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

27 November 2012

Thinking about thinking out loud

Clark @ 7:38 AM

This past weekend, we were doing some home work, and I had occasion to go to the hardware store. Several. Several times.  What’s interesting to me was two different interactions and the possible implications.

So, first I needed some paint.  The guy I worked with was quite helpful, asking questions. (Somehow, he always seemed to be up selling, but that’s beside the point.) Actually, we ended up short on the quantity of paint, but we got paint we liked.  What I didn’t get a sense of, however, was the underlying reasoning behind his questions.

In a non-comparable situation, we were having trouble installing some flooring.  The click and lock wasn’t going quite fine.  So, on the pursuit of a tool and some baseboards, I made an extra point of asking for help from the expert.  He asked some diagnostic questions, and proceeded to explain what he thought our problem had to be.  In this instance, I felt like I understood the process better.

So they’re not the same: in one case I’m buying product, and in another I’m troubleshooting. But what occurred to me is the opportunity here for thinking out loud to be a customer-benefit.  You’ve seen or can imagine the situation where the newer hardware store employee, stymied by the question, tracks down the ‘oldie’ who knows everything and gets the answer. It’s often very helpful to the customer to hear the oldie talk in a way that educates the youngster as well as the customer.

We’ve been advocating the Coherent Organization, and as Jay Cross rightly points out, this extends beyond the organization to the extended enterprise.  What struck me was what the opportunity might be if every consumer-facing employee in an organization was coached in effective ‘thinking out loud’.  There’d be internal benefits, of course, in having the wisdom of the ‘oldies’ available to the newer members of the team.  But the real upside, it seems to me, is in the benefit to the customer.  For one, the trust that comes from a willingness to share.  It’d be hard to do if the major compensation is commission, as you wouldn’t want to be sharing those thoughts (cue the ClueTrain), but certainly you could be talking about tradeoffs between solutions and clue in the customer on what’s important in the evaluation.

I know I’d be more likely to return to a store that helps me learn about the products. Solution selling could be more than just a methodology, in this case it could be a significant upskilling of the customer base (and employee base).  It’s moving the social network back to conversation, away from the media channels, but it’s a significant augment.  What do you think would be the benefit of coaching on ‘thinking out loud’ to not only internal employees but customer-facing ones?6

19 November 2012

I’ve got your content right here

Clark @ 6:24 AM

I was engaging in a mobile strategy session with a small not-for-profit the other day, and naturally it became an overall technology strategy session, as you really can’t do mobile strategy without considering social media strategy, learning technology strategy, even enterprise technology strategy. Mobile is a platform for all of the above, and you

One of the questions they struggled with was their social media strategy, as they were (as many people are) struggling with their existing workload.  And there are lots of elements that can, and should, play a role.  But their problem was really much simpler.

They had a Facebook page, and a twitter account, and a blog they had a placeholder for, and they couldn’t figure out how they were going to populate these.  They were naturally concerned about what to blog, what to put on the Facebook page, what they would tweet about, and how they’d get the content for it, and keep it up.

The interesting thing was as we discussed it, talking about what a wide variety of material would make sense: reviews of relevant articles, updates about courses, etc, they started realizing that the content they needed was regularly being produced already. One enthusiastic staff member was always sending emails about things they should pay attention to. They also had notices about courses they were offering.  And there was a regular stream of events that occurred.

It became clear that there was a lot of content available from their various channels, what they needed was curation.  I was reminded of the fabulous job David Kelly does in curating conferences, and it’s largely the same set of skills (here’s Jane Hart interviewing Dave on the topic).  Curation in many ways seems just an external manifestation of Harold Jarche’s Personal Knowledge Management (an extension of the share part of seek-sense-share).

It seemed plausible  that they could give a few hours a week to a young person eager to add ‘social media’ to their resume who would do a minor bit of editing and get this to their blog. They wondered whether Facebook should have the same, and in this case the answer appeared to be ‘yes’ (blog allows RSS, some folks don’t go onto Facebook), and then the tweet stream could be for shorter pointers, announcements from the posts, whatever.

The result was that they had a simpler path to a coherent approach than they had realized.  There’s more: it’s an org change and there’d have to be the usual messaging, incentives, etc.  It’s only a start, but it gets them going while they develop the longer term strategy integrating mobile, web, social media, etc.  Do you have a social media strategy in place, and is there emergent content from within your organization?

14 November 2012

Extending the tablet proposition

Clark @ 6:21 AM

A few months ago, I opined about what the opportunities for mlearning with a tablet are.  And while I think I got it largely right, I missed one.

What I said before is that tablets make sense when you need a fair bit of data at once, and/or when your mobility constraints aren’t too severe.  There’s something nice about the big screen even if you don’t need the data, if you’ve the time and flexibility.  I take my iPad up to the living room, not my phone.  But you don’t take your tablet with you everywhere, like you do your phone.

So I was having a nice conversation with the CEO of an elearning firm, and he was talking about their customers and their mobile tablet solution. He was talking about sales as a large part of their business, and I was reminded that there was another situation where tablets make sense: sharing!

Sharing a tablet to look at something is much easier, and friendlier.  It’s even fun.  So if you need to show something to someone, or work with them together on something, tablets are a nicer solution. You can sit together looking at the screen, going through things, pointing to things, even acting on them.  I keep a number of images on the qPhone and qPad for sharing, but except for family photos, I prefer the tablet.  If I’m sharing diagrams, or one of the portfolio items I’ve stored, it’s better on the larger screen.

If social is part of the designed solution, tablets have a viable reason to be considered as a potential solution.   So, tablets make sense when you need the screen real estate, and/or when you have more freedom of movement and less constraints on size, and/or when you’re sharing your screen.  Make sense?

13 November 2012

Detailing the Coherent Organization

Clark @ 6:05 AM

As excited as I am about the Coherent Organization as a framework, it’s not done by any means.  I riffed on it for a Chief Learning Officer magazine, and my Internet Time Alliance colleagues have followed up. However, I want to take it further.  The original elements I put into the diagram were ad-hoc, though there were principles behind them.  As a start, I wanted to go back and look at these elements and see if I could be more systematic about it.

Working Collaboratively and cooperativelyI had, as Harold’s original model provided the basis for, separate groups for Work Teams, Communities of Practice, and Social Networks.  Within each were separate elements.

In Work Teams, I had included: share problems, co-coach, assist, brainstorm effectively, continuous feedback, welcome contributions, learn from mistakes, align with mission, narrate work, champion diversity, and measure improvement.

Under Communities of Practice I listed: document practice, leave tracks, workshop issues, share examples, co-mentor, discuss principles, continually refine practice, think ‘out loud’, and share concerns.

And in Social Networks I had put: share, contribute, listen, care, interact, and discuss values.  I also had connecters between the groups, each ways, so Work Teams were connected to Communities of Practice by bringing in outside ideas and sharing progress, while Communities of Practice were linked to Social Networks by tracking related areas and sharing results.

What I couldn’t claim was that this was the exhaustive list.  I’d put them in there with some thoughts of both putting in and taking out, but I wanted to go further.

What I did was separate out each of the three areas, and start grouping like terms together (I just took all the terms in the above diagram and dropped them into a new diagram, and started sorting). As I did so, some commonalities emerged. I ended up with the following diagram, which is very much a work in progress.  What I’m trying to get to is the set of behaviors that would be essential for such an organization to succeed, ultimately coming up with a set of dimensions that might be useful as an assessment.  What emerged is a characterization of several different areas within which behaviors fall, which is useful because then I can look for missing (or redundant) elements.

Looking for emergenceIn addition to the connecting tasks, we see several overarching types of behaviors.  Besides the connection between the areas, they grouped like I show here.

Sharing is individual putting out things, which is less pro-active and interactive than actually contributing.  That distinction isn’t quite clear to me either, but sharing might be more pointers to things where contribute is a more substantial contribution.  Which means my elements may not be properly categorized.

Monitoring is both watching what’s going on and pro-actively evaluating outcomes.  Does this need to be broken out into two separate areas? Personal is where you’re working with a specific person (or recipient thereof).  And the culture dimension is where you’re actively aware of and reviewing the underlying values behind what you’re doing.

By no means do I consider this ‘done’, but I share it as part of my commitment to practicing what I preach, thinking ‘out loud’.  This will get refined.  I most certainly welcome your thoughts!


6 November 2012

Designing Backward and Forward

Clark @ 5:37 AM

At the recent DevLearn, several of us gathered together in a Junto to talk about issues we felt were becoming important for our field. After a mobile learning panel I realized that, just as mlearning makes it too easy to think about ‘courses on a phone’, I worry that ‘learning experience design’ (a term I’ve championed) may keep us focused on courses rather than exploring the full range of options including performance support and eCommunity.

So I began thinking about performance experience design as a way to keep us focused on designing solutions to performance needs in the organization.  It’s not just about what’s in our heads, but as we realize that our brains are good at certain things and not others, we need to think about a distributed cognition solution, looking at how resources can be ‘in the world’ as well as in others’ heads.

The next morning in the shower (a great place for thinking :), it occurred to me that what is needed is a design process before we start designing the solution.  To complement Kahnemann’s Thinking Fast and Slow (an inspiration for my thoughts on designing for how we really think and learn), I thought of designing backward and forward.  Let me try to make that concrete.

Designing for PerformanceWhat I’m talking about is starting with a vision of what performance would look like in an ideal world, working backward to what can be in the world, and what needs to be in the head.  We want to minimize the latter.  I want to respect our humanity in a way, allowing us to (choose to) do the things we do well, and letting technology take on the things we don’t want to do.

In my mind, the focus should be on what decisions learners should be making at this point, not what rote things we’re expecting them to do.  If it’s rote, we’re liable to be bad at it.  Give us checklists, or automate it!

From there, we can design forward to create those resources, or make them accessible (e.g. if they’re people).  And we can design the ‘in the head’ experience as well, and now’s the time for learning experience design, with a focus on developing our ability to make those decisions, and where to find the resources when we need them.  The goal is to end up designing a full performance solution where we think about the humans in context, not as merely a thinking box.

It naturally includes design that still reflects my view about activity-centered learning (which I’m increasingly convinced is grounded in cognitive research).  Engaging emotion, distributed across platforms and time, using a richer suite of tools than just content delivery and tests.  And it will require using something like Michael Allen’s Successive Approximation Model perhaps, recognizing the need to iterate.

I wanted to term this performance experience design, and then as several members workshopped this with me, I thought we should  just call it performance design (at least externally, to stakeholders not in our field, we can call it performance experience design for ourselves).  And we can talk about learning experience design within this, as well as information design, and social networks, and…

It’s really not much more than what HPT would involve, e.g. the prior consideration of what the problem is, but it’s very focused on reducing what’s in the head, including emotion in the learning when it’s developed, using social resources as well as performance support, etc.  I think this has the opportunity to help us focus more broadly in our solution space, make us more relevant to the organization, and scaffold us past many of our typical limitations in approach.  What do you think?

5 November 2012

Experience, the API

Clark @ 6:07 AM

Last week I was on a panel about the API previously known as Tin Can at #DevLearn, and some thoughts crystallized.  Touted as the successor to SCORM, it’s ridiculously simple: Subject Verb Object: e.g. “I did this”, such as ‘John Doe read Engaging Learning’ but also ‘Jane Doe took this picture’.  And this has interesting implications.

First, the API itself is very simple, and while it can be useful on it’s own, it’ll be really useful when there’re tools around it.  It’s just a foundation upon which things can be done.  There’ll need to be places to record these actions, and ones to pull together sequences of recommendations for learning paths, and more.  You’ll want to build portfolios of what you’ve done (not just what content you’ve touched).

But it’s about more than learning.  These can cross accessing performance support resources, actions in social media systems, and more. This person touched that resource. That person edited this file.  This other person commented.

One big interesting opportunity is to be able to start mining these.  We can start looking at evidence of what folks did and finding good and bad outcomes.  It’s a consistent basis for big data and analytics.  It’s also a basis to start customizing: if the people who touched this resource were better able to solve problem X, other people with that problem maybe should also touch it. If they’ve already tried X and Y, we can next recommend Z.  Personalization/customization.

An audience member asked what they should take back to their org, and who needed to know what.  My short recommendations:

Developers need to start thinking about instrumenting everything.  Everything people touch should report out on their activity.  And then start aggregating this data.  Mobile, systems, any technology touch. People can self report, but it’s better to the extent that it’s automated.

Managers need to recognize that they’re going to have very interesting opportunities to start tracking and mining information as a basis to start understanding what’s happening.  Coupled with rich other models, like of content (hence the need for a content strategy), tasks, learners, we can start doing more things by rules.

And designers need to realize, and then take advantage of, a richer suite of options for learning experiences.  Have folks take a photo of an example of X.  You can ask them to discuss Y.  Have them collaborate to develop a Z.  You could even send your learners out to do a flash mob ;).

Learning is not about content, it’s about experience, and now we have ways to talk about it and track it. It’s just a foundation, just a standard, just plumbing, just a start, but valuable as all that.

3 November 2012


Clark @ 5:01 PM

At the recent DevLearn conference, David and Heidi (the two-cofounders of the eLearning Guild) punk’d me.  Under the pretense of having me assist the keynote speaker, they had me sit at the front of the stage with another purpose in mind.

As background, the Guild is explicitly labeled and designed to reflect the original concept of an association of craftsmen in a particular trade.  The notion is that elearning professionals will be members of the guild to stay abreast of new developments, and interact with their peers.  Inherent in this is the notion of participants starting as apprentices and moving gradually to the center of a community of practice.  Consequently, the Guild hosts a number of things: online conferences (forums), Learning Solutions (an online magazine), research reports, discussion forums on LinkedIn, and of course their excellent conferences.

eLearning Guild Award

Heidi and David decided, apparently, that they wanted to reward those who were contributing, who were serving as defacto ‘masters’ of the community, following the historic traditions.  Consequently, they were reviewing who did what, who was writing, researching, and presenting, and apparently one name kept appearing at the top of the lists.   Mine.

Now, you have to understand that I have made no effort to see who was doing what; I see certain names regularly appear on their speaker lists, as well as new ones. I know a number of people have been involved in research, and they’re always getting new authors for the magazine. But I literally had no idea how much I did compared to others, so this was a complete surprise.

So they called me up on stage and bestowed upon me the honor of being the very first Guild Master, handed me this great chunk of gorgeous glass, all with me somewhat stunned and embarassed.  They have stated an intention to honor others at following conferences, which will be great.  I like how they view their role, think it’s valuable, and they strike the right balance in making a viable business that serves a community.  They continually experiment as well, and that’s a good thing.

Needless to say, I’m truly honored that they noticed and deemed me worthy.  It’s not always you get recognized for doing what you love, and when you do it’s humbling.  I’m very grateful to them, and the kind comments others have made subsequently.  And thanks to you for the feedback you’ve provided on my thoughts via this blog, helping me develop my understanding so I am better equipped for what I do. I am passionate about helping people perform better through technology, and as I often joke “this is what I would be doing even if I were independently wealthy (and you’re welcome to make that happen :)”.

I am truly pleased if what I’ve contributed has helped, and can only hope that I can continue.

2 November 2012

Dayna Steele #DevLearn Keynote Mindmap

Clark @ 12:00 PM

Dayna used stories from her experience as a radio host to illuminate her points about how to be a rock star in life.

1 November 2012

Jeffrey Ma #DevLearn Keynote Mindmap

Clark @ 1:19 PM

Jeffrey Ma gave a interesting talk on lessons from succeeding at blackjack that included both life lessons as well as lessons on data driven decision making.


Alison Levine #DevLearn Keynote Mindmap

Clark @ 9:51 AM

It’s hard to capture the stories, humor, and riveting images of Alison’s inspiring talk, so I’ve only been able to record the lessons she passed on, but great stuff!


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