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

30 April 2013

Types of thinking

Clark @ 5:54 AM

Harold Jarche reviews Marina Gorbis’ new book The Nature of the Future, finding value in it. I was intrigued by one comment which I thought was relevant to organizations.  It has to do with the nature of thinking.

In it, this quote struck a nerve: “Gorbis identifies unique human skills”.  The list of them intrigued me:

  • Sensemaking
  • Social and emotional intelligence
  • Novel and adaptive thinking
  • Moral and ethical reasoning

While all are intriguing and important, the first and third really struck me.  When I talk about digital technology (which I do a lot :), I mention how it perfectly augments our cognitive architecture. Our brains are pattern-matchers and meaning extractors.  They’re really good at seeing insights.  And they’re really bad at rote memory, and complex calculations.

Digital technology is exactly the reverse: it’s great at remembering rote information and in doing complex calculations. It’s extremely hard to get computers to do good pattern-matching or meaning making.

For the purposes of achieving meaningful outcomes, coupling our capabilities with digital technology makes a lot of sense.  That’s why mobile makes so much sense: it decouples that complementary capability from the desktop, and untethers our outboard brain.

From an organizational point of view, you want to be empowering your people with digital augmentation. From a societal point of view, you want to have people doing meaningful tasks where they tap into human capability, and not doing rote tasks. They’re going to be bad at it!  And, you can infer, it’s also the case that you’re going to want education to focus on how to do problem-solving and using digital technology as an augment, not on doing rote things and memory tasks.  Ahem.

29 April 2013

Designing Higher Learning

Clark @ 5:21 AM

I’ve been thinking a lot about the higher education situation, specifically for-profit universities. One of the things I see is that somehow no one’s really addressing the quality of the learning experience, and it seems like a huge blindspot.

I realize that in many cases they’re caught between a rock and a hard place. They want to keep costs down, and they’re heavily scrutinized.  Consequently, they worry very much about having the right content.  It’s vetted by Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), and has to be produced in a way that, increasingly, it can serve face to face (F2F) or online.  And I think there’s a big opportunity missed.  Even if they’re buying content from publishers, they are focused on content, not experience.  Both for the learner, and developing learner’s transferable and long-term skills.

First, SMEs can’t really tell you what learners need to be able to do. One of the side-effects of expertise is that it gets compiled away, inaccessible to conscious access.  Either SMEs make up what they think they do (which has little correlation with reality) or they resort to what they had to learn. Neither’s a likely source to meaningful learning.

Even if you have an instructional designer in the equation, the likelihood that they’re knowledgeable enough and confident enough to work with SMEs to get the real outcomes/objectives is slim.  Then, they also have to get the engagement right.  Social engagement can go a good way to enriching this, but it has to be around meaningful tasks.

And, what with scrutiny, it takes a strong case to argue to the accrediting agencies that you’ve gone beyond what SMEs tell you to what’s really needed. It sounds good, but it’s a hard argument to an organization that’s been doing it in a particular way for a long time.

Yet, these institutions also struggle with retention of students.  The learners don’t find the experience relevant or engaging, and leave.  If you took the real activity, made it meaningful in the right way, learners would be both more engaged and have better outcomes, but it’s a hard story to comprehend, and perhaps harder yet to implement.

Yet I will maintain that it’s both doable, and necessary.  I think that the institution that grasps this, and focused on a killer learning experience, coupled with going the extra mile to learner success (analytics is showing to be a big help here), and developing them as learners (e.g, meta-learning skills) as well as performers, is going to have a defendable differentiator.

But then, I’m an optimist.

24 April 2013

TweetDeck RIP

Clark @ 5:15 AM

Twitter’s been an integral part of my social media existence for more than four years n0w, and owing to things like #lrnchat, I need to have good tools.  I’ve played around with a number, but TweetDeck swept my enthusiasm for quite a while.  And now it’s going, and I’m mad and sad.

To understand, you have to understand several things:

  • When you’re across platforms, sometimes on my Mac, sometimes on my iPad, and sometimes on my iPhone, it’s a major benefit to have one tool that is across the platforms
  • If you’re doing something like monitoring a conference backchannel over several days, you have to have columns
  • If you’re engaged in a 60 minute chat, you have to have quick updates
  • And if you have to log in some of the times you want to use it, you’ll be less likely to participate

TweetDeck met all of these. Barely, it was across platforms, but not well: TweetDeck on the iPad had degraded to pretty pathetic. It surprised me how it could be so good on the iPhone, and so bad on the iPad.  Of course, they haven’t updated the iPad version in forever.  I used to regularly harass them about it via tweets.

Twitter bought TweetDeck, which seemed like it could be a good thing, but it seemed to hamstring the teams, having them focus on the web version.  And now they’re getting rid of the apps completely.  That’s why I’m sad.

What’s worse, the reasons TweetDeck is supposedly going away is that they find that more and more people are using the Twitter app on iOS. Um, hello, the TweetDeck on the iPad is broken!  Of course they aren’t using it! And columns on the iPhone just don’t make a lot of difference.  That’s why I’m mad, it’s not that it’s not in demand, they’ve killed it!

There had been no other cross-platform solution that meets all the needs above.  None.  HootSuite came close, but it didn’t update fast, last I checked. TweetBot was supposedly industrial strength, but it was only iOS.   And Twitter’s own solution doesn’t support columns.  There literally wasn’t an alternate.  Even TweetDeck on the web will ‘time out’ and you need to login again.  It’s a barrier to go into your password keeper, enter ID app password, navigate to entry, get twitter password, and go back and log in. Particularly when you’re dashing to join a chat.

It appears TweetBot now has a Mac solution, so I’ll be checking that out.  Fingers crossed.

22 April 2013

Robinsons’ Performance Consulting

Clark @ 5:18 AM

As a consequence of my previous post and the commented revelation, I checked out the Robinsons’ Performance Consulting.  The book really takes a different approach to what I was talking about so I suppose it’s worth delineating the difference.

What I was talking about was how learning & development groups should be looking not only to courses, but also performance support and social media as components of potential solutions to organizational needs.  It naturally includes a focus on aligning with business needs, but takes a rich picture of opportunities to have impact.

The Robinsons’ book is more focused on ensuring the project you’re working on is addressing the real problem. It rightly has you stepping back to look at the business problem (the gap between how things should be, and how they are), and the reasons why these gaps exist. Then, you should be designing solutions that address all the needs, and systematically solve the problem.

There are two really good things about their approach.  The focus on the real problem is designed to prevent using a solution that may be familiar, but may not really solve the problem.  This was similar to my complaint. The other thing is they’re willing to go beyond courses for solutions, looking at incentives, job aids, work process redesign, etc.

On the other hand, it’s not clear to me that they would be able to incorporate potential social solutions in their repertoire.  When should you have people go to their network?  An interesting question, but not one that obviously flows out of their approach.

Regardless, I think the rigor of the book (and it’s nicely complemented by exercises, examples, etc.) makes it a worthy contribution. I suspect that too many L&D groups might not be willing to push as hard as needed to make sure that the solution being developed is pointed to by a thorough analysis (as many of their examples point out), and this book gives you guidance and tools to do the job.  There’re also some end chapters on being a successful consultant that could be valuable to practitioners as well.  Well worth a read.

17 April 2013

Sach’s Winning the Story Wars

Clark @ 6:47 AM

On a recommendation, I’ve been reading Jonah Sach’s Winning the Story Wars.   While it’s ostensibly about marketing/advertising, which interests me not, I was intrigued by the possibilities to understand stories from a different perspective.   I was surprised to find that it offered much more.

The book does cover the history of advertising, going through some classic examples of old-style advertising, and using some surprisingly successful examples to elicit a new model.  Some personal stories and revelations make this more than a conceptual treatise.

The core premise is turning your customer into a potential hero of an important journey.  You play the role of the mentor, providing the magic aid for them to accomplish a goal that they know they need, but for a variety of reasons may have avoided.  The journey is motivated from core values, a feature that resonates nicely with my personal quest for using technology to facilitate wisdom.

The book also provides, as one of the benefits, a nice overview of story, particularly the hero’s journey as synthesized by Joseph Campbell across many cultures and time periods.  If you find Campbell a tough read, as many do, this is a nicely digested version.  It talks in sensible ways about the resistance, and trials, and ultimate confrontation.

The obvious focus is on new way to build your brand, tapping into higher purpose, not the more negative fears of inadequacy.  So this book is valuable for those looking to market in a higher way.  And I do intend to rethink the Quinnovation site as a consequence.  But I suggest there’s more.

The notion of the individual being offered the opportunity to play a transformative role seems to be a useful framing for learning. We can, and should, be putting learners in meaningful practice roles, and those roles can be coming from learners’ deep motivators. One of the heuristics in learning game design is Henry Jenkins’ “put the player in a role they’d like to be in”.  This provides a deeper grounding, put the learner in a role they aspire to be in.

I think this book provides not only practical marketing advice, but also guidance for personal journeys and learning.  I think that the perspective of designing stories and roles that are based on personal values to be a great opportunity to do better design. I haven’t completely finished it yet, but I’ve already found enough value in the majority of it to recommend it to you.

9 April 2013

Increasing our responsibility

Clark @ 6:27 AM

InFormalI ranted a couple of weeks ago about how we need to move out of our complacency and make a positive change.  As I sometimes do, I stumbled upon a diagram that characterizes the type of change I think we need to be considering.

The perspective riffs off of the concept of the relative value of formal versus informal learning methods shift as performers move from novice to expert. (And, as I’ve previously noted, what’s considered in/formal changes depending on if you’re the performer or designer.)  And, too often, we tend to restrict our interventions to the formal side, yet there are lots of things we can be doing on the informal side.

InFormalLDPCRolesLargely, however, I see learning and development (L&D) groups as focusing exclusively on novices, or to beginning practitioners, and leaving practitioners and experts on their own.  Even if they’re addressing these more advanced audiences, they tend to use the ‘course’ as the vehicle, when it’s not really  necessary.  These audiences know what they need to know, and just want that useful information, they don’t need the full preparation that novices do.  Novices don’t know what they need to know nor why it’s important, so we provide all that in a course model.  We can be much more telegraphic to advanced performers, and the value of social networks starts kicking in here too.

The point I’m trying to make is that we can, and should, take responsibility for the rest of the performers. We can assist their performance, hence the term we’ve been preferring in the Internet Time Allianceperformance consultant.  This implies facilitating performance across the organizational roles, top to bottom and from beginner to expert.

I’d like to suggest that L&D groups need to become focused on facilitating organizational performance, which includes but is not limited to training.  It’s going to benefit the organization, it’s going to lead to greater strategic contributions and associated value, and it’s an approach that will likely preclude a long slow march to irrelevance and extinction.  Better the folks that understand how we learn and perform (and if you don’t, what are you waiting for?) take responsibility than having it devolve by default to business units and/or IT, eh?


8 April 2013

Games & Meaningful Interactivity

Clark @ 6:35 AM

A colleague recently queried: “How would you support that Jeopardy type games (Quizzes, etc.) are not really games?”  And while I think I’ve discussed this before, I had a chance to noodle on it on a train trip.  I started diagramming, and came up with the following characterization.

GameSpacesI separated out two dimensions. The first  is differentiating between knowledge and skills.  I like how Van Merriënboer talks about the knowledge you need and the complex problems you apply that knowledge to.  Here I’m separating ‘having’ knowledge from ‘using’ knowledge, focusing on application.  And, no surprise, I’m very much on the side of using, or doing, not just knowing.

The second dimension is whether the learning is essentially very true to life, or exaggerated in some way.  Is it direct, or have we made some effort to make it engaging?

Now, for rote knowledge, if we’re contextualizing it, we’re making it more applied (e.g. moving to the skills side), so really what we have to do is use extrinsic motivation.  We gamify knowledge test (drill and kill) and make it into Jeopardy-style quiz shows.   And while that’s useful in very limited circumstances, it is not what we (should) mean by a game.  Flashy rote drill, using extrinsic motivation, is a fall-back, a tactic of last resort.  We can do better.

What we should mean by a game is to take practice scenarios and focus on ramping up the intrinsic motivation, tuning the scenario into a engaging experience.  We can use tools like exaggeration, humor, drama, and techniques from game design, literature, and more, to make that practice more meaningful.  We align it with the learners interests (and vice-versa), making the experience compelling.

Because, as the value chain suggests, tarting up rote knowledge (which is useful if that’s what we need, and sometimes it’s important, e.g. medical terminology) is better than not, but not near as valuable as real practice via scenarios, and even better if we tune it into a meaningful experience.  Too often we err on the side of knowledge instead of skills, because it’s easy, because we’re not getting what we need from the SME, because that’s what our tools do, etc, but we should be focusing on skills, because that’s what’s going to make a difference to our learners and ultimately our organizations.

What we should do is be focusing on better able to do, moving to the skill side. Tarted up quiz shows are not really games, they’re simplistic extrinsic response trainers.  Real, serious, games translate what Sid Maier said about games – “a series of interesting decisions” – into a meaningful experience: a series of important decisions.  Practicing those are what will make the difference you care about.

3 April 2013

Hire the ‘loud’?

Clark @ 6:27 AM

In thinking about how organizations can ‘learn’, it strikes me that everyone needs to be simultaneously learning and teaching.  How does that happen?  I think it can be scaffolded, but it may also be an inherent trait.

A number of us are talking more about working out loud: Jane Bozarth and Harold Jarche talk about ‘narrating your work’, while I go on about ‘thinking out loud’ and ‘learning out loud’.  The point is capitalizing on the benefits that come from putting your thoughts out: people can give you feedback, helping you learn; and folks can learn from you.

And, as I’ve said before, conversations are the engine of business. You need to be interacting to be advancing.

The recent story of Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, struck me as an interesting case.  Here she’s bringing in folks who’ve been working remotely, or to put it another way she’s not allowing telecommuting any more. While there are obvious downsides, I can think of two justifications for that step:

  • to get everyone back on the same page in regards to mission and vision
  • to have folks sharing more

Both of these would be good outcomes for Yahoo.  And I can see in both cases that it could be temporary: once you get the mission message shared, and have developed a culture of and infrastructure for sharing, folks could then again work from where they want.  Of course, I have no idea whether that will actually happen.

The interesting thing for me was to contemplate those folks who don’t share.  What to do?  I know of folks who are happy to sit at home and do their job, and aren’t necessarily interested in the larger picture.  What do you do? Sometimes these folks have useful skills.  And they may have their own methods of keeping up to date.  But if they’re not sharing, not contributing, what’s the overall picture?

And the thought occurred to me that those are folks that you bring in as contractors or consultants, but not as employees.  Particularly in the case of a ‘no fire’ policy, who do you want on board?  It seems to me that the employees you want are the ones who are continually learning and contributing to the organization’s overall knowledge.

Sure, there’s lots more you’d have to get right: safety to speak out loud, tolerating diversity, openness to new ideas, but having folks who are willing to learn together seems to me to be one criteria for an organization that will thrive.

So, is this a plausible component of a hiring policy?  Those who demonstrably narrate their work are the ones to attract, develop, and reward?


2 April 2013

Aligning coherency

Clark @ 5:57 AM


In thinking about the coherent organization, a couple of realizations occurred to me.  One is about how those layers actually are replicated at different levels. The other is how those levels need to be aligned in the organization to the overall vision.

For one, those work teams can be at any level. There will be work teams at the level that the work gets done, but there’ll also be work teams at the management and even executive levels.  Similarly, there are communities of practice at all these levels as well.  Even the top level executives can be members of several communities, including as executives of their org, but also with their peers at other orgs.

Moreover, at each of these levels they need to be tapping into what’s happening outside the organization, and tracking the implications for what they do.  They need to feed back out as well (of course, not their proprietary information).

The two way flow of information has to be in and out as well as up and down.  Communication, for both collaboration and cooperation, is key.

CoherentOrgAlignmentA second necessary component is alignment.  Those groups, at every level, need to be working in alignment with the broader organization’s goals, and vision.  When Dan Pink talks about the elements of motivation in Drive, the 3rd element, purpose, is about knowing what you’re doing and why it’s important.  So organizations have to be clear about what they’re about, and make sure everyone knows how they fit. Then you can provide autonomy and the paths to mastery (the other two elements) and get people working from intrinsic motivation.

The integrated focus on communication and alignment are two keys to developing the ability to continually innovate, and cope in the increasing complexity which will make or break an organization.  That’s how it seems to me.


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