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

31 December 2013

2013 Reflections

Clark @ 6:53 AM

It’s appropriate to look back at the year, here at the end of it.  Reflection is a powerful and all-too-neglected tool.  My year started off with a bit of travel and ended up with a lot of thought, writing, and preparation.

I started off with a bang, with two separate trips for presentations in Saudi Arabia with a few weeks of each other (phew!).  The second included a paper that was a stab at rethinking formal learning: Redesigning Design (warning, PDF). It integrated my previous discussion of activity-centered learning with backwards design.  And visiting foreign countries is something I enjoy, if not getting there ;).

I also presented at a wide variety of events, from regular venues like ASTD‘s TechKnowledge and ICE, and the eLearning Guild‘s Learning Solutions, mLearnCon, Performance Support Symposium, and DevLearn. More unique opportunities included the Professional Association of College Trainers and the International Conference on College Teaching and Learning. I attended Association for Educational Communications and Technology just to hear what’s happening on the academic side.

I always enjoy such opportunities.  The most interesting aspect to me are the discussions that emerge after sessions, whether I’m the one presenting or I’m getting a chance to listen to someone else.  The conversations in-between are also interesting, with colleagues old and new.  Having a chance to mingle informally adds a valuable component to professional interactions.

Which was the driving force to attend a couple of retreats that are a different sort of professional reflection. This past year I attended Up to All of Us, and a second, similar, get together, both for the second time. These were opportunities to recharge and connect with like-minded colleagues.  The ability to listen and interact in natural settings over an extended period is a separately valuable type of interaction.

Some of my best interactions came online in small groups, not least the Internet Time Alliance (the rest of you know who you are).  The chance to interact with colleagues like Jay, Jane, Charles, and Harold continues to be a fabulous boon.  My only regret is that we didn’t quite get things going the way I’d originally hoped we would. Despite the intellectual firepower, we didn’t converge on a unified model until too late. I admit my limitation in that I couldn’t really be prepared to ‘go to market’ until we had a core framework that would serve as the basis for tools, a book, etc.  When we finally did, it was too late as everyone had gone off in their own directions, of need. The model is still important, and will be revisited in the forthcoming tome, and while it can serve as a basis for us working together (we’re still an entity, and available), but the real benefit to us is the continued opportunity to interact intellectually as well as personally.

I engaged in client work as well, of course, which is yet another powerful opportunity to learn, coupled with the opportunity to contribute.  I was fortunate to engage with a variety of different organizations in facilitating design and strategy, including some mobile work.  I like it when I can help clarify concepts, leading to tighter design, as well as raise the full spectrum of issues leading to more comprehensive strategies.  I really enjoy getting into specific contexts, coming to grips with the issues, looking for matching models and frameworks, and systematically working through them to provide innovative solutions.  Not when you’re doing the ordinary, but when you are uncertain what’s needed, or need to take it up a notch, is where I’ve been able to add real value.

I spent much of the latter part of the year working on my next book, to be out this coming year.  I’m not happy with the state of the industry, nor the pace of change, so the book and another initiative (stay tuned) are a couple of stabs at trying to make things better.  If you’re reading this, you’re more likely part of the solution than the problem, of course ;).

I’d also agreed to do a number of chapters in books and articles, so as soon as the book manuscript was done, I had to scramble to meet my other deadlines.  As well as presentations for some of this coming year’s commitments; a topic for another post.  You’ll see more writing emerging in articles, chapters, etc, soon.  Duck!

Personal life was not neglected, I took a couple of weeks off this summer to travel with the family on an East Coast US History tour, from Boston, through New York City, to DC, with a side trip to Gettysburg.  It was not only pleasant, but also a learning experience in many ways, both seeing new things, and seeing them through different eyes.   I also spent some time in the wilderness, backpacking through Yosemite National Park, a different sort of retreat, but equally valuable.  We also dealt with the passing of my mother, which was not unexpected.  It’s odd to finally be the eldest, the patriarch as it were.

I have to say it was a good year, despite the challenges.  And it leads me to be optimistic, looking forward, as is my wont.   I hope that, as you look back on your year, you find insight, inspiration, and satisfaction.

23 December 2013

Making sense of emerging technologies

Clark @ 6:47 AM

Last week I was attending the board meeting for eLearnMag, the Association of Computing Machinery’s ezine on eLearning.  The goal was to bring together the board to discuss new directions.  eLearnMag bridges the academic and practitioner sectors, providing an opportunity for research to inform practice, and vice-versa.

In preparation for the meeting, a survey was taken of the readership, to find what they were looking for.  The top element, by far, was to keep up with emerging technologies.  This makes sense in an era of increasing technology advancement, but it brings with it a worry as well.

Too often, new technologies come out with an abundance of excitement.  Bluntly, there’s a lot of smoke as well as fire. Every new technology is going to be a panacea, particularly for education.  Remember Virtual Worlds?  They were to be the ultimate solution for all learning needs, but instead experienced a crash after a bubble of hype. Now, they’re reemerging with a more reasoned understanding of their core values.

How do we keep from being buried by hype?  We need to understand the core affordances of technologies, the real capabilities brought by technology.  More importantly for our purposes, we need to understand the core learning affordances.  We do this by teasing out the fundamental capabilities, and then matching that to our needs.

For example, I previously took a stab at exploring the affordances of virtual worlds, and similarly for mobile.  The point is to map core capabilities and emerging capabilities, and use those to evaluate technologies for supporting learning and performance.

Going forward, I implore you to try to avoid the hype, and look at the real capabilities.  Look for insight, not bluster.  It’s strategic in making sure technology is used appropriately, and pragmatic to avoid investing in chimeric capabilities.  So, what technologies are you curious about?

17 December 2013

Categorizing mLearning

Clark @ 6:41 AM

In thinking about mlearning, I have characterized the possibilities of mobile as augmenting formal, performance support, social, and contextual.  It occurs to me, as I continue to think mobile, that there is another way to view it.

mLearningThe realization came from the fact that you can use social for both augmenting formal learning and performance support, just as you can with content (both media files and interactive experiences).  Which leads to a different way of characterizing the space. Thus, social versus content is a different cut through mobile than is formal learning versus performance support.


An interesting other cut is that you can do something contextual for any or all of these areas as well: you could provide a contextually relevant or local directory of mentors for formal social or collaborators for performance support.  For formal content, you could leverage contextual elements with associated content, or even create an alternate reality game playing off the context.  And for performance support, you might customize job aids to point to local resources, or provide augmented reality to annotate the world.

What I’m doing here is revising the way I cut through the space. Social plays a role in both formal and performance support, as does content.  Contextual is really a third dimension in addition to the other two dimensions.The older characterization was useful for thinking through design, but I think this is conceptually cleaner.

I’m always trying to get better, and this seems more accurate.  So, does it make sense to you?  More importantly does this help, or only confound the space from the point of view of doing good mDesign?


11 December 2013

Revolutionize Learning & Development

Clark @ 6:35 AM

It has become clear that one of the things that is needed is a shakeup of Learning & Development (L&D). My simple version is that L&D isn’t doing all it could and should be doing, and what it is doing it is not doing well. The flaws are myriad

What we see are courses as the only tool in the toolbox. The LMS, rapid elearning tools, virtual classrooms, and of course the omnipresent F2F training sessions are the rule. Organizations are not doing root cause analysis or aligning with business metrics, but instead are serving as ‘order takers’. Organizations are not looking to using performance support even though it’s likely a better value than courses, let alone looking to the network as a systematic component of the solution. Worse, the courses that are being offered are largely knowledge dump/test.

And you’ve heard me go off on this before. So what more can I do? How about write a book laying out the case in more detail? Let’s say I:

  • document the problems with evidence
  • point to the things about learning and organizations that we are not paying attention to
  • show what it could be like if we were doing what we should be (with case studies), and
  • lay out a road map forward

Would that be helpful?

Well, as I’ve hinted, that’s what’s been my project for the past months. It’s gone into production, with a target date of May 2014. The title, slightly unwieldy but capturing the necessary thoughts, has been finalized:

Revolutionize Learning & Development: Performance and Innovation Strategy for the Information Age

I aim to spark the revolution, and I hope you’ll join me!

10 December 2013

Augmenting Human Intellect: Vale Doug Engelbart

Clark @ 7:16 AM

Somehow, I forgot to farewell one of the finest minds to cross our paths.  (I was sure I had, but searching this morning found no evidence. Mea culpa.)  Last night, I had the privilege of attending a Festschrift for Doug Engelbart, who passed last July, with speakers reciting the trajectory and impact of his career.  And I was inspired anew by the depth of his vision.

Doug is widely known as the inventor of the mouse, but that was just an implementation detail in his broader view. His mission manifested further in the ‘mother of all demos‘, where he showed collaborative work, video conferencing, and more, working with a mouse, keyboard, and graphic display. In 1968. And yet this too was just the tangible output of a much larger project.

At a critical juncture early in his career, he took a step back and thought about what he could really contribute.  He realized that the problems the world was facing were growing exponentially, and that our only hope was to learn at a similarly exponential rate, and decided that helping humans accomplish this goal was a suitable life’s work.  His solution was so all-encompassing that most people only get their minds around a small bit of it.

One component was a knowledge work environment where you could connect with colleagues and collaborate together, with full access to articulated knowledge sources. And yes, this foresaw the internet, but his vision was much richer.  Doug didn’t see one editor for email, another for documents, etc, he wanted one work environment.  He was also willing for it to be complex, and thought using inadequate tools as riding tricycles when we should be riding road bicycles to get places.  His notion was much closer to EMACS than the tools we currently use.  The mouse, networks, and more were all just developments to enable his vision.

His vision didn’t stop there: he proposed co-evolution of people and technology, and wanted people developing systems to be using the tools they were building to do their work, so the technology was being built by people using the tools, bootstrapping the environment. He early on saw the necessity of bringing in diverse viewpoints and empowering people with a vision to achieve to get the best outcomes. And continual learning was a key component. To that end, he viewed not just an ongoing reflection on work processes looking for opportunities to improve, but a reflection on the reflection process; sharing between groups doing the work reflection, to collaboratively improve.  He saw not just the internet, but the way we’re now seeing how best to work together.

And, let’s be clear, this isn’t all, because I have no confidence I have even a fraction of it.  I certainly thought his work environment had too high a threshold to get going, and wondered why he didn’t have a more accessible onramp.  It became clear last night that he wasn’t interested in reducing the power of the tools, and was happy for people to have to be trained to use the system, and that once they saw the power, they’d buy in.

To me, one of the most interesting things was that while everyone celebrated his genius, and no argument, it occurred to me to also celebrate that time he took to step aside and figure out what was worth doing and putting his mind to it.  If we all took time to step back and think about what we could be doing to really make a dent, might we come up with some contributions?

I was fortunate to meet him in person during his last years, and he was not only brilliant and thoughtful, but gentle and kind as well.  A real role model.  Rest in peace, Doug.

3 December 2013

Design for Doing

Clark @ 6:16 AM

It occurs to me that we are too busy designing for learning, and that’s not what it’s about.  It’s not about learning, as I often say. What is it about?  It’s about doing. It’s about performance. So what does that mean?

My backwards design process suggested looking at the desired performance, and then working backwards. This comes from a good analysis of the performance gap and determining the root cause of the difference between the existing performance and the desired one.  The solution then is determining what can be in the world, and what has to be in the head.

Another way to be thinking about it is looking at how people really perform in the world.  We need to be looking at when and how people need support, and figure out how we can bring support.  People would rather not have to discover the answer if possible, and rather find it. Ideally, we are supporting finding the answer, but there are times when we haven’t anticipated the need, or it’s too unique to be worth investing.

The point here is that these ways of thinking about the problem come from thinking about meeting organizational needs, not about delivering learning services. They come from focusing on the doing, not the learning.  And that’s a perspective organizations need.

We do, however, need to be thinking about a broader picture. It’s not just doing the work, but it’s also about doing innovation, and continual capability development.   So it’s not just putting in place elements that support optimal execution, but it’s also about putting in place the elements that support cooperation and collaboration.

The overall focus has to be supporting the needs of the organization. We need to be thinking about supporting the do, not just the learn.  Are you designing for doing?

2 December 2013

Leveraging Technology

Clark @ 6:33 AM

Technology is supposed to support our goals, and, when well-written, it does.  So for instance, when I write, I use particular features to make my writing process better aligned with my thinking.  I’m working on a book (as you’ve seen hints of and some resultant interim thoughts), and I’m finding that now that it’s time to deliver, I’ve got a conflict.  Let me explain.

My writing is not just a process of sitting down and having the prose flow.  At some point it is, but even with my first book that had gestated for years, I had a structure.  Subsequent exercises in screed generation have really relied on my creating an overarching structure, that lets me tell a story that incorporates the things I need to cover.   And I use outlines as my structuring tool.

Even this isn’t linear: structure and then write.  As I write, I have ideas that I will either put later in the structure, or go back and add into the prose.  One of the things that regularly happens is that, as I write, I find things flowing in a different way than I originally expected, and I rearrange the outline to achieve a structure that captures the new flow.

To do this, I use the outline feature hugely. I don’t just restructure, but move chunks to different places using these capabilities.  While I have not been a fan of Microsoft in general, I learned Word to write my PhD thesis, and have used it consistently ever since.  For instance, while I love Keynote, I haven’t been able to adopt Pages because it hasn’t had industrial-strength outlining.  This also means I inherently use styles.  I like styles. A lot.  For instance, it makes me crazy when people format by hand on something that might need to be reformatted.

The reason I mention this is because I’m now faced with an externally-induced dilemma. Having a deadline, and finally having crafted my prose, I now look at their submission requirements.  And they’re antiquated.  Here’s the requirement from my publisher:

Our production process requires minimal file formatting; do not use formatting such as fields and links, styles, page headers or footers, boxed text, and so on.

No auto-indexing, no auto-table of contents, nothing. And yes, I faced this before, but it’s still hugely frustrating.  The dilemma I’m in: I’ve had to use styes to write a well-structured book.  Now I’m faced with the onerous task of removing all the file formatting created by the outline styles that I needed to use to give my best effort.  And I have to do it by hand, as there’s no way to systematically go through and manually format all the headings.

This is nuts!  I mean, it is almost 2014, and they still need me to use hand-formatting.  Um, people, this is why we have technology: to support us in working smarter, not to go to a last-century (or worse) manual process.  These instructions are essentially unchanged since 2005, when I wrote my first tome! (Ok, they no longer require a floppy disk version, and I talked them out of the 3 paper copies. Ahem.) I managed to create camera-ready material for my thesis (with library restrictions where they’ll take out the ruler to make sure the measurements meet the criteria) in Word back in 1989; I bet I could create camera-ready page-proofs to meet their requirements today.  As you can infer, I’m frustrated (and dreading the chore).   The irony of using last century production processes to tout moving L&D into the 21st Century is not lost on me.

Please, if your processes are still like this, let’s have a conversation. I will be having a fight with my publisher (which I will lose; they can’t change that fast), but I hope you can do better.

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