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

26 April 2012


Clark @ 5:52 AM

I’m a real fan of styles, ala Microsoft Word.  If you don’t get this concept, I wish you would.  Let me explain.

The concept is fairly simple. Instead of hand-formatting a document by manually adding in bold, font sizes, italics, indents, extra paragraph returns, you define a paragraph as a ‘style’.  That is, you say this paragraph is a heading 1, that paragraph is normal or body text, this other one is a figure, etc. Then you define what a heading one looks like: bold, font size 14, with space before of 6 pts, and space after of 6 pts, etc.

Why use styles?  Several reasons. First, I can then use the outline feature to organize my writing, and then automatically have the right headings.  Second, if I add in content, I don’t have to hand-reformat the way returns have been used to force page breaks (really).  Third, and most importantly, if someone wants there to be a different look and feel to the document, I just change the definition of styles, I don’t have to manually reformat the document.

If you use styles correctly, the document automatically handles things like page breaks and formatting, so the document looks great no matter how you change and edit it. Which is why, when someone sends me a document to edit that is hand formatted, I’ll often redo the whole (darn) thing in styles, just to make my life easier.  And grumble, with less than complimentary thoughts about the author.

Now, styles are not just in Microsoft Word, they’re in Pages, Powerpoint, Keynote, and other places where you end up having repeated formats.  They may have a different title, but the idea plays a role in templates, or themes, or masters, or other terms, but the concept is about separating out what it says from how it looks, and having the description of how it looks separately editable from what it says.  It’s the point behind CSS and XML, but it manifests increasingly in smart content.

And I admit, I’m really good with styles in Word, I’m pretty good in Pages, and still wrestle with Keynote, and I don’t know about other tools like Excel, but I reckon the concept is important enough that it should start showing up everywhere.

Please, please, use styles. At least in anything you send to me ;).

24 April 2012

Mobile Work

Clark @ 6:42 AM

I’m regularly trying to do two things: explore mobile capabilities, and get folks to think more broadly about how we can support performance in the organization.  I was asked to flesh out a proposed title for a stage at the upcoming mLearnCon, and thought about trying to map the 4C’s of mobile to the major categories of mobile work opportunities.  It’s a slightly different take than my previous meta-mobile post where I looked at performance support, formal learning, and meta-learning.

Looking at Mobile for workIn this case I’m looking at the 4 C’s by work categories.  I see augmenting formal learning as one, providing performance support as a second, social media as a 3rd area, and the unique mobile contribution of context-sensitive support as a 4th area.

I realize there are some problems in this, in that Social and Communicate are hard to discriminate (hence using the catchall phrase social network), and Capture is core to context-sensitivity. Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) don’t have to be social, but can be.  And I hadn’t really thought through what context-sensitive computing and communicating might mean. Certainly you could have a focused directory that knows who knows about this context, and perhaps an app that presents different options for context-sensitive trouble-shooting or repair (e.g. knowing what device you’re liable to be working on), but I could be missing some options.  And I’m not sure I’ve seen socially edited or maintained apps as opposed to content. Anyone?  Anyone?  Bueller?

So, as this is a first shot at this, I welcome feedback. What am I missing?

23 April 2012

Kapp’s Gamification for Learning and Instruction

Clark @ 4:32 AM

Karl Kapp’s written another book, this time on gamification, and I certainly liked his previous book with Tony O’Driscoll on Virtual Worlds.  This one’s got some great stuff in it too, and some other ideas that raise some hackles.

Let me get one of the quibbles out of the way at the start: I hate the title “The Gamification of Learning and Instruction” (to the point I previously wrote a post arguing instead for ‘engagification‘).  Karl makes it clear that he’s not on the trivial notion of gamification: “Gamification is not Badges, Points, and Rewards”.  My problem is that by just having the title, folks who don’t read the book will still point to it to justify doing the trivial stuff. I’d much rather he’d titled it something like “Beyond Gamification” or “Engagification” or “Serious Gamification” or something.  He can’t be blamed for people misusing the term, and even his book, but I still fret about the possible consequences.

With that caveat, I think there is a lot to like here.  Karl’s got the right perspective: “Serious games and gamification are both trying to solve a problem, motivate people, and promote learning using game-based thinking and techniques.”  He does a good job of laying out the core ideas, such as:

“Games based on this complex subject matter work, not because they include all the complexities, but precisely because they reduce the complexity and use broad generalizations to represent reality. The player is involved in an abstraction of events, ideas, and reality.”

I liked his chapter 2, as it does a good job of exploring the elements of games (though it’s not quite as categorical as I’d like ;).  He’s got pragmatic advices there, and lots of examples to help illustrate the possibilities.  He goes beyond serious games in a number of ways, talking about adding motivation factors for other things than making good decisions. I worry somewhat that folks might (and do) use the same things to get people to do things that they might not otherwise believe are good to do, and the ethical issues aren’t addressed too much, but again that’s not Karl’s point, as his many examples clearly show.

Chapters 7-9 are, to me, the most valuable from my point of view; how do you do game design (the focus of Engaging Learning). Chapter 7 talks about Applying Gamification to Problem Solving and helps explain how serious games provide deep practice. Chapter 8 maps gamification on to different learning domains such as declarative, procedural, affective, and more. There are valuable hints and tips here for other areas as well as the ones I think are most important.  And Chapter 9 provides valuable guidance about the design process itself.

I wish there was more discussion of how meaningful challenges for problem-solving will make fact based learning more relevant, rather than just gamifying it, but that’s not necessarily the role of this book.  I very much like this statement, however: “The gamification of learning cannot be a random afterthought. It needs to be carefully planned, well designed, and undertaken with a careful balance of game, pedagogy, and simulation.”  Exactly!  You can’t just put instructional designers and game designers in the room together and expect good things to happen (look at all the bad examples of edutainment out there); you have to understand the alignment.

There are some interesting additional chapters.  Guest authors come in and write on motivations and achievements (Blair), the gamer perspective (presumably son Kapp), a case study of a serious initiative in gaming (Sanchez), and alternate reality games (Olbrish).  These provide valuable depth in a variety of ways; certainly Alicia Sanchez is walking the walk, and the alternate reality games that Koreen Olbrish are talking about have struck me as a really compelling opportunity.

There are flaws. I can’t comprehend how he can go from talking about objectives straight to talking about content.  Games are not about content, they’re about context; putting the player into a place where they have to make the decision that they need to be able to make as an outcome.  This statement really strikes me as wrong: “The goal of gamification is to take content that is typically presented as a lecture or an e-learning course and add game-based elements…”. Given my focus on ability, not content, this predictably irks me.

Karl also misses what I would consider are some important folks who probably should be referenced.  While he did get Raph Koster and Jane McGonigal, he hasn’t cited Aldrich, Gee, Shaffer, Barab, Jenkins, Squire, Steinkuehler, or even Quinn (ok, I had to say it).  It seems a bit narrow-focused to miss at least (the ‘other’ Clark) Aldrich, who’s written now 4 books on the topic.  I mean, being an academic and all…. :)

Overall, I know he’s fighting for the right things, and think there’s some very broad and useful information in here. If you’re looking to make your learning designs more effective, this book will show you a lot of examples, give you some valuable frameworks, and provide many hints and tips.

20 April 2012

elearning versus mlearning

Clark @ 6:45 AM

Mayra Aixa Avilar (who I hope to meet someday, maybe at mLearnCon?)pointed to this post saying “mLearning is starting to diverge from eLearning not only in specific meaning, but in approach and design as well”, and I want to politely disagree.   Depends, of course, on what you mean by elearning, to start with.

The clear implication is that elearning is about courses on the desktop.  As I’ve discussed before, when I’m talking about ‘big L‘ learning, I’m covering research, performance, innovation, creativity as well as more typical execution. As a consequence, I’m talking performance support, social networks, portals, and more, as well as courses on the desktop.  The full spectrum of how digital technology, even desktop, can be supporting performance.  Of course, I acknowledge that, to most, elearning is the simple case.

Now, what’s interesting in mobile is that it’s many other things than courses on a phone.  Please.  While it might be courses on a tablet, it’s so much more.  In my workshops, I like to ask the audience how they use their mobile devices to make them smarter, and it ranges across info, contact, notes and calendar, snapping pictures, and more. So not courses.

Which is one of the reasons I like mobile learning, because it’s a real game changer.  As we look to how mobile devices can support performance, we then open the door to looking at how performance across the organization can be supported, and we start seeing how much more a learning unit could be doing besides courses (not replacing them, mind you, but stopping relying on them exclusively).

The post did mention that context-specific things could be done, and communication, but video can be captured, and software can do context-specific things at your desktop too. It’s just that we don’t tend to think about this, and we should. Yes, there is the mobility factor, and that’s a significant opportunity.  Yet this strikes me as an opportunity to redefine elearning to mean a bigger opportunity.

So I guess I’d reframe the conversation, and say that mlearning is helping us see what technology support for performance is, and that’s helping us revaluate elearning.  A good thing.

12 April 2012

X-based learning: sorting out pedagogies and design

Clark @ 6:03 AM

It’s come up in a couple of ways how my (in progress) activity-based framework for learning is related to other models, e.g. performance-based learning.  And, looking around, I am reminded that there’s a plethora of models that have overlap.  I’ll try to sort them out.  This will undoubtedly be an ever-growing list, as there seems to be X-based learning where X = anything, and I’m sure folks supportive of their approach will let me know ;).  Recognize that these are very sketchy descriptions, intended to communicate similarities, not tease apart deep nuances.

At core is the reasoning that meaningful activities have myriad benefits.  Learners are engaged in working on real things, and the contextualization facilitates transfer to the extent that you’ve designed the activity to require the types of performance they’ll need in the world.  There’s the opportunity to layer on multiple learning goals from different domain, and 21st century skills like media communications, and if it’s social (which is a recurring theme in these models) you get things like leadership and teamwork as well.  Better engagement and learning outcomes are the big win.

First, there’s already an activity-based learning out of India!  It seems to focus on having learners do meaningful things, which very much is at core here. There’s also an activity-based curriculum, by the way, which is also the way I’m thinking of it: a sequence of activities is a curriculum.  This fits within active learning, arguably, in that there’s a desire for the learner to be actually doing something as the basis of learning, though the types of classroom activities of debates and discussions seem not as powerful as others cited below.

So, performance-based learning seems to be focused on assessment, having the students actively demonstrate their ability.   This is, to me, an important aspect, as cognitive science recognizes that passing a knowledge test about something is not likely to transfer to the ability to do (we call it ‘inert knowledge’).  That’s the point of having products of activities, at least reflection , so it sounds very much is in synergy. This also appears to be the focus of outcomes-based learningwhich also emphasizes actual production, but while touting constructivism seems to end up being more a tool of the status quo.  This can also be similar (and ideally should be) to competency-based learning, where there are explicit performance outcomes expected, rather than grading on the curve.

And there is problem-based learning and project-based learning.  Both focus on having learners engage in meaningful activity, with the distinction between the two having to do with whether the problem is set by the instructor, or whether the project is decided is decided by the students. There are arguments for both, of course; for me, problems are easier to specify, it takes a special teacher to help shape a project and wrap the learning goals around it.  I reckon serious games are problem-based learning, by the way.

Service learning is another related idea, that has learners doing meaningful projects out in the community. This is activity-based and expands upon the meaningfulness by connecting it to the community.  I’ve been a fan of the Center for Civic Education’s Project Citizen as an example of this, having students try to pass legislation to improve things in their area, and consequently learning about law-making.

Inquiry-based learning shares the focus on activities of information gathering, but has primarily been based in science.   It seems to not have a goal other than exploration and understanding, with an even  more extreme view of learner control.  This seems good with a self-motivated learner, and as long as the learner is either a self-capable learner, or there’s a facilitator, it could work. This seems very similar to the MOOC approach of Siemens & Downes.  It also seems to be almost identical to the community of inquiry approach.

I frankly want an activity-based pedagogy and curriculum to support all of these models.  The benefits, and the resistance to knowledge dump and fact test forms of learning, drive this perspective.  Getting there requires a different type of learning design that one focused on standards. You need to shift, focusing on what do the students need to be able to do afterwards, and working backward from there. Understanding by design is a design approach that works backwards from goals, and if you set your outcomes on performance, and then align activities to require that performance, you have a good chance of impacting pedagogy, and learning, in meaningful ways.  I admit it surprises me that this needs to be pointed out, but I see the consequences of content-driven (forward) design too often to argue.

The point is to find an umbrella that holds a suite of appropriate pedagogies and makes it difficult to do inappropriate ones.  As Les Foltos tweeted: “We need to fan the fires for these instructional strategies. They don’t align well with standardized tests”.  Exactly.

10 April 2012

Reimagined Learning: Content & Portfolio elaborated

Clark @ 6:09 AM

In a previous post I laid out the initial framework for rethinking learning design, and in a subsequent post I elaborated the activity component. I want to elaborate the rest a wee bit here.  Two additional components of the model around the activities were content and then products coupled with reflection.

Content, elaboratedOne of the driving points behind the model was to move away from content-driven learning, and start focusing on learning experience.  As a consequence, the activities were central, but content was there to be driven to from the activities.  So, the activity would both motivate and contextualize the need to comprehend some concept or to access an example, and then there would be access paths to the content within the activity. Or not, in that there might be a selection of content, or even the opportunity or need for the learner to choose relevant content. As with the activity, you gradually want to release responsibility to the learner for selecting content, initially modeling and increasingly devolving the locus of control.

Portfolio - product and reflections - elaboratedA second component is the output of the activity.  It was suggested that activities should generate products, such as solutions to problems, proposals for action, and more.  The activity would be structured to generate this product, and the product could either be a reflection itself (e.g. an event review) or tangible output.  It could be a document, audio, or even video. If the product itself is not a reflection, there should be one as well, a reflection.  Eventually, the product choice and reflection piece will be the responsibility of the learner, and consequently there will be a scaffolding and fading process here too.

Note that the product of learner activity could then become content for future activities.  The product could similarly be the basis for a subsequent activity.

The reflection itself is a self-evaluation mechanism, that is the learner should be looking at their own work as well as sharing the underlying thinking that led to the resulting product.  Peers could and should evaluate other’s products and reflections as an activity as well (getting just a wee bit recursive, but not problematically so). And, of course, the products and reflections are there for mentor evaluation. And, as activities can be social, so too can the products be, and the reflections.

While digital tools aren’t required for this to work, it would certainly make sense from a wide-variety of perspectives to take advantage of digital tools. Rich media would make sense as content, and this could include augmented reality in contexts.  Further, creation tools could and should be used  to create products and or reflections. Of course, activities too could be digitally based such as simulations, whether desktop or digitally delivered, e.g. simulations or alternate reality games.

The notion is to try to reframe learning as a series of designed activities with guided reflections, and a gradual segue from mentor-designed to learner-owned.  Does this resonate?

9 April 2012

Reimagined Learning: Activities elaborated

Clark @ 6:10 AM

I’ve been reflecting on the new learning model I proposed earlier, and want to share some elaborations with you.  In this case, I want to elaborate on the notion of activities, and some associated properties.

Activities provided or chosenFirst, I think it’s important to recognize that gradually, learners will take more and more ownership of choosing activities.  If you’re an adult past college, you choose (with, perhaps, some guidance and support) what professional development you do: you choose books to read, conferences to attend, even perhaps choosing mentors whether agreed upon or stealth (people you follow via their blogs or tweets).  We shouldn’t assume learners will have that ability, and our curricula should make explicit what good activity criteria are, and helps learners develop those skills, gradually handing off the responsibility for choosing them, with gradually released scaffolding.

Activities embedAnother important property of these activities is that they embed, possibly at multiple levels. So, for instance, a project to develop a prototype might have component activities to capture and represent the results of the initial analysis, and then an initial concept, and then an initial storyboard, all before the prototype is developed.  Each of those would be activities with deliverables or products, and evaluation or reflection.  And the prototype might be an activity that is part of an activity to develop a full application.  There are lots of ways in which activities could be related.

Activities can be socialFinally, activities can be individual or social.  They can be assigned to one person, or to teams or workgroups to accomplish. The products of activities from individuals might feed into a group project, or vice-versa as well.  The products of a group activity would be a group product, though the reflections could be individual or group, and there could be subsequent individual products as well.

The point is to have as widely varying description of an activity as possible, to support flexibility in designing learning experiences.

As implied in the initial post, these activities should generate products, and reflections as well, which are important for being able to provide feedback, helping shape learners’ understanding.  I suppose I should dig into that more, too?

4 April 2012

Social Learning, Strategically

Clark @ 10:15 AM

Increasingly, as I look around, I see folks addressing learning technology tactics; they’ll make a mobile app, they’ll try out a simulation game, they’ll put in a portal.  And there’s nothing wrong with doing each of these as a trial, a test run, some experience under the belt.  However, in the longer term, you want to start doing so strategically. I’ll use social media as an example.

Talking with my ITA colleague Jay Cross at lunch the other day, it occurred to me that I was seeing the same pattern with social media that I see elsewhere.  When I think through many instances I’ve seen, heard of, or experienced, I see them addressing one issue. “We’ve put in a social media system to use around our formal learning.”  “We’ll buy a social  media platform to use for our sales force.”  And these aren’t bad decisions, except for the fact that such an initiative has broader ramifications.

What I’m not seeing is folks thinking enough along the lines of “social media is a platform, and we should be looking at how the investment can be leveraged.”  I’m not seeing enough focus on using every tactic as a step on the way to a ‘workscape’ (aka performance ecosystem).  You want to be building the infrastructure for working smarter, and every move should be developing that capability.  You want to be getting closer and closer to workers having tools to hand, the resources they need to get the job done.

To empower workers, you want to have the tools for communication, e.g. video sharing, blogging micro- and macro-, discussion forums, etc as well as the tools for collaboration, e.g. shared documents and expertise finding, arranged around tasks and interests, not around silos.  To free folks up to get the job done, they need to be able to work smarter.

And you want to align what you’re doing with organizational goals, define metrics that will impact key business metrics, provide governance with partners both fundamental and strategic, leverage other organizational initiatives (oh, you’re putting in a CMS?  With just a small additional effort, we can use that to facilitate sharing of information…), etc.  It’s time to start thinking strategically, if you want to really move your organization forward.  There’re a number of steps: advanced ID, performance support, mobile, each taking on another facet, but arguably the biggest benefit will come from bringing together the talent in your organization.  Why not?

Probably the best first step to take is to start using social media in the learning unit, so folks there ‘get it’ (you got to be in it to win it, as they say re: the lottery; guess that’s why I wasn’t one of the 3 winners :).  That’s a strategic step that can drive the rest.  And you can take the slow path and figure it out yourself, or accelerate with some assistance, but it’s really time to get going.  So, what’s stopping you?


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