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

30 November 2016

Content aggregation

Clark @ 8:05 AM

At the recent DevLearn conference, I had a chance to present in xAPI Base Camp on Content Systems.  This is a topic I’ve been thinking about since working on an adaptive learning system back in 1999-2000. And I think it’s now an even bigger big opportunity.  In the course of responding to an interested attendee, I aggregated this list of my (non-blog) publications on the process, and I thought it might be useful to share them here (from most recent to earliest):

Talking about  lifecycle and opportunities in the Litmos blog

Perspective from visiting the Intelligent Content conference in eLearnMag

The possibilities and necessities of adapting to context in Learning Solutions magazine

New ways of looking at learning content in Learning Solutions magazine

Moving from text to experience for publishers in eLearnMag

A discussion paper including granularity and tagging in the IFETS journal

contentelementsWhat you see is a transition in focus.  From thinking about content objects at the right granularity and with the right tagging, I transition to thinking about strategy for content publishers. Ultimately, I have shifted to looking at the learning industry and opportunities to adapt learning to context (which includes location, current task, current role, and more).

While I think that adaptivity is a ways away, I also believe that the initial efforts in getting more rigorous about content strategy, engineering, and governance are a worthwhile investment now. The benefits are in less redundancy, tighter design, tracking, and greater flexibility.  The long term benefits will come from analytics, adaptivity, and contextualization.  I reckon that’s an opportunity that’s hard to ignore. I’ll suggest that it’s past time to be thinking about it, and time to start acting.  What about you?  Are you ready?

29 November 2016

Thoughts on Learning Design Strategy

Clark @ 8:10 AM

learning design strategy questionsAt the DevLearn conference, I ran a Morning Buzz on Learning Design Strategy. I’m happy to say that the participants threw in lots of ideas, and I thought they were worth capturing. I started with a set of questions to address, so I’ll go through their comments in roughly that order (though we didn’t exactly follow this structure):

What is learning design strategy?

I had in mind the approach taken by an organization to their learning design.  Attendees suggested it’s your goals and approach, ensuring you are delivering effectively.  It’s also your review approach, and metrics.  These are all elements that indeed contribute to strategy.

What gaps are we seeing in learning design strategy?

The participants offered up a suite of places that were problems, including aligning with organizational goals and access to support measuring impact, both of which are indeed strategic issues.  They also raised problems with prioritization of the demands, the need to move beyond just courses, and the lack of learning design knowledge. All are real problems.

What do we need to be able to improve?

The audience offered up a number of suggestions.  For one, there was a desire for strategies (probably more tactics) for doing beyond ‘the event’.  Support for selling changes in the way of doing things was mentioned as well.  The shift to self-learning was mentioned, leading to concern over how to support this. Attendees also mentioned a need of awareness in designing ‘backwards‘. Finally, a culture of learning was expressly discussed.

What are possible solutions?

The participants offered a suite of suggestions. One was adopting a learn-apply-perform model, which another termed a learn-practice-demo. Both were getting at the need for active practice and an ability to actually demonstrate performance.  There was also a mention of looking to social networks and peer recommendations to lower the demand and facilitate self-learning.  A culture shift was suggested, supported by the methods used to teach! A final solution was to move quickly to mentoring, which implicitly suggests including mentoring in the design.

Steps to take to move forward?

I also wanted to know what how they might move forward, and what they needed.  Two clear suggestions emerged.  One was for examples, and I reckon both of better learning designs, and approaches to implement those learning designs in organizations.  The other was for tools. Here it was clear that they weren’t talking about tools to develop learning, but tools to support them doing good design, and following processes.

At the end I left with mixed feelings. It’s good to know that the problems I see are reflected in what the practitioners reports; we see the same problems  It’s also sad that these problems exist.  I do believe that the Serious eLearning Manifesto is one piece of support.  And I’ve written on practices (e.g. with SMEs), but it’s clear that some practical scaffolding would help. I’ve worked with a few organizations, but I’m struggling to find ways to help more.  (Maybe this is the topic of my next book?) So, what ideas do you have?

(I’m offering a webinar next week that will address these issues, if you’re serious about making changes.)

23 November 2016

Special Webinar on Learning Design Strategy

Clark @ 8:03 AM

Learning, properly, should have an impact. It’s about systematically changing behavior, developing new skills to meet ever-changing needs. That’s why we invest in learning: training or elearning. If elearning doesn’t make an impactwho cares how accessible or affordable is seems? It’s actually undermining your goals for increasing expertise, effectiveness and productivity.

Too much of what is done under this umbrella isn’t sufficient. It’s quite simply not effective. Here’re some signs that your elearning might not be working:

  • Your learning unit develops courses on demand
  • You work from PDFs and PPTs to develop your course
  • You have a knowledge quiz at the end
  • You use libraries to add graphics & interactions
  • Your learners avoid the courses
  • You track completion
  • You evaluate impact by learner feedback

burning moneyIf you’re spending money to develop elearning, and it has any of the above features, there’s a strong chance you’re burning money.

The good news is that it’s not as hard to change as you think! The design processes you are using now, the ones that reflect the above issues, are not that far removed from ones that offer real outcomes. Yes, there are changes, but they’re changes within the process, not fundamental. You can be making changes that will make a marginal impact on the development measures, but a real impact on the learning outcomes.  It’s not trivial, but it is doable.

If this is of interest, I’m offering a free webinar to talk through the issues. It’s not for everyone: if you don’t have the authority or the resources to make a change, there are other posts that talk through the opportunities. This webinar is for those who really want to explore the possibilities. If that’s something you want to be thinking about, if you’d really like to consider consider how you get from here to there, I encourage you to keep reading.

Webinar: 7 Unbelievable eLearning Mistakes

Date: December 7

Time: 10 AM to 11AM Pacific

Via: Zoom Conference Service

Have you been concerned about your learning design: whether your designs are actually producing results? Ultimately, is your elearning changing behaviors, developing skills, and increasing capacity? And how do you know?  There are a lot of reasons to believe that most elearning is not delivering on the promise. And yet elearning has the potential to be a powerful tool for organizational excellence. The barriers are not unsurmountable; we know the problems, and steps to change.  However, as has been said: “When all is said and done, more is said than done.” I want to give you the chance to take the steps. In this complimentary webinar we’ll explore barriers to getting measurable results from elearning.

This isn’t your usual webinar, however. Here we are specifically talking to organizations that want their elearning to actually have an impact. If you don’t have the resources and position to make a change, this really isn’t for you. If you want your organization to take it more seriously, invite your boss ;).

This is for you, if:

  • You’re ready to look at your elearning with a serious eye
  • You want to ensure that you are getting value for your investment
  • You need to operate in the real world, under real constraints
  • You’re willing to invest for a real change that has impact

This isn’t for you if:

  • You are happy with the status quo
  • You haven’t the authority or the resources to make a change

If you are ready to take a serious look at your elearningI invite you to sign up.  There’s a limit to how many can attend, so please register early. When you register I’ll send you the necessary details. Hope to see you!

The webinar was run on schedule, and signups are now closed.

22 November 2016

Thoughts on story, games, and VR

Clark @ 8:09 AM

story games VRAs luck would have it, I found out about an event on Storytelling Across Media being run in the city, and attended a couple of the panels: half of one on interactive design and Telltale Games, one on story and games, and one on story and VR.  There were interesting quotes from each about story, games, and VR that prompted reflection, and I thought I’d share my thoughts with  you.

Story and Games

The first quote that struck home was “nonlinear storytelling strikes a balance between narrative and choice”. This is the challenge that I and I think all game designers struggle with. So, I subsequently asked “How do you integrate storytelling with experience design?”  The panelists acknowledged that this was the ongoing challenge. Another comment was that “stories are created in your imagination”.  That’s key, I think, to create experiences that the player will end up writing as a story they can tell.

I found myself  thinking about story machines versus experience engines.  It appears to me that, ala Sid Maier’s “a good game is a series of interesting decisions”, that it’s all about the decisions you make.  It’s easier to tell a good story when you put a game ‘on rails’; it’s harder when you want to have an open world and still ramp up the tension across the board.  Having rules and timers give you the opportunity.  For serious games, however, not commercial ones, I reckon it’s more ok for the story to be somewhat linear.

Another interesting comment was about how things are going transmedia.  An issue that emerged was the business of transmedia, how you might start with a comic to build interest and revenue to fund adding in a game, or a movie.  Telling stories across media is an interesting challenge, and could have real opportunity for learning. I have been a fan of Andrea Phillips Transmedia Storytelling and Koreen Pagano’s Immersive Learning, which I think give good clues about how this might go.  I’m also thinking about the movie The Game (Michael Douglas & Sean Penn), and how it’s a great example of an alternate reality game. I’d love to do something like that, but serious. We did a demo once about sales that captured some of the opportunity, but…

Also, I’ve looked at many instances of experience design: movies, theatre, amusement parks, games, etc.  And I’ve advocated that those interested in making experience engaging, particularly learning, should similarly explore this. It’s hard work, you know ;).  However, one of the panelists commented on ‘circus design’. That’s something I had never thought to explore, so it’s now on my ‘todo’ list!

There were also several mentions of a theatre experience in New York called Sleep No More.  It involves two intersecting stories: Macbeth and a lady looking for someone. There’s no dialog, and it plays out across several venues. The interesting thing is that you, as an audience member, choose where to go, who to follow, and what to watch.  Now I need to find a way to experience this! (Wish I’d heard about it before my keynote there in June.)


The other theme was VR, and there were some very interesting comments made. It was repeatedly made clear by the practitioners that this was a field  still very much in development. The tools and technologies had become good and cheap enough to allow tinkering and exploration, but the business models and viable experiences were still being explored.

One quote that was interesting was a response to the issue of what the ‘frame is’.  In computer games, the frame is the screen. But in VR there’s no ‘screen’, you’re surrounded.  A response to this was “the player is the ‘frame’ in VR”.  That’s an interesting perspective.  I might reframe it as “the player’s attention is the ‘frame’ in the game”, and manipulating that may be the key.  To ponder.

Another interesting comment was “proximity breeds empathy”.  I was reminded of the phrase “familiarity breeds contempt”, but I can see that an experiential approach may help generate sympathy and comprehension.  Can you actually share someone else’s experience?  Certainly, immersion has yielded concrete learning improvements, and successful behavioral interventions.

Which brings up a response on the question of where the future of VR is (that seemed to be reflected by the other panelists) is that shared VR is the future.  Clearly, social has big benefits for learning, and can be the basis of strong emotions (sometimes negative!)

There are clearly times when VR has unique and valuable advantages for learning, though I continue to think that AR may provide the greater overall opportunity, when it’s done right.  It might be like the difference between courses and mentoring.  That is, VR to make a step change, and the AR for continual development.  Where do ARGs fit in?  Perhaps more for developing the ability to deal with the unexpected?

One of the panelists mentioned Magic Leap, and I was reminded that that type of experience will be where we can really get opportunities for transformative experiences. I think that’s where Google Glass was going, and they’re right to hold off and get it right, but when we can really start annotating the world, combining it with ARGs, there will be real potential.  We can start designing now, but it’ll definitely be some time before tools and technologies hit the ‘experimentation’ phase VR has reached.

Lots of fodder for thinking!

18 November 2016

Karen McGrane #DevLearn Keynote Mindmap

Clark @ 12:27 PM

Karen McGrane closed the DevLearn conference talking about adaptive content. She had addressed mLearnCon in the past, a great presentation, so my expectations were high.  Plus, given that I riffed on background integration in my ELearning strategy pre-con and then content strategy as a session in the xAPI camp the next day, this is a talk I was eager to hear (congrats to the eLearning Guild for putting the topic on the table).

In this entertaining and illuminating session, she made the point that responsive is better than customizing to screen, and adapting is hard, so responsive is a good starting point.

Karen McGrane Keynote Mindmap

17 November 2016

Tony DeRose #DevLearn Keynote Mindmap

Clark @ 9:41 AM

Tony DeRose opened the second day of DevLearn with a geeky (and intriguing) presentation on the links between math and story in making animation.  With clips and anecdotes he showed how it works, and inspired about how they’re connecting this to STEM.

Tony DeRosa Keynote Mindmap

16 November 2016

Maxwell Planck #DevLearn Keynote Mindmap

Clark @ 5:01 PM

Maxwell Planck gave the afternoon keynote for the opening day of DevLearn. He talked about the trajectory of VR, with very interesting reflections on creativity, story, and meaning.

maxwell planck keynote mindmap

Penn Jillette #DevLearn Keynote Mindmap

Clark @ 9:45 AM

Magician Penn Jillette opened the DevLearn conference with a fascinating presentation on storytelling, telling his story and unpacking magic for us.

Penn Jillette Keynote mindmap

15 November 2016

Collaboration, Communication, and Cooperation

Clark @ 8:03 AM

Teams, Communities, & Networks for collaboration and cooperationIn thinking about the Coherent Organization, the original proposal from my colleague Harold Jarche was that were two key attitudes: collaboration and cooperation. And I find myself talking about collaboration and communication.  It’s time to try to reconcile those, and propose why I think collaboration is a new business watchword.

So, Harold argues that there are two key ways of working, collaborating and cooperating.  To him, collaboration is when you’re committed to a goal to achieve, whether involuntarily or voluntarily.  Cooperation, for him, is when you have the willingness to continue to contribute on an ongoing basis: putting out your own work, commenting on others, and answering questions. And he suggests that cooperation is the more important, as it’s more voluntary. And I agree that it’s likely that needs will drive collaboration, and cooperation comes from within (and in a safe environment).  I think he’s talking about personal commitment, and rightly so.

So why do I talk about communication and collaboration? Because the vehicle for cooperation is communication, and so we not only need the impetus to contribute, but the skills. He’s talking about creating an effective network, and I’m talking about getting the job done.  He’s nurturing a culture, and I’m about developing practices.  Which are both needed and mutually reinforcing, and so I think we’re agreeing furiously.

And as I write this, my own thinking is changing. I do believe collaboration is what’s going to get things done for organizations in the short term, but I think there are two notions of collaboration.  One is the traditional form of a team working on a project. However, there’s another approach that takes the longer term view.  Here, it’s about people keeping a casual eye on what’s going on and serendipitous sparks fan flames.  That does require cooperation, of course.

I’ve recently been reading Stephen Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From, and Keith Sawyer’s Group Genius  (both recommended), and it’s clear that true innovation is about getting people to work together over time.  Real innovation percolates, suffers mistakes, and can’t be forced or planned. While I think progress can be made by teams working on specific needs, the change in my thinking is realizing that the longer term process of real innovation requires continual contribution in networks. What Sawyer terms ‘collaboration webs’.  And this will require cooperation.

As an aside, there are still big opportunities for collaboration tools.  On a recent #lrnchat, a colleague shared how she was collaborating on presentations using Google Slides. And I’ve done much important work with others using Google Docs and Sheets.  And tools exist for diagramming, and white boarding, and more.  Still, the tools feel embryonic. I want voice and text live as well as comments. I want to have flexible representations mixed in, so I can be working on numbers and diagrams and text in one doc (a brief eulogy here for the fabulous program Trapeze that had a revolutionary document model decades ago).

While collaboration may get the immediate focus and the ink inches (I guess pixels these days :) – because of new tools, and the immediate business benefits – I think the longer term need will be to create an environment where the culture, the practices, and the tools are aligned for successful learning.  I think there’re reasons to focus on both, but the important thing is to recognize the differences and get both right. Amy Edmondson, in her book on organizational agility Teaming, suggested using the term ‘learning’ instead of innovation, as it focused on longer term and made it safer.  So perhaps I’ll talk about organizational learning for the long term, and use collaboration for the short term work.  What do you think?


9 November 2016

Extending engagements

Clark @ 8:06 AM

In a couple of recent posts, I’ve been telling tales of helping organizations, and I wanted to tell at least one more. In this case, I’m extending the type of work I’ve done to have a real impact, still with a low overhead.  The key is to include some followup activities.

Serious eLearning

In one instance, a person who’d attended my game design workshop wanted to put it into practice.  With a colleague, they were wanting to improve their online learning to better support their stakeholders, and wanted to deepen the experience.  The goal was to provide their learners opportunities to practice success skills.

We knew they were were going to be developing scenarios, so the key was the develop the skills of these two. Consequently, we arranged a series of meetings where they’d deliver their latest work, and I’d not only critique it, but use it as opportunities to deepen their understanding. This occurred over a period of a couple of months, on calls for an hour or so.  Each call would occur a short time after they delivered their latest version.

It took several iterations, but their outputs improved substantially.  When we were comfortable with their progress, the engagement was over.

Learning Strategy

In another instance, a company was moving to a ‘customer experience’ focus, and wanted to workshop what this meant for the training function.  They had already planned on using a particular process that involves a team of stakeholders on a week-long meeting, and in particular that process called for one outsider (yours truly).  Beforehand, I got up to speed on their business and current status.

During that week, I found my role to continue to advocate for taking a bigger picture of meeting customer learning and performance needs.  They found it easy to slip back into thinking of courses, but continued to ‘get’ that they should look at augmenting their work with performance support. Given that their product was complex, it became clear that ‘how to’ videos were a real opportunity..    They were particularly excited about the concept of ‘spacing’ practice, and loved the spacing diagram originated by my colleague Will Thalheimer.

What’s more important is that we also built in several ongoing reviews. So, their process had a few subsequent deliverables, and we worked out that they would come through me for feedback.  In general, new ideas can backslide if not reinforced, and this process helped them cement in several new features, including a new emphasis on the videos.

consulttaleslogoThe point being, extending engagements with a few simple followups provides a much higher likelihood of improvement than just a one-off.  It doesn’t take much, and the outcome is better.  It is a spaced practice, really, and we know that works better.  I reckon the marginal extra investment yields a much bigger benefit.  Does that make sense to  you?

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