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

31 January 2011

Learning Technologies UK wrap-up

Clark @ 6:25 AM

I had the pleasure of speaking at the Learning Technologies ’11 conference, talking on the topic of games.  I’ve already covered Roger Schank‘s keynote, but I want to pick up on a couple of other things. Overall, however, the conference was a success: good thinking (more below), good people, and well organized.

The conference was held on the 3rd floor of the conference hall, while floors 1 and ground hosted the exposition: the ground floor hosted the learning and skills (think: training) exhibits while the 1st floor held learning technology (read: elearning) vendors.  I have to admit I was surprised (not unpleasantly) that things like the reception weren’t held in the exhibit halls.  The conference was also split between learning technologies (Day 1) and learning and skills (day 2), so I have to admit being somewhat surprised that there weren’t receptions on the respective floors, to support the vendors, tho’ having a chance to chat easily with colleagues in a more concise environment was also nice.

I’m not the only one who commented on the difference between the floors: Steve Wheeler wrote a whole post about it, noting that the future was above, and the past showing below.  At a post-conference review session, everyone commented on how the level of discussion was more advanced than expected (and gave me some ideas of what I’d love to cover if I got the chance again).  I’d  heard that Donald Taylor runs a nice conference, and was pleased to see that it more than lived up to the billing.  There was also a very interesting crowd of people I was glad to meet or see again.

In addition to Roger’s great talk on what makes learning work, there were other stellar sessions. The afore-mentioned Steve did a advanced presentation on the future of technologies that kept me engaged despite a severe bout of jetlag, talking about things you’ve also heard here: semantics, social, and more.  He has a web x.0 model that I want to hear more about, because I wasn’t sure I bought the premise, but I like his thinking very much. There was also a nice session on mobile, with some principles presented and then an interesting case study using iPads under somewhat severe(military) constraints on security.

It was hard to see everything I wanted to, with four tracks. To see Steve, I had to pass up Cathy Moore, who’s work I’ve admired, though it was a pleasure to meet her for sure.  I got to see Jane Bozarth, but at the expense of missing my colleague Charles Jennings.  I got to support our associate Paul Simbeck-Hampson, but at the cost of missing David Mallon talk on learning culture, and so on.

A great selection of talks to hear is better than not. There was also a very interesting crowd of people I was glad to meet or see again.  A great experience, overall, and I can happily recommend the conference.

26 January 2011

Roger Schank keynote mindmap

Clark @ 4:21 AM

Today, Roger Schank keynoted the Learning Technologies UK conference, talking about cognitive science and learning. Obviously, I was in large agreement. And, as usual, I mid mapped it:

25 January 2011

Every once in a while…

Clark @ 2:41 PM

..you get things right. Today, courtesy of Don Taylor, I got to sit at a dinner table with Roger Schank, Cathy Moore, Nigel Paine, David Mallon, and Steve Wheeler. The conversation segued between cutural wine etiquette, ethnic heat tolerances, and culture literacy, among other things. Thanks again to Don, and hoping I wake in time (jet lag is no fun)!

20 January 2011

Continual Learning

Clark @ 6:08 AM

A recent request for feedback on new learning technology research areas highlighted areas they thought were important, and a subset naturally struck me:

  • the connection between formal and informal learning: an interest of mine since I first noticed the gap in organizations
  • emotional and motivational aspects of technology-enhanced learning which was the topic of first book
  • informal learning: which is a major component of my work as a member of the Internet Time Alliance
  • personalization of learning: which was the focus of a project I led a decade ago and still an area of interest
  • ubiquitous and mobile technology and learning: given that I’ve just written a book about it :)

As academics are wont to do, this isn’t a surprising list (there were interesting others as well) because despite the overlap there’s reason to study each on their own.  But what inspired me was the intersection.

I started thinking about a vision (PDF) I had about 8 years ago now, where your portable mobile device would know where you are and what you are doing, and coupling that with your learning goals, would layer on support for developing your learning goals opportunistically based upon your context.  Think about how you’d learn if you had no limits at all: your ideal could be to have a personal mentor always with you looking for opportunities to develop you.

The learning benefits are severalfold, it’s customized for you, and it’s focused on your interests.  It also ideally would bridge the gap between formality and informality, as it could be more formal for a new area but then become more informal gradually.  Another way to think of it is as ‘slow learning‘, (like ‘slow food’, not like ‘slow learner’) based upon a long-term relationship with (and a long-term interest in) the learner.

The technology capabilities make this possible. What is still required would be the curricula, the content, the rules, and the business model. If nothing else, I think organizations should be thinking about this internally, mobile or not.  It is another way to start thinking about workscapes/performance ecosystems and a broader perspective on learning. Anyone game?

19 January 2011

Thought trails

Clark @ 6:39 AM

I’ve riffed before about virtual mentorship, and it resonated again today.  We were getting a tour of one of the social platforms, organized as many are around tasks, questions, and dialog.  While implicitly it could support tracking a group’s progress, separate thoughts as recorded through blogs and tweets aren’t a natural feature. Yes, there’s integration with wikis and blogging tools, but it’s not quite the same.  And seeing these meme tracks or thought trails can be a valuable way to understand how someone thinks in context, which can develop others’ thinking.

Don’t get me wrong, task oriented discussions are the real new opportunity for business, but I’m looking at a separate level that’s also valuable.  The 70/20/10 model that Charles Jennings so effectively promotes (on the job, mentor/coaching, formal, respectively), suggests that mentorship is a valuable component of overall development.  What if we could make it lower overhead for higher impact?

The notion is that learners ‘follow’ potential leaders.  They can do for external thought leaders by reading their blog and following their tweets.  But there are more immediate people also worth being mentored by.  What if employees could follow their bosses and executives within the organization? Transparency is valuable, and if these leaders can be convinced to share their thoughts, more folks can take advantage of them without needing specific meetings (and, of course, making those meetings more valuable). Naturally, other representations could also be valuable: if they record thoughts while driving, podcasts could be ok too, or recorded video messages (tho’ perhaps harder to edit). Even recording meetings where leaders speak could be a low-overhead mechanism.

The tough part, really, is getting the leaders to share their thoughts.  Making it a recommendation, and making it easy is important.  Sharing the value of reflecting is also important (people who take time to reflect outperform those who don’t, despite corporate mythology to the contrary).  You also have to make it ‘safe’, so that mistakes can be shared and learned from.

The goal is to make thinking visible; leading out loud.   It might seem onerous, but the outcomes of better communication and developing potential new leaders are big.  What do you think are the potential benefits of more people knowing what is important?  What if more people could start thinking strategically?  These are on the table, and potentially on tap.  Are you missing this opportunity?

15 January 2011

Learning Experiments

Clark @ 6:06 AM

I have a habit of taking on challenges, things that I decide to do that invoke a bit of anxiety, but I will be happy if I accomplish. Many times those are work-related assignments that stretch me, helping me learning things I’m interested in, or require developing skills that I am interested in.

Then, sometimes, I choose to stretch in other ways.  This past year I took on two such that provide a bit of an opportunity for reflection.


The first one was something I heard about on Twitter. I shared it, and at least one colleague and one friend was interested.  The colleague is not local, so he did it near him, and my friend and I did it with some of his friends. The event was Warrior Dash, which is a 3.5 mile course with 12 obstacles along the way.  At the end, you get a funny hat with horns, and a free beer.  It’s silly, but also a physical challenge, and it sounded fun.  While I know I’m not particularly athletic in any one thing, I like to think (delude myself) that I’m fairly balanced across activities.

The obstacles ended up including climbing over cars, climbing under several things including a tunnel and a wire maze, climbing up a rope wall, jumping over hurdles, sliding down a watered down hillside, and running up a hill, across tires, up and down a haybale. The final two obstacles were jumping over fire, and then navigating a mud filled puddle.  They really hype the last one, encouraging you to do a dive into it.  Silly.  Fun.

My goals were simple. At my age, and level of fitness, I was going to be happy just running the whole thing.  I was not aiming to win, even my age group.  I was nervous a bit (my usual plod around my mostly vertical neighborhood is 2.2. miles, which I alternate with a couple of torture devices that reside in my office, or in the summer in the pool a bit), but fairly confident I could do it.  I didn’t do any specific training, either, relying on my overall level of fitness with perhaps a bit of extra effort on my usual routine.

Starting slow, not fighting to be the first in the wave of runners at my elected time but starting quite a ways back and pacing myself, was a wise move.  About 1/3 of the way through I felt ok and picked up my pace slightly. At about 2/3 of the way through I felt the toll a bit, but pushed on.  I passed some of the early starters (many folks seemed to have no problem walking at times, and there were a very wide variety of levels of fitness), but by no means did I make any great statement. I did ‘take on’ the obstacles, as they are the fun part for me. This worked mostly, but I confess that I cracked each of my  knees as I hurdled the hurdles, and while I was successful getting over them, I could feel it.  The mud part was surprising, as it seemed like you would just swim through it, but it really pulled back. It was a good workout and I was feeling the overall event for several days afterward, but not too badly.

Not sure I have to do it again, but no regrets.


The second event was fantasy football.  There was a #lrnchat team the year before, which sounded fun but I hadn’t heard about it. I’d never done it, but as I played football in high school (long story, but briefly, with 900 in my graduating class we had not only a varsity a JV, but also a B team, which I could qualify for :), I follow pro football as a guilty pleasure.  So it sounded like something to try.

Again, I didn’t expect to do well; I know my limitations; I have a college friend who’s a real sports fiend, and he has the type of knowledge to do real well. So my only goal was to do ok for my first year.

There were some hiccups getting started.  The process starts with a ‘draft’ where teams (I named mine the Quinnstitute Inmates) take turns picking players.  I didn’t like the default order, but the process to change the default looked ridiculously complex.  A bad interface, with an insufficient lack of information, and I didn’t know who to ask.  So I went with the default draft rankings.  Consequently, while lucky in some respects, I also had some players that I shortly had to dump.

That was the second hiccup; the process of claiming players and releasing yours was opaque. It appeared that if you picked them, you had to give up a player (you don’t get them immediately, there’s a time when everyone can pick anyone available they want, but then who gets who is determined by a preference model). It was only after selecting the player to give up that you found out that you wouldn’t give them up unless you got the player you requested. Again a bad interface and resources.

This time, however, I was bold enough to ask in our league’s forums, and found great help. Apparently there’s also ‘smack boards’ where you can talk trash to the other teams, but it was quiescent this year (it certainly didn’t appeal to me).  The dialog with the other players (teams) in the league was minimal, but good natured and helpful.

Overall, I achieved the modest success I was hoping for. I also found out that there’s a phenomenal amount of luck involved, even if you have good players.   I suppose if you were even more into it, you would be better able to detect when a normally successful and called upon player would have a bad week, but I certainly wasn’t at that level. It was fun, and no regrets.  Whether I’ll do it again (if I even have the opportunity) is an open question, but the decision is more about time and opportunity than any negative experience.


I did learn some lessons here.  I found that if I set appropriate goals, I didn’t have too many problems living with the outcomes.  I also let myself have the space to experiment and have fun, and it was.  Learning is fun, even on seemingly trivial things.

I also found out that the ‘interface’ helps.  The obstacle event was very well handled, with lots of guidance; there was little confusion about where to go and what to do.  The web-interface to the fantasy game, however, needed a lot more ‘user-experience’ design.  Perhaps there were more comprehensive information resources available, but I didn’t easily find them.  And, fortunately, I can take Donald Norman to heart and say that if I can’t use it, it’s badly designed (it’s not me :).

I found I can be competitive.  On the course, I did see a couple of people who were moving at roughly my pace, and I did try to beat them at the end (I had just enough left, and wanted to ‘leave it all on the field’). In the fantasy football, I did try to change my roster around to do the best I could when my seemingly decent team had some serious flaws (I’m not sure if I ended up with more than 1 player I started with), and I actively traded and juggled the lineup.

Learning is important, challenging yourself is important, and learning should be fun.  Reflecting on it is important as well. It was worthwhile, and I will continue to find ways in my work and in my play that stretch me. I hope you do so too.

14 January 2011

Coming to a webinar near you!

Clark @ 5:57 AM

Well, there’s a whole lotta webinar action going around around here.  Let me fill you in and hope to see you online:

Rethinking eLearning

First, I’ll be talking next week as the closing speaker at the eLearning Guild’s January Online Forum on Instructional Design next week (I’m speaking at noon PT on Friday the 21st).

I’ll be talking on Beyond ID: Augmenting Performance, which caps a fabulous series of talks on Instructional Design (launched by the eminent Ruth Clark).  The Guild always does a good job, so it’s a no brainer if you’re a Guild Member and looking to upgrade your ID thinking.


Then I’ll be doing talks on mobile learning (naturally, promoting my forthcoming book) for several different groups .  I’ll be covering why and how.  You should pick the one that matches your group affiliation (and schedule):

I’ll be doing a mobile webinar for ASTD (free to members, I believe) on the 20th (next week) on Thursday the 2oth at 11 AM PT.

Training Industry Quarterly also is hosting one (free) on the 24th of February at 10 AM PT.

Finally, on March 8th 10:30 AM PT I’ll be doing an eLearning Guild Thought Leader webinar on mobile.

Hope to see you at one of them!

13 January 2011

Talking on Games at Learning Technologies UK (26-27 Jan)

Clark @ 6:04 AM

On short notice, I’ll be speaking on games at the UK’s Learning Technologies conference at the end of the month.  I’ve heard great things and always wanted to go, and now I get to.

I’ve met and talked with Donald Taylor, who manages it, and he instill confidence in the quality of the conference.  And looking at the lineup of speakers, I’m impressed and eager.  I see folks I’ve wanted to hear and meet (Cathy Moore and Clive Shepherd, for two), folks I know and want to spend more time with, and new folks to find out about.

And I’m keen to revisit games.  It’s been six years (!) since I put up my take on designing learning games, but I have continued to look at what’s out there.  And I mmodestly think that while there are some really great books out there, none really provides any improvement in what I focused on: why learning can and should be hard fun.

In particular, the alignment between what makes engaging experiences and what makes effective education practice is still the best model I’ve found to frame design, and my design process still provides systematic and pragmatic guidance about how to design them.  After all, it’s all well and good to talk about how wonderful games can be, but if you can’t reliably and repeatably do that for any learning objective, it’s kind of a waste. And I stick to my claim that you can’t give me a learning objective I can’t design a game for, but I reserve the right to raise the objective ‘high’ enough (in the taxonomic sense).

I truly believe games are important.  They are, quite simply, the best practice environment you can provide to develop the learning outcomes that will make a difference to your organization: the ability to make the right decisions.  Ok, the best next to mentored live practice, but that has problems of scale; mentors are hard to clone, and live practice can be costly.  Games can also serve as assessment environments.

So, I encourage you to attend the conference if you can, it looks quite good. And, if you do, I hope you introduce yourself.  Looking forward to it!

3 January 2011

Happy New Year

Clark @ 7:21 AM

I have much to be grateful for at the start of this new year. I have had quite simply fabulous opportunities to engage, learn, and contribute. For that, I thank you.

I am always working to discover new ways to contribute, both alone as Quinnovation in learning experience design strategy, and with my colleagues in the Internet Time Alliance in helping organizations work smarter. I’m fortunate that a second book is due to be published on the 2nd of February, this time on mobile learning, to complement my first book on learning game design.

My latest thoughts are captured here, and I invite you to subscribe via RSS or email if you don’t already. It’s my alternative to a weekly ezine.

Fervent wishes for the coming year, hoping it is your best yet.

1 January 2011

2011 Predictions

Clark @ 6:11 AM

For the annual eLearn Mag predictions, this year I wrote:

I think we’ll see some important, but subtle, trends. Deeper uses of technology are going to surface: more data-driven interactions, complemented by both more structured content and more semantics. These trends are precursors to some very interesting nascent capabilities, essentially web 3.0: system-generated content.  I also think we’ll see the further demise of “courses über alles” and the ‘all-singing all-dancing’ solution, and movement towards performance support and learning facilitation driven via federated capabilities.

I think it’s worth elaborating on what I mean (I was limited to 75 words).

I’ve talked before about web 3.0, and what it takes is fine granularity and deep tagging of content, and some rules about what to present when.  Those rules can be hand-crafted based upon good guesses or existing research, but new opportunities arise from having those rules capitalize on rich data of interactions.  Both based upon some client work, and what I heard at the WCET conference, folks are finally waking up to the potential of collecting internet-scale data (e.g. Amazon and Netflix) and mining that as a basis for optimizing interactions.  Taking the steps now have some immediate payoffs in terms of optimizing content development streams and looking anew at what are important interactions, but the big returns come in creating optimized learning and performance interactions.

The second part is a bit of evangelism hoping that more organizations will follow the path foreseen by my Internet Time Alliance colleagues, and move beyond just training to covering informal learning.  I’ve talked before about looking at the bigger picture of learning, because I’m convinced that the coming differentiator will not be optimal execution but continuing innovation.  That takes, in my mind, both an optimized infrastructure and ubiquitous access (c.f. mobile).  It’s more, of course, because it also implies a culture supportive of learning, yet I think this is both an advantage for business competitiveness and a move that meets real human needs, which makes it an ideal as well as real goal.

The eLearning Mag predictions should be out soon, and I strongly encourage you to see what the bevy of prognosticators are proposing for the coming year.  I welcome hearing your thoughts, too!

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