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

29 February 2012

MOOC reflections

Clark @ 6:30 AM

A recent phenomena is the MOOC, Massively Open Online Courses. I see two major manifestations: the type I have participated in briefly (mea culpa) as run by George Siemens, Stephen Downes, and co-conspirators, and the type being run by places like Stanford. Each share running large numbers of students, and laudable goals. Each also has flaws, in my mind, which illustrate some issues about education.

The Stanford model, as I understand it (and I haven’t taken one), features a rigorous curriculum of content and assessments, in technical fields like AI and programming. The goal is to ensure a high quality learning experience to anyone with sufficient technical ability and access to the Internet. Currently, the experience does support a discussion board, but otherwise the experience is, effectively, solo.

The connectivist MOOCs, on the other hand, are highly social. The learning comes from content presented by a lecturer, and then dialog via social media, where the contributions of the participants are shared. Assessment comes from participation and reflection, without explicit contextualized practice.

The downside of the latter is just that, with little direction, the courses really require effective self-learners. These courses assume that through the process, learners will develop learning skills, and the philosophical underpinning is that learning is about making the connections oneself.  As was pointed out by Lisa Chamberlin and Tracy Parish in an article, this can be problematic. As of yet, I don’t think that effective self-learning skills is a safe assumption (and we do need to remedy).

The problem with the former is that learners are largely dependent on the instructors, and will end up with that understanding, that learners aren’t seeing how other learners conceptualize the information and consequently developing a richer understanding.   You have to have really high quality materials, and highly targeted assessments.  The success will live and die on the quality of the assessments,  until the social aspect is engaged.

I was recently chided that the learning theories I subscribe to are somewhat dated, and guilty as charged; my grounding has taken a small hit by my not being solidly in the academic community of late. On the other hand, I have yet to see a theory that is as usefully integrative of cognitive and social learning theory as Cognitive Apprenticeship (and willing to be wrong), so I will continue to use (my somewhat adulterated version of) it until I am otherwise informed.

From the Cognitive Apprenticeship perspective, learners need motivating and meaningful tasks around which to organize their collective learning. I reckon more social interaction will be wrapped around the Stanford environment, and that either I’ve not experienced the formal version of the connectivist MOOCs, or learners will be expected to take on the responsibility to make it meaningful but will be scaffolded in that (if not already).

The upshot is that these are valuable initiatives from both pragmatic and principled perspectives, deepening our understanding while broadening educational reach. I look forward to seeing further developments.

27 February 2012

UTAOU Sunday mindmap

Clark @ 6:57 AM

My mindmap of Sunday’s activities at Up To All Of Us.


26 February 2012

UTAOU Saturday Mindmap

Clark @ 11:25 AM

Here is my mindmap of the group sessions on Saturday from the Up To All Of Us event.


22 February 2012

Making it visible and viral

Clark @ 6:17 AM

On a recent client engagement, the issue was spreading an important initiative through the organization.  The challenges were numerous: getting consistent uptake across management and leadership, aligning across organizational units, and making the initiative seem important and yet also doable in a concrete way.  Pockets of success were seen, and these are of interest.

For one, the particular unit had focused on making the initiative viral, and consequently had selected and trained appropriate representatives dispersed through their organization. These individuals were supported and empowered to incite change wherever appropriate.  And they were seeing initial signs of success. The lesson here is that top down is not always sufficient, and that benevolent infiltration is a valuable addition.

The other involvement was also social, in that the approach was to make the outcomes of the initiative visible. In addition to mantras, graphs depicting status were placed in prominent places, showing current status.  Further, suggestions for improvement were not only solicited, but made visible and their status tracked.  Again, indicators were positive on these moves.

The point is that change is hard, and a variety of mechanisms may  be appropriate.  You need to understand not just what formal mechanisms you have, but also how people actually work.  I think that too often, planning fails to anticipate the effects of inertia, ambivalence, and apathy.  More emotional emphasis is needed, more direct connection to individual outcomes, and more digestion into manageable chunks. This is true for elearning, learning, and change.

In looking at attitude change, and from experience, I recognize that even if folks are committed to change, it can be easy to fall back into old habits without ongoing support.  Confusion in message, lack of emotional appeal, and idiosyncratic leadership only reduce the likelihood.  If it’s important, get alignment and sweat the details. If it’s not, why bother?

14 February 2012

At the Edge of India

Clark @ 6:24 AM

A few months back, courtesy of my colleague Jay Cross, I got into discussions about the EdgeX conference, scheduled for March 12-14 in New Delhi.  Titled the “Disruptive Educational Research Conference”, it certainly has intriguing aspects.

I was asked to talk about games, the topic of my first book.  Owing to unfortunate circumstances (my friend and co-speaker on games had to change plans), it looks like I’ll also be talking about mobile (books two and three) which is exciting despite the circumstances.

However, what’s really exciting is the lineup of other people speaking. I’ve been a fan of George Siemens and Stephen Downes for years, and an eager but less focused follower of Dave Cormier and Alex Couros.  And I’ve only met Stephen once, and am eager to meet the rest.  I don’t really know the other speakers, but their positions and descriptions suggest that this is going to be a great event. Meeting new and interesting people is one of the reasons to go to a conference in the first place!  And, of course, Jay will be there too.

I’ve been to India before, as one of my partners has it’s origins there, and it’s a fascinating place.  Part of the conference is to look at how the latest concepts of learning play out in the Indian context, but given that it’s across K12, higher ed, and corporate, we’ll be talking principles that are across contexts.

Looking at disruptive concepts, with top thinkers, in an intriguing context, makes this an exciting opportunity, I reckon.  I realize it may not make sense for many readers, but I’m hoping some will be intrigued enough to check it out, and there will be a steady stream of related materials. Already there are links from many speakers, and resources about the Indian education context.  If you do go, please say hi!

13 February 2012

Social media budget line item?

Clark @ 5:58 AM

Where does social media fit in the organization?  In talking with a social media entrepreneur over beers the other day, he mentioned that one of his barriers in dealing with organizations was that they didn’t have a budget line for social media software.

That may sound trivial, but it’s actually a real issue in terms of freeing up the organization. In one instance, it had been the R&D organization that undertook the cost.  In another case, the cost was attributed to the overhead incurred in dealing with a merger.  These are expedient, but wrong.

It’s increasingly obvious that it’s more than just a ‘nice to have’.  As I’ve mentioned previously, innovation is the only true differentiator.  If that’s the case, then social media is critical. Why?  Because the myth of individual innovation is busted, as clearly told by folks like Keith Sawyer and Steven Berlin Johnson.  So, if it’s not individual, it’s social, and that means we need to facilitate conversations.

If we want people to be able to work together to create new innovations, we don’t want to leave it to chance.  In addition to useful architectural efforts that facilitate in person interactions, we want to put in place the mechanisms to interact without barriers of time or distance.  Which means, we need a social media system.

It’s pretty clear that if you align things appropriately: culture, vision, tools, that you get better outcomes.  And, of course, culture isn’t a line item, and vision’s a leadership mandate.  But tools, well, they are a product/service, and need resources.

Which brings us to the initial point: where does this responsibility lie?  Despite my desire for folks who are most likely to understand facilitating learning (though that’s sadly unlikely in too many L& D departments), it could be IT, operations, or as mentioned above, R&D.  The point is, this is arguably one of the most important investments in the organization, and typically not one of the most expensive (making it the best deal going!). Yet there’s not a unified obvious home!

There are worries if it’s IT. They are, or should be, great at maintaining network uptime, but don’t really understand learning. Nor do the other groups, and yet facilitating the discussion in the network is the most important external role.  But who funds it?

Let’s be real; no one wants to have to own the cost when there’re other things they’re already doing. But I’d argue that it’s the best investment an L&D organization could make, as it will likely have the biggest impact on the organization. Well, if you really are looking to move needles on key business metrics.  So, where do you think it could, and should reside?



6 February 2012

Designing the killer experience

Clark @ 6:03 AM

I haven’t been put in the place of having ultimate responsibility for driving a complete user experience for over a decade, though I’ve been involved in advising on a lot on many such.  But I continue my decades long fascination with design, to the extent that it’s a whole category for my posts!  An article on how Apple’s iPhone was designed caused me to reflect.

On one such project, I asked early on: “who owns the vision?”  The answer soon became clear that no one had complete ownership. Their model was having a large-scope goal, and then various product managers take pieces of that, and negotiated for budget, with vendors for resources, and with other team members for the capability to implement their features.  And this has been a successful approach for many internet businesses, project managers owning their parts.

I compare that to the time I led a team, a decade ago developing a learning system, and I laid out and justified a vision, gave them each parts, and while they took responsibility for their part of the interlocking responsibilities, I was responsible for the overall experience.

Which is not to say by any means was I as visionary as Steve Jobs. In the article, he apparently told his iPhone team to start from a premise “to create the first phone that people would fall in love with”.  I like to think that I was working towards that, but I clearly hadn’t taken ownership of such a comprehensive vision, though we were working towards one in our team.

And we were a team.  Everyone could offer opinions, and the project was better because of it.  I did my best to make it safe for everyone’s voice to be heard. We met together weekly, I had everyone backing up someone else’s area of responsibility, and they worked together as much as they worked with me. In many ways, my role was to protect them from bureaucracy just as my boss’ role was to protect me from interference.  And it worked: we got a working prototype up and running before the bubble burst.

(I remember one time, the AI architect and the software engineer came in asking me to resolve an issue. At the end of it I didn’t fully understand the issue, yet they profoundly thanked me even though we all three knew I hadn’t contributed anything but the space for them to articulate their two viewpoints.  They left having found a resolution that I didn’t have to understand.)

And I don’t really don’t know what the answer is, but my inclination is that giving folks a vibrant goal and asking them to work together to make it so, rather than giving individuals tasks that can compete to succeed.  I can see the virtues of Darwinian selection, but I have to believe, based upon things like Dan Pink’s Drive and my work with my colleagues in the Internet Time Alliance, that giving a team a noble goal, resourcing them, and giving them the freedom to pursue it, is going to lead to a greater outcome.   So, what do you think?


2 February 2012


Clark @ 6:09 AM

As a followup to my last post, I was thinking how you would use the different modes of mobile (the Four C’s): Content, Compute, Communicate, & Capture, to support the different layers of learning.

4C's by learning modeHere I’ve made a first attempt at trying to matrix the 3 layers of learning (performance, learning, meta-learning) by the 4 C’s of mobile.  It’s indicative, not exhaustive, but it helps me to try to get concrete about what you might do.

As you can see, there’s some overlap, and one questions is are there continuums between the layers. Is performance support categorically different than formal learning, or are their bridges?  Is meta-learning categorically different?  (I’m not sure I care too much, as long as I’m considering all!)

So, in the interest of learning and thinking ‘out loud’, I invite your feedback.

1 February 2012

Layers of learning

Clark @ 5:55 AM

As I think about slow learning and Sage at the Side, I want to think about a continuum of tech-enablement. I want to include performance support, formal learning, and meta-learning. One way to think about it is layering on support across the learning event.

Layering learning on top of eventsAs I talked about in Making Slow Learning Concrete, the idea is to have little bits of information layered on top of what you’re doing. Thus, the first level might be to have performance support, to optimize the outcome of the event.

However, a second layer, potentially wrapped before and after the event, would be to connect the essence of the performance to a learning framework. Perhaps not all events would have it, but it would connect the event: context and goals, to a learning framework.  It could be a conceptual model, and certainly could be feedback.

A third layer would be a meta-learning layer.  Looking at any resources used (and perhaps a different one this time than the last), some information could be provided that helped the learner understand their own learning.  It could be reflection support, a map of the learner’s actions, even connecting to a learning mentor, whatever would help them look at how they learned with the purposes of improving their own learning.

With this approach, we start de-coupling learning from a particular event, and start wrapping learning around our lives. I’ve used the label ‘slow learning’, but I really believe that this will feel slower, but actually will accelerate learners to competence faster than the ineffective methods we currently are using.  Lots of tuning to make an experience that feels natural and supportive, as opposed to intrusive, and some real system architecture issues, but I think this is doable, and certainly worth exploring.

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