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

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!

28 March 2017

Adaptive or just good design?

Clark @ 8:09 am

A few posts ago, I wrote about how we might be rushing too fast into cognitive computing. Not that there’s anything wrong with augmenting us, but I was wondering if we’d be better off focusing on developing our non-cognitive systems first. And, of course, it occurred to me after a conversation that there might be another example of this ‘tech fix before smart fix’ problem: adaptive learning over good design. Is this a tech solution to the wrong problem?

So, I’m a fan of adaptive learning. Heck, I led a team that developed an adaptive learning system back circa 2000 (ahead of the times, as always ;). And I know that there are good things we can do with adaptive learning.  Some are still relatively impractical (e.g. intelligent tutoring systems), some make sense (e.g. adapting on learner performance), and, of course, some are pretty silly (e.g. learning styles).  Still, done well, adaptive learning could and should be a benefit.  (And serious games are adaptive!)

But I would posit that before you charge off for adaptive learning, you make sure you’re doing good learning design first.  Adaptation on top of good learning design is likely to add some extra benefits, but adaptation on old learning design just doesn’t make sense.  And, I’ll suggest, good learning design is cheaper, and likely to have a bigger impact.

So, for instance, adapting a large knowledge-based course will still leave it as a problematic solution in search of a problem.  Creating a better course focusing on critical skills with meaningful practice is going to have a bigger impact on the bottom line than adapting the course for learner progress. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s a secondary concern, I reckon.

Games are a special case of adapting on the basis of learner performance. When well done, they’re the next best thing to live practice.  Yet, at core, they too need good design.

There are a lot of adaptive solutions emerging, with a strong push to optimize your outcomes.  Some of them have a pretty good basis, too. But your goal is to achieve business impact, and what will hit that first, and best, is starting with good design.  Adaptive isn’t a panacea, it’s a fillip to design, not a replacement.    Master the rules of good design, then come back and add in those extra elements, whether adaptivity and/or game mechanics.   Please?

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.

22 March 2017

Where is Clark?

Clark @ 8:07 am

So, where am I this spring?  I was at ATD’s Techknowledge in January, and as this is published I’m on my way to Long Beach for their Core 4 event (sold out; if you’re one of the lucky ones there, say hi!). I’m taking the train (and a bus); look forward to watching the terrain roll by and writing.  But there’re a couple more events this spring.

Next week (March 30th), I’ll be giving a talk to ATD’s East Bay chapter on innovation.  It’ll cover the materials that were part of my presentation last fall to a government agency and my forthcoming CLO article.  We’ll talk about what innovation is (there’s a surprising amount of confusion), what it takes, what the barriers are, and what the role is for L&D.  If you’re here in the Bay Area, it should be fun and informative.

Then, in June, I’ll be at the eLearning Guild’s FocusOn Learning event in San Diego.  There I’ll be talking about Focus Beyond Learning, i.e. the broader performance ecosystem picture in which mobile, video, and games fit in. Again, if you’re going, say hello!  It’s also a chance to see my brother and his family (and hopefully get in a surf ;).

That’s pretty much it for the first part of the year.  A bit quiet, but providing time for some writing.   Of course, if you are needing a keynote or a workshop…let me know. I have to admit I’m thinking that workshops around the deeper cognitive aspects of learning would be a big boost to organizational L&D.

21 March 2017

Top down or bottom up strategy?

Clark @ 8:09 am

In a recent discussion around HR strategy, the question arose about where to start.  That is, if you’ve bought into moving into the digital age, where do you begin.  The flip answer from the host of the event, a large consulting agency, was to hire them (and my flip reply is to ask whether you want newly minted MBAs following a process designed to be ‘heavy’, or someone coming in light and fast with an adaptive approach ;). But then they got serious, and responded that you shouldn’t be reactive to people’s stated needs, and you needed data to identify what problems are crucial.  And I wasn’t satisfied with that, for two related reasons.  In short, I thought that was still reactive and that it wasn’t going to help you focus ahead, and that you needed top-down to complement bottom up.

This was buttressed by a post pointed out to me by my ITA colleagues that was arguing a good design strategy was to find out what people needed. And I’m reminded of the quote by Steve Jobs that you can’t just give people what they want, because by the time you do, they’ve changed their minds.  And just finding what people need and doing it is a bit reactive, it seems to me, regardless.  Even, to be honest, finding the company’s biggest barriers, and addressing them, isn’t a sufficient response.  It’s a good one, but it’s not enough.

Interestingly, an HR Director sitting next to me was nodding her head during that response about the data. So afterward I asked her what sort of data she had in mind. I asked about both survey data, and business metrics, and she indicated both (and anything else ;).  And I think that’s a good basis. But not a sufficient one.

If you look at most design in the real world, you’ll see that designers cycle between top-down and bottom-up.  It helps to check that you’re indeed draining the swamp, but also to ensure you’re not getting eaten by alligators.  And that’s the point I want to make.

I’m (obviously) a believer in frameworks. I want conceptual clarity. And I don’t want best practices, I want to abstract best principles and recontextualize them.  But I also believe you need to check how you’re going, and regularly test.  There are some overarching results that should be incorporated: culture, innovation, performance support, etc. And they can be instituted in ways that address problems yet also develop your ability.

So I do think collecting data on what’s going on, and identifying barriers is important.  But if you’re not also looking at the horizon and figuring out where you’re going in the longer term, you could be metaphorically ensuring no flat tires on a trip to the wrong neighborhood.  My short answer to their question would’ve been to document where you are, and where you want to get, and then figure out which of the top issues the data indicate sets you on a path to address the rest and build your capability and credibility.

15 March 2017

Technology or preparation?

Clark @ 8:10 am

In listening to a recent presentation on the trends affecting the workplace and HR, there was mention about how organizations were using more cognitive technology, AI, etc. and this was changing jobs. There were two additional notes.  First, these efforts aren’t (largely) leading to job losses, as these folks were being reskilled. Second, HR wasn’t involved in 65% of this.  That’s a concern. But one of the things I wondered was whether all the new, smart technology really would help as much as was intended or needed.

So here’s some context (I may have heard this in conjunction with an early experiment in using mobile devices to support drug trials).  Pharmaceutical companies are continually trying new drugs. One claim is that if people would follow their medicine regimens, many of these new drugs wouldn’t be necessary.  That is, the drugs are often times trying to require fewer doses with simpler instructions to make up for inappropriate use.

Likewise, the origin of performance support.  The question is where does the locus of responsibility belong. Interface design people were upset about performance support systems, arguing (correctly) that performance support was being used to make up for bad system design in the first place.  In fact, Don Norman’s book The Invisible Computer was about how interface design wasn’t being brought in early enough.  The point being that properly designed interfaces would incorporate support for our cognitive limitations inherently, not externally.

So, many of the things we’re doing are driven by bad implementation. And that’s what I started wondering: are we using smart technology to enhance an optimized workforce, or to make up for a lack of adequate preparation?  We could be putting in technology to make up for what we’ve been unsuccessful at doing through training and elearning (because we’re not doing that well).

To put it another way, would we get better returns applying what’s known about how we think, work, and learn than bringing in technology? Would adequate preparation be a more effective approach than throwing technology at the problem, at least in some of the cases?  There are strong reasons to use technology to do things we struggle at doing well, and in particular to augment us.  But perhaps a better investment, at least in some cases, would be to appropriately distribute tasks between the things our brains do well and what technology does better.

Let me be clear; there are technologies that will do things more reliably than humans, and do things humans would prefer not to. I’m all for the latter, at least ;). And we should optimize both technology and people.  I’m a fan of technology to augment us in ways we want to be augmented.  So my point is more to consider are we doing enough to prepare people and support them working together.  Your thoughts?

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 March 2017

The change is here

Clark @ 8:04 am

For a number of years now (at least six), I’ve been beating the drum about the need for organizations to be prepared to address change. I’ve argued that things are happening faster, and that organizations are going to have to become more agile.  Now we’re seeing the evidence that the change has arrived.

a change purseTwo recent reports highlight the awareness. Gallup released a report on The State of the American Workplace recently that talks about the lack of engagement at work.  Deloitte also released a reportRewriting the rules in the digital age, that documents trends shifting the office environment.  With different perspectives, they both overlap in discussing the importance of culture.  It’s about creating an environment where people are empowered and enabled to contribute.

The Gallup report concludes with new behaviors for leaders and managers.  The first point for leaders is to use data and focus on culture. This, to me, involves leveraging technology and creating an environment. L&D could be leading using performance data captured through the ExperienceAPI, and facilitating the culture shift in courses and developing coaching. Their prescription for managers is to move to be coaches (and again, L&D should be both developing the skills and facilitating the processes).  And employees need to take ownership of their own development, which means L&D should focus on both meta-learning and ensuring resources (curation and creation) as well.

The second report is the more interesting one for me, because it’s about the trends and the ways to adapt.  The top two trends are the Organization of the future (c.f. The Workplace of the Future :) and Careers and learning.  The former is about redesigning organizations to become agile.  The latter is about a redefinition of learning.  They are a wee bit old-school, however, as while they do discuss innovation throughout, it isn’t a core focus and their definition of learning doesn’t include informal learning.  It’s still a top-down model.  But again, clear opportunities for L&D.

The key leverage points, to me, are learning and technology.  And here I mean more self-directed and collaborative learning conducted not formally, but facilitated. Social learning really can’t be top-down!  Important technologies are for communicating and collaborating, as well as tools to search and find resources.

And while the focus is on HR, including recruitment and leadership, I reckon that L&D should have a key place here, as indicated. The world’s changing, and L&D needs to adapt.  It’s time to innovate L&D to support organizational innovation. Are you ready?

28 February 2017

Revisiting the Ecosystem

Clark @ 8:10 am

One of the keys to the L&D revolution is recognizing the full performance ecosystem and the ways technology can support performance and development.  I’ve tried to represent and share my thinking via diagrams (including here, here, and here).  Prompted by a recent conversation, it was time to revisit the representation.

the performance ecosystemHere, I’m layering on several different ways to think about the goals, elements, etc.  (Given that this is an initial version, I’m kind of haphazard about labels like mechanisms, components, etc.)  To start, as I continually argue, at the bottom it’s about coupling optimal execution with continual innovation.  We need to do well those things we know we need to do, and then we need to continually improve.  I think that more and more of the optimal execution is getting automated.

On top of that, we have components – content and people – and the tactics to leverage them. We create or curate content (curation over creation!), and we develop relationships through community or find appropriate expertise through recommendations or search.   The goal is to have the right content and the right people ‘to hand’ to work with.

We develop content elements like performance support to support performing in the moment, and learning resources for self-directed learning over time.  We also use courses, whether individual or collaborative, to develop people (particularly when they’re novices). I’d put courses to the left and performance support to the right (above content) if we were talking about developing people (as I have here). So, for novices we first use courses, then practitioners need resources and coaching, and experts need interaction.  However, performance support is on one side on a continuum of mechanisms from performing, to developing, to innovation.  That’s what I’ve captured here.

Similarly, we use social elements like coaching, mentoring, and informal learning to develop ourselves and our organizations over time.  We use processes like consuming and completing to execute. Then we develop our ability to execute and the continue to learn through  communicating and collaborating.

There are lots of ways to represent the ecosystem, and given that elaboration theory tells us multiple representations help, here’s another stab. There are lots of elements to consider and fine tune, but I like to share my thinking to help it develop!  Overall, however, the opportunity is the chance to be contributing to organizational success in systematic and valuable ways. And that, I’ll suggest, is valuable. I welcome your thoughts.

22 February 2017

Another model for support

Clark @ 8:08 am

I was thinking about today’s post, wherein I was talking about a couple of packages that  might help organizations move forward. I was reflecting back on some previous posts about engagement models, and was reminded of a more recent one. And I realized this has played out in a couple of ways. And these approaches did provide away to  develop the organization’s abilities to develop better learning.  So this is another model for support for developing at least the learning side of the equation.

consulting talesIn a couple of instances , I’ve worked with organizations on a specific project, but in a particular way.  For each, my role was to lead the design. In one case, it was for a series of elearning modules. My role was to develop the initial template that the rest of the content fit.  Note that this isn’t a template for tarting it up, but instead a template about what the necessary elements and details around them were to ensure that the elements (e.g. intro, concept, practice, etc) both fit together and reflected the best learning science. In a more recent instance, it was on a specific focus, but there were several modules that used a similar structure.

What happens, importantly, is that by working collaboratively, we learn together.  Each of these organizations was in the business of developing content, but they were looking to raise their game. So, for instance, through leading the Workplace of the Future project but sharing the thinking behind it, by working out loud in that sense, it’s possible to develop a shared understanding.  And in the latter case, though they’d read the Deeper eLearning series, they got a lot more out of working it through with me.  (And, I’ll suggest, more than also reading the subsequent blog posts I wrote about the project.)

In each case, we created an overall template for the learning, and then detailed what the elements for the template were, and the critical components. When we applied it, usually with me doing it first, and then handing off. It’s really a Cognitive Apprenticeship approach.

So, it’s a slightly more involved approach, with a much more variable scope, but in conjunction with other approaches I’ve mentioned like critiquing content or design processes, it’s one way to get a jump on deeper learning science.  Just trying to think of models that can support improvement, and that’s what I’m trying to push.


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