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

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?


  1. The assumption is that “no limits” is good. I think that needs a lot of reflection. While the thought experiment may be useful, it may also be useful to remember to put the limits back in.
    One of the interesting things about a lot of informal learning is that it happens while you aren’t looking, while you are doing something else. Making it explicit and conscious may affect how it happens or affect performance of a particular task. I am uncertain that having a personal mentor always looking for opportunities to develop me, would be comfortable. It reminds me of Clippy. Like Clippy you can turn it off, or may be set the levels to “respectful” etc. But that is a question of the degree rather than the nature of the service. I am not even sure to what extent those processes ought to be “outsourced”. Maybe we need to be identifying the learning opportunities in a given context ourselves, maybe we need that skill inside the head.
    The vision is interesting and as you say the technology is available. But I would suggest the limits of a system of this kind need consideration.

    Comment by NIck Kearney — 21 January 2011 @ 5:36 AM

  2. I would be afraid that if we would set ‘limits’ we miss learning opportunities. If the fear is the overwhelming evidence of material available and that we would not be able to filter all of the information, perhaps that is what the menotr would be responsible for. Also as adult learners, we should be able to reflect and monitor incoming information and be able to filter as we can tolerate the information, reflect and synthesis.

    Comment by Cherie Frame — 21 January 2011 @ 1:02 PM

  3. My reference to ‘no limits’ was really just as a design rubric that says “don’t think about what we can do now, but instead what you might do if you had no limits, total magic, etc”. That’s to break out of premature evaluation, limiting what we might conceive. If we conceive something better, we might be able to do it. That does not mean continual intrusion, or anything else, except to think without preconceived expectations. I can think of many ways in which I wish I could ‘bake in’ some support automatically into my own activities, which drives this. However, it would definitely have to respect preferences on all aspects: devices, degrees of intrusion, information sharing, and more. Thanks for the feedback!

    Comment by Clark — 21 January 2011 @ 5:34 PM

  4. A lot of food for thought. I reflected on this in my blog.


    Comment by Lorraine Taylor — 24 January 2011 @ 4:00 PM

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