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

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!


  1. Thanks for this survey of the state of the art. You said “I’m pleased to see that mobile and social are taking off.” Me too!

    The world has changed — people now live and work in a world where Google gives the answers, where a mobile phone is the lifeline to the Web and to your GPS location, and where Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter link people to each other in their own way. By leveraging these tools and putting them into meaningful parts of the learning experience, Social Learning enables organizations and their people to make sense of this radically changed day-to-day world and achieve their business and learning objectives.

    I have followed you for a long time, keep up the great work, let me know if I can ever be of any help.

    Comment by David Koehn — 10 December 2010 @ 6:33 PM

  2. David, nice comment, and thanks for the thoughts. I will say that “putting into meaningful parts of the learning experience” is one way, the formal way, but I also want to ensure we do not forget allowing learners to make these components part of *their* meaningful learning experiences. It’s too easy to think that we still create the learning experience, when instead we want to enable people to start taking responsibility for the learning as well, particularly when they’re beyond the novice stage.

    Comment by Clark — 10 December 2010 @ 10:48 PM

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