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

3 December 2011

Slow Learning – #change11

Clark @ 5:42 PM

This is a longer post launching my week in the #change11 MOOC (Massively Open Online Course).  

Our formal learning approaches too often don’t follow how our brains really work.  We have magic now; we can summon up powerful programs to do our bidding, gaze through webcams across distances, and bring anyone and anything to pretty much anywhere. Our limitations are no longer the technology, but our imaginations. The question is, what are we, and should be, doing with this technology?

I like to look at this a couple of ways. For one, I like to ask myself “what would my ideal learning situation be?”

Stop and ask yourself that.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.  And feel free to share!

For me, that would be having a personal mentor traveling with me, looking at my tasks, providing both support in the moment, and developing me slowly over time.  I talked about how we might systematize that in a post titled Sage at the Side.  I also talked about this model as Layered Learning.  That is, layering on learning across our life.

It’s part of what my colleague Harold Jarche talks about when saying “work is learning and learning is work”, the notion that as organizations start empowering workers to adapt to the increasing complexity, there will be no difference between work and learning, and we’ll have to move away from the ‘event’ model of learning and start integrating learning more closely into our activities.  We’ll need to have a closer coupling between our activities and the resources, creating what Jay Cross calls a workscape and I’ve termed the performance ecosystem.  That is, having the tools to hand, including job aids, people, and skill development, but in a more systemic way.

Think about that: how would you construct an optimal performance environment for yourself?  What would it look like?  Again, feel free to share.

Would it look like an LMS over here, training away over there, job aids scattered across portals, and social networks hierarchically structured or completely banned?  Would you have spray-and-pray (aka show up and throw up) training?  Online courses that are clicky-clicky bling-bling? Resources accessible by the way the organization is siloed?  Even the simple and well-documented matter of spaced learning is largely violated in most of the learning interventions we propagate.  In short, all of this is in conflict with how the human brain works!

Look at how how we learn naturally, before schooling (what I call the 7 C’s of natural learning). We see that we learn by being engaged in meaningful activity, and working with others.  It’s not about knowledge dump and test, but instead about coupling engaged activity with reflection.  I like Collins, Brown, & Holum’s Cognitive Apprenticeship as a model for thinking more richly about learning.  Other learning models are not static (c.f. Merrill’s trajectory through CDT to ID2 to Ripples), and I believe they’ll converge where Cognitive Apprenticeship is (albeit perhaps my slightly adulterated version thereof).  It talks about modeling, scaffolding and release, naturally incorporating social and meaningful activity into the learning process.

Taking a broader look, too many of our systems have a limited suite of solutions to choose from, and ignore a number of features that we need.  The ADDIE process assumes a course, and still doesn’t have any real support for the emotional engagement aspect. A step above is the HPT approach, which does look at the learning need and checks to see whether the solution might be a course, a job aid, realigning incentives, or some other things. However, it still doesn’t consider, really, engagement, nor does an adequate job of considering when connecting to a person is a more valuable solution than designing content.

And while Gloria Gery’s seminal work on Electronic Performance Support Systems suggested that these systems could not only provide support in the moment but also develop the learners’ understanding, I still don’t see this in any systems in practice. Even GPSs don’t help you understand the area, they just get you where you’re trying to go. So we are still missing something.

I’m really arguing for the need to come up with a broader perspective on learning.  I’ve been calling it learning experience design, but really it’s more.  It’s a combination of performance support and learning (and it’s badly in need of some branding help). The notion is a sort-of personal GPS for your knowledge work. It’s knows where you want to go (since you told it), and it knows where you are geographically and semantically (via GPS and your calendar), and as it recognizes the context it can provide not only support in the moment, but layers on learning along the way.  And I think that we don’t know really how to look at things this way yet; we don’t have design models (to think about the experience conceptually), we don’t have design processes (to go from goal to solution), and we don’t have tools (to deliver this integrated experience).  Yet the limits are not technological; we have the ability to build the systems if we can conceptualize the needed framework.

I think this framework will need to start with considering the experience design, what is the flow of information and activity that will help develop the learner (e.g. “If you get the design right, there are lots of ways to implement it”).  Then we can get into the mechanics of how to distribute the experience across devices, information, people, etc.  But this is embryonic yet, I welcome your thoughts!

Really, I’m looking to start matching our technology more closely to our brains.  Taking a  page from the slow movement (e.g. slow X, where X = food, sex, travel, …), I’m talking about slow learning, where we start distributing our learning in ways that match the ways in which our brains work: meaningfulness, activation and reactivation, not separate but wrapped around our lives, etc.

There’s lots more: addressing the epistemology of learners, mobile technologies, meta-learning & 21st C skills, and deep analytics and semantic systems, to name a few, but I think we need to start with the right conceptions.  Some of my notions of design may be too didactic, after all, and we’ll need to couple information augmentation with meaning-making to make real progress, but I think this notion of stepping back and reflecting on what we might want to achieve and where we’re currently inadequate is an initial step.

And now the initiative is over to you. I look forward to your thoughts.


Collins, A., Brown, J.S., and Holum, A. (1991).  .  Cognitive Apprenticeship: Making Thinking Visible. American Educator, Winter.

Quinn, C. (2004).  Learning at LargeEducational Technology, 44, 4, 45-49.

Quinn, C. (2009). Populating the LearnScape: e-Learning as Strategy. In M. Allen (Ed.) Michael Allen’s eLearning Annual 2009. Pfeiffer, San Francisco.

Quinn, C. (2010). Rethinking eLearning.  Learning Solutions Magazine. April.

Quinn, C. (2010). Designing for an uncertain world. Learnlets. April.

Thalheimer, W. (2006).  Spacing Learning Over Time.  Work Learning Research.


  1. […] and Learning Posted on December 4, 2011 | Leave a comment This week’s topic is slow learning, where Clark Quinn will be the facilitator of the session.  Relating to Slow Learning, here is one […]

    Pingback by #Change11 The Yin and Yang in Life, Education and Learning | Learner Weblog — 3 December 2011 @ 8:54 PM

  2. […] his opening post for Week 13 of #change11 MOOC, Clark Quinn addresses this problem: I’m really arguing for the […]

    Pingback by Ditch the GPS; Get Lost Instead #change11 « Andrew Neuendorf — 5 December 2011 @ 5:42 AM

  3. […] What would my ideal learning situation be? I like to struggle on my own trying to find answers on my questions. Of course I do need people on my path in the gardens of learning, but I do not like teachers. Teachers always want to show their flowers and almost never want to see my work in the garden. (I sometimes did meet a good gardener/teacher). I don’t have a GPS in my car, like to find my own way and sometimes get lost in beautiful places I’ d never be with a teacher/guide/GPS). […]

    Pingback by Rhizomes and education. What would my ideal learning situation be? #change11 « connectiv — 5 December 2011 @ 7:02 AM

  4. Clark, I’m so thrilled to see you leading this week in the mooc. I’ve been reading your work and others’ in the Internet Time Alliance since about 2009. So much of what you’ve described above is ‘bang on’ in terms of blurring the lines between designing, learning and working and it has definitely influenced my own practice as learner, designer and collaborator.

    I think the way I’m learning right now, in 2011, is how I prefer to learn and it includes:
    – a network of go-to-people
    – the right tools at my fingertips (esp. Google, WebEx, SharePoint)
    – a spirit of reciprocity
    – a default set to ‘share’
    – a nomadic heart willing to wander into new territory and risk and fail and figure stuff out

    I don’t need or want an LMS and I often don’t need a ‘teacher’ in the traditional sense, though I welcome the wisdom of coaches and mentors.

    Really looking forward to the week’s activities!

    Comment by brainysmurf — 5 December 2011 @ 10:36 AM

  5. “It’s knows where you want to go (since you told it)” You stopped me right there…

    To me this means benchmarking your current and future state of thinking against some kind of criteria. It also brings the discussion back to square one, which is evaluation criteria. Whether its designed according to ADDIE, Component Design Theory (Mayer), Dick and Cary or Rapid Instructional Design, formal, informal, self or peer reviewed, evaluation is the central feature in learning design.

    In self regulated learning, evaluation is a metacognitive event. A GPS is a good metaphor for a well developed metacognitive system that enables us to recognize a problem, determine learning gaps, and categorize concepts for future use. What future, semantic web-like tool will perform causal reasoning yielding feedback that supports the overarching learning goal of making accurate causal connections?

    Interesting discussion.

    Comment by Jenny Ankenbauer — 5 December 2011 @ 11:13 AM

  6. […] weeks ago, I drafted the following post. This week as I become immersed in the ideas of Clark Quinn, I wonder if any Change11 participants would care to take on the role of Sage on the Side. Suppose […]

    Pingback by Calling all Sages on the Side: #change11 « LEARNINGSTREAM….. — 6 December 2011 @ 10:13 AM

  7. Last year I taught a face-to-face course titled “Complexity of Conflict”. During our first meeting, we used appreciative inquiry to set up our ideal learning situation. Much of what my students discussed is similar to my ideal. Briefly, here are some elements, organized under the four categories of appreciative inquiry: 1) Discovery-the best of what we have previously experienced: sense of accomplishment, respect, sharing ideas, supportive atmosphere to enable taking risks. 2) Dream-best of what might be: have real life application, synergy and energy, flexible and fun, open discussions, clear direction, ideas flying around, taking on complex ideas, confidentiality in that “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”.

    After these discussions, we went on to 3) Design-what it might truly look like and 4) Delivery-what will we commit to, an individual ranking of items central to creating a best learning experience.

    A final aspect of these discussions was “What am I going to do to turn these ideas into reality?” We did a mid-term take on how our ideal was progressing and the final course evaluation included questions specific to the ideal.

    For more information on setting up this process see Conklin, Thomas A. (2009). Creating classrooms of preference: An exercise in appreciative Inquiry. Journal of Management Education, 33(6), 772-792.

    Comment by Glenis Joyce — 6 December 2011 @ 11:20 AM

  8. […] Clark Quinn, Learnlets, 3. Dezember 2011 […]

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  9. […] semana, en #Change11, nos visita Clark Quinn, quien durante los últimos 20 años se ha dedicado al desarrollo de juegos para educación dentro […]

    Pingback by Aprendizaje Lento « franciscomorfin — 6 December 2011 @ 4:10 PM

  10. As I read your invitation to envision the “ideal” learning situation, I thought of the Canadian Aboriginal model of teaching traditional skills through a watch me, watch me, watch me, imitate me, watch me again approach. It’s so gentle and “slow” but, and there’s the rub, it simply doesn’t scale for today’s education factory.

    The majority of us cannot live on the farm or in the bush; but can we design learning experiences along a similar model where learners contribute something of value to the community? For several years now, our local airport has displayed a wall-sized map of our town with hand-drawn pictures of local buildings. Everyone who comes to town (we’re a isolated fly-in community) sees and admires the map and many visitors use it to orient themselves and locate their destination. That map was made by a Grade 1-2 class.

    Comment by Jim Stauffer — 6 December 2011 @ 9:42 PM

  11. Clark, I really like reading your articles – the simple black on white no frills layout reflects the straight forward advice – this appeals to my style of learning on a web page. There are less distractions and I can absorb your message. That’s my ideal learning situation – a space where I can absorb, analyse and synthesise. A place where I get to choose my path, my destination and my mentors. Self-directed learning suits me and enables me to move into, around and exit from networks, CoPs, groups and partnerships at my will. That’s why I like project based learning – we can set the trajectory at the beginning and then allow experience(s) to change the outcomes – we can brainstorm with team members and allow that new learning to change our process – we can explore a suite of tools for learning tasks and allow that exploration to determine which ones suit the learning and learners best. We already have the strategies to construct an ideal performance environment using a blend of the Massive Open Online Course process with the Open Education resources, the Social media tools and a learner centred attitude to learning.
    In my role as a guide and mentor for teachers, my task is clear – I need to clarify the potential benefits of such a blend to the second and third followers to enhance their lifelong learning journey. I need to dig deeper into methods of ‘enabling’ learning so that teachers I support can ‘change’ and determine their own trajectory for guiding their own learners.
    I am practicing a new approach ‘change by stealth’ – plant an idea; support from beneath and beside; observe and acknowledge achievement. I will build on that and report back later. (I have much to learn from your other posts.)

    Comment by CoachCarole — 6 December 2011 @ 11:35 PM

  12. […] post is part of a discussion on Slow Learning. Clark Quinn did somehow evoke blogposts on autonomy and GPS. He ends the blog with a last […]

    Pingback by Autonomy in a MOOC « connectiv — 7 December 2011 @ 3:04 AM

  13. Clark, this is all quite interesting and rather new to me (yes, I will look at your books . . .)

    I have not encountered slow learning before, and while following your link I saw that you defined this, in part, to include “It’s about having a long-term relationship with the learner, where we care about them, and are interested in developing them as people, not just as cogs.” This is an ideal situation, but with economic challenges and needing things yesterday and layoffs and budget cuts an unfortuinate way of corporate life, I am wondering how realistic this may be for it to become an organizational reality. Yes, it is ideal for forward-thinking firms, but not even higher education seems to think this way . . .

    With this said, I am wondering what this may instead mean for us on an individual level. If organizations cannot be relied on for this, then we have to do it for ourselves. I wonder if you have done work with integrating this into personal learning plans, or ongoing professional development (all of which presupposes we are personally motivated enough, of course)?


    Comment by Jeffrey Keefer — 7 December 2011 @ 10:12 AM

  14. […] am a slow learner, that is why these questions do pop up now. Your rhizomatic learning theory does sound interesting. […]

    Pingback by Letter to Dave Cormier and you #change11 « connectiv — 10 December 2011 @ 1:14 PM

  15. […] Quinn’s overview of Slow Learning is a lot more subversive than it appears, but I don’t mean subversive to […]

    Pingback by Hey, Brain, Let’s Slow Down and Get to Know Each Other #change11 « Andrew Neuendorf — 11 December 2011 @ 11:35 AM

  16. […] Slow Learning: http://blog.learnlets.com/?p=2332 […]

    Pingback by Revisiones twitteras (1) | e-Formación — 18 March 2012 @ 1:42 AM

  17. What’s so slow about slow learning?
    I’m not so sure any more… but wait, here’s something new…


    Comment by patricia kambitsch — 19 July 2012 @ 5:08 PM

  18. […] Slow Learning – #change11 CLARK QUINN | SATURDAY, DECEMBER 3, 2011 […]

    Pingback by Internet Time Blog : 195 posts about MOOCs — 19 February 2013 @ 8:59 PM

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