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

7 June 2017

Habits of Work #wolweek

Clark @ 8:04 am

It’s Working Out Loud (WOL) Week, and that’s always a valuable time for reflection. It so happens that the past few weeks I’ve been working with an organization, and they were ripe for WOL. The problem was what, specifically, should they do to make this work? They had barriers.  My (off the cuff) recommendations were around creating some habits of work.

For context, they’re a very distributed organization, and have been for decades. They’ve a number of locations spread around over a space of hundreds of miles.  As a consequence, they’re well-practiced at a variety of distance communication modalities. They have well-equipped video conferencing rooms, social media tool, and of course email.  And yet, their communication is very formal. They’re busy of course, so while they recognize the benefits of sharing better, it’s hard for them to implement.

There would be rewards, of course. They have distributed teams supporting the same sorts of actions.  Various job roles do similar work with a variety of stakeholders, and would benefit by sharing best practices, creating communities of practice around those job roles. However, for a variety of reasons, including ineffective use of the available tools, time pressures, and general lack of awareness and practice, the practices not in play.

As part of my ‘critical friend‘ role, I made some suggestions, including working out loud. They asked for specific steps they might take. So what’d I recommend? Several things:

  • Narrating their work: they need to find a way to represent their progress on each project, and include a ‘rationale’ that captures the thinking behind their decisions.
  • Creating communities: they should establish a group (with whatever tool) for each role, and do some community management around it to generate dialog and learnings.
  • Walking the walk: if the leadership (not of the overall organization, just the leaders of this learning unit, at least to start ;) practices the working (and failing) out loud, it would be motivation to others.  It runs better when everyone sees it’s safe to make mistakes as long as you share lessons learned).

This was off the cuff, and I might have suggested more, but this is a reconstituted list that I think captures some major necessary areas. It’s about practices that build the culture. These will need support, but they are the core ideas that can drive a move to a more open, sharing workplace. One that leads to continual improvement and innovation.


24 May 2017

Grappling with Groups

Clark @ 8:03 am

I’m a fan of the power of social learning. When people get together (and the process is managed right), the outcomes of a negotiated understanding can be powerful.  However, in designing learning, working in groups has some real negative perceptions and realities. The open question is: what to do?

The problems are well-known. As my kids complained, on group projects some team members will reliably slack, letting the most driven student do the work.  Even with a commitment, there can be differences in working style: getting started early versus preferring to do it under pressure.

Some things have been tried. When I assigned group projects, I told my students I expected them to do equal work, and would grade accordingly. If it didn’t end up being the case, they were to each write up a report on what each team member did, including themselves. Others require this, regardless, and that sounds like a smart way to make concrete a requirement for contribution.

One thing to be addressed is invigilation. Is the work being tracked in any way?  If they’re working in a collaborative environment that tracks contributions via versioning or some other way, then there’s a trail of work that can be scrutinized. Extra work, to be sure, but it’d serve as a tie-breaker if there was some question about contribution.

Another issue is support for working in groups. When I first assigned group work, it became clear that they didn’t know how (?!?!).  So I wrote up a little guide to doing group work, and those problems subsided.  Working together is a skill that shouldn’t be taken for granted. There should be some explicit statement of expectations if you can’t determine whether there’s reliable prior experience. (Certainly, it seems that the teachers weren’t providing guidance or oversight, in the case of my kids.)

As an aside: make sure the students know why you’re asking them to work in groups. I’ve learned that learners will be much more willing to undertake what you assign if you explain the rationale that justifies your choice!

Then there’s them question of just when group work makes sense. Given that the value-added benefit is the negotiated understanding, it would make sense to do that when the material is complex, and there’s a risk of an individual taking a unique, incomplete, and or imperfect understanding. At times when you want to assess an individual’s ability to deliver, you wouldn’t want a group project!

There’s also the issue of the nature of the task.  Are you just having them come to a shared understanding in representing their thinking (e.g. a response to a question) or actually produce a work product of some sort (a video, presentation, report, etc).  If you can get what you need with less effort, you shouldn’t assign a more complex project.

Which brings up the issue of the scope of the work. I would expect that the more imposing the total amount of work is, the more it would invoke those with time or effort concerns to be lulled to the lazy side.  Keeping the scope small might contribute to a greater willingness to participate.

Breaking up the deliverables is one way to manage student effort. If you have interim deliverables, it helps manage the process and the time.  Certainly, early in a curriculum, you could provide this scaffolding (and make it explicit), and then gradually hand off responsibility for the learners to internalize the self-management. (Meta-learning!)

Breaking it up can also manage to address the contribution. If individual submissions are required before group ones, you can at least have the learners having had to contribute thought before sharing and creating a greater understanding.

Finally, there’s the issue of group work in an independent schedule. In a cohort model (scheduled timetable) it’s easy, but otherwise, how do you do it?  If there’s ‘critical mass’, you can have learners arrange to meet with anyone available. If there’re more, you could even have them indicate working style preferences: quick, early, what media channels. Otherwise, it’s more challenging (or a non-issue, just don’t do it).

There are lots of issues and potential solutions for addressing group work.  I can’t say I’ve found an easy solution, despite having wrestled with it. I think it’s important, so I’m curious what you’ve tried and found out!

23 May 2017

Some new elearning companies ;)

Clark @ 8:03 am

As I continue to track what’s happening, I get the opportunity to review a wide number of products and services. While tracking them all would be a full-time job, occasionally some offer new ideas.  Here’s a collection of those that have piqued my interest of late:

Sisters eLearning: these folks are taking a kinder, gentler approach to their products and marketing their services.  Their signature offering is a suite of templates for your elearning featuring cooperative play.  Their approach in their custom development is quiet and classy. This is reflected in the way they promote themselves at conferences: they all wear mauve polos and sing beautiful a capella.  Instead of giveaways, they quietly provide free home-baked mini-muffins for all.

Yalms: these folks are offering the ‘post-LMS’. It’s not an LMS, and instead offers course management, hosting, and tracking.  It addresses compliance, and checks a whole suite of boxes such as media portals, social, and many non-LMS things including xAPI. Don’t confuse them with an LMS; they’re beyond that!

MicroBrain: this company has developed a system that makes it easy to take your existing courses and chunk them up into little bits. Then it pushes them out on a schedule. It’s a serendipity model, where there’s a chance it just might be the right bit at the right time, which is certainly better than your existing elearning. Most importantly, it’s mobile!

OffDevPeeps: these folks a full suite of technology development services including mobile, AR, VR, micro, macro, long, short, and anything else you want, all done at a competitive cost. If you are focused on the ‘fast’ and ‘cheap’ side of the trilogy, these are the folks to talk to. Coming soon to an inbox near you!

DanceDanceLearn: provides a completely unique offering. They have developed an authoring tool that makes it easy for you to animate dancers moving in precise formations that spell out content. They also have a synchronized swimming version.  Your content can be even more engaging!

There, I hope you’ll find these of interest, and consider checking them out.

Any relation between the companies portrayed and real entities is purely coincidental.  #couldntstopmyself #allinfun

16 May 2017

A ‘Critical Friend’?

Clark @ 8:01 am

I’m participating in an engagement, and they were struggling to define my role. Someone mentioned that I’m serving as a ‘critical friend’, and the others cottoned on to it.  I hadn’t heard that term so I explored, and liked what I found. Thought I’d share it.

So, ‘critical friend‘ is a term that originated in the education sector. The prevailing definition is:

a trusted person who asks provocative questions, provides data to be examined through another lens, and offers critiques of a person’s work as a friend. A critical friend takes the time to fully understand the context of the work presented and the outcomes that the person or group is working toward. The friend is an advocate for the success of that work.

What’s key to me is that the role involves being committed to the success of the endeavor, but also being provocative. The latter is about asking the hard questions and bringing in outside input that wouldn’t likely be considered otherwise. And I believe, based upon what I’ve dug into for innovation, that this is a valuable role.

So what I’m doing is getting to know the situation, rapidly consuming lots of documents, interviewing people, and sitting in on other information gathering sessions, to get to know what’s up. Then I’m floating some ideas that I think they really need to consider. The ideas are contrary to the path they’re planning on but I’ve buttressed them with some strong arguments. They make not take on all of them, but at least they’ll have explicitly considered them.

I’ve played this role specifically in a number of different situations (in fact, in some sense you could consider most of my engagements to have at least a facet of this).  I like to think that my 30+ years of work across cognition, technology, learning, design, and organizational implementation, with corporations, education institutions, government agencies, and not-for-profits, as well as my stockpiling of models, means I’ll generate some lateral and valuable thoughts in almost any situation. That’s certainly been the case to date.  And I really do want to help people achieve their goals.

It’s a fun, though challenging role. You have to get up to speed quickly, and be willing to offer ideas. I pride myself on also being able to suggest ways to accomplish ideas that aren’t obviously implementable at the first go (all part of Quinnovation ;).

When you’re looking at some change, getting some critical friend support on principle is a good idea. People challenging you for your own best interest isn’t always easy, but the outcomes are pretty much always worth it.  So, who’s your critical friend?

5 April 2017

Exploration Requirements

Clark @ 8:03 am

In yesterday’s post, I talked about how new tools need to be coupled with practices to facilitate exploration. And I wanted to explore more (heh) about what’s required.  The metaphor is old style exploration, and the requirements to succeed. Without any value judgment on the motivations that drove this exploitation, er, exploration ;). I’m breaking it up into tools, communication, and support.


Old mapSo, one of the first requirements was to have the necessary tools to explore. In the old days that could include means to navigate (chronograph, compass), ways to represent learnings/discoveries (map, journal), and resources (food, shelter, transport). It was necessary to get to the edge of the map, move forward, document the outcomes, and successfully return. This hasn’t changed in concept.

So today, the tools are different, but the requirements are similar. You need to figure out what you don’t know (the edge of the map), figure out how to conduct an experiment (move forward), measure the results (document outcomes), and then use that to move on. (Fortunately, the ‘return’ part isn’t a problem so much!)  The digital business platform is one, but also social media are necessary.


What happened after these expeditions was equally important. The learnings were brought back, published, and presented and shared. Presented at meetings, debates proceeded about what was learned: was this a new animal or merely a variation? Does this mean we need to change our explanations of animals, plants, geography, or culture?  The writings exchanged in letters, magazines, and books explored these in more depth.

These days, we similarly need to communicate our understandings. We debate via posts and comments, and microblogs. More thought out ideas become presentations at conferences, or perhaps white papers and articles. Ultimately, we may write books to share our thinking.  Of course, some of it is within the organization, whether it’s the continual dialog around a collaborative venture, or ‘show  your work’ (aka work out loud).


Such expeditions in the old days were logistically complex, and required considerable resources. Whether funded by governments, vested interests, or philanthropy, there was an awareness of risk and rewards. The rewards of knowledge as well as potential financial gain were sufficient to drive expeditions that ultimately spanned and opened the globe.

Similarly, there are risks and rewards in continual exploration on the part of organizations, but fortunately the risks are far less.  There is still a requirement for resourcing, and this includes official support and a budget for experiments that might fail. It has to be safe to take these risks, however.

These elements need to be aligned, which is non-trivial. It requires crossing silos, in most cases, to get the elements in place including IT, HR, and operations.  That’s where strategy, culture, and infrastructure can come together to create an agile, adaptive organization that can thrive in uncertainty. And isn’t that where you need to be?

4 April 2017

Continual Exploration

Clark @ 8:09 am

CompassI was reading about Digital Business Platforms, which is a move away from  siloed IT systems to create a unified environment. Which, naturally, seems like a sensible thing to do. The benefits are about continual innovation, but I wonder if a more apt phrase is instead continual exploration.

The premise is that it’s now possible to migrate from separate business systems and databases, and converge that data into a unified platform. The immediate benefits are that you can easily link information that was previously siloed, and track real time changes. The upside is the ability to try out new business models easily.  And while that’s a good thing, I think it’s not going to get fully utilized out of the box.

The concomitant component, it seems to me, is the classic ‘culture’ of learning. As I pointed out in last week’s post, I think that there are significant benefits to leveraging the power of social media to unleash organizational outcomes. Here, the opportunity is to facilitate easier experimentation. But that takes more than sophisticated tools.

These tools, by integrating the data, allow new combinations of data and formulas to be tried and tested easily. This sort of experimentation is critical to innovation, where small trials can be conducted, evaluated, and reviewed to refine or shift direction.   This sort of willingness to make trials, however, isn’t necessarily going to be successful in all situations.  If it’s not safe to experiment, learn from it, and share those learnings, it’s unlikely to happen.

Thus, the willingness to continually experiment is valuable. But I wonder if a better mindset is exploration. You don’t want to just experiment, you want to map out the space of possibilities, and track the outcomes that result from different ‘geographies’.  To innovate, you need to try new things. To do that, you need to know what the things are you could try, e.g .the places you haven’t been and perhaps look promising.

It has to be safe to be trying out different things. There is trust and communication required as well as resources and permission. So here’s to systematic experimentation to yield continual exploration!

29 March 2017

Leveraging Technology

Clark @ 8:06 am

I was listening to a tale recounting a time when an organization was going through a change, and had solicited help.  And the story surprised me.  The short story is that the initial approach being taken weren’t leveraging technology effectively.  And it led me to wonder how many organizations are still doing things the old way.

So the story was of a critical organizational change.  The hired guns (the typical consulting agency) came into to do their usual schtick, interviewing some people and making recommendations. The problem was, there was no way to interview an appropriately representative sample, and consequently the outcome was going to be less than optimal.  The resulting plan was large. dd

In this situation, a colleague stepped in and managed to arrange to use a social platform to do a better job of sharing the intentions and soliciting feedback.  You might not be surprised to hear that the subsequent process also yielded greater buy-in.  The process resulted in a fine-grained analysis of the plan, with some elements continuing to be executed by the initial partner, others taken on internally, and others discarded.  The ultimate cost was reduced far more than the cost to implement this extra step.

The missed opportunity, it turns out, was that the process used didn’t get scaled and implemented for further changes. Some outside factors removed the instigator responsible for the change and it had been done as a ‘stealth’ operation, so awareness wasn’t spread. The hired guns, already entrenched, went back to business as usual.

The eye-opener for me was the fact that the approach initially taken wasn’t leveraging technology.  In this day and age, that strikes me as completely unjustifiable! They were better able to support transparency and communication, and as typically happens that yielded both better outcomes and better engagement.  Of course, that’s the point of the revolution, getting smarter about aligning technology with how our brains think, work, and learn. It’s just that I forget how far we still need to go.

Just thinking through changes, at every stage of initiatives there’s a benefit:

  • collecting data and determining the issue, via surveys and discussion
  • developing ideas and approaches in collaboration (transparently, showing your work)
  • sharing visions about the resulting approach
  • providing support for expected problems
  • collaborating to address the unexpected problems
  • maintaining focus through the change
  • celebrating successes

All these can be facilitated through technology in powerful ways that can’t be done across geographies and timezones without tech.

So here’s my question to you. Is your organization leveraging technology appropriately?  And this is both at the level of L&D, and then also organization wide.  Is your L&D group working transparently, leveraging social media to both support effective performance and continue to develop? And then are you using that experience to spread the possibilities throughout the organization?  That’s the opportunity on tap, and I would really like to see L&D leading the way. Heck, we’re supposed to be the ones who understand how people learn, and when it comes to change, that’s learning too. Let’s own this!

23 March 2017

Karen Hough #ATDCore4 Keynote Mindmap

Clark @ 11:21 am

Karen Hough kicked off ATD’s Core 4 event with a lively keynote talking about how improvisation reflects many core factors involved in successful organizational agility.  Going through her trademarked elements, she had the audience up and participating and reflecting on interpersonal interactions. She covered important components of a learning organization like openness to new ideas, diversity, and safety and demonstrated ways to help break down the barriers.

8 March 2017

A ‘Field of Dreams’ Industry

Clark @ 8:09 am

Corn fieldIn the movie, Field of Dreams, the character played by Kevin Costner is told “If you build it, they will come.” And I use an image from this movie to talk about learning culture, in that you can put all the elements of the performance ecosystem together, but if you work in a Miranda organization (where anything you say can and will be held against you), you won’t be able to tap into the power of the ecosystem because people won’t share. But it’s clear that the problem is worse; the evidence suggests that L&D overall is in a ‘Field of Dreams’ mentality.

A new report (in addition to the two I cited last week) documents the problems in L&D.  LinkedIn has released their Workplace Learning report, and one aspect stood out: Only 8% of CEOS see biz impact of L&D, only 4% see ROI.  And if you ask the top ways they evaluate their programs, the top five methods are subjective or anecdotal.  Which concurs with data a few years ago from ATD that the implementation of measurement according to the Kirkpatrick model dropped off drastically: while 96% were doing level 1, only 34% were doing level 2, and it went dramatically down from there. In short, L&D isn’t measuring.

Which means that there’s a very strong belief that: if we build it, it is good.  And that, to me, is a Field of Dreams mentality. It feels like the L&D industry is living in a world where they take orders and produce courses and trust that it all works.  I was pleased to hear that there’s testing, but there’s far too little measurement.

And, interestingly,  one other statistic struck me:”less than 1⁄4 are willing to recommend their program to peers”.  To put it another way, the majority of L&D are embarrassed by their outputs. This isn’t any better situation than the statistics I reported in my book calling for an L&D Revolution!

So, the complaints are predictable: too little money, too few people, and getting people to pay attention. Um, that comes when you’re demonstrably contributing to the organization. And that’s the promise I think we offer. L&D could and should be a big contributor to organizational success. If we were adequately addressing the optimizing performance side of the story, and ensuring  the continual innovation part as well, our value should and would be high.

It’s past time L&D moves beyond the ‘Field of Dreams’ status, and becomes a viable, and measurable contributor to organizational success. It’s doable, under real world constraints. It needs a plan, and some knowledge, but there’s a path forward.  So, are you ready to move out of the corn, and onto the road?

1 February 2017

Other writings

Clark @ 8:04 am

It occurs to me to mention some of the other places you can find my writings besides here (and how they differ ;).  My blog posts are pretty regular (my aim is 2/week), but tend to have ideas that are embryonic or a bit ‘evangelical’. First, I’ve written four books; you can check them out and get sample chapters at their respective sites:

Engaging Learning: Designing e-Learning Simulation Games

Designing mLearning: Tapping Into the Mobile Revolution for Organizational Performance

The Mobile Academy: mLearning For Higher Education

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

They’re designed to be the definitive word on the topic, at least at the moment.

I’ve also written or co-written a number of chapters in a variety of books.  The books include The Really Useful eLearning Instruction ManualCreating a Learning Culture, Michael Allen’s eLearning Annual 2009,  and a bunch of academic handbooks (Mobile Learning, Experiential Learning, Wiley Learning Technology ;).  These tend to be longer than an article, with a pretty thorough coverage of whatever topic is on tap.

Then there are articles in a variety of magazines.  These tend to be aggregated thoughts that are longer than a blog post, but not as through as a chapter. In particular, they are things I think need to be heard (or read).  So, my writing has shown up in:


Learning Solutions


The topics vary. (For the eLearnMag ones, you’ll have to search for my name owing to their interface, and they tend to be more like editorials.)

And then there are blog posts for others that are a bit longer than my usual blog post, and close to an article in focus:

The Deeper eLearning series for Learnnovators

A monthly article for Litmos.

These, too, are more like articles in that they’re focused, and deeper than my usual blog post.  For the latter I cover a lot of different topics, so you’re likely to find something relevant there in many different areas.

I’m proud of it all, but for a quick update on a topic, you might be best seeing if there’s a Litmos post on it first.  That’s likely to be relatively short and focused if there is one. And, of course, if it’s a topic you’re interested in advancing in and I can help, do let me know.

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