John Medina of Brain Rules fame opened the second day of ATD’s TechKnowledge conference. In a rapid-paced and amusing presentation, he went through how we understand others, and can get better. This was, he hypothesized, the core of talent development: understanding others and helping them improve.
Archives for 2018
As a response to my post where I offered to ‘listen’, I’ve had several comments giving me topics, and so I thought I should respond. One asked about meta-learning (learning to learn), in the particular situation of courses with a variety of expertise levels, and getting into issues of learner responsibility. The author pointed to a presentation on learning to learn, that had a nice framework, and I thought I should elaborate.
The framework mentioned talked about three stages of expertise: apprentice, journeyman (using the traditional term, is there a move to ‘journey person’ or…?), and mastery. Within these, you watch as an apprentice, practice as a journeyman, and share as a master. Which isn’t a bad approximation of the whole ‘cognitive apprenticeship‘ approach.
The article misses some nuances, of course (and the author acknowledged this). For instance, in practice, the role of deliberate practice is important, it’s not just repetition, but the ‘right’ repetition. And my commenter brought up the role of epistemological stance, that the learners need to own their own learning.
The starting point from the comment, however, was the fact that the audiences being seen varied in background knowledge; some were relative novices, others were experienced. To me, that calls for a ‘leveling’ approach. Here, you have preparatory material that you can test out of, otherwise you go through it. This helps ensure that the audience starts the learning experience with a baseline of at least language. You don’t want to be presenting content in that valuable face-to-face time!
The details involved in making learning experiences work are many. It’s about what to teach, how, how to address audience diversity, and more. It’s about meta-learning for ourselves and our learners. That’s why I advocate learning about how we learn, the cognitive science that (should) drive how we do what we do. So, who wants to learn?
I mentioned in yesterday’s post that one thing I do in getting objectives is focus on decisions. And, simple ones will get automated; we can train AI to handle these. What will make the difference between ordinary and extraordinary organizations is the ability to make decisions in this new VUCA environment (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous). And it made me wonder how you develop the ability to make better choices.
AI can be trained in a couple of ways to answer questions and make these decisions. We can use machine learning to train a system on a historical database (watching out for bias). We can use semantic analysis to read documents and make a system that can answer questions about them. But such systems are very limited; they can’t handle questions at the periphery of the knowledge well, and fall apart at related areas. Which people are better at, if their expertise has been developed.
Now, developing this expertise isn’t straightforward. If there were simple decision trees, we could automate them as above. Instead, what works best is expert models that have been abstracted across dialog and practice. This needs to be augmented with an awareness of adjacent fields. So, for instance, for instructional design, we should have an awareness of interface design, graphic design, media production, etc. So how do we develop this?
We certainly need to develop the expert models we know play a role. But this gets circular with the above unless we find a way to break out of the predictable. I suggested one approach to this with my ‘shades of grey’ post, having groups work together to make categorization choices: is this or is this not legal. This was, however, more focused on compliance and there’s a much wider situation.
We first need to identify the situations, the relevant models, and the scope of likely variation. We can’t provide specific data (or we’d train the system on it), so we need to anticipate a spread. And we could just train that, but I want to go further.
I’d want to use such a process to choose situations, and then design group work, for the reasons I identified here. (Resourced with models and examples, of course.) We want to get learners working together to address complex problems. We want them to use their various understandings to illuminate the underlying models. If you can get productive discussion (and this needs to be designed in and facilitated), the learners’ thinking will be enriched. (And they may have folks to call on when the situations do arise ;).
Collaboration in learning is second best to collaboration in problem-solving. We should do the latter when we can, but we should do the former anyway. For better learning, and for those times when there isn’t the luxury of working with others.
I reckon this would lead to better decision-making ability. What do you think?
Any “How Tos” using methods, tools and techniques that you’ve found to work in L&D and Performance Improvement.
Since I am a fan of Guy’s work, I thought I should answer! Now, obviously I don’t work in a typical L&D environment, so this list is somewhat biased. So I mentally ran through memorable projects from the past and looked for the success factors. Besides the best principles I usually advocate, here are a few tips and tricks that I’ve used over the years:
- Engage. Obviously, I wrote a book about this, but some of the quick things I do include:
- embed the decisions they should be making in contexts where they make sense
- as Henry Jenkins put it: “put the player in a role they want to be in”
- exaggerate the context
- minimize the distractions
- hook the learners in emotionally from the start
- Decisions. I find that working with the objectives for learning projects, it’s critical to focus on the decisions that learners will ultimately be making. I argue that what will make the difference for organizations, going forward, will be better decisions. And it keeps the discussion from focusing on knowledge. Knowledge is needed, but it’s not central.
- Brainstorming. When working a strategy session with clients, I seed the discussion before hand with the challenges and background material, and ask that everyone think on their own before we begin collaboration.
- Better ‘Pair and Share’. If, in brainstorming, you should think individually before collectively, so should you do so in all forms. So I trialed a ‘pair and share’ where I asked everyone to:
- think on the questions (asking for 2 things) first,
- then share with another,
- and try to reach agreement
- (I polled the first audience I trialed it on, and they said that the discussion was better, FWIW).
- Shared language. I have found it valuable, when starting a new project, to run a little ‘presentation’ where I present some of the models that I’m bringing to the table (that’s why I‘m there ;), so we’re starting from a shared understanding. And of course I’ve reviewed materials of theirs beforehand so I can use their terminology. Educating clients is part of a Quinnovation engagement!
- Test. In making the Workplace of the Future project with Learnnovators, we were barreling along full tilt, working on the second module, and I was getting increasingly worried about the fact that we hadn’t tested the first. We finally did, relatively informally, but still got valuable feedback that changed our design somewhat. Similarly on other projects, get feedback early and often.
- Visualize. My diagramming bent had me map out the workflow of a client’s production process, to identify opportunities to tweak the process to bring in better learning science with minimal interruption. In general, I will often jump up to the whiteboard and try to represent what I’m hearing to see if it’s shared.
- Prototype. Similar to the above, I will often mock up what I’m thinking about (in sort of a ‘ape with a crayon’ level of fidelity), to help communicate the idea; e.g. some sort of walkthrough. I find that only a percentage of the audience can imagine what the experience will be without getting somewhat concrete. (And, yes, they do then complain about the production values, despite the tradeoff of cost versus value. Sigh.)
- Get the context. I generally try to understand the whole ecosystem (ala ‘the revolution‘) before I engage in specifics. What are the goals, stakeholders, what’s already being done and by whom, etc. It’s important to re-contextualize ‘best principles’, and that requires knowing the context.
- Architecture. Thinking through things using a design thinking approach and a systems-thinking perspective, I’ve tried to think of platforms, not just solutions. It might be content architectures, ecosystem elements, but it’s thinking in terms of systems, not just tactics.
- Pragmatism. One final approach that has been beneficial is thinking about how to approximate the best with a budget. I used to talk about ‘what would you do if you had magic’, and then see how close you can get with the resources to hand. It’s a heuristic that often has led to an innovative yet viable solution.
Looking at them, I see that they generally reflect my overall focus on aligning what we do with how we think, work, and learn. Your thoughts?
Listening is a vital skill. It’s something that made my mother very popular, because she listened, remembered, and asked about whatever you said the next time you saw her. She cared, and it showed. I wish I was as good a listener! But it’s critical to really listen (or as some have it, not just listen, but hear).
It’s part of a skillset necessary to innovate. Innovation can be about problem-solving, and design thinking has it that it’s really about problem-finding. That is, you want to understand the real problem first. And to really understand the problem, the initial divergence, is to listen. It is listening to people, but also signals in general, what the data tells you.
And so, listening is an important part of communicating and collaborating. We need to hear what’s being said (and maybe even what’s not being said), to truly hear. And we likely will need to ask, as well. This is good, because it shows we’re paying attention. Talking is speaking and listening.
And what precipitated this discussion is that in my new column for Learning Solutions (Quinnsights ;), I asked for any questions, and there was one that will be the topic of my next article for them. And I thought that was a good principle.
So, here’s the question:
Is there anything in particular you’d like me to post about here?
As it is, I post about what I’m thinking about or working on (usually somewhat anonymously). However, I could benefit to hear what you’re thinking about. And post on it if I can. Of course, you should be posting on what you’re thinking about too (#ShowYourWork #WorkOutLoud), but hey, why not cross-communicate? As it is, I appreciate the comments I get, but this is just a way to feed my brain.
So, this is me listening. Anyone want to catch my ear?
“Conversations are the stem cells of learning.” – Jay Cross
I recently read something that intrigued me. I couldn’t find it again, so I’ll paraphrase the message. As context, the author was talking about how someone with a different world view was opining about the views of the author. And his simple message was “if you want to know what I, or an X, thinks, ask me or an X. Don’t ask the anti-X.” And I think that’s important. We need to talk together to figure things out. We have to get out of our comfort zone.
It’s all too evident that we seem to be getting more divisive. And it’s too easy these days to only see stuff that you agree with. You can choose to only follow channels that are simpatico with your beliefs, and even supposedly unbiased platforms actually filter what you see to keep you happy. Yet, the real way to advance, to learn, is to see opposing sides and work to find a viable resolution.
Innovation depends on creative tension, and we need to continue to innovate. So we need to continue to engage. Indeed, my colleague Harold Jarche points to the book Collaborating with the Enemy and argues that’s a good thing. The point is that when things are really tough, we have to go beyond our boundaries. And life is getting more complex.
So I keep connections with a few people who don’t think like me, and I try to understand the things that they say. I don’t want to listen just to those who think like me, I recognize that I need to understand their viewpoints if we’re going to make progress. Of course, I can’t guarantee reciprocity, but I can recognize that’s not my problem.
And I read what academic research has to say. I prefer peer-review to opinion, although I keep an open mind as to the problems with academic research as well. I have published enough, and reviewed many submissions, so I recognize the challenges. Yet it’s better than the alternative ;).
This is, however, the way we have to be as professionals. We have to understand other viewpoints. It matters to our world, but even in the small little worlds we inhabit professionally. We need to talk. And face to face. It matters, it turns out. Which may not be a surprise. Still, getting together with colleagues, attending events, and talking, even disagreeing (civilly) are all necessary.
So please, talk. Engage. Let’s figure stuff out and make things better. Please.
Given my reflections on the past year, it’s worth thinking about the implications. What trajectories can we expect if the trends are extended? These are not predictions (as has been said, “never predict anything, particularly the future”). Instead, these are musings, and perhaps wishes for what could (even should) occur.
I mentioned an interest in AR and VR. I think these are definitely on the upswing. VR may be on a rebound from some early hype (certainly ‘virtual worlds’), but AR is still in the offing. And the tools are becoming more usable and affordable, which typically presages uptake.
I think the excitement about AI will continue, but I reckon we’re already seeing a bit of a backlash. I think that’s fair enough. And I’m seeing more talk about Intelligence Augmentation, and I think that’s a perspective we continue to need. Informed, of course, by a true understanding of how we think, work, and learn. We need to design to work with us. Effectively.
Fortunately, I think there are signs we might see more rationality in L&D overall. Certainly we’re seeing lots of people talking about the need for improvement. I see more interest in evaluation, which is also a good step. In fact, I believe it’s a good first step!
I hope it goes further, of course. The cognitive perspective suggests everything from training & performance support, through facilitating communication and collaboration, to culture. There are many facets that can be fine-tuned to optimize outcomes.Similarly, I hope to see a continuing improvement in learning engineering. That’s part of the reason for the Manifesto and the Quinnov 8. How it emerges, however, is less important than that it does. Our learners, and our organizations, deserve nothing less.
Thus, the integration of cognitive science into the design of performance and innovation solutions will continue to be my theme. When you’re ready to take steps in this direction, I’m happy to help. Let me know; that’s what I do!
The end of the calendar year, although arbitrary, becomes a time for reflection. I looked back at my calendar to see what I’d done this past year, and it was an interesting review. Places I’ve been and things I’ve done point to some common themes. Such are the nature of reflections.
One of the things I did was speak at a number of events. My messages have been pretty consistent along two core themes: doing learning better, and going beyond the course. These were both presented at TK17 that started the year, and were reiterated, one or the other, through other ATD and Guild events.
With one exception. For my final ATD event of the year, I spoke on Artificial Intelligence (AI). It was in China, and they’re going big into AI. It’s been a recurrent interest of mine since I was an undergraduate. I’ve been fortunate to experience some seminal moments in the field, and even dabble. The interest in AI does not seem to be abating.
Another persistent area of interest has been Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). I attended an event focused on Realities, and I continue to believe in the learning potential of these approaches. Contextual learning, whether building fake or leveraging real, is a necessary adjunct to our learning. One AR post of mine even won an award!
My work continues to be both organizational learning, but also higher education. Interestingly, I spoke to an academic audience about the realities of workplace learning! I also had a strategic engagement with a higher education institution on improving elearning.
I also worked on a couple of projects. One I mentioned last week, a course on better ID. I’m still proud of the eLearning Manifesto (as you can see in the sidebar ;). And I continue to want to help people do better using technology to facilitate learning. I think the Quinnov 8 are a good way.
All in all, I still believe that pursuing better and broader learning and performance is a worthwhile endeavor. Technology is a lovely complement to our thinking, but we have to do it with an understanding of how our brains work. My last project from the year is along these lines, but it’s not yet ready to be announced. Stay tuned!