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

31 August 2013

Esther Quinn (1924-2013) RIP

Clark @ 10:16 AM

EstherQuinnEarly this morning, my mother died.  She’d been wanting to go;  having lost one leg to bad circulation and with continuing pain in the other for the same reason, her quality of life wasn’t great despite the loving care my brother and family provided.  She needed help to get around, and hated to impose.  She’d already outlived all her siblings, and fortunately her passing was relatively quick and painless.

She had led a most interesting life; she grew up in Germany in a slightly privileged family (with a few servants), including during the time of World War II.  The war was tough on the family; while one of her two twin brothers was lost to leukemia, the other lost his life as a fighter pilot.  Her firm but loving father was briefly imprisoned for not being an ardent proponent of Hitler, but as a community official the local townspeople advocated for his release.  Their house was bombed during the course of the war, but they had escaped to the countryside home of their family friends.  I remember my mom telling me about heading with a friend to that region, and ducking under trees at times to avoid planes machine-gunning the field!

She was anorexic for a time, and so had to spend time in the hills of Czechoslovakia to recuperate, escaping some of the war. She also studied nursing in Switzerland, again avoiding some of the carnage, and felt remorse in both cases.  She was also embarrassed about getting credit for not participating in a war-hawking May Day parade because the real reason wasn’t principled objection but instead that she didn’t want her birthday preempted.  For the rest of her life she was always looking to help others.  She was sympathetic to the disabled, as her father had lost his arm in the first world war, yet never let that slow him down.

After the war, she headed to the New York to stay with her aunt, and worked taking care of an elderly lady.  She grew tired of being cold, and headed west by bus. She almost stopped in New Mexico, but ended up continuing on to Los Angeles, where she worked in a hospital, and ended up meeting my father, Nives.  She never regretted leaving her native land and family, though she did miss them.

My folks got married, and she subsequently became a mother to me and then my brother Clif.  With no proximal family of hers, she had to become quite independent, also as my father worked long hours.  She kept us well fed, becoming a good cook and a strong advocate of natural foods long before such became popular.  A good education was also a priority, and she took us to museums regularly as well as advocating for summer school and other activities.  Frugal too (and occasionally penny-wise and pound-foolish, as she’d laughingly admit), our regular vacations were camping except for the occasional trips to Germany to visit her family.  And she was capable: she knitted us sweaters, sewed, gardened, and had a ‘can do’ attitude.

She eventually went back to nursing when we were old enough, and was a revered fixture in the local emergency room for many years (though we had to restrain her from telling injury tales at the dinner table).  She and my father remained active in politics and social efforts; after retirement they did considerable traveling but also volunteered time when home. She was always heading off to go shopping for the abused women’s shelter or to deliver something for somebody in need.   She also was continually restless, courtesy of an overactive thyroid gland, and it was a family joke that she’d say she was finally going to sit and watch a movie, but soon she’d be up making snacks or doing some other thing around the house.

The thing that I grew to recognize and appreciate was how much my mother was a people person. Our house regularly had visitors, often from far away.  My mom had the gift of really listening – she loved hearing others’ stories about life – and the next time she met you she would remember and ask.  And help if she could.  As a consequence, my folks always had invitations to visit, and people they met on their travels were always stopping through on their way elsewhere.

She never thought she was smart or wise, and yet she was both.  She cared and her varied experience and endless curiosity meant she often had something useful to say.  Her brain remained strong long after her body began to fail her.  Despite the travails of infirmities, she continued with good cheer.

She was gentle, kind, thoughtful, and good, and we were very very lucky to have her.  Rest in Peace.

26 August 2013

Supporting Cognitive Performance

Clark @ 7:16 AM

It’s clear that our brains aren’t the logical problem-solvers we’d like to be.  The evidence on our different thinking systems makes clear that we use intuition when we can, and hard thinking when we must. Except that we use intuition even when we shouldn’t, and hard thinking is very susceptible to problems.  Yet we need to have reliably good outcomes to solving problems or accomplishing tasks.  What can we do?

The answer, of course, is to use technology to fill in the gaps, when we can.  We can automate it if we totally understand it, but the best solution is to let technology (and design) do what it can, and let our brains fill in what we do best.  So, when there’s a problem or task that needs to be accomplished, and it requires some decision making, we should be doing several things.

To start, we should be looking at the scope of possible situations, and determine what’s required.  We should then figure out what information can be in the world (whether a resource or in other’s heads), and what has to be in the performer’s repertoire.  We want to design a solution system, not just a course.

Recognize that getting things into human heads reliably is problematic at best.   It takes considerable work to develop that expert intuition: considerable practice at least.  So the preference should be to design either a really good support system that helps in characterization of the problem, and a dialog that helps determine what of the possible solutions matches up with the situation.

It can just be information in the world, such as a job aid or checklist, or an interactive decision support tool. Or, it could be a social network of resources such as tools and videos created by others that’s usefully searchable and the ability to ask questions of the community and get responses.  It’s likely a probabilistic decision here: what is the likelihood that the network has the answer, versus what’s the possibility that we can design support that will cover the range of problems to be faced?

The point is that support design is a necessary and very viable component of performance solutions, and one that isn’t being used enough.  I’m looking forward to the upcoming eLearning Guild’s Performance Support Symposium in Boston as a way to learn more, and hope to see you there!

14 August 2013

Stop training! Or, how to get there from here

Clark @ 6:27 AM

One of the things I’m wrestling with right now is the transition from where we’re at to where we should be. I’ve already said we have to change, the question is how.  A number of us have talked about what the future could and should look like (including but not limited to my ITA colleagues), but how do you get there from here?  Whether it’s 70:20:10 or some other model, there simply has to be a better way.

Right now, many organizations have training operations going on: people traveling to a location to sit down and have knowledge dumped on them, perhaps including a knowledge check: show up and throw up.  With smile sheets to evaluate the outcome.  And/or we have elearning: knowledge dump and test, or virtual classrooms where we do the same spray and pray.  And it doesn’t work; it can’t.  Well, it certainly is not going to lead to any meaningful outcome.

Granted, this is a gross stereotype, and in particular situations the training is hands on, there’s lots of practice, and maybe blended so the knowledge necessary is learned beforehand.  Yes, this can lead to some real skill acquisition.

And don’t even bring up ‘compliance’.  Sure, I know you have to do it, and until we get government to stop thinking seat time and  content presentation is the same as behavior change, and lawyers to only care about CYA,  we’ll be stuck with it.  That, apparently, is just the cost of doing business.  I’m talking about the things that matter to your company. Your skills, your ability to do.

And we need to stop it.  I think the first step is to kill all training.  When you raise your head up and start talking about “but how are we going to meet this need”, then you start thinking anew: how can we go ‘world first‘, performance support 2nd, and meaningful practice last?  Once you find you’ve exhausted all other options, then you might realize that formal training is needed, but it could and should be focused on doing, not telling.

This is only part of the picture, and perhaps I’m being deliberately controversial (who, me?), but it’s one way to be forced to think anew about what we’re doing and how we can help.  We have to change, and we need to start figuring out how to get there.  I’m open to ideas.  I’ve heard some others, but that’s another post.  What are your ideas?


13 August 2013

World first!

Clark @ 6:53 AM

A few weeks ago, I posted that we should think social first.  I want to amend my statement (I reserve the right to improve my recommendations :)  to say “world first”, and clarify what I mean.  Earlier, I posted about working backward and forward, and err on the side of putting information in the world first, and only put things in the head as a last resort (because formal learning is expensive).

What I’d suggested is that you should go to networks first, if the answer is out there.  If not, you would try to use performance support (which, though not necessarily cheap, may be less expensive than formal learning in terms of time off task, etc).  Formal learning is the recourse of last resort.  However, I missed one element, which came up in a conversation.

The conversation had to do with not developing resources at all, except core ones.  When someone wanted help with something, the option was to first try to point them to a video or book, or person.  The goal is not to reinvent the wheel, reproduce resources, etc.  Use the world first, and only pick up a secondary approach if the world doesn’t have it. In some sense that’s the social network, but it might be that the L&D department, in the course of  their continual self-learning (hint hint, nudge nudge), would’ve curated a relevant resource, so it could come either from a pointer to a resource, or a question of others.

Then, the core content for an organization would be meta-learning: how to find resources, how to solve problems, etc.  Something we were pushing about a decade ago. Ok, so you might also develop the values and mission of the organization as well.  And of course proprietary processes, formulas, etc.

The focus, however, is and should be the Least Assistance Principle: what’s the least we can do for someone to get them safely back into their flow.  The reality is we can’t meet all the needs in an era of increasing complexity, and we need to be more efficient and effective: giving good support but in the right modality.  So, point to it if you can, develop the minimal support to move forward, and only put stuff into people’s heads when it absolutely has to be there.  Fair enough?

7 August 2013

An update and a request

Clark @ 6:55 AM

Actually, let me make the request first: please, please take the L&D Survey, and then ask others to do so as well.  You’re free not to, of course, but I’d really appreciate it.

As to why, here’s the first update.  As an extension of my previous contention that the industry needs to change, I’m working on doing more: I’m trying to put together a road map about how organizations can change.  To do so, I’m looking for evidence that it is, in fact, still not working well.  I have no hidden agenda other than getting good data, and looking for improvement.  As I said, ASTD is partnering with me on this, so the data will have a larger life than just my use, and this is important!

Of course, I’m busy in other ways (the rest of the updates).  I’ll be speaking at the eLearning Guild’s Performance Support Symposium in September, as well as for the San Diego ISPI chapter.  In October, I’ll be at the eLearning Guild’s great DevLearn conference. In November, I’ll be speaking in Minneapolis for PACT.  If you’re at or near any one of these, I welcome hearing from you or meeting you.

That’s so far, and more is already in the hopper for next year.  Which still leaves time for consulting, though not much; “first in, best dressed”, as the Aussies say.

Again, please take the survey if you haven’t, and spread the word.


6 August 2013

Meaningful and Experiential

Clark @ 6:54 AM

At lunch last week with my colleague Jay Cross, we riffed on the most important word was for learning in the organization. I chose ‘meaningful’, he went with ‘experiential’.  They’re both important, but I thought I’d tease them out a bit.

MeaningfulExperientialI take meaningful in two senses: what you’re doing (read: learning) is directly related to what your goals are, and it’s something you care about.  So, for example, in designing serious games, you want to focus on key skills, not on irrelevant material. And, to work as engagingly as possible, you also are also choosing a context that the learner cares about. Taking something relatively abstract like coaching, you could be providing support for developing a coaching model (rather than using an existing one), or you could be figuring out how to help a person separate out person from behavior (commenting on the latter is to be preferred).  Similarly, it could be in the context of being a better accountant (uninteresting except to accountants), or it could be for sports (which might be of interest to a broader segment).  The point is to be focusing on relevant skills in interesting contexts.

Now, I take experiential to have some overlap, but to be addressing two senses as well: both the context you are learning in, and the nature of the learning experience.  That is, you can be learning away from work, or in the work process, the latter being more ‘experiential’. And you can be learning by doing in either context, learning ‘how’, as opposed to learning ‘about’.  I think there’s overlap here in being contextually relevant , but separate in the sense of personally interesting and the learning being applied.

I mapped it out, with lack of experiential and meaningful being disconnected content (which I see far too much of in workplace learning), or where we start providing knowledge how (not about) to be meaningful, providing activity-based learning to be experiential, and of course the ultimate being the intersection of both.

I’m sure Jay would argue that if it’s experiential, learning through real work experience, it’s inherently meaningful.  And I’d argue that if it’s suitably meaningful, it naturally has to be experiential.  Yet overall I’m happy take either one or both versus neither!

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