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

6 June 2012

Taking the step

Clark @ 6:07 AM

A while ago, I wrote an article in eLearnMag, stating that better design doesn’t take longer.  In it, I suggested that while there would be an initial hiccup, eventually better design doesn’t take longer: the analysis process is different, but no less involved, the design process is deeper but results in less overall writing, and of course the development is largely the same.    And I’m interested in exposing what I mean by the hiccup.

What surprised me is that I haven’t seen more movement.  Of course, if you’re a one-person shop, the best  you could probably do is attend a ‘Deeper ID’ workshop.  But if you’re producing content on a reasonable scale, you should realize that there are several reasons you should be taking this on.

Most importantly, it’s for effectiveness.  The learning I see coming out of not only training shops and custom content houses, but also internal units, is just not going to make a difference.  If you’re providing knowledge and a knowledge test, I don’t care how well produced it is, it’s not going to make a difference.  This is core to a unit’s mission, it seems to me.

It’s also a case of “not if, but when” when someone is going to come in with an effective competing approach.  If you can’t do better, you’re going to be irrelevant. If you’re producing for others, your market will be eaten. If you’re producing internally, your job will be outsourced.

Overall, it’s about not just surviving, but thriving.

Yes, the nuances are subtle, and it’s still possible to sell well-produced but not well-designed material, but that can’t last.  People are beginning to wake up to the business importance of effective investments in learning, and the emergence of alternate models (Khan Academy, MOOCs, the list goes on) is showing new ways that will have people debating approaches.  It may take a while, but why not get the jump on it?

And it’s not about just running a workshop. I do those, and like to do them, but I never pretend that they’re going to make as big a difference as could be achieved. They can’t, because of the forgetting curve.  What would make a big difference isn’t much more, however.  It’s about reactivating that knowledge and reapplying.

What I envision (and excuse me if I make this personal, but hey, it’s what I do and have done successfully) is getting to know the design processes beforehand, and customizing the workshop to your workflow: your business, your processes of working with SMEs, your design process, your tools, and representative samples of existing work. Then we run a workshop where we use your examples. Working through the process, exploring the deeper concepts, putting them into practice, and reflecting to cement the learning.  Probably a day.  People have found this valuable in an of itself.

However, I want to take it just a step further. I’ve found that being sent samples of subsequent work and commenting on it in several joint sessions is what makes the real difference.  This reactivates the knowledge, identifies the ongoing mistakes, and gives a chance to remediate them.  This is what makes it stick, and leads to meaningful change.  You have to manage this in a non-threatening way, but that’s doable.

There are more intrusive, higher-overhead ways, but I’m trying to strike a balance between high value and minimal intensiveness to make a pragmatic but successful change. I’d bet that 90% of the learning being developed could be improved by this approach (which means that 90% of the learning being developed really isn’t a worthwhile investment!).  It seems so obvious, but I’m not seeing the interest in change.  So, what am I missing?


  1. Hi Clark,
    I do sympathize greatly with the feelings you describe. Sometimes when I get a look at the results of a design effort (done either by an internal unit or a supplier) I ask myself how they do not see it’s absolutely ineffective (due to poor design).
    Why does that happen?
    For one – I think people are not aware that it could be done differently. There is too little well designed elearning around for people to know what a good program looks and feels like.
    When people are aware that there are better ways they do want to change but even then there are fears of change, there’s an illusion that change is not urgent, there is lack of knowledge how to move forward and other pressures as well. We have seen clients who know what good design looks like (well…after we worked with them on it…:-)), and have seen incredible feedback on the things produced, that still sometime go for the old ways of doing things as they sink back to their ‘comfort zone’ or because they lack the strength to fight to do things differently internally.
    I think a workshop might not be enough as a remedy. I think this involves a true change process. A change in policy and strategy, in motivation, in processes and practices and only then in skills and tools.
    We need to keep on demonstrating and calling for that change – because as you say – those who do not change will not survive nor thrive. They are already being cut as irrelevant all around us.

    Comment by Amir Elion — 8 June 2012 @ 10:06 PM

  2. “If you’re providing knowledge and a knowledge test…it’s not going to make a difference.”
    Probably not–but consider the practices of many organizations. They misperceive processes that seem to lie outside their main concerns. Thus Blockbuster for a long time was in the business of renting physical objects (videotapes, followed by DVDs) and didn’t seem to see how they might have been in the business of delivering visual entertainment.
    “It’s still possible to see well-produced but not well-designed material, but that can’t last.”
    Not forever, but like the Pontiac division of GM, it can last a hell of a long time past the point where it makes sense to the organization.
    I wonder if part of the resistance / reluctance comes from the client’s sense of what’s at risk? The Fleembogler Project has to accomplish X, Y, and Z by 1, 2, and 3. The project connects to lots of things in the organization, and training (or learning, or performance improvement) seems like a supporting character compared with the changes in, say, the engineering, sales, and service functions. So there may be a sense that there are higher negative consequences to trying something new and falling short.
    In the same way that no one ever got fired for hiring IBM, no project gets in (much) trouble for an attractive-looking though eventually ineffective online course.

    Comment by Dave Ferguson — 9 June 2012 @ 5:12 AM

  3. […] Taking the step CLARK QUINN | WEDNESDAY, JUNE 6, 2012 […]

    Pingback by Internet Time Blog : 195 posts about MOOCs — 19 February 2013 @ 9:02 PM

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