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

31 May 2013

How I Work

Clark @ 6:15 AM

David Kelly posted the following:

Lifehacker has a series called “How I Work. Every Wednesday they feature a new guest and the gadgets, apps, tips, and tricks that keep them going. It’s a very interesting series that gives you a glimpse into how different people work and solve problems.

After recently seeing Daniel Pink’s interview some colleagues and I thought it would be interesting to answer these questions as well as a fun way to share and get to know each other better. I invite you to participate as well – I’ll link other people’s postings at the bottom of this post.

I decided to join in:


Walnut Creek, CA

Current Gig

Executive Director of Quinnovation and Senior Director of Interaction & Mobile for the Internet Time Alliance.

Current mobile device

iPhone 4 & (original) iPad

Current computer

MacBookPro 13″ (w/ Apple Monitor)

One word that best describes how you work

Interruptedly (and, yes, I made that word up)

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

Looking at what’s open or has been recently: Safari, TweetDeck, Mail, Skype, Reminders, iCal, Word, Keynote, Notes, OmniGraffle, & OmniOutliner.

I keep up with what’s new with Safari and TweetDeck, maintain communication channels with Mail and Skype, keep myself organized with iCal and Reminders, write with Word and Notes, plan and present with Keynote, and think things through with OmniGraffle and OmniOutliner.

QuinnovationWorldHeadquartersWhat’s your workspace like?

Somewhat compact and crowded.  I moved from a bigger desk to our smallest room to accommodate the changing needs of our kids.  The room also houses a couch that becomes a bed for guests, and some shelves, so there’s not a lot of space. It’s organized for efficiency and effectiveness, not aesthetics.

What’s your best time-saving trick?

To put things into my calendar or my reminder list now!

What’s your favorite to-list manager?

I struggled after losing Palm Desktop, but finally have settled on Reminders (Apple’s tool), as it synchs across devices seamlessly.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without?

Definitely my iPad.  It replaces computer on many trips, and serves as a content and interactive device at times when I’m in more leisure than on the go.  If that’s cheating, it’d be a pocket tool kit: usually the Coast micro-tool, or Swiss-Tech Micro-Tech when traveling (no blade). Always need a file, screwdriver, …

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?

I’d like to say diagramming, representing models, but I don’t know if that’s ‘everyday’. If not, I’d say taking what ever’s left over in the fridge and making a real meal out of it.

What do you listen to while you work?

Not bloody much.  I can’t listen to most music while working, as the lyrics interfere with my thinking.

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?

I’m definitely an introvert, but I’m also a ham (a nice tension, eh?).  So I don’t mind being on stage, but as soon as I’m off I go back to ‘I wonder if someone will talk to me’, and get drained when I’m around too many people.  I work best in small groups.

What’s your sleep routine like?

I work hard to get a regular eight hours,  having read the research. So it’s usually  to bed sometime between 10 and 11, and the house wakes up around 6.  Travel wreaks havoc with that, but caffeine helps.

Fill in the blank. I’d love to see _______ answer these same questions.

Alan Kay or John Seely Brown

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

To be myself.

30 May 2013


Clark @ 6:32 AM

I’ve been thinking more about animations of late.  I am a big fan of diagrams (as you probably infer :), and animations add an important dimension.  However, they’re more problematic to create.  Yet I’ll argue that they can be really powerful.

As Larkin & Simon pointed out in their landmark Cognitive Science article (PDF) “Why a diagram is (sometimes) worth ten thousand words”, a mental model is composed of conceptual relationships between the elements.  And a mental model provides predicative and explanatory power: you can infer from the model why something happened or how to do something.  A diagram maps those conceptual relationships to spatial relationships, providing a memorable framework to both comprehend and remember that model.

Now, sometimes the relationships aren’t static, but change under different conditions.  Then, we need to convey those changes, and so we need a moving diagram, an animation.  An animation can convey things like the effects of introductions of various factors on related elements, such as heat in a steam system, or chemicals in an ecosystem, helping learners understand the dynamic relationships.

For instance, the diagrams I used yesterday to convey a meta-learning architecture could be animated to show the flow and aggregation of the information of competencies over time.  Similarly, for those who have trouble visualizing use of the experience API, an animation could show how individual activity generates data that can be aggregated and then mined, either for specific answers or with machine learning for new insights.  I think that there may be a barrier to comprehending the whole picture (more than happy to be wrong), and here an animation could help.

Animation is inherently more complex than creating diagrams, and requires additional skills than just static visualization.  Consequently, I haven’t developed that particular capability, but I strongly encourage design teams to acquire that capability either internally or a strong partner.

I like the Common Craft ones, which typically include this sort of dynamic relationship exposition, but also narrative (which you also see in  RSA Animate, another favorite).  I remember the ones that explained reproduction that they showed us in school many years ago, stripping away the yucky bits so we could understand the underlying processes (and risks).  Can you think of animations that have really helped you comprehend something?

29 May 2013

Integrating Meta-learning

Clark @ 5:57 AM

There’s much talk about 21st Century skills, and rightly so: these skills are the necessary differentiators for individuals and organizations, going forward.  If they’re important, how do we incorporate them into systems, and track them?  You can’t do them in a vacuum, they only can be brought out in the context of other topics.  We can integrate them by hand, and individually assess them, but how do we address them in a technology-enabled world? In the context of a project, here’s where my thinking is going:

MetaLearningTaggingFirst, you have some domain activity you are having the learner engage in. It might be something in math, science, social studies, whatever (though ideally focused on applied knowledge). Then you give them an assignment, and it might have a number of characteristics: it might be social, e.g. working with others, or problem solving. You could choose many characteristics, e.g. from the SCANS competencies (using information technology, reasoning), that the task entails.  That task is labeled with tags associated with the required competency, and tracked via SCORM or more appropriately with the Experience API.  There may be more than two, but we’ll stick with that model here.

MetaLearningStructureSo, when we then look across topics that the learner is engaging in, and the characteristics of the assignments, we can look for patterns across competencies. Is there a particular competency that is troubling or excelling?  It’s somewhat indirect, but it’s at least one way of systematically embedding meta-learning skills and tracking them.  And that’s a lot better than we’re doing now.

Remember the old educational computer games that said ‘develops problem solving skills’?  That was misleading. Most of those games ‘required’ problem-solving skills, but no real development of said skills was embedded.  A skilled parent or teacher could raise discussion across the problems, but most of the games didn’t.  But they could. Moreover, additional 21C resources could be made available for the assignments that required them, and there could be both programmatic or mentor intervention to develop these.

We need to specifically address meta-learning, and with technology we can get evidence.  And we should.  Now, my two questions are: does the concept make sense?  And does the diagram communicate it?

23 May 2013

Extending Learning

Clark @ 4:25 AM

At the just concluded ASTD International Conference and Exhibition, on exhibit were, finally, two instances of something that should’ve been obvious. And I’m not alone in having waited.

SpacedPracticeSeveral years ago, Dr. Will Thalheimer was touting a ‘learning follow-on’ solution, a mechanism to continue to reactivate knowledge after a learning experience. He’s talked about the spacing effect (even providing the basis for a diagram in Designing mLearning), drawing upon his experience as one of our best proponents of evidence-based learning design. We know that reactivation leads to better outcomes, whether seeing a re-representation of the concept, a new example (ideally in another context), and most usefully, having more practice. I’m not aware of how the solution he was touting at the time, but as we really haven’t seen any significant awareness raising, I’m not optimistic.

However, at the conference were two separate examples of such systems. They worked differently, but that they exist at all is a positive outcome. Both used diagrams (e.g. Ebbinghaus forgetting curve) to show the effects of memory over time, and it’s apt that the problem is real. If we just use the traditional event model, things are likely to be gone a few days later if it’s not immediately put into action. That doesn’t characterize many of our learning outcomes.

The solutions were different, of course. One used mobile technology to provide reminders and access to content. The other used the web. Both basically provided the same opportunity. I didn’t evaluate the relative costs, ease of integration, etc, but having such capability is great. It’s something that folks could arrange for themselves, but as yet I haven’t really seen it, at least not in a systematic way.

They still separate solutions, not integrated, but it’s reason for hope. It’s surprising no one’s baked it into their LMS, but there you go. At least we’re seeing the beginning of awareness, and hopefully we’ll get more.

21 May 2013

JSB #astd2013 Keynote Mindmap

Clark @ 7:26 AM

John Seely Brown spoke eloquently on extreme learning for coping with extreme change, e.g. now. He talked about how extreme learning resembles play and challenged us to create environments where imagination could flourish.


16 May 2013


Clark @ 6:04 AM

In creating a presentation for the Guild’s upcoming mLearnCon, I was thinking about ways we go wrong, and one is thinking that it’s just about content. Really, context is the new opportunity.  So what are the opportunities?  I thought of three possible ways in which we might use context: where, when, and what’s near.

Most of mobile context is about where we are.  With GPS chips in many devices, and other information potentially useful (what wifi networks you’re near and their location is known), we’ve been able to do lots.  Look at things like Yelp and Google Maps, which let us navigate and find things near us. We can also lay over information (c.f. augmented reality) on the world near us.  We can annotate the world with information about topics related to location such as geology, architecture, politics, history, and more, as well as more pragmatic thoughts like potential clients, available resources, and locations.

A second opportunity, which is largely missed, is responding to ‘when’ we are. That is, knowing what we’re doing (e.g. through a calendar), and acting appropriately.  We can prepare people before events, support them during, and provide reflection opportunities afterwards.  There’s finally a prototype calendar app out that uses your calendar to bring in information about relevant emails, people, and documents associated with meetings, for example.

The third opportunity came to mind , however.  It is related to the first, but somewhat different. In this situation, I’m thinking about what’s near you. It’s not based, however, so much on location as proximity: the thing that’s near you may not be there always, it may be mobile or ephemeral, but it’s an opportunity.  Perhaps it’s a combination of when and where? Regardless, if you have a task that you want to accomplish now, and you need a resource, and it happens to be nearby, if you know that  you have the capability to succeed.

I’m not sure this list is exhaustive, but at least it provides some structure to think about opportunities.  I welcome additions, extensions, clarifications, or any other feedback!  And now I need to figure out a nice visual to go with it…

15 May 2013

Starting Strategy

Clark @ 6:46 AM

If you’re going to move towards the performance ecosystem, a technology-enabled workplace, where do you start?  Partly it depends on where you’re at, as well as where you’re going, but it also likely depends on what type of org you are.  While the longer term customization is very unique, I wondered if there were some meaningful categorizations.

Performance EcosystemWhat would characterize the reasons why you might start with formal learning, versus performance support, versus social?  My initial reaction, after working with my ITA colleagues, would be that you should start with social.  As things are moving faster, you just can’t keep ahead of the game while creating formal resources, and equipping folks to help each other is probably your best bet.  A second step would then likely be performance support, helping people in the moment.  Formal learning would then backstop for those things that are static and defined enough, or meta- enough (more generic approaches) that there’s a reason to consolidate it.

However, it occurred to me that this might change depending on the nature of the organization.  So, for example, if you are in an organization with lots of new members (e.g. the military, fast food franchises), formal learning might well be your best starting point.  Formal learning really serves novices best.

So when might you want to start with performance support? Performance support largely serves practitioners trying to execute optimally. This might be something like manufacturing or something heavily regulated or evidence based, like medicine.  The point here would be to helping folks who know why they’re doing what they’re doing, and have a good background, but need structure to not make human mistakes.

Social really comes to it’s fore for organizations depending on continual innovation: perhaps consumer products, or other organizations focused on customer experience, as well as in highly competitive areas.  Here the creative friction between individuals is the highest value and consequently needs a supportive infrastructure.

Of course, your mileage may vary, and every organization will have places for all of the above, but this strikes me as a potential way to think about where you  might want to place your emphasis.  Other elements, like when to do better back end integration, and when to think about enabling via mobile, will have their own prioritization schemes, such as a highly mobile workforce for the latter.

So, what am I missing?


9 May 2013

Assessing online assessments

Clark @ 5:00 AM

Good formal learning consists of an engaging introductions, rich presentation of concepts, annotated examples, and meaningful practice, all aligned on cognitive skills. As we start seeing user-generated online c, publishers and online schools are feeling the pressure. Particularly as MOOCs come into play, with (decreasingly) government funded institutions giving online content and courses for free. Are we seeing the demise of for-profit institutions and publishers?

I will suggest that there’s one thing that is harder to get out of the user-generated content environment, and that’s meaningful practice. I recall hearing of, but haven’t yet seen, a seriously threatening repository of such. Yes, there are learning object repositories, but they’re not yet populated with a rich suite of contextualized practice.

Writing good assessments is hard. Principles of good practice include meaningful decisions, alternatives that represent reliable misconceptions, relevant contexts, believable dialog, and more. They must be aligned to the objectives, and ideally have an increasing level of challenge.

There are some technical issues as well. Extensions that are high value include problem generators and randomness in the order of options (challenging attempts to ‘game’ the assessment). A greater variety of response options for novelty isn’t bad either, and automarking is desirable for at least a subset of assessment.

I don’t want to preclude essays or other interpretive work like presentations or media content, and they are likely to require human evaluation, even with peer marking. Writing evaluation rubrics is also a challenge for untrained designers or experts.

While SMEs can write content and even examples (if they get pedagogical principles and are in touch with the underlying thinking, but writing good assessments is another area.

I’ve an inkling that writing meaningful assessments, particularly leveraging interactive technology like immersive simulation games, is an area where skills are still going to be needed. Aligning and evaluating the assessment, and providing scrutable justification for the assessment attributes (e.g. accreditation) is going to continue to be a role for some time.

We may need to move accreditation from knowledge to skills (a current problem in many accreditation bodies), but I think we need and can have a better process for determining, developing, and assessing certain core skills, and particularly so-called 21st century skills. I think there will continue to be a role for doing so, even if we make it possible to develop e necessary understanding in any way the learner chooses.

As is not unusual, I’m thinking out loud, so I welcome your thoughts and feedback.

2 May 2013

Travel Tech

Clark @ 5:56 AM

Yesterday I wrote about some products, and I thought I should also own up to the mobile apps I use while traveling (at least domestically, international is still a bloody headache).  It’s something I do a fair bit, and is a natural opportunity for mobile to make your life easier and more effective.

First, the natural functions of basic apps are helpful.  I put my flight details and a reminder into my calendar.  3 hours before the flight, unless it’s a connection, then 40 minutes to alert me to get to the gate (United used to have an option to automatically download it to your calendar, but that changed with the software switch on the integration with the proud bird).  I also put in reservations for cars and hotels. I keep track of the confirmation number that way and don’t have to carry around an extra piece of paper.  The camera is useful too, when I need to remember my parking space.  Easier than entering into the calendar!  And I have a password app (I use SplashID since I had it before on my Treo) where I store all my membership numbers for the loyalty programs. May as well get the benefits if you have to travel.  And Google Search gets used for lots of things.

A I mentioned yesterday, Navigon is GPS software that I’ve used many a time to get from place a to place B.  I try to avoid driving if at all possible (such a waste of time, give me a train any time), but when I need to in or to an unfamiliar destination, GPS is the go. These days Google Maps does a very good job too, but if you’re going somewhere with dodgy cell coverage, having maps local is nice (if battery abusive: keep a charger).  Google maps in particular is very useful for walking directions and times, too.

I use the iBart app to check train schedules to and from the airport.  There are lots of apps out there to facilitate using particular train systems, and I’d use Metro in other towns if I were using public transit, e.g. Boston or DC.  If you live in a particular location, check and see if there’s an app for your system.

On occasions, I use SuperShuttle (I try to be frugal when time allows), and their app lets you book the trip, check on your van, etc.  When needed, it’s quite useful.  TaxiMagic would be used sometimes if I had trouble getting a cab (I can recall one time in Philly where it would’ve been very handy).

When I do have to drive, CheapGas helps you find the prices of petrol near you and find a provider with the best deal. Other special purpose driving apps are RoadAhead (finding things at turnouts ahead; but it would require someone else in the car with you) and the AAA and Roadside apps, which can help you find accommodation or help you with car trouble.  Thankfully haven’t needed them, but nice to have.

At airports, I love GateGuru.  I try to get to the airport early (I’d rather be cooling my heels with a book or an app than sweating whether I’ll make it thru security on time), and if I have time to kill or need to grab a meal or a drink, GateGuru finds the opportunities nearby and has ratings.  Very helpful.

I’ve the SeatGuru app, but I tend to use the website, as it can be helpful for choosing the best seating position, particularly when you’ve got a choice and the extra considerations aren’t obvious (loud, limited recline, etc).

When I’m looking for a place to eat, Yelp can be very helpful (in fact, finding us the nice Twin Cities Grill in Minneapolis just last week).  You can indicate where you are and look for what’s around. Google Maps can do this too, but Yelp’s somehow a little better, optimized as it is for this purpose.  On occasion I’ll use or coordinate with UrbanSpoon.

Finally, a shoutout to United.  I’ve been sucked in for years (long story, started when they were the last option when I lived in Sydney), but whether you like the service or airline or not, their app is a great example of mobile support. You can review your flights, get your boarding pass, check flight status, get your mobile QR code boarding pass, and even book a flight. Really nice job of matching user need to functionality.

So, what apps have made your life easier when you travel?


1 May 2013


Clark @ 6:35 AM

I don’t usually talk about products, particularly ones I’ve received as opposed to have chosen.  However, there are a couple of mentions worth making:


I won a copy of Navigon. I’d always wanted a GPS, but didn’t want to buy one, figuring they’d get outdated. I was glad to get it, as Google Maps wasn’t allowed to do turn-by-turn on the iPhone.  I’ve used it a number of times, and have been very satisfied. The nice thing as opposed to the apps is that it works where there isn’t cellphone connectivity. The interface generally maps well to my goals, and I can usually figure out how to do the unusual things. Note that I don’t usually try to put in extra stops or anything.  It won’t seem to use my bluetooth headphone, unlike Google Maps, which now does turn-by-turn, so these days I may alternate.  Note: the processing required for Navigon does mean using a car-charger, or seriously depleting your batter, but I can’t see how that could be worked around, it is a processing intensive task.  It’s been a keeper, and gratefully used a number of times over the past few years.  Nice to have it as an app that travels with my phone so no extra hardware needed, and they can upgrade the software and it migrates to new phones.

I also earned a pair of Sony Walkman headphones. These are digital, so you can load up your playlist, and then wear them.  They’re very minimalist: two ear pieces and a cable that joins them that goes behind your head.  As you might expect, they’re oriented towards Windows, with no information for a Mac user provided, but their website shows how to load music on them.  I don’t listen to music via headphones much, but for working out these seemed like a great solution, better than figuring out where to carry an iPhone and having the cord dangling. It’s got decent storage; my workout playlist fits with plenty of room. One problem for a Mac is that there’s no obvious information about how to have different playlists, though your supposed to be able to shuffle between lists. Regardless, I am only using for working out at this point so my ‘rowdy’ music is just fine.  Another nice point is that the USB cable that connects to the computer is also how you charge them. They fit easily in my luggage and are now a travel partner.


I didn’t win, but paid an expo price (or so I thought) for a HyperShield stylus for my iPad. I liked the two-tone silver/gold look and the pen form-factor  I got it over a year a year ago, and in the past couple of months started using it occasionally to try taking handwritten notes (contemplating an app that allows both handwriting and tapping, because I like to take diagrams).  The stylus is far better than my finger for such purposes, and though my writing makes a doctor’s prescription look legible, I liked changing inks, drawing pictures, etc.  I am in awe and jealous of my colleague’s abilities to do the same and make excellent drawings and elegant writing, but it was good enough. Until, after not many hours of use, suddenly it started grabbing at the screen, not dragging smoothly but chattering across.  I looked carefully at the nub, and saw that it was peeling. What was apparently peeling off is the smooth surface.  Of course, there was only a 90 day warranty, and I didn’t really expect to get it replaced, but I am dismayed that it could fail after such a short period of time.  Caveat emptor.

And a rude noise in the general direction of any app with a free teaser and a premium version that decides to increase the annoyance factor to get you to pay.  Make a clear value proposition to upgrade that is on virtue of better capability.  Don’t have an initial choice and then decide to pester people more.  Ahem, Sol Free.

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