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

31 May 2011

CERT and performance support

Clark @ 6:15 AM

I’ve just completed Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training (except a final live drill in a nearby neighborhood), and I’ve been impressed with the thought that’s gone into the task.  The situation is that in a major emergency natural or man-made: tsunami, terror attack, tornado, hurricane, explosion, or in our case, earthquakes, the capabilities of first-responders (police, paramedics, fire) will be overwhelmed.

The plan is that volunteer teams trained to take initial action as a mechanism to save lives. The situation would be grim.  If it’s needed, there will be life-threatening injuries, death, damage, and more. And even trained responders will be under considerable stress.

Consequently, the design is very focused, making sure the volunteer responders are safe, not going beyond their training, and first identifying and categorizing the help needed, before actually taking any action.  It’s hard to think about having to barely help someone (particularly, say, a child) and moving on, but that’s what will achieve the best result overall, as they repeatedly tell us.

To facilitate, they’ve done an impressive job of providing resources to optimize the chances for success. They’re focused on communication and task support as really the two key things. In addition to the training, they’ve provided resources and very specific performance support tools.

If and when such an event happens, everyone knows where they’re supposed to report, and how to get going. The first thing found is a folder that as soon as you open it, it starts telling you exactly what to do. If you follow the directions, you’ll be led to create a team, check in, and head off on the first area needing to be searched.

There are guidance forms for everything, and even simple things like blank paper behind a template with cutouts to store info, then share via radio. Then you rip out the sheet, and another blank one is behind.

It’s hard to remember everything you’re supposed to do (only 2 people do the physical search, one scribes, one leads; call out to see if anyone’s there first; assess structural safety; mark what’s found and move on, the list goes on).  But there are tools and job aids for everything, so it’s hard to go wrong.  And that’s important, because this will likely be a situation where cool and calm are out the window.

It’s reassuring to see the thought that’s gone into the tools we have to use. I hope I never have to, but I feel better knowing that if I do, there’s a lot of well-designed support.  I recommend both that you consider getting CERT training, and also look at how they’ve taken a very tough task and broken it down into a command situation.

30 May 2011

Explicating process

Clark @ 6:01 AM

I think supporting performance is important, and that we don’t do enough with models in formal learning.  To me, another interesting opportunity that’s being missed is the intersection of the two.

Gloria Gery’s original vision of electronic performance support systems was that not only would they help you perform but they’d also develop your understanding so you’d need them less and less.  I’ve never seen that in practice, sad to say.

Now it might get in the way of absolute optimal performance, but I believe we can, and should, develop learner understanding about the performance.  If the performance support is just providing rote information so that the learner doesn’t have to look it up, that’s ok. But if, instead, the performance support is interactive decision support, the system could, and should, provide the model that’s guiding the decisions as well as the recommendations.

This needn’t be much, just a thin veneer over the system, so instead of, after asking X and Y, recommending Z, saying “because of A and B, we’ve eliminated C and recommend Z” or somesuch.

It could also be making the underlying model visible through the system.  Show the influence of the answers to the questions to competing alternatives, for instance.

All in all, I believe it’s better that performers understand what’s behind recommendations, because then they can internalize those models both to reduce the need for the system and to be able to infer when to go beyond the system.

Helping people understand and use models is a powerful form of meta-learning, to me, and a 21st century skill folks will be needing. Why are we missing the opportunity to help develop those skills?

24 May 2011


Clark @ 6:08 AM

The latest ‘flavor of the month’ is so-called gamification. Without claiming to be an expert in this area (tho’ with a bit of experience in game design), I have to say that I’ve some thoughts both positive and negative on this.

So what is ‘gamification’? As far as I can tell, it’s the (and I’m greatly resisting the temptation to put the word ‘gratuitous’ in here :) addition of game mechanics to user experiences to increase their participation, loyalty, and more. Now, there are levels of game mechanics, and I can see tapping into some deeper elements, but what I see are relatively simple things like adding scoring, achievements (e.g. badges), etc.   A colleague of mine who released a major learning game admitted that they added score at the end to compensate for the lack of ability to tune further and needing to release to appease investors. I get it; there are times that adding in gamification increases bottom lines in meaningful ways. But I want to suggest that we strive a little bit higher.

In Engaging Learning, I talked about the elements that synergistically lead to both better effectiveness of education practice, and more engaging experiences. These weren’t extrinsic like ‘frame games’ (tarted-up drill-and-kill), but instead focused on aligning with learner interests, intrinsic elements of the task, and more. This means finding out what drives experts to find this intriguing, a role that learners can play that’s compelling, meaningful decisions to make, appropriate level of challenges, and more. That’s what I’m shooting for.

The benefits of intrinsic motivation instead of extrinsic have been studied since the late 70’s in work by Tom Malone and Mark Lepper. In short, you get better outcomes when people are meaningfully engaged rather than trivially engaged. Dan Pink’s book Drive lays out a wealth of related research that suggests we need to avoid rewards for rote performance and instead should be focusing on helping folks do real tasks. I can’t remember where I first heard the term ‘engagification’, but that’s just what I’m thinking of.

To me, it’s the right way take gamification, focus on intrinsic motivation. If we’re gamifying, we’re covering up for some other deficiency, I reckon. Yes, there may be times that intrinsic motivation is hard to find (e.g. to get fit), but that probably means we haven’t tried hard enough yet. I recall recently hearing about gamifying kids math problems; yes, but rote problems are the wrong thing to drill. Can’t we find the intrinsic interest in math, solving real problems (like the ones they’ll see in the real world, not on tests)?  I reckon we could, and should. It would take more effort initially, but the payoff ought to be better.

Perhaps gamify if you have to, but only after you’ve first tried to engagify. Please.

23 May 2011

Getting iNtimate

Clark @ 6:02 AM

In a recent post, I talked about the difference between a smartphone and a tablet (substitute PDA for smartphone if that’s how you roll).  I’ve been thinking more about that, and have wondered about the effects of a particular phenomena.

In my experience, I have found the relationship with a tablet to be more ‘intimate’ (to use the technical term :). What I mean here is I hold it close instead of arms length and I touch the device itself, not some intermediary peripheral.  Even using a touch interface to swipe and pinch (ooh!) is qualitatively different that point and click.  The question is, what does this mean for the outcomes of the interaction, rather than the interaction itself?

Cognitively, if you’re closer to the interaction, more engaged with the content, it would seem plausible that more would ‘stick’. Particularly compared to a desktop, where you might be distracted by the shiny objects (new messages, whether email, IM, or whatever).

And I’m perfectly comfortable with that alone, and inclined to believe that what you experience with a tablet comes close to what you experience with a book: it’s a dedicated interface (by and large) for consuming content, and it’s a directly tactile interaction as opposed to one that’s indirect.  I’d suggest that it’s plausible that a tablet experience is cognitively more tangible than what’s represented through a laptop or desktop.

Now, how about the emotional experience?  Is there anything there? Is that intimacy anything more than just a minimization of distance?  Here I’m on more tentative ground, but I’d be inclined to believe that the more direct experience is more emotionally engaging, coupling a sensory experience with the cognitive. Would that have a beneficial influence? I can’t say.

What I can say is that when we couple the more immediate experience of a tablet with the power of digital interaction, we’re moving into area that has real potential to accelerate the learning experience.  If we can interact with an engine-driven simulation, a serious game, we’re combining an intimate experience with an engaging one, and beginning to combine two powerful experiences in ways that may allow the whole to be greater than the sum of the parts.  But wait, there’s more!

First, however, let me add in a recent discovery: I was alerted to a new form of app for the iPad, a combination of a comic book and interactive games.  While this particular instance, Imaginary Range, is purely entertainment focused, I was intrigued by the approximation of an experience I’ve been interested in co-opting for learning purposes.  I’ve long been an advocate of the comic strip format (aka manga or graphic novels) as a communication tool because of the ability to add meta-cognitive annotation (thought bubbles), strip away unnecessary contextual details, low bandwidth requirements, trans-cultural familiarity and more.  The ability to use a powerful story with meaningful interactions is pretty intriguing, capitalizing on what we’re talking about.

The extra dimension to cap off this trifecta is to add in the social element: so learners can reflect on their experience compared to others, or even better, collaborate.  When we can have tablets providing ways for learners to interact with content, each other, and a learning mentor, we have a potentially transformative environment.  And that’s worth getting involved with.


19 May 2011

eLearning Guild Mobile Learning Research Report now available

Clark @ 6:04 AM

I’ve had my head down on a couple of projects, but I can now announce one of them: the eLearning Guild’s Mobile Learning Research Report is now available. This is a timely release to help set the context for their upcoming mLearnCon mlearning conference.  (And, yes, I’m speaking, running a pre-conference workshop, all the usual. :)

In it, I review the latest trends in the mobile market, and then synthesize the results of the Guild’s member surveys.  Here’s the marketing blurb:

Mobile learning is not just a fad. It is instead a transformative opportunity both for learning, and the learning organization. Mobile learning means both augmenting formal learning, and moving to performance support, informal, and social learning as well. If you have not yet done so, it is now both possible and desirable to put in place a mobile experiment to create an mLearning strategy articulated with the overall learning, performance, and technology strategy.

The actual implementation of mLearning is growing faster in some capabilities than others. According to eLearning Guild research data collected from thousands of members worldwide, the use of mLearning for social networking and communication is more prevalent than it is for the development of custom applications, with 38.1% of organizations either implementing, designing, or building the business case for social networking and only 25.7% for custom application development.  Of those who have conducted an mLearning implementation, 50% are seeing positive returns.

In this report, author Clark Quinn begins his examination of mobile learning by establishing a foundation with some context and a discussion of devices and major categories of application. Clark then analyzes eLearning Guild research data about how people are currently using mobile, and discusses implementation issues, before taking a look to the future.

The report is free for all paid members of the eLearning Guild, with plenty of other benefits.  Check it out.

18 May 2011

Alternate Pedagogies and Experiences

Clark @ 6:04 AM

In writing about mobile for higher education, other than meeting learner administrative and information needs, I obviously focused more on the formal learning roles mobile devices could facilitate.  And one of the things that has been of interest to me is looking differently at pedagogies.


In the traditional view, we activate the learner’s interest, we present them with the concept, we provide examples, we have them practice (with feedback), and we conclude the learning experience.  I think this makes sense cognitively, but it doesn’t make sense when we start considering the learner’s emotional side.  Unless we open up the learner emotionally, I reckon the rest of the effort won’t stick. We can do this with the intro, but there are other approaches.


For one, we don’t need to stick to the traditional order.  At least with elearning, we can make the order navigable, allowing the learner to choose what they want to see.  We took that approach when we developed a course on speaking to the media (which had some other innovations too) back around 1997.  It was also seen at UNext.  We provided a ‘follow the bouncing ball’ path for uncertain learners, but anecdotally we found half the audiences, presumably confident self-learners, explored in other approaches than the recommended approach.

This approach also provides the necessary structure to support adaptive systems, which can present different objects at different times. We used this approach when developing the Intellectricity™ system that adapted the learning experience based upon learner characteristics.


The approach I typically refer to as the problem-based approach (similar approaches are seen in case-based, project-based, and service learning) essentially puts the problem, an overarching practice, first.  By showing the learner the type of problem this learning experience will help you address, you build in the emotional side.  Now they’re understanding why this is important, and are motivated to go explore the concept, examples, and perhaps do trial practices before it matters. This is the pedagogy that drives the interest in serious games, embedding meaningful practice in a compelling context.

The problem-based approach more closely mimics the motivation learners will feel when faced with real performance contexts, and makes the content more meaningful.  Engaging the learner in meaningful practice provides experience for reflection, and shifts the instructor to be a facilitator and guide instead of a content presenter.

The point, of course, is to think more broadly about the learning experience, tapping into intrinsic motivation, whether for learning or for the problem, and start embedding what we know about the emotional side of learning into the learning experience.

17 May 2011

10 mobile questions

Clark @ 6:08 AM

As part of an initiative for ASTD’s upcoming International Conference and Exposition, I was filmed as I responded to 10 questions around mobile (if you’re there, hope to hear how it goes) from Tony Bingham (he came in via conference call). Here is what I wrote up as thoughts before the filming (and then answered spontaneously, but mindful of what I’d written).

1. How do you define mobile learning?

I really think mobile learning is about augmenting the brain wherever and whenever you are, or, as I say “accessorize your brain“.  Yes, you can get into elegant definitions (I like how Judy Brown mentions size, familiarity, and omnipresence), but really it’s about how it’s used.  I advocate not thinking about courses on a phone, but instead about augmenting formal learning and augmenting performance.

2. Why mobile / why now?

I think the reason mobile is becoming ‘hot’ is that the devices are converging and offering powerful capabilities in a small factor, and that mobile devices are now ubiquitous (at least in the developed world, and are at surprising levels in the developing world.  But perhaps most importantly, as I think about it now (and not what I said or wrote originally), is that the space is maturing. We have workable app stores and easy usage.  The power is now out there, and the mechanisms are now there to take advantage of it. When a small company like Google is saying they’re developing for mobile first, something significant is happening.

3. Where is mobile learning having the biggest impact today – how do you see that changing in the future?

Right now, I think the biggest impact is in quick access to needed problem-solutions, whether it’s content, computation, or the right person.  In the future, I expect to see more context sensitivity (e.g. augmented reality).  The opportunity already exists to get information based upon where you are, and I hope we’ll see more, but also support for ‘when’ you are (that is, what you are doing regardless of where it is), and of course the combination of both.

4. How does mobile learning support other types of learning at the organizations with whom you work (e.g., formal learning / social learning)? Has it replaced any other learning modes?

I see mobile learning as providing a way to extend the formal learning in time and space, and while the time one is important, again I think the space one will be come important.  I don’t see mobile learning as a replacement though I think it can spark a useful shift to consider performance support in addition to or in place of formal learning.

5. What impact has mobile learning had on instructional design?

I think that mlearning has had a beneficial impact on instructional design in several ways. For one, it requires minimalism, and that’s good for elearning in general from the perspective of the learner experience.  Second, I think it has emphasized more granularity in design, separating out concepts from examples from practice activities, and that’s beneficial in terms of looking forward to adaptive and personalized systems. Overall, I think it has helped foment a greater emphasis on separating out the content itself from how it’s delivered.

6. From a development perspective – do you think the industry should be focused on apps or the web for mobile learning – do you see this changing in the future?

I don’t think there’s one answer, it’s horses for courses, as they say.  Mobile web currently has a greater reach across platforms, and is easier to develop.  On the other hand, it can have limitations in terms of taking advantage of device-specific capabilities.  And, of course, there is still such dynamism that whatever answer you give now might change between when I write this and you read it.  In the longer term, I hope for a cross-platform development environment that allows production of highly interactive experiences and the delivery can be platform-specific for most devices and then have a web option for other devices.

7. How do you recommend dealing with the various platforms that are currently available – and, what do you consider in making those decisions?

The platform solution depends mightily on many factors: who the audience is, what devices they have, what the need is, and what resources are available all can play a factor in deciding what platform to choose.  Increasingly, you also have to ask what the context of the individual is, and the task as well.

8. Please talk about the importance (or not) of senior executive and organization support for mobile learning.

Like all organizational initiatives, top-down support is really beneficial.  While stealth operations, bottom-up grassroots initiatives can succeed and have done so, in the long term you want executives to ‘get’ the value. Increasingly, we’re seeing that executives are using smartphones and tablets, so the opportunity is there.

9. What advice would you give to someone thinking about implementing mobile learning in their organization?

Think strategically.  And, at the same time, get your hands dirty with a first experiment. That may seem contradictory, but you want to be developing both your experience with it as you start incorporating mobile into your long-term thinking.  Naturally all the pre-existing wisdom holds true: start small, find something easy that will have a big impact, etc.

As I think of it now, I think you should do several things:

  1. make sure all the content you generate (and post-hoc do this for legacy content) is mobile-accessible and mobile deliverable.
  2. find mobile solutions for all your internal communication channels: phone, text messages, email, but also access to social networks, wikis, etc.
  3. create a place for mobile-generated content – images, videos, etc – to be stored and shared

10.  What do you see in the future for mobile learning?

I naturally mentioned my interest in slow learning, beginning to move away from the event model and start thinking about a more mentor-like relationship in developing individuals over time, in ways that more naturally mimic the way our brains learn.  Also, of course, I think alternate reality games will combine the best of simulation game learning and mobile learning, making learning closer to the real task, more engaging, more distributed, and consequently more effective.

Those are my answers, what are yours?


16 May 2011

Beyond Talent

Clark @ 6:05 AM

A post I wrote for the ATC conference:

As I prepare to talk to the Australasian Talent Conference I’ve naturally been thinking about the intersection of that field and what I do. As I recently blogged, I think there’s an overlap between OD and the work of trying to facilitate organizational performance through technology. I think Talent Management  similarly has an overlap.

While technology is used in talent management, it really is more focused on the management part, supporting the role of HR in recruitment, competencies, and more. Which is good, but now there’s more on the table.  We now have the benefits of Web 2.0 to leverage. To understand how, it helps to look at the charateristics of Web 2.0.  Brent Schlenker talks about the 5-ables:

  • findable – the ability to use search to find things
  • feedable – the ability to subscribe to content
  • linkable – the ability to point to content
  • taggable – allowing other to add descriptors
  • editable – allowing others to add content

At core, this is about leveraging the power of the network to get improved outcomes. When others can add value, they do. We have seen that in learning and development, and the drivers there are not unique to the area.

Things are moving faster, and information is increasing. Worse, that information is more volatile, as well. As if that weren’t enough, competition is increasing.  The luxury to plan, prepare, and execute is increasingly a thing of the past.  As a consequence, optimal execution is only the cost of entry, and continual innovation is the necessary differentiator.

As a result, the old top-down mentality is no longer a solution, one person can not do all the necessary thinking for a team. Instead, forward-thinking organizations are finding the solution in empowering their people to work together to come up with the necessary solutions. They are devolving problem-solving, research, design, innovation further down in the organization, and realizing real results from the process. Instead of having to own all the content, learning units are instead facilitating the development of answers from among the stakeholders.

Note that by doing so, organizations are also making work more meaningful and consequently more rewarding. As Dan Pink’s Drive demonstrates, individuals are more motivated by the opportunity to engage than by artificial rewards. And these results are not unique to high-tech, but being seen in organizations engaged in manufacturing, medicine, and more.

This revolution can, and should, be seen in talent management as well. Throughout the lifecycle of talent, the network can add value. Beyond recruiting, networks can be used for talent evaluation, and then within the organization for onboarding, development, performance management, and even debriefing and alumni activities.

The point is to think about how to tap into the power of people. And even when you are now hiring people, you are not just hiring what is in their heads, but what’s also in their networks. Similarly, they are choosing organizations on how well they use networks. As the Cuetrain Manifesto documented, an organization can no longer control the message. If an organization is inauthentic externally, it is a safe bet that it is similarly dysfunctional internally.

Social media is much more than just marketing, it’s a tool to take advantage of for many reasons. More meaningful work, better outcomes, and a better connection to the market are just the top level benefits. Social, it’s not just for parties any more.


3 May 2011

On Competencies and Compliance

Clark @ 6:12 AM

While my colleagues in the ITA and I are railing against the LMS as a complete solution for organizational performance (and the vendors rally back with their move beyond course management with social and portal capabilities, to be fair), one overriding cry is heard: “but we have to do compliance!”  And, yes, they do. But that umbrella covers a multitude of sins as well as some real importance.

So, for the record, I acknowledge that I want procedures followed when lives are on the line and other cases where it’s important.  Yes, I do want oil well procedures followed, ethics in financial transactions, careful scrutiny of pharmaceutical research, harassment-free workplaces, and more.   I like that there are procedures for pre-flight safety, medical sanitation, etc.  So don’t get me wrong.

What I am concerned about, however, are two things.  For one, as I see the effectiveness of classes ranging from very practical guidance to ridiculously useless knowledge tests.  Let’s be clear, telling someone about something and having them recite back the knowledge isn’t going to lead to meaningful change in behavior.  An expert in emotional intelligence told me that most of the workplace bullying interventions are worthless, as the person responds appropriately to the information on a post-class test, but then goes back to the workplace and continues to misbehave.  That’s a waste of time and money.

For another, the criteria are often knowledge based, not performance-based.  We can make meaningful tests, either computer-administered (simulations), or real performance.  What doesn’t work are knowledge tests.  And LMSs don’t care what the form of assessment is, if it can be recorded.

What we should be looking for are competency assessments, based upon real performance, not knowledge test.  Certainly, pilots have to perform appropriately, as do surgeons. They are measured by real performance.   It’s not about courses.  If they can’t perform, then there are knowledge resources, whatever might be helpful, but it’s not like they have to take a course, unless they want to.

And the standards change over time as new procedures and tools come in.  BTW, how does that adaptation happen?  Not by one person decreeing it so, but panels of experts coming up with new proposals, testing, and refinement.  A social process, with criteria of their own about acceptable standards.  And not measured by seat time, poundage, or any thing other than the ability to reliably demonstrate capability.

Now I’m going to sound far-fetched here, but in the long term, I see communities developing the criteria and competencies collaboratively, and the assessment mechanisms as well.  The tools will exist for communities to pass up ideas, for experts to review and revise the criteria, and for the process to be transparent to governmental and public scrutiny.  We need better and more meaningful competency development and testing.  That’s what I’d like us all to comply with.

2 May 2011

Think like a publisher

Clark @ 6:02 AM

Way  back when we were building the adaptive learning system tabbed Intellectricity™, we were counting on a detailed content model that carved up the overall content into discrete elements that could be served up separately to create a unique learning experience.  As I detailed in an article, issues included granularity and tagging vocabulary.  While my principle for the right level of granularity is playing a distinct role in the learning experience, e.g. separating a concept presentation from an example from a practice element, my more simple heuristic is to consider “what would a knowledgeable mentor give to one learner versus another”. The goal, of course, is to support future ability to personalize and customize the learning experience.

Performance Ecosystem

Back then, we were thinking then as a content delivery engine, but our constraints required content produced in a particular format, and we were thinking about how we’d get content produced the way we needed.  Today, I’m still thinking that the advantages of content produced in discrete chunks, under a tight model, is a valuable investment in time and energy.  Increasingly, I’m seeing publishers taking a similar view, and as new content formats get developed and delivered (e.g. ebooks, mobile web), the importance of more careful attention to content makes sense.

The benefits of more careful articulation of content can go further. In the performance ecosystem model (PDF), the greater integration step is specifically around more tightly integrating systems and processes.  While this includes coupling the disparate systems into a coherent workbench for individuals, it also includes developing content into a model that accounts for different input sources, output needs, and governance.  While this is largely for formal content, it could be community-generated content as well.  The important thing is to stop redundant content development.  Typically, marketing generates requirements, and engineering develops specifications, which then are fed separately to documentation, sales training, customer training, and support, which all generate content anew from the original materials.  Developing into and out of a content model reduces errors and redundancy, and increases flexibility and control.  (And this is not incommensurate with devolving responsibility to individuals.)

We’re already seeing the ability to create custom recommendations (e.g. Amazon, Netflix), and companies are already creating custom portals (e.g. IBM).  The ability to begin to customize content delivery will be important for customer service, performance support, and slow learning.  Whether driven by rules or analytics (or hybrids), semantic tagging is going to be necessary, and that’s an concomitant requirement of content models.  But the upside potential is huge, and will eventually be a differentiator.

Learning functions in organizations need to be moving up the strategic ladder in terms of their overall responsibility for more than just formal learning, but also performance support and ecommunity.  Thinking like advanced publishers can and should be about moving beyond the text, and even beyond content, to the experience.  While that could be custom designs (and in some cases it must be, e.g. simulation games), for content curators and providers it also has to be about flexible business models and quality development.  I believe it’s a must for other organizations as well.  I encourage you to start thinking strategically about content development in rich ways that stop with one-off development, and start thinking about putting some up-front effort into not only templates, but also models with tight definitions and labels.

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