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

7 April 2011

Learning Experience Design thru the Macroscope

Clark @ 6:29 AM

Our learning experience design is focused, essentially, on achieving one particular learning objective.  At the level of curricular design, we are then looking at sequences of learning objectives that lead to aggregate competencies.  And these are delivered as punctate events.  But with mobile technologies, we have the capability to truly start to deliver what I call ‘slow learning’: delivering small bits of learning over time to really develop an individual.  It’s a more natural map to how we learn; the event model is pretty broken.  Most of our learning comes from outside the learning experience.  But can we do better?

Really, I don’t think we have a handle on designing and delivering a learning experience that is spaced over time, and layered over our real world activities, to develop individuals in micro bits over a macro period of time rather than macro bits over a micro bit of time (which really doesn’t work).  We have pieces of the puzzle ( smaller chunks, content models) and we have the tools (individualized delivery, semantics), but putting them together really hasn’t been done yet.

Conceptually, it’s not hard, I reckon.  You have more small chunks of content, and more distributed performance model. You couple it with more self-evaluation, and you design a system that is patiently persistent in assisting people and supporting them along.  You’d have to change your content design, and provide mechanisms to recognize external content and real performance contexts as learning experiences.  You’d want to support lots of forms of equivalency, allowing self-evaluation against a rubric to co-exist with mentor evaluation.

There are some consequences, of course.  You’d have to trust the learner, they’d have to understand the value proposition, it’s a changed model that all parties would have to accommodate.  On the other hand, putting trust and value into a learning arrangement somehow feels important (and refreshingly different :).  The upside potential is quite big, however: learning that sticks, learners that feel invested in, and better organizational outcomes.  It’s really trying to build a system that is more mentor like than instructor like.  It’s certainly a worthwhile investigation, and potentially a big opportunity.

The point is to take the fact that technology is no longer the limit, our imaginations are. Then you can start thinking about what we would really want from a learning experience, and figure out how to deliver it.  We still have to figure out what our design process would look like, what representations we would need to consider, and our associated technology models, but this is doable.  The possibility is now well and truly on the table, anyone want to play?  I’m ready to talk when you are.


  1. “anyone want to play?” < Yes, please!

    I've been thinking a lot about this lately (http://bit.ly/99u088), but I keep getting hired to build courses. Or rather, I keep getting hired to build *a* course. Very occasionally, I get clients who take a longer view, but I think part of it is that I shrug and go "okay" a bit too often.

    I'm trying to treat it as more of a given: "Are you trying to teach information or skills? Okay – a skill. Well, that will require practice. How are we going to provide those practice opportunities? How are they going to get feedback on that practice?"

    Comment by Julie Dirksen — 7 April 2011 @ 7:14 PM

  2. One of the thoughts I most like in this post is the notion of making the work environment (or “the learning system,” whatever that is) more mentor-like and less instructor-like.

    Many people who see themselves as good instructors will feel slighted by that distinction. They don’t act like the sage on the stage (they would protest); they’re well-informed guides whose goal is to help you efficiently get to where you’re supposed to go.

    And that perception is probably true for them, though possibly less so for the person supposedly being guided. The neverending LinkedIn discussion on whether people should be “allowed” to use computers or smartphones during training (often phrased “in class”) clearly demonstrates a firm set of expectations that’s some distance from what you’re talking about.

    Still: my experience overall comports with yours. There’s a strong bias in the corporate learning establishment to assume that all this organized activity is for something, but that’s often like deciding that because the machine has so many parts, they’ve all got an important purpose. Rube Goldberg would find that amusing.

    Comment by Dave Ferguson — 9 April 2011 @ 4:41 AM

  3. In general, clients lead with wants, not needs. This is where L&D professionals have the opportunity to innovate. Partnering with clients to try an identify outcomes which have a longer shelf life, which are sustainable, which cross the silos and which really track back to their key objectives is the basis for success in this regard.

    I know it can be difficult to get clients to work in thisway, but the vast majority will respont to an invitation to reconsider on the basis it will save money down the line.

    Comment by Gerardine Killeen — 9 April 2011 @ 5:34 AM

  4. Oh, I love this. Creating a culture of “practicing” is one of the biggest challenges for many of us, though if we were teaching a sport or a musical instrument, nobody would think twice. It used to break my heart when I would be forced to switch from teaching programming 1x week for 8 weeks at UCLA to a 1 week cram-it-in session at Sun.

    Most topics, though, cam benefit from both jam sessions and spaced practice… I would be happiest if able to design a LX that included both.

    One thing, Quinn… It is just my opinion that calling it “slow learning” gives the opposite impression of what it actually is. My gorse trainers use the expression, “take the time it takes so it takes less time”, and one could argue that what you are describing could actually be FAST learning. You are really talking about slow TEACHING. I am assuming you are using “slow” in the sense it is used in “slow eating”, “slow leadership”, etc. But for positioning purposes, I would frame it differently. Though calling it what it really is: “spaced learning” has issues too ;). Everything I come up with does not sound quite right, but I believe it is worth spending more effort finding a more benefit-friendly label.

    Regardless, awesome post and I could not agree more!!

    Comment by Kathy Soerra — 9 April 2011 @ 8:54 AM

  5. Great post, and very timely for me personally. I’ve been working on this same concept recently. It was often distance and travel costs that required students to get a short deliberate duration of instruction. Where the more successful approach would be slower integrated just-in-time learning. Virtual technologies (skype, webex, RDP) remove many of the barriers to stretching out the instructional experience.

    One question that poses an obstacle to me is how you mention the transformation of an instructor to a mentor. A mentor requires a much more dynamic approach and a more complete understanding of the environment. In my group the training group possess very little seniority and experience. Scripted closed sessions work well with inexperienced instructors. How can lead a “slow learning” class while growing themselves. Perhaps they facilitate between the learner and other groups to help capture common queries and grow their own experience.

    Comment by Shaun — 9 April 2011 @ 10:45 AM

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