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

20 July 2017

Augmented Reality Lives!

Clark @ 8:07 AM

Visually Augmented RealityAugmented Reality (AR) is on the upswing, and I think this is a good thing. I think AR makes sense, and it’s nice to see both solid tool support and real use cases emerging.  Here’s the news, but first, a brief overview of why I like AR.

As I’ve noted before, our brains are powerful, but flawed.  As with any architecture, any one choice will end up with tradeoffs. And we’ve traded off detail for pattern-matching.  And, technology is the opposite: it’s hard to get technology to do pattern matching, but it’s really good at rote. Together, they’re even more powerful. The goal is to most appropriately augment our intellect with technology to create a symbiosis where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Which is why I like AR: it’s about annotating the world with information, which augments it to our benefit.  It’s contextual, that is, doing things because of when and where we are.  AR augments sensorily, either auditory or visual (or kinesthetic, e.g. vibration).  Auditory and kinesthetic annotation is relatively easy; devices generate sounds or vibrations (think GPS: “turn left here”).  Non-coordinated visual information, information that’s not overlaid visually, is presented as either graphics or text (think Yelp: maps and distances to nearby options).  Tools already exist to do this, e.g. ARIS.  However, arguably the most compelling and interesting is the aligned visuals.

Google Glass was a really interesting experiment, and it’s back.  The devices – glasses with camera and projector that can present information on the glass – were available, but didn’t do much because of where you were looking. There were generic heads-up displays and camera, but little alignment between what was seen and what was consequently presented to the user with additional information.  That’s changed. Google Glass has a new Enterprise Edition, and it’s being used to meet real needs and generate real outcomes. Glasses are supporting accurate placement in manufacturing situations requiring careful placement.  The necessary components and steps are being highlighted on screen, and reducing errors and speeding up outcomes.

And Apple has released it’s Augmented Reality software toolkit, ARKit, with features to make AR easy.  One interesting aspect is built-in machine learning, which could make aligning with objects in the world easy!  Incompatible platforms and standards impede progress, but with Google and Apple creating tools for each of their platforms, development can be accelerated. (I hope to find out more at the eLearning Guild’s Realities 360 conference.)

While I think Virtual Reality (VR) has an important role to play for deep learning, I think contextual support can be a great support for extending learning (particularly personalization), as well as performance support.  That’s why I’m excited about AR. My vision has been that we’ll have a personal coaching system that will know where and when we are and what our goals are, and be able to facilitate our learning and success. Tools like these will make it easier than ever.

11 July 2017

A Bad Tart

Clark @ 8:00 AM

Good learning requires a basis for intrinsic interest. The topic should be of interest to the learner, a priori or after the introduction. If the learner doesn’t ‘get’ why this learning is relevant to them, it doesn’t stick as well. And this isn’t what gamification does. So tarting up content is counter-productive. It’s a bad (s)tart!

Ok, to be clear, there’re two types of gamification. The first, important, and relevant type of gamification is using game design techniques to embed learning topic into meaningful series of decisions, where the context and actions taken affect the outcomes in important ways, and the challenge is appropriate.  However, that’s not the one that’s getting all the hype.

Instead, the hype is around PBL (which, sadly isn’t Problem-Based Learning but instead is Points, Badges, & Leaderboards).  If we wrap this stuff around our learning, we’ll make it more engaging.  And, at least initially, we’ll see that. At least in enthusiasm. But how about retention and transfer?  And will there be a drop-off when the novelty wears off?

Yes, we can tart up drill-and-kill, and should, if that’s what’s called for (e.g. accurate retention of information). But that’s not what works for skills. And the times it’s actually relevant are scarce. For skills, we want appropriate retrieval.  And that means something else.

Retention and transfer of new skills requires contextualized retrieval and application to decisions that learners need to be able to make. And that’s scenarios (or, at least, mini-scenarios).  We need to put learners into situations requiring applying the knowledge to make decisions. Then the consequences play out.

If you’re putting your energy into finding gratuitous themes to wrap around knowledge recitation instead of making intrinsically meaningful contexts for knowledge application, you’re wasting time and money.  You’re not going to develop skills.

I actually don’t mind if you want to tart up after you’ve done the work of making the skill practice meaningful. But only after!  If you’re skipping the important practice design, you’re letting down your learners. As well as the organization.  And typically we don’t need to spend unnecessary time.

Please, for your learners’ sake, find out about both sorts of gamification, distinguish between them, and then use them appropriately. PBL is ok when rote knowledge has to be drilled, or after you’ve done good practice design.

6 July 2017

Writing For Learning: Patti Shank book

Clark @ 8:02 AM

While I ordinarily refuse (on principle, otherwise I’d get swamped and become a PR hack; and I never promise a good review), I acquiesced to Patti Shank’s offer of a copy of her new book Write and Organize for Deeper Learning.  I’ve been a fan of her crusade for science in learning (along with others like Will Thalheimer, Julie Dirksen, and Michael Allen, to name a few co-conspirators on the Serious eLearning Manifesto), and I can say I’m glad she offered and delivered.  This is a contribution to the field, with a focus on writing.

The first of a potential series on evidence-based processes in learning design, this one is focused on content: writing and organization. In four overall strategies with 28 total tactics, she takes you through what you should do and why. Practicing what she preaches, and using the book itself recursively as an example, she uses simple words and trimmed down prose to focus on what you need to know, and guidance to generalize it. She also has practice exercises to help make the  material stick.

Which isn’t to say there aren’t quibbles: for one, there’s no index!  I wanted to look for ‘misconceptions’ (an acid test in my mind), but it’s in there. Still, there’s less on cognitive models to guide performance than I would like. And not enough on misconceptions, But there’re lots of good tips that I wouldn’t have thought of including, and are valuable.

These are small asides. Some of it’s generic (writing for the web, for instance, similarly argues for whitespace) and some specific to learning, but it’s all good advice, and insufficiently seen.  What’s there will certainly improve the quality of your learning design.  If you write prose for elearning, you definitely should read, and heed, this book.   I note, by the way, that my readability index for this blog always falls too high according to her standards ;).

She has a list of other potential books, and I can hope that she will at least deliver the one on designing practice and feedback (what I think is the biggest opportunity to improve elearning: what people do), but also examples, job aids, evaluating, objectives, and more.  I hope this series continues to develop, based upon the initial delivery here.

 

 

28 June 2017

An objective request

Clark @ 8:08 AM

So, I’d like to ask a favor of you.  I would like to improve my thinking about elearning design, and where this starts are objectives.  Or outcomes. Now, they can be easy, or challenging. I’d like to see some of the latter.

When the goal is fairly obvious, it’s simple to address. They need to be better at doing X?  Well then, practice lots of X! But there are more challenging situations.  You know the ones: weak verbs that aren’t about doing, where the performance is vague, where it’s about knowledge.

I’d like to get concrete. So…

I’d greatly appreciate it if you would share your challenging learning objectives (or outcomes you’re supposed to come up with objectives for) with me.  The ones you dread.  If they’re proprietary, feel free to generify them.  I will also keep you anonymous. Feel free to ask for help, and I’ll respond appropriately.

What will I do with them?  It depends. These may get written up as a post, if I see themes.  They certainly are likely to be included in any workshops about deeper elearning design. I just want to work from real things, not my made up examples (as fabulous as they might be ;).

Feel free to comment here, or if you see this via LinkedIn or some other channel respond in whatever channel makes the most sense.  Let me know if you’d like a reply.

And thanks in advance.

27 June 2017

FocusOn Learning reflections

Clark @ 8:08 AM

If you follow this blog (and you should :), it was pretty obvious that I was at the FocusOn Learning conference in San Diego last week (previous 2 posts were mindmaps of the keynotes). And it was fun as always.  Here are my reflections on what happened a bit more, as an exercise in meta-learning.

There were three themes to the conference: mobile, games, and video.  I’m pretty active in the first two (two books on the former, one on the latter), and the last is related to things I care and talk about.  The focus led to some interesting outcomes: some folks were very interested in just one of the topics, while others were looking a bit more broadly.  Whether that’s good or not depends on your perspective, I guess.

Mobile was present, happily, and continues to evolve.  People are still talking about courses on a phone, but more folks were talking about extending the learning.  Some of it was pretty dumb – just content or flash cards as learning augmentation – but there were interesting applications. Importantly, there was a growing awareness about performance support as a sensible approach.  It’s nice to see the field mature.

For games, there were positive and negative signs.  The good news is that games are being more fully understood in terms of their role in learning, e.g. deep practice.  The bad news is that there’s still a lot of interest in gamification without a concomitant awareness of the important distinctions. Tarting up drill-and-kill with PBL (points, badges, and leaderboards; the new acronym apparently) isn’t worth significant interest!  We know how to drill things that must be, but our focus should be on intrinsic interest.

As a side note, the demise of Flash has left us without a good game development environment. Flash is both a development environment and a delivery platform. As a development environment Flash had a low learning threshold, and yet could be used to build complex games.  As a delivery platform, however, it’s woefully insecure (so much so that it’s been proscribed in most browsers). The fact that Adobe couldn’t be bothered to generate acceptable HTML5 out of the development environment, and let it languish, leaves the market open for another accessible tool. And Unity or Unreal provide good support (as I understand it), but still require coding.  So we’re not at an easily accessible place. Oh, for HyperCard!

Most of the video interest was either in technical issues (how to get quality and/or on the cheap), but a lot of interest was also in interactive video. I think branching video is a real powerful learning environment for contextualized decision making.  As a consequence the advent of tools that make it easier is to be lauded. An interesting session with the wise Joe Ganci (@elearningjoe) and a GoAnimate guy talked about when to use video versus animation, which largely seemed to reflect my view (confirmation bias ;) that it’s about whether you want more context (video) or concept (animation). Of course, it was also about the cost of production and the need for fidelity (video more than animation in both cases).

There was a lot of interest in VR, which crossed over between video and games.  Which is interesting because it’s not inherently tied to games or video!  In short, it’s a delivery technology.  You can do branching scenarios, full game engine delivery, or just video in VR. The visuals can be generated as video or from digital models. There was some awareness, e.g. fun was made of the idea of presenting powerpoint in VR (just like 2nd Life ;).

I did an ecosystem presentation that contextualized all three (video, games, mobile) in the bigger picture, and also drew upon their cognitive and then L&D roles. I also deconstructed the game Fluxx (a really fun game with an interesting ‘twist’). Overall, it was a good conference (and nice to be in San Diego, one of my ‘homes’).

21 June 2017

Nathalie Nahai #FocusOnLearn Keynote Mindmap

Clark @ 9:49 AM

Nathalie Nahai opened the second day of the FocuOn Learning conference. In a rapid fire presentation, she covered 7 principles that engage individuals into behaviors. With clear examples from familiar online experiences, she portrayed how these things work. Admirably, she finished with a call to ethical behavior.

Keynote mindmap

20 June 2017

Liza Donnelly #FocusOnLearn Keynote Mindmap

Clark @ 9:30 AM

Liza Donnelly opened the FocusOn Learn conference with stories from her career as a cartoonist. With a very personal and compelling story illustrated by her cartoons and some live drawing, she unpacked creativity and innovation. With lessons about commitment and meaning, it was a really nice kickoff to the event.

Keynote Mindmap

14 June 2017

Tech and School Problems

Clark @ 8:05 AM

After yesterday’s rant about problems in local schools, I was presented with a recent New York Times article. In it, they talked about how the tech industry was getting involved in schools. And while the initiatives seem largely well-intentioned, they’re off target.   There’s a lack of awareness of what meaningful learning is, and what meaningful outcomes could and should be.  And so it’s time to shed a little clarity.

Tech in schools is nothing new, from the early days of Apple and Microsoft vying to provide school computers and getting a leg up on learners’ future tech choices.  Now, however, the big providers have even more relative leverage. School funds continue to be cut, and the size of the tech companies has grown relative to society. So there’s a lot of potential leverage.

One of the claims in the article is that the tech companies are able to do what they want, and this is a concern. They can dangle dollars and technology as bait and get approval to do some interesting and challenging things.

However, some of the approaches have issues beyond the political:

One approach is to teach computer science to every student.  The question is: is this worth it?  Understanding what computers do well (and easily), and perhaps more importantly what they don’t, is necessary, no argument. The argument for computer programming is that it teaches you to break down problems and design solutions. But is computer science necessary?  Could it be done with, say, design thinking?  Again, all for helping learners acquire good problem-solving skills.  But I’m not convinced that this is necessarily a good idea (as beneficial as it is to the tech industry ;).

Another initiative is using algorithms, rules like the ones that Facebook uses to choose what ads to show you, to sequence math.  A program, ALEKS, already did this, but this one mixes in gamification. And I think it’s patching a bad solution. For one, it appears to be using the existing curriculum, which is broken (too much rote abilities, too little transferable skills).  And gamification?  Can’t we, please, try to make math intrinsically interesting by making it useful?  Abstract problems don’t help. Drilling key skills is good, but there are nuances in the details.

A second approach has students choosing the problems they work on, and teachers being facilitators.  Of course, I’m a fan of this; I’ve advocated for gradually handing off control of learning to learners, to facilitate their development of self-learning. And in a recently-misrepresented announcement, Finland is moving to topics with interleaved skills rapped around them (e.g. not one curricula, but you might intersect math and chemistry in studying ecosystems. However, this takes teachers with skills across both domains, and the ability to facilitate discussion around projects.  That’s a big ask, and has been a barrier to many worthwhile initiatives.   Compounding this is that the end of a unit is assessed by a 10-point multiple choice question.  I worry about the design of those assessments.

I’m all for school reform. As Mark Warschauer put it, the only things wrong with American education is the curriculum, the pedagogy, and the way we use technology.  I think the pedagogy being funded in the latter description is a good approach, but there are details that need to be worked out to make it a scalable success.  And while problem-solving is a good curricular goal, we need to be thoughtful about how we build it in. Further, motivation is an important component about learning, but intrinsic or extrinsic?

We really could stand to have a deeper debate about learning and how technology can facilitate it. The question is: how do we make that happen?

13 June 2017

School Problems

Clark @ 8:07 AM

So my youngest is now out of public school, and I can at last release this list of problems that were seen (take notice: Walnut Creek and Acalanes School Districts).  Don’t get me wrong, there were some great, committed teachers. And then there were some that should’ve been committed (you can read that either way ;). So here’s an annotated list of behaviors reported over the course of two public school careers (note: these were observed as well as experienced, so not all happened to my kids):

  • Not using examples: one teacher presented the concepts, but never used examples that illustrated the concept in context. This violates what we know about the necessary prerequisites for learning!
  • In another instance, a teacher was asked to recommend a calculator. Later, that teacher was asked how to use it for a particular problems, and didn’t know!  Turns out that the calculator was just ‘recommended’.
  • In one subject, my kid was told that the couldn’t  use learnings from other classes. This was solving an engineering problem with a technique from a math class.  I’m sorry, but you shouldn’t be punished for creative solving. Classes should reinforce, not conflict!
  • Picking overly detailed semantics. This is one we’ve all seen (I remember getting in trouble in geometry because I’d do the right proof, but I hadn’t memorized the exact wording of the theorem).  Still, it’s wrong. By and large, rote memory isn’t what’s going to lead to lifetime success.
  • Too often, there were unrealistic expectations about what students could be expected to do.  These kids should have a life!
  • On a related note was teachers making assignments in violation of assignment guidelines with a wide variety of excuses.  Those guidelines are there for a reason. Other classes assign workloads too!
  • Then there are the teachers who don’t communicate the intrinsic interest. The setup is bad enough with forced classes (or even electives). Maybe it’s not your passion, but find it!  If you treat it as uninteresting, is it any surprise that your learners are turned off?
  • Psychotic behavior: at least once there was a teacher ranting about non-class related topics in class. This is inappropriate.  Yes, teachers are people too, but they are also professionals, and need to treat their role as such.
  • Then there was the lack of consistency within departments. Maybe two departments, English and Math say, would have the teachers coordinated, but the administration couldn’t force it. So Science would be idiosyncratic in what they covered and how.  I’m all for individual teaching approaches, but pity the subsequent teachers assuming learners come in with a certain basis but it’s not reliable.
  • This literally happened, a teacher gave a second test, but didn’t feel the need to provide  feedback since it was the same test. I’m sorry, but the point would be that they’d choose different (hopefully better answers), so there should be different feedback.
  • When I mentioned group assignments recently, I suggested that it was problematic if you don’t scrutinize the contributions. With no exploration of equal contribution (nor guidance on same), learners will experience the dreaded ‘one person doing all the work’.
  • How about keeping kids in the class and not allowing them to do something else even if they’re done? Yep, you can’t do other reading, or other work, if you’re done.
  • And you’re probably also familiar with the assignments given with insufficient notice. If it’s a big project, students have to assign time between multiple assignments, and a late notice can interfere with their ability.
  • A really horrible behavior is giving student abuse, denigrating or demeaning them.  It’s an unequal power relationship, so it’s hard for the student to fight back, and it can create real problems.
  • Even in an AP class, memorizing all presidents and years is just a useless exercise.  If you justify that it’s useful on the test, then the test is broken.
  • I’ve certainly seen this: padding quizzes with unnecessary and obscure material. Think it through: if they don’t have to know it, don’t test it!
  • And of course the ‘busy work’ assignment that has no relevance, no support is given, or feedback provided.  Why would you assign this? As punishment? Inappropriate Classroom management?  You should do better.
  • Another classic: teachers not adding value, just repeating textbook. My better half once took a college class where the professor literally read from the textbook they’d written. If you think they need another channel, record it and make it available. Use that precious face-to-face time to do something meaningful with the knowledge!
  • A heinous practice is providing private beliefs in the classroom. Again, teachers are people too, but there’s a line, and stepping over it is to tout any party line without providing the other side. Let the students examine it, but don’t tout opinions (or ‘fake news’) as facts!
  • Another insidious practice is testing on material not on the syllabus. How can you justify this?  It’s learner abuse!
  • In one class, all the marks were assigned to one particular form of assessment.  This doesn’t provide any triangulation on the learner’s abilities!  Some students, for whatever reason, don’t perform well in certain ways. Try to find a way to ascertain knowledge, not just ability in one medium.
  • Coloring! Too often there were coloring assignments that were for no other reason than to make the room look pretty on open house. You could make meaningful coloring assignments (color coding), but these weren’t those.
  • Oh, and if a student misbehaves, making them sit at the ‘bad kids’ table isn’t a viable approach. Reflection?  Scribing some thoughts? Yes.  Public humiliation?  No.

I note that I didn’t systematically collect these from the start, so I’ve regenerated some, and likely have missed others. But these were all observed, and all have pedagogical flaws. I understand that certain things have rationalizations, but there are constraints that make them contribute to learning, and these instances violate them. And again, this wasn’t even the majority of teachers, who are generally well-intentioned.  And even these ones were often well-intentioned, but mistaken. And that’s the problem: a lack of awareness of learning. By purported learning professionals!

These problems can arise when teachers get tenure, and then have no future scrutiny. I was gob-smacked when I was asked to help by a foresightful principal, but then found out that while the teachers were required to do a personal improvement  project, there was no mechanism for constructive criticism of classroom performance.  They didn’t have to change if they didn’t want to!  For instance, they could just send kids off to learn PowerPoint instead of incorporating technology meaningfully in the classroom. I understand that teaching is a low-reward pursuit (though the benefits are pretty good). Still, it doesn’t justify no ongoing development.  My father-in-law was a school teacher, and I respect those who exhibit professionalism (and those are many, even most).  But it’s a broken system.

Ok, another editorial rant, but this has been percolating for years, so it was time to get it off my chest. Thanks if you paid attention.

6 June 2017

Evil design?

Clark @ 8:03 AM

This is a rant, but it’s coupled with lessons. 

I’ve been away, and one side effect was a lack of internet bandwidth at the residence.  In the first day I’d used up a fifth of the allocation for the whole time (> 5 days)!  So, I determined to do all I could to cut my internet usage while away from the office.  The consequences of that have been heinous, and on the principle of “it’s ok to lose, but don’t lose the lesson”, I want to share what I learned.  I don’t think it was evil, but it well could’ve been, and in other instances it might be.

So, to start, I’m an Apple fan.  It started when I followed the developments at Xerox with SmallTalk and the Alto as an outgrowth of Alan Kay‘s Dynabook work. Then the Apple Lisa was announced, and I knew this was the path I was interested in. I did my graduate study in a lab that was focused on usability, and my advisor was consulting to Apple, so when the Mac came out I finally justified a computer to write my PhD thesis on. And over the years, while they’ve made mistakes (canceling HyperCard), I’ve enjoyed their focus on making me more productive. So when I say that they’ve driven me to almost homicidal fury, I want you to understand how extreme that is!

I’d turned on iCloud, Apple’s cloud-based storage.  Innocently, I’d ticked the ‘desktop/documents’ syncing (don’t).  Now, with every other such system that I know of, it’s stored locally *and* duplicated on the cloud.  That is, it’s a backup. That was my mental model.  And that model was reinforced: I’d been able to access my files even when offline.  So, worried about the bandwidth of syncing to the cloud, I turned it off.

When I did, there was a warning that said something to the effect of: “you’ll lose your desktop/documents”.  And, I admit, I didn’t interpret that literally (see: model, above).  I figured it would disconnect their syncing. Or I’d lose the cloud version. Because, who would actually steal the files from your hard drive, right?

Well, Apple DID!  Gone. With an option to have them transferred, but….

I turned it back on, but didn’t want to not have internet, so I turned it off again but ticked the box that said to copy the files to my hard drive. COPY BACK MY OWN @##$%^& FILES!  (See fury, above.)  Of course, it started, and then said “finishing”.  For 5 days!  And I could see that my files weren’t coming back in any meaningful rate. But there was work to do!

The support guy I reached had some suggestion that really didn’t work. I did try to drag my entire documents folder from the iCloud drive to my hard drive, but it said it was making the estimate of how long, and hung on that for a day and a half.  Not helpful.

In meantime, I started copying over the files I needed to do work. And continuing to generate the new ones that reflected what I was working on.  Which meant that the folders in the cloud, and the ones on my hard drive that I had copied over, weren’t in sync any longer.  And I have a lot of folders in my documents folder.  Writing, diagrams, client files, lots of important information!

I admit I made some decisions in my panic that weren’t optimal.  However, after returning I called Apple again, and they admitted that I’d have to manually copy stuff back.  This has taken hours of my time, and hours yet to go!

Lessons learned

So, there are several learnings from this.  First, this is bad design. It’s frankly evil to take someone’s hard drive files after making it easy to establish the initial relationship.  Now, I don’t think Apple’s intention was to hurt me this way, they just made a bad decision (I hope; an argument could be made that this was of the “lock them in and then jack them up” variety, but that’s contrary to most of their policies so I discount it).  Others, however, do make these decisions (e.g. providers of internet and cable from whom you can only get a 1 or 2 year price which will then ramp up  and unless you remember to check/change, you’ll end up paying them more than you should until you get around to noticing and doing something about it).  Caveat emptor.

Second, models are important and can be used for or against you. We do create models about how things work and use evidence to convince ourselves of their validity (with a bit of confirmation bias). The learning lesson is to provide good models.  The warning is to check your models when there’s a financial stake that could take advantage of them for someone else’s gain!

And the importance of models for working and performing is clear. Helping people get good models is an important boost to successful performance!  They’re not necessarily easy to find (experts don’t have access to 70% of what they do), but there are ways to develop them, and you’ll be improving your outcomes if you do.

Finally, until Apple changes their policy, if you’re a Mac and iCloud user I strongly recommend you avoid the iCloud option to include Desktop and Documents in the cloud unless you can guarantee that you won’t have a bandwidth blockage.  I like the idea of backing my documents to the cloud, but not when I can’t turn it off without losing files. It’s a bad policy that has unexpected consequences to user expectations, and frankly violates my rights to my data.

We now return you to our regularly scheduled blog topics.

 

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