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

28 January 2016

Getting pragmatic on what L&D can do

Clark @ 8:07 AM

I was inspired by a diagram that my ITA colleague Harold Jarche included in a post, where he puts some concepts into their 70:20:20 role as either people, skills, or tools. And I obviously believe the role of L&D should be shifting (as in a full revolution :), but I realize that putting it together can seem confusing, and so it led me to think a little bit about what’s the role for L&D versus what’s the role of the community.  As a first cut, as usual.

721Learning Development & CultureMy breakout starts with the 10 (though you should start your solution thinking with the 70, as my colleague Charles Jennings suggests).  Here I’m seeing what L&D can do, and what should be expected to come from a vibrant learning culture (which is also the role of L&D.

And it’s true that we see the traditional work of courses here (no, we’re not coming for your courses), though of course ones that meet the minimum daily standard of Serious learning, now set by your learning quality evangelists.  And reactivating the learning, to make it stick.

Another task for L&D building in meta-learning opportunities and deliberately developing them in addition to whatever domain skills matter. Also, curating (and, occasionally) creating resources for self-study.  If someone wants to learn something, resources before courses may be a more practical approach, particularly if it’s relatively unique.  And, of course, curation trumps creation. And on the Culture side, the community should also be curating and creating resources.

Then we segue to the social. Here, the community is taking the role of coaching and mentoring, and the individual is engaging with the community.  However, assuming good coaching and mentoring skills would be a mistake, so there’s a real for L&D to provide explicit development of coaching and mentoring, as well as ensuring that those relationships are established and occur. There’s also a role for facilitating meta-learning, helping folks learn to work out loud and reflect. These are essential components of my colleague Jane Hart’s Modern Workplace Learning. There’s also a role to ensure people can find others with useful expertise to tap into, within or across communities.

Finally, out at the personal end (and don’t think that it really transitions like this, there’s lots of overlap), individual practices are of working out loud and reflecting. The individual and the community should be building, as well as using, performance support like job aids. L&D can assist by helping ensure that there’s a ‘stretch assignment’ plan, and good rubrics about what constitutes a good stretch assignment, whether training or job aid.  And, of course, L&D should be looking at what’s happening and looking for opportunities to tune and improve, as well as any emergent phenomena.

Finally, of course, one final role for L&D is to ensure that there is a learning culture.  This is an important process. Recognize that it’s about a performance ecosystem organized to facilitate organizational learning at the individual and community level. It’s about having the individual have the tools ‘to hand‘ to continue to develop and perform.  The goal is a coherent organization.

27 January 2016

Reactivating Learning

Clark @ 8:10 AM

(I looked because I’m sure I’ve talked about this before, but apparently not a full post, so here we go.)

If we want our learning to stick, it needs to be spaced out over time. But what sorts of things will accomplish this?  I like to think of three types, all different forms of reactivating learning.

Reactivating learning is important. At a neural level, we’re generating patterns of activation in conjunction, which strengthens the relationships between these patterns, increasing the likelihood that they’ll get activated when relevant. That’s why context helps as well as concept (e.g. don’t just provide abstract knowledge).  And I’ll suggest there are 3 major categories of reactivation to consider:

Reconceptualization: here we’re talking about presenting a different conceptual model that explains the same phenomena. Particularly if the learners have had some meaningful activity from your initial learning or through their work, showing a different way of thinking about the problem is helpful. I like to link it to Rand Spiro’s Cognitive Flexibility Theory, and explain that having more ways to represent the underlying model provides more ways to understand the concept to begin with, a greater likelihood that one of the representations will get activated when there’s a problem to be solved, and will activate the other model(s) so there’s a greater likelihood of finding one that leads to a solution.  So, you might think of electrical circuits like water flowing in pipes, or think about electron flow, and either could be useful.  It can be as simple as a new diagram, animation, or just a small prose recitation.

Recontextualization: here we’re showing another example. We’re showing how the concept plays out in a new context, and this gives a greater base upon which to abstract from and comprehend the underlying principle, and providing a new reference that might match a situation they could actually see.   To process it, you’re reactivating the concept representation, comprehending the context, and observing how the concept was used to generate a solution to this situation.  A good example, with a challenging situation that the learner recognizes, a clear goal, and cognitive annotation showing the underlying thinking, will serve to strengthen the learning.  A graphic novel format would be fun, or story, or video, anything that captures the story, thinking, and outcome would work.

Reapplication: this is the best, where instead of consuming a concept model or an example, we actually provide a new practice problem. This should require retrieving the underlying concept, comprehending the context, and determining how the model predicts what will happen to particular perturbations and figuring out which will lead to the desired outcomes.  Practice makes perfect, as they say, and so this should ideally be the emphasis in reactivation.  It might be as simple as a multiple-choice question, though a scenario in many instances would be better, and a sim/game would of course be outstanding.

All of these serve as reactivation. Reactivation, as I’ve pointed out, is a necessary part of learning.  When you don’t have enough chance to practice in the workplace, but it’s important that you have the ability when you need it (and try to avoid putting it in the head if you can), reactivation is a critical tool in your arsenal.

20 January 2016

A bit more detail

Clark @ 8:08 AM

In the Coherent Organization model that we (the ITA) came up with, it talks about how work teams are fed by and feed up to communities as they too feed up to and are fed from social networks.  And while this is all good, it may not be completely clear.  So I tried to take a pass at representing it another way.

OrgStructureSo, at the center are people, the individuals who constitute the organization.  They are the ones who form teams. Ideally, for the most powerful outcomes, they come with different backgrounds, as we know diversity helps.  And they’ll work together in those teams, for short term needs or on an ongoing basis.

Those background are tied into the Communities of Improvement that they are members of.  A good team member will bring  their community expertise into the team, and likewise feedback their learning from their team work.  Note that most folks are usually members of several communities.

Those communities span both internal to the organization (if it is big enough), but also across the firewall out to other practitioners that are in other organizations.  There are obviously things you can, and can’t, share across the boundaries, but the communities should be continuing to evolve across boundaries.  Proprietary approaches may not, but general learning should be.

And the individuals are, or should be, learning on their own as well, tapping into personal searches inside and outside the organization for immediate needs and ongoing development. Similarly, communities should be looking for ideas and practices from other communities that can be absorbed, and sharing out to other communities as well.

The main change here is showing how people are members of different teams and diverse communities, and how the links are to communities and to one’s own development.  Not enough, I know (should I show links between people as well), and certainly I’ve got a sparse representation of interconnections here to be indicative, not representative.  Does this help?


19 January 2016

Performance Detective

Clark @ 8:15 AM

I was on a case. I’m a performance detective, and that’s what I do.  Someone wasn’t performing they way they were supposed to, and it was my job to figure out why. My client thought he knew. They always do.  But I had to figure it out myself.  Like always.

Before I hit the bricks, I hit the books. Look, there’s no point watching anyone if you don’t know what you’re looking for.  What’s this mug supposed to be doing?  So I read up. What’s the job?  What’s the goal?  How do you know when it’s going well? These are questions, and I need answers. So I check it out.  Even better, if I can find numbers.  Can’t always, as some folks don’t really get the value.  Suckers.

Then I had to get a move on.  You need what you find from the background, but you can’t trust it.  There could be many reasons why this palooka isn’t up to scratch. Everyone wants to throw a course at it.  And that may not the problem.  If it isn’t a skill problem, it’s not likely a course is going to help.  You’re wasting money.

The mug might not believe it’s important. Or not want to do it a particular way. There’re lots of reasons not do it the way someone wants. It could be harder, with no obvious benefit.  If you don’t make it clear, why would they?  People aren’t always dumb, it just seems that way.

Or they might not have what they need.  Too often, some well-intentioned but under-aware designers wants to put some arbitrary information in their heads.  Which is hard. And usually worthless.  Put in the world. Have it to hand.  They may need a tool, not a knowledge dump.

Or, indeed, they may not be capable. A course could be the answer. Not just a course, of course. It needs more. Coaching, and practice. Lots of practice.  They may really be out of their depth, and dumping knowledge on them is only going to keep them drowning.

It’s not always easy. It may not be a simple answer. There can be multiple problems. It can be all of the above.  Or any combination. And that’s why they bring me in. To get the right answer, not the easy answer. And certainly not the wrong answer.

So I had to go find out what was really going on.  That’s what detectives do. They watch. They investigate. They study.  That’s what I do. I want the straight dope. If you can’t do the hard yards, you’re in the wrong job.  I love the job. And I’m good at it.

So I watched. And sure enough, there it was. Obvious, really. In retrospect. But you wouldn’t have figured it out if you hadn’t looked.  It’s not my job to fix it.  I told the client what I found.  That’s it.  Not my circus, not my monkeys. Get an architect to come up with a solution. I find the problem, and report. That’s what I do.

This quite literally came from a dream I had, and my subsequent thoughts when I woke up.  And when I first conceived it, I wasn’t thinking about the role that Charles Jennings, Jos Arets, and Vivian Heijnen have as one of  five in their new 70:20:10 book, but there is a nice resonance.  Hopefully my ‘hard boiled’ prose isn’t too ‘on the nose’!  More importantly, what did I miss? I welcome  your thoughts and feedback.

14 January 2016

10 years!?!?

Clark @ 8:08 AM

A comment on my earliest blog post (thanks, Henrik), made me realize that this post will mark 10 years of blogging. Yes, my first post came out on January 14th, 2006.  This will be my 1,200th post (I forced one in yesterday to be the 1199th so I could say that ;), yow!  That’s 120 a year, or just under every 3rd day.  And, I am happy to add, 2,542 comments (just more than 2 per post), so thanks to you for weighing in.

It’s funny, when I started I can’t really say it was more than an experiment.  I had no idea where it would lead, or how.  It’s  had some challenges, to continue to find topics, but it’s been helpful.  It’s forced me to deliberately consider things I otherwise might not have, just to try to keep up the momentum.

I confess I originally had a goal of 5 a week (one per business day), but even then I was happy if I got 2-3. I’m gobsmacked at my colleague Harold who seems to put out a post every day.  I can’t quite do that. My goal has moderated to be 2 a week (very occasionally I live with 1 per week, but other weeks like when I’m at conferences I might have 3 if there are lots of keynotes to mind map).  Typically it’s Tuesday and Wednesday, for no good reason.

I also try to have something new to say every time. It’s hard, but forcing myself to find something to talk about has led to me thinking about lots of things and therefore ready to bring them to bear on behalf of clients.  I think out loud relatively freely (particularly with the popularity of Work and Learn Out Loud and Show Your Work).  And it’s a way to share my diagrams, another way to ‘think out loud’.  And I admit that I don’t share some things that are either proprietary (until I can anonymize them) or something I’m planning on doing something with.

And I’ve also resisted commercializing this.  Obviously I’ve avoided the offers to exchange links or blog posts that include links for SEO stuff, but I’ve even, rightly or wrongly, not allowed ads.  While it is the official Quinnovation blog, it’s been my belief that sharing my thinking is the best way to help me get interest in what I have to offer (extensive experience mapping a wide variety of concepts onto specific client contexts to yield innovative yet practical and successful solutions).  I haven’t (yet) followed a formula to drive business traffic, and only occasionally mention my upcoming events (though hopefully that’s a public service :).  There’re other places to track that.

I’m also pretty lax about looking at the metrics. I do weekly pop by Google Analytics to see what sort of traffic I get (pretty steady), but I haven’t tried to see what might improve it.  This is, largely, for me.  And for you if your interests run this way. So welcome, and here’s to another 10 years!  Who knows what there will be to talk about then…or even next week!

13 January 2016

70:20:10 furor

Clark @ 8:06 AM

I have to admit that I’m continually flummoxed by those who rail against the 70:20:10 model. Recent posts by Mark Britz and Ryan Tracey both take this on, Ryan’s in particular pointing to a poll where more than half of the respondents said it wasn’t relevant.  And there’s been quite some vehement opposition.  Really?  Really.

There’s a chapter in a book about myths by a few academics who claim that it’s not bolstered by academic research!  Similarly in a complaint linked off of Ryan’s post.  And I’ve already riffed on how I don’t get people who are flummoxed by the numbers.  If you created a study that tried to simulate the workplace and test to see where the numbers fell, your data would be hard to claim to be valid in a real workplace. And extracting the data from the real workplace will come (I think we can use xAPI for this), but here’s the real kicker: the exact numbers don’t matter!  There’s plenty of data showing the numbers are roughly this, and that is the point.

Or, rather, using the numbers as a way to think differently about your interventions in the workplace is the point.  It’s easy to think that your courses are the answer. It’s certainly what I see way too often.  Instead, you need to recognize that you need to follow up on a course with coaching and mentoring, and continuing practice through real assignments.  And, yes, formal learning does suggest this (read the elements of the Serious eLearning Manifesto), but it doesn’t seem to happen.

And, of course, if you start with the 70, as my colleague Charles Jennings suggests, you end up more likely to consider the full spectrum of solutions, including performance support (similar to my suggesting designing backwards).  It’s a way to incorporate performance consulting and job aids and a richer solution to performance problems than just courses.

The validity of the 70:20:10 framework (and it’s deliberately labeled that to deemphasize a focus on the numbers) comes from the utility it offers, and it’s offered plenty. Organizations are using it (and not just L&D) to take more appropriate solutions.  It’s even been documented down to the nth degree in a newly released book.

So, I’ll leave academic ‘angels dancing on the head of a pin’ arguments to others. I’m going to go out and drive real solutions as part of the necessary revolution L&D needs to have. 70:20:10 is a great way to think more broadly about learning, as part of the bigger picture of facilitating performance and development. I’m not yet convinced that it helps on the ‘continual innovation’ side, but it is a very useful tool to help get the ‘optimal execution’ side of the picture nailed down.

12 January 2016

Working wiser?

Clark @ 8:03 AM

Noodling:  I’ve been thinking about Working Smarter, a topic I took up over four years ago.  And while I still think there’s too little talk about it, I wondered also about pushing it further.  I also talked in the past about an interest in wisdom, and what that would mean for learning.  So what happens when they come together?

Working smarter, of course, means recognizing how we really think, work, and learn, and aligning our processes and tools accordingly. That includes recognizing that we do use external representations, and ensuring that the ones we want in the world are there, and we also support people being able to create their own. It means tapping into the power of people, and creating ways for them to get together and support one another through both communication and collaboration.  And, of course, it means using Serious learning design.

But what, then, does working ‘wiser’ mean?  I like Sternberg’s model of wisdom, as it’s actionable (other models are not quite specific enough).  It talks about taking into account several levels of caring about others, several time scales, several levels of action, and all influenced by an awareness of values.  So how do we work that into practices and tools?

Well, pragmatically, we can provide rubrics for evaluation of ideas that include considerations of others inside and outside your circles of your acquaintances, and in short- and long-term timeframes, and the impacts on existing states of affairs, ultimately focusing on the common good. So we can have job aids that provide guidance, or bake it into our templates.  These, too, can be shown in collaboration tools, so the outputs will reflect these values.  But there’s another approach.

But, at core, it’s really about what you value, and that becomes about culture.  What values does the organization care about?  Do employees know about the organization’s ultimate goal and role?  Is it about short-term shareholder return, or some contribution to society?  I’m reminded about the old statements about whether you’re about selling candles or providing light.  And do employees know how what they do fits in?

It’s pretty clear that the values implicit in steps to make workplaces more effective are really about making workplaces more humane, that is: respecting our inherent nature.  And movements like this, that provide real meaning, ongoing support, freedom of approach, and time for reflection, are to me about working not just smarter but also wiser.

We can work smarter with tools and practices, but I think we can work better, wiser, with an enlightened approach to who we are working with and how we work to deliver real value to not only customers but to society.  And, moreover, I think that doing so would yield better organizational outcomes.

Ok, so have I gone off the edge of the hazy cosmic jive?  I am a native Californian, after all, but I’m thinking that this makes real business sense.  I think we can do this, and that the outputs will be better too, in all respects.  No one says it’d be easy, but my suspicion is it’d be worthwhile.

6 January 2016

Model power!

Clark @ 8:10 AM

So, last night I was talking with my lass, and happened to show her one of my diagrams. I keep a batch of  them around, and it happened to resonate. And (to use a horrible social media ploy): you’ll never believe what happened next!

So, we were talking about her school things, and among the topics was the strategy for studying.  She’s seen a friend who basically studies the night before an exam, and does well.  Of course, she’s forgotten it all within a week. Whereas my lass works hard, doesn’t do quite as well on the test (she has a wee bit of test anxiety, but not much), but will remember it later.  She’s (fortunately) interested in learning for intrinsic interest, rather than to meet the hurdles (but capable and willing to do those too).

Which, as I explained to her, is exactly predicted by the research. Spacing out studying means you don’t have it quite as accessible right afterward, but it’s there much later.  It’s a known phenomena of our cognitive architecture (and not neuroscience, citing my colleague Will who pointed me to the original research).  So, if you want to do well on the test, massed practice is just fine. If you want people to retain it, well, space it out!

Now, I have argued the power of models before, and that’s why I keep a suite of diagrams (essentially a quiver of models) on my devices (the qPhone and the qPad).  I can share them at relevant times as a tool for explanation or prediction, and together we can figure out what it means. And that’s what I was doing, connecting her experience to frameworks that make sense.

What I heard today is that she’s gone and mapped out her study schedule for her finals, spacing it out to get the best results. She’s applying the model to her own life!  So she’s comprehended the model and the implications. And I’m not touting this to show off my daughter (yes, I’m proud of her, but that’s between me and her), but to show how models serve as the guidance for making important decisions.

Models are powerful guides to making decisions. So are you baking models into your learning, personally and for others?


5 January 2016

Meta-Learning Manifestations

Clark @ 8:01 AM

I recently mentioned that one of my reflections on the past year was that learning to learn, aka meta-learning, is emerging.  And this has come about in several ways recently, and I think it’s a relatively ‘meta’ thing to do ;) to look at the principles across these areas.

So, yesterday I was talking with a colleague about libraries. And one of the things that I noted was that in talking about the future of libraries, I hadn’t discussed a particular role they could and should play.  The reflection was that even in the future role, librarians are more than just the conduits to the information (or people or equipment), but also demonstrating how they served that role. That is, don’t just show me the results of the search, show me how you thought about the search, and why you chose the search tool you used, and how you created your query, and…

And he assured me that indeed librarians were being taught this. Moreover, at San Francisco Public Libraries they actually had dual monitors where the staff member could look, but the patron could also view the activity, and the staff member could work ‘out loud‘.

And this is important.  Because until our schools start doing a better job of this, we’re not going to be able to assume that our employees and citizens are actually good at learning.  You can only teach meta-learning on top of real goals, and we (should) have those in schools, so it’s the ideal place and arguably the best contribution schools can provide in this rapidly changing environment.

And it’s not like the investments in learning technology are addressing this either.  As I mentioned when I talked about AI for learning, we’re not really seeing the extra layer that will address that (though it’s doable).  As it is, we’re creating adaptive systems that replicate the existing curricula, which would be ok if our curricula were defensible (hint: it isn’t). Advanced pedagogy can be great, but it is wasted on the existing curricula.

So, there’re are opportunities for learning to learn (which have real benefits) to be enabled across organizational work, library work, schools, and systems.  And we’re really not seeing anywhere near the uptake that would benefit our efforts.

However, we are seeing more discussion. And I’m imploring you to start thinking about it, talking about it, and beginning to do it! It’s doable, and arguably the best investment we could and should be making.  Are you ready?

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