussed in small groups. My topics are listed below and include links to relevant posts as well as a short description of the core ideas behind each topic.

These are mine:


Mobile ‘accessorizes‘ your brain.  It is about complementing what your brain does well by providing the capabilities that it does not do well (rote computation, distance communication, and exact detail), but wherever and whenever you are.  Given that our performers are increasingly mobile, it makes sense to deliver the capabilities where needed, not just at their desk.  The 4 C’s of mobile give us a guide to the capabilities we have on tap.

Working smarter is not just mobile capabilities, however, but also combining them to do even more interesting things.  The real win is when we capture the current situation, via GPS and clock/calendar, so we know where you are and what you are doing, to do things that are relevant in the context.

Even without that, however, there are big offerings on the table for informal learning, via access to resources and networks.

Social Formal Learning

Social learning is one of the big opportunities we are talking about in ‘working smarter’.  Most people tend to think of social learning in terms of the informal opportunities, which are potentially huge.  However, there are a couple of reasons to also think about the benefits of social learning from the formal learning perspective.

The first is the processing.  When you are asked to engage with others on a topic, and you have designed the topic well, you get tight cycles of negotiating understand, which elaborates the associations to make them persist better and longer.  You can have learners reflect and share those reflections, which is one meaningful form of processing, and then you can ask them to extend the relevant concepts by reviewing them in another situation together, asking them to come to a shared response. The best, of course, is when learners work together to discern how the concepts get applied in a particular context, by asking them to solve a problem together.

The additional benefit is the connection between formal and informal. You must use social learning tools, and by doing so you are developing the facility with the environment your performers should use in the workplace. You also have the opportunity to use the formal social learning as a way to introduce the learners into the communities of practice you can and should be building.

Performance Ecosystem (Workscape) Strategy

Looking at the individual components – performance support, formal learning, and informal learning – is valuable, but looking at them together is important as well, to consider the best path from where you are to where you want or need to go.  Across a number of engagements, a pattern emerged that I’ve found helpful in thinking about what we term workscapes (what I’ve also called performance ecosystems, PDF) in a systemic way.

You want to end up where you have a seamless performance environment oriented around the tasks that need to be accomplished, and having the necessary layers and components.  You don’t want to approach the steps individually, but with the bigger picture in mind, so everything you do is part of the path towards the end game.  Realizing, of course, that it will be dynamic, and you’ll want to find ways to empower your performers to take ownership.

Pidgin Learning

Clark @ 8:01 AM

The other day, my colleague Jane Hart wrote an interesting post comparing getting comfortable with learning in the real world to the experience of learning a new language. In my recent experience visiting my aunt in München and then family friends in a small village outside Bayreuth, I had a chance to experience the intermediate stages of transitioning from one language, really one culture, to another.

As I sit on a train watching the landscape change from snowy villages to rainy towns, one of my learnings was that the ‘camaraderie’ of the people trying to communicate means a lot. While my German is pretty bad, and my aunt’s and the friends English is better but unpracticed, we could communicate. This was because there were good intentions all around. We were not looking for ways to misinterpret, or to avoid on the grounds that we could not comprehend. We instead were looking for ways to understand.

It’s clear that we were speaking a ‘pidgin’ language, a simplified hybrid of the two, and actually both the German and the English were butchered as a result. We would mix words from both languages when our vocabulary failed us, and find creative ways to express our thoughts. And express our thoughts we did. Between getting directions to the post office to mail the package of goodies my aunt had expected me to bring back in my streamlined luggage, running her errands, and getting my glasses fixed, all went well.

Similarly with less-familiar folks; the wonderfully warm people who hosted me in the small village were family friends, but hadn’t seen me for 20 years, even though they know my mother. Regardless, it was easy to help her buy a computer, and for them to take me through a dark and snow-covered village in a small valley to the once a year weekend Christmas Market, where I met their friends and we drank glühwein, sang some Xmas songs, translated questionable jokes into English, and had a truly magical time.

The implications are clear: when people are committed to the process, they can be incredibly productive despite challenges. Conversely, when they’re not, even insignificant obstacles can become complete barriers.

10 December 2010

Cross Conference Cogitations

Clark @ 1:15 AM

In the course of the past month, I’ve attended (and spoken at) 4 conferences: DevLearn, WCET, VSS, and Online Educa. Each was from a different area: DevLearn is mostly corporate, WCET is largely higher ed, VSS is mostly K12, and Online Educa is more academic (and European).  As a consequence, I’ve had a somewhat biased (mostly US) but reasonably broad exposure to the state of the industry.

The news is mixed. There are some bright spots of innovation and excitement. There is also a lot of ordinary (or worse) design tarted up by high production values, a lot of hype without substance. Overall, I’m afraid we’re not seeing the level of design awareness we should and need to be.

When I perused the vendors, so many were selling tools that are about taking rote knowledge content and making it available online, or shoved into tarted-up drill and kill templates. It’s not that these tools can’t have a role, but until you know what that role is, they’re overused. Also the shelfware was surprisingly ordinary, that is well-produced but under-designed. This was across all of the exhibitions. Similarly, vendors would tout buzzwords that, when pressed, couldn’t actually articulate what it was. One particularly egregious example was ‘adaptive tracking’.  I’m sorry, but “wait to talk to the other guy, who can explain it” just doesn’t cut it.  If you’re promoting it, own it.

And, too often, the practitioner presentations also had some flaws.  I saw way too many “well, we’re doing this too” presentations.  It may help to see other folks replicating a slightly more advanced design than they were at, but the steps being taken are still a ways behind the curve.

Ok, so what were the bright spots?  I’m pleased to see that mobile and social are taking off. There were good presentations on both at DevLearn; the eLearning Guild is pretty good about tracking what’s out there.  At WCET, the notion of data-driven decisions was really taken off (driven, of course, by visionary Ellen Wagner).  At VSS, the presentations on scenario-based, problem-based, and case-based sessions were well-attended, providing hope for more and better design.  Finally, at Online Educa, there was a company that was actually driving adaptive learning. It required some serious backend work to get it running, but it is possible to do.

Progress is being made at the frontiers, but the necessary core areas of learning and consequent design is still lagging in breadth of awareness and depth of understanding.  I guess the saddest thing is that I could have said the same thing 5 years ago.  For instance, I didn’t intend to develop the Deeper ID presentation, but I saw that it was needed.  Still is.

On the other hand, I’m getting lots of opportunities to speak and write to try and raise the game, so I’ll take that as a positive :).  Hope to see you around.

And sorry that my posts are so intermittent of late, but it’s just hard to find time to write when you’re running around catching planes, trains, and automobiles, (and there’s some serious writing pending; more soon). Right now, however, it seems like things might slow down around March!

6 December 2010

Brain damage

Clark @ 5:00 AM

I’ve talked before about how mobile ‘accessorizes‘ the brain. Well, here I am in Europe, and I’m suffering brain damage.  In short, the situation with cross-border data access is inexcusable.

It’s been several years since I lasted traveled overseas, and since then I’ve become increasingly mobile-enabled.  I’ve got navigation apps, information apps, map apps, and app apps (ok, well maybe not that last one).  I use them to google information in meetings so I don’t have to stop the flow, to maintain contact, to figure out where I am and how to get places, and more.  It’s what’s mobile is about: solving problems in the moment.

Forget the calls: I paid extra to only pay a dollar a minute under a special plan. Ludicrous, but ok I’m not a big phone person, and I can usually use Skype.  I’m also not a big texter, but again I set up a special plan to have 50 outgoing messages before I started paying $.50 a text.  (Yes, $.50 a text!)  So, I’m limiting my text messages because while the plan is in effect, incoming ones don’t cost.  And I know many people coordinate things through text messages.    Of course, stupidly, once the 50 are up the plan doesn’t have an option to pay another amount to get 50 more.  Once you use those up, your back to the mind-numbing base rate.  C’est la vie.

Now, I asked about data overseas, and the best price going was one dollar a megabyte.  Do you know how fast you go through megabytes?  A colleague got 50 MB, and went through 30 in the first day! At the rate I go through data, I’d be in the poorhouse before I got home!  It’s just not on. I figured I’d find Wifi when needed, and not use cellular data, and turned it all off.  Wifi, however, has been problematic. It’s not out and about with you, you kind of have to find it. And of course the conference wifi was pretty iffy, and the hotel wifi varies from practical to maniacially complex and expensive, and my colleagues have been dragging me hither and yon and free wifi isn’t quite as ubiquitous here as in other places.

So the crux of the matter is, when I’m out and about, needing to find information about where I am, what’s nearby, what that means (translation), and more, I’m functioning like someone’s taken part of my brain.  I’ve come to depend on these capabilities, and yet our global infrastructure hasn’t kept up.  I know that the providers think it’s not in their interest to work and play together well, but they’re missing the point that seamless data access benefits everyone. People will use more data overall, it will drive the growth of mobile business since everyone will be using it, and the world will be smarter place.

It really is an opportunity for governments to step in and demand action. In light of the many problems the world is facing right now this may seem like a trivial issue, but I’d also suggest that making information exchange easier is a step in the right direction towards solving those problems.

As it is, it’s practically criminal to commit brain damage to international travelers. Can we get the UN in on this or something?

1 December 2010

Good to ‘go’

Clark @ 5:22 AM

Cover imageIt’s time for me to formally announce that the site for my forthcoming mobile learning book, Designing mLearning, is now live and ready to visit. On it, you’ll find the ‘about the book’ info, the gracious endorsements from some truly great and kind people, and more.

I’ll be speaking about the ideas quite a bit in the coming months.  I’ll be talking mobile at Online Educa in Berlin tomorrow, as well as presenting with my ITA colleagues on the future of organizational learning the day after.  I’ll be presenting a mobile design workshop at TechKnowledge in February, and more events are on the agenda (the Australasian Talent Conference in May in Sydney, and the Distance Teaching and Learning Conference in August in Wisconsin).

There will be an ebook, or so I’ve been promised (you have to admit that anything else would be, well, just crazy!). More info as it comes, but you can already pre-order the book through Amazon!  So, get going!

I hope to see you at one of the upcoming events, and if you get the book, I welcome your feedback.  I will have the first chapter available for download as soon as I can get it from the publisher.

And just a reminder, I still haven’t found a better guide to designing learning games than my previous book: Engaging Learning: Designing e-Learning Simulation Games. And I do keep track.

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