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

15 August 2017

Innovative Work Spaces

Clark @ 8:09 AM

working togetherI recently read that Apple’s new office plan is receiving bad press. This surprises me, given that Apple usually has their handle on the latest in ideas.  Yet, upon investigation, it’s clear that they appear to not be particularly innovative in their approach to work spaces.  Here’s why.

The report I saw says that Apple is intending to use an open office plan. This is where all the tables are out in the open, or at best there are cubicles. The perceived benefits are open communication.  And this is plausible when folks like Stan McChrystal in Team of Teams are arguing for ‘radical transparency’.  The thought is that everyone will know what’s going on and it will streamline communication. Coupled with delegation, this should yield innovation, at the expense of some efficiency.

However, research hasn’t backed that up. Open space office plans can even drive folks away, as Apple’s hearing. When you want to engage with your colleagues and stay on top of what they’re doing, it’s good.  However, the lack of privacy means folks can’t focus when they’re doing heavy mental work. While it sounds good in theory, it doesn’t work in practice.

When I was keynoting at the Learning@Work conference in Sydney back in 2015, a major topic was about flexible work spaces. The concept here is to have a mix of office types: some open plan, some private offices, some small conference rooms. The view is that you take the type of space you need when you need it. Nothing’s fixed, so you travel with your laptop from place to place, but you can have the type of environment you need. Time alone, time with colleagues, time collaborating. And this was being touted both on principled and practical grounds with positive outcomes.

(Note that in McChrystal’s view, you needed to break down silos. He would strategically insert a person from one area with others, and have representatives engaged around all activities.  So even in the open space you’d want people mixed up, but most folks still tend to put groups together. Which undermines the principle.)

As Jay Cross let us know in his landmark Informal Learningeven the design of workspaces can facilitate innovation. Jay cited practices like having informal spaces to converse, and putting the mail room and coffee room together to facilitate casual conversation.  Where you work matters as well as how, and open plan has upsides but also downsides that can be mitigated.

Innovation is about culture, practices, beliefs, and  technology.  Putting it all together in a practical approach takes time and knowledge to figure out where to start, and how to scale.  As Sutton and Rao tell us, it’s a ground war, but the benefits are not just desirable, but increasingly necessary. Innovation is the key to transcending survival to thrival. Are you ready to (Qu)innovate?

3 August 2017

My policies

Clark @ 8:04 AM

Like most of you, I get a lot of requests for a lot of things. Too many, really. So I’ve had to put in policies to be able to cope.  I like to provide a response (I feel it’s important to communicate the underlying rationale), so I have stock blurbs that I cut and paste (with an occasional edit for a specific context).  I don’t want to repeat them here, but instead I want to be clear about why certain types of actions are going to get certain types of response. Consider this a public service announcement.

So, I get a lot of requests to link on LinkedIn, and I’m happy to, with a caveat. First, you should have some clear relationship to learning technology. Or be willing to explain why you want to link. I use LinkedIn for business connections, so I’m linked to lots of people I don’t even know, but they’re in our field.

I ask those not in learntech why they want to link. Some do respond, and often have a real reason (shifting to this field, their title masks a real role), and I’m glad I asked.  Other times it’s the ‘Nigerian Prince’ or equivalent. And those will get reported. Recently, it’s new folk who claim they just want to connect to someone with experience. Er, no.  Read this blog, instead. I also have a special message to those in learntech with biz dev/sales/etc roles; I’ll link, but if they pitch me, they’ll get summarily unlinked (and I do).

And I likely won’t link to you on Facebook.  That’s personal. Friends and family. Try LinkedIn instead.

I get lots of emails, particularly from elearning or tech development firms, offering to have a conversation about their services.  I’m sorry, but don’t you realize, with all the time I’ve been in the field, that I have ‘goto’ partners? And I don’t do biz dev: develop contracts and outsource production. As Donald H Taylor so aptly puts it, you haven’t established a sufficient relationship to justify offering me anything.

Then, I get email with announcements of new moves and the like.  Apparently, with an expectation that I’ll blog it.  WTH?  Somehow, people think this blog is for PR.  No, as it says quite clearly at the top of the page, this is for my learnings about learning.  I let them know that I pay attention to what comes through my social media channels, not what comes unsolicited.  I also ask what list they got my name from, so I can squelch it. And sometimes they have!

I used to get a lot of offers to either receive or write blog posts. (This had died down, but has resurrected recently.)  For marketing links, obviously. I don’t want your posts; see the above: my learnings!  And I won’t write for you for free. Hey, that’s a service.  See below.

And I get calls with folks offering me a place at their event.  They’re pretty easy to detect: they ask about would I like to have access to a specific audience,…  I have learned to quickly ask if it’s a pay to play.  It always is, and I have to explain that that’s not how I market myself.  Maybe I’m wrong, but I see that working for big firms with trained sales folks, not me. I already have my marketing channels. And I speak and write as a service!

I similarly get a lot of emails that let me know about a new product and invite me to view it and give my opinion.  NO!  First, I could spend my whole day with these. Second, and more importantly, my opinion is valuable!  It’s the basis of 35+ years of work at the cutting edge of learning and technology. And you want it for free?  As if.  Let’s talk some real evaluation, as an engagement.  I’ve done that, and can for you.

As I’ve explained many times, my principles are simple: I talk ideas for free; I help someone personally for drinks/dinner; if someone’s making a quid, I get a cut.  And everyone seems fine with that, once I explain it. I occasionally get taken advantage of, but I try to make it only once for each way (fool me…).   But the number of people who seem to think that I should speak/write/consult for free continues to boggle my mind.  Exposure?  I think you’re overvaluing your platform.

Look, I think there’s sufficient evidence that I’m very good at what I do. If you want to refine your learning design processes, take your L&D strategy into the 21st century, and generally align what you do with how we think, work, and learn, let’s talk.  Let’s see if there’s a viable benefit to you that’s a fair return for me. Lots of folks have found that to be the case.  I’ll even offer the first conversation free, but let’s make sure there’s a clear two-way relationship on the table and explore it.  Fair enough?

 

 

2 August 2017

Ethics and AI

Clark @ 8:03 AM

I had the opportunity to attend a special event pondering the ethical issues that surround Artificial Intelligence (AI).  Hosted by the Institute for the Future, we gathered in groups beforehand to generate questions that were used in a subsequent session. Vint Cerf, co-developer of the TCP/IP protocol that enabled the internet, currently at Google, responded to the questions.  Quite the heady experience!

The questions were quite varied. Our group looked at Values and Responsibilities. I asked whether that was for the developers or the AI itself. Our conclusion was that it had to be the developers first. We also considered what else has been done in technology ethics (e.g. diseases, nuclear weapons), and what is unique to AI.  A respondent mentioned an EU initiative to register all internet AIs; I didn’t have the chance to ask about policing and consequences.  Those strike me as concomitant issues!

One of the unique areas was ‘agency’, the ability for AI to act.  This led to a discussion for a need to have oversight on AI decisions. However, I suggested that humans, if the AI was mostly right, would fatigue. So we pondered: could an AI monitor another AI?  I also thought that there’s evidence that consciousness is emergent, and so we’d need to keep the AIs from communicating. It was pointed out that the genie is already out of the bottle, with chatbots online. Vint suggests that our brain is layered pattern-matchers, so maybe consciousness is just the topmost layer.

One recourse is transparency, but it needs to be rigorous. Blockchain’s distributed transparency could be a model. Of course, one of the problems is that we can’t even explain our own cognition in all instances (we make stories that don’t always correlate with the evidence of what we do). And with machine learning, we may be making stories about what the system is using to analyze behaviors and make decisions, but it may not correlate.

Similarly, machine learning is very dependent on the training set. If we don’t pick the right inputs, we might miss some factors that would be important to incorporate in making answers.  Even if we have the right inputs, but don’t have a good training set of good and bad outcomes, we get biased decisions. It’s been said that what people are good at is crossing the silos, whereas the machines tend to be good in narrow domains. This is another argument for oversight.

The notion of agency also brought up the issue of decisions.  Vint inquired why we were so lazy in making decisions. He argued that we’re making systems we no longer understand!  I didn’t get the chance to answer that decision-making is cognitively taxing.  As a consequence, we often work to avoid it.  Moreover, some of us are interested in X, so are willing to invest the effort to learn it, while others are interested in Y. So it may not be reasonable to expect everyone to invest in every decision.  Also, our lives get more complex; when I grew up, you just had phone and TV, now you need to worry about internet, and cable, and mobile carriers, and smart homes, and…  So it’s not hard to see why we want to abrogate responsibility when we can!  But when can we, and when do we need to be careful?

Of course, one of the issues is about AI taking jobs.  Cerf stated that nnovation takes jobs, and generates jobs as well. However, the problem is that those who lose the jobs aren’t necessarily capable of taking the new ones.  Which brought up an increasing need for learning to learn, as the key ability for people. Which I support, of course.

The overall problem is that there isn’t a central agreement on what ethics a system should embody, if we could do it. We currently have different cultures with different values. Could we find agreement when some might have different view of what, say, acceptable surveillance would be? Is there some core set of values that are required for a society to ‘get along’?  However, that might vary by society.

At the end, there were two takeaways.  For one, the question is whether AI can helps us help ourselves!  And the recommendation is that we should continue to reflect and share our thoughts. This is my contribution.

27 July 2017

Barry Downes #Realities360 Keynote Mindmap

Clark @ 9:59 AM

Barry Downes talked about the future of the VR market with an interesting exploration of the Immersive platform. Taking us through the Apollo 11 product, he showed what went into it and the emotional impact. He showed a video that talked (somewhat simplistically) about how VR environments could be used for learning. (There is great potential, but it’s not about content.). He finished with an interesting quote about how VR would be able to incorporate any further media. A second part of the quote said: “Kids will think it’s funny [we] used to stare at glowing rectangles hoping to suspend disbelief.”

VR Keynote

25 July 2017

What is the Future of Work?

Clark @ 8:07 AM

which is it?Just what is the Future of Work about? Is it about new technology, or is it about how we work with people?  We’re seeing amazing new technologies: collaboration platforms, analytics, and deep learning. We’re also hearing about new work practices such as teams, working (or reflecting) out loud, and more.  Which is it? And/or how do they relate?

It’s very clear technology is changing the way we work. We now work digitally, communicating and collaborating.  But there’re more fundamental transitions happening. We’re integrating data across silos, and mining that data for new insights. We can consolidate platforms into single digital environments, facilitating the work.  And we’re getting smart systems that do things our brains quite literally can’t, whether it’s complex calculations or reliable rote execution at scale. Plus we have technology-augmented design and prototyping tools that are shortening the time to develop and test ideas. It’s a whole new world.

Similarly, we’re seeing a growing understanding of work practices that lead to new outcomes. We’re finding out that people work better when we create environments that are psychologically safe, when we tap into diversity, when we are open to new ideas, and when we have time for reflection. We find that working in teams, sharing and annotating our work, and developing learning and personal knowledge mastery skills all contribute. And we even have new  practices such as agile and design thinking that bring us closer to the actual problem.  In short, we’re aligning practices more closely with how we think, work, and learn.

Thus, either could be seen as ‘the Future of Work’.  Which is it?  Is there a reconciliation?  There’s a useful way to think about it that answers the question.  What if we do either without the other?

If we use the new technologies in old ways, we’ll get incremental improvements.  Command and control, silos, and transaction-based management can be supported, and even improved, but will still limit the possibilities. We can track closer.  But we’re not going to be fundamentally transformative.

On the other hand, if we change the work practices, creating an environment where trust allows both safety and accountability, we can get improvements whether we use technology or not. People have the capability to work together using old technology.  You won’t get the benefits of some of the improvements, but you’ll get a fundamentally different level of engagement and outcomes than with an old approach.

Together, of course, is where we really want to be. Technology can have a transformative amplification to those practices. Together, as they say, the whole is greater than the some of the parts.

I’ve argued that using new technologies like virtual reality and adaptive learning only make sense after you first implement good design (otherwise you’re putting lipstick on a pig, as the saying goes).  The same is true here. Implementing radical new technologies on top of old practices that don’t reflect what we know about people, is a recipe for stagnation.  Thus, to me, the Future of Work starts with practices that align with how we think, work, and learn, and are augmented with technology, not the other way around.  Does that make sense to you?

18 July 2017

Accountability and Safety

Clark @ 8:06 AM

In much of the discussion about tapping into the power of people via networks and communities, we hear about the learning culture we need. Items like psychological safety, valuing diversity, openness, and time for reflection are up front. And I’m as guilty of this as anyone! However, one other element that appears in the more rigorous discussions (including Edmondson’s Teaming and Sutton & Rao’s Scaling Up Excellence) is accountability. (Which isn’t to say that it doesn’t appear in other pictures, but it’s certainly not foreground.) And it’s time to address this.

So, the model for becoming agile is creating an environment where people learn, alone and together.  But it’s informal learning. When you research, problem-solve, design, etc, you don’t know the answer when you start! Yet it’s not like anyone else has the answer, either.  And we know that the output is better when we search more broadly through the possible solution space. (Which is what we’re doing, really.) This means we need diverse inputs to keep us from prematurely converging.  Or searching too narrow a space. We also need also those different voices to contribute, or we won’t get there. And we have to be open to new ideas, or we could inadvertently cut off part of the solution space. We also need time and tools for reflection (hence reflecting out loud).

Typically, the process is iterative (real innovations percolate/ferment/incubate; they aren’t ‘driven’): going away, doing tasks, and returning.  Here, we need to ensure people are contributing, doing the work.  We don’t want to micromanage it, but we do want to assist people because we shouldn’t assume that they’re effective self and social learners.  In short, we can’t squelch the feeling of autonomy to accompany purpose (ala Dan Pink’s Drive), yet the job must get done!

Accountability and SafetyWhen there’s purpose, and community, accountability is natural. When we comprehend how what we’re doing contributes, when we have reciprocal trust with our colleagues that we’ll each do our part, and when there’s transparency about what’s happening, it’s a natural. A transactional model, when it’s a network and not a community, doesn’t feel safe, and doesn’t work as well.  As Edmondson documents it, you want to be in the learning zone where you have both accountability and safety. And that’s not an easy balance.

So one of the steps to get there is to ensure accountability is part of the picture. And it’s not just calling someone on the carpet. Done right, it’s a tracking and regular support to succeed, so accountability is an ongoing relationship that suggests we want you to succeed, and we’ll help you do that. Accountability shouldn’t be a surprise! (Transparency helps.)

When we talk about the high-minded principles of making it safe and helping people feel welcome, some can view this as all touchy-feely and worry that it won’t get things done.  Which isn’t true, but I think it helps if we keep accountability in the picture to assuage those concerns.  Ultimately, we want outcomes, but new and improved ones, not just the same old things. The status quo isn’t really acceptable today. In this increasingly dynamic environment, the ability to adapt is key. And that’s the Learning Zone. Are you ready to go there?

12 July 2017

Reflection ‘out loud’

Clark @ 8:04 AM

I am a fan of Show Your Work and Work Out Loud, but I’m wondering about whether they could mislead.  Not that that’s the intent, of course, but they don’t necessarily include reflection, a critical component. I believe they care about it, but the phrase don’t implicitly require annotating your thoughts. And I think it’s important.

The original phrase that resonated for me was ‘narrate your work’, which to me was more than just showing it.  When teachers told you to show your work, they just wanted intermediate steps. But Alan Schoenfeld’s research has documented that’s valuable to show the thinking behind the steps. What’s your rationale for taking this step?

Teachers would be able to identify where you went wrong, but that doesn’t necessarily say why you went wrong. On things as simple as multi-column subtraction, the answer would tell you whether they borrowed wrong or reversed the number or other specific misconceptions that would reveal themselves in the result. But on more complex problems, the intermediate steps may not preserve the rationale.

The design rationale approach emerged on complex projects for just this reason. New people could question earlier decisions and if they weren’t documented, you’d revisit them unnecessarily.  It’s important to capture not only the decision, but the criteria used, the others considered, etc.  It is this thinking about what drove decisions that helps people understand your thinking and thereby improve it.

I don’t really think “reflection out loud” is the right term. I like ‘narrate your work’ or ‘share your thinking’ perhaps better.  And I do believe that those talking about working out loud and sharing your work do intend this, it’s just that too often I’ve seen people take the surface implications of a phrase and skip the real importance (*cough* Kirkpatrick’s levels *cough*). So, worst case, I’ve confused the terminology space, but hopefully I’ve also helped illuminate the valuable underpinning.  And practiced what I’m preaching ;).  Your thoughts?

5 July 2017

Jay Cross Memorial Award 2017: Marcia Conner

Clark @ 8:01 AM

The Internet Time Alliance Jay Cross Memorial Award is presented to a workplace learning professional who has contributed in positive ways to the field of Real Learning and is reflective of Jay’s lifetime of work. Recipients champion workplace and social learning practices inside their organization and/or on the wider stage. They share their work in public and often challenge conventional wisdom. The Jay Cross Memorial Award is given to professionals who continuously welcome challenges at the cutting edge of their expertise and are convincing and effective advocates of a humanistic approach to workplace learning and performance.

We announce the award on 5 July, Jay’s birthday. Following his death in November 2015, the partners of the Internet Time Alliance (Jane Hart, Harold Jarche, Charles Jennings, and myself) resolved to continue Jay’s work. Jay Cross was a deep thinker and a man of many talents, never resting on his past accomplishments, and this award is one way to keep pushing our professional fields and industries to find new and better ways to learn and work.

Marcia Conner, recipient of the Jay Cross Memorial Award

The Internet Time Alliance Jay Cross Memorial Award for 2016 is presented to Marcia Conner. Marcia was an early leader in the movement for individual and social learning, and an innovator. As a Senior Manager at Microsoft, she developed new training practices and wrote an accessible white paper on the deeper aspects of learning design. She subsequently was the Information Futurist at PeopleSoft.  She also served as a co-founder and editor at Learnativity, an early online magazine.

Marcia  co-organized and co-hosted the Creating a Learning Culture conference at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia, leading to a book of the same title.  As an advocate for the power of learning, alone and together, she wrote Learn More Now and co-wrote The New Social Learning (now in it’s second edition) with Tony Bingham of the Association for Talent Development. She also was the instigator who organized the team for the twitter chat #lrnchat, which continues to this day.

Marcia’s a recognized leader, writing for Fast Company, and keynoting conferences around the world. She currently helps organizations go beyond their current approaches, changing their culture.  She’s also in the process of moving her focus beyond organizations, to society. In her words, “I’m in pursuit of meaningful progress, with good faith and honesty, girded by what I know we are capable of doing right now. When we assemble all that is going on at the edges of culture, technology, and (dare I say) business, we find a wildly hopeful view of the future. People doing extraordinary things, on a human scale, that has the potential to change everything for the better.”

Marcia was a friend of Jay’s for many years (including organizing the creation of his Wikipedia page), and we’re proud to recognize her contributions.

Helen Blunden was the inaugural award winner in 2016.

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!

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