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

18 May 2017

Disruptive Innovation

Clark @ 8:06 am

I recently came across a document (PDF) about disruptive innovation based upon Clayton Christensen’s models, which I’d heard about but hadn’t really penetrated. This one was presented around higher education innovation (a topic I’ve some familiarity with ;), so it provided a good basis for me to explore the story.  It had some interesting features that are worth portraying, and then some implications for my thoughts on innovation, so I thought I’d share.

The model’s premise is that disruption requires two major things: a technology enabler and a business model innovation.  That is, there has to be a way to deliver this new advance, and it has to be coupled with a way to capitalize on the benefits.  It can’t just be a new technology in an existing business model, as that’s merely the traditional competitive innovation. Similarly, a new business model around existing technology is still within  competitive advancement.

A related requirement is to have a new entity ready to capitalize. This quote captured me: “In those few instances in which the leader in one generation became the leader in the next disruptive one, the company did so by setting up a completely autonomous business unit…”  You can’t do disruption from inside the game.  Even if you’re a player, you have to liberate resources to start anew.

Which is quite different than most innovation. Typical innovation is ‘within the box’.  This comes from having an environment where people can experiment, share, be exposed to new ideas, and allowing it to incubate (ferment/percolate) over time.  And this is a good thing. Disruptive innovation makes new industries, new companies, etc.  And that’s also good (except, perhaps, for the disrupted).  The point being that both innovations are valuable, but different.

It’s not clear to me what happens when an internal innovation comes up with an idea that’s really disruptive. Clearly, if the idea clears the hurdles of complacency and inertia, you’d probably want to spin it off.  But most innovations just need a fair airing and trialing to get traction (though depending on scope, a bit of change management might be useful).

I encourage innovation, and creating the environment where it can happen. It’s valuable even in established businesses, and a fair bit is known about how to create an environment where it can flourish.  So, what can we innovate about innovation?

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?

10 May 2017

Designing Microlearning

Clark @ 8:04 am

Yesterday, I clarified what I meant about microlearning. Earlier, I wrote about designing microlearning, but what I was really talking about was the design of spaced learning. So how should you design the type of microlearning I really feel is valuable?

To set the stage, here’re we’re talking about layering learning on performance in a context. However, it’s more than just performance support. Performance support would be providing a set of steps (in whatever ways: series of static photos, video, etc) or supporting those steps (checklist, lookup table, etc).  And again, this is a good thing, but microlearning, I contend, is more.

To make it learning, what you really need is to support developing an ability to understand the rationale behind the steps, to support adapting the steps in different situations. Yes, you can do this in performance support as well, but here we’re talking about models

What (causal) models give us is a way to explain what has happened, and predict what will happen.  When we make these available around performing a task, we unpack the rationale. We want to provide an understanding behind the rote steps, to support adaptation of the process in difference situations. We also provide a basis for regenerating missing steps.

Now, we can also be providing examples, e.g. how the model plays out in different contexts. If what the learner is doing now can change under certain circumstances, elaborating how the model guides performing differently in different context provides the ability to transfer that understanding.

The design process, then, would be to identify the model guiding the performance (e..g. why we do things in this order, and it might be an interplay between structural constraints (we have to remove this screw first because…) and causal ones (this is the chemical that catalyzes the process).  We need to identify and determine how to represent.

Once we’ve identified the task, and the associated models, we then need to make these available through the context. And here’s why I’m excited about augmented reality, it’s an obvious way to make the model visible. Quite simply, it can be layered on top of the task itself!   Imagine that the workings behind what you’re doing are available if you want. That you can explore more as you wish, or not, and simply accept the magic ;).

The actual task is the practice, but I’m suggesting providing a model explaining why it’s done this way is the minimum, and providing examples for a representative sample of other appropriate contexts provides support when it’s a richer performance.  Delivered, to be clear, in the context itself. Still, this is what I think really constitutes microlearning.  So what say you?

9 May 2017

Clarifying Microlearning

Clark @ 8:05 am

I was honored to learn that a respected professor of educational technology liked my definition of micro-learning, such that he presented it as a recent conference.  He asked if I still agreed with it, and I looked back at what I’d written more recently. What I found was that I’d suggested some alternate interpretations, so I thought it worthwhile to be absolutely clear about it.

So, the definition he cited was:

Microlearning is a small, but complete, learning experience, layered on top of the task learners are engaged in, designed to help learners learn how to perform the task.

And I agree with this, with a caveat. In the article, I’d said that it could also be a small complete learning experience, period. My clarification on this is that those are unlikely, and the definition he cited was the most likely, and likely most valuable.

So, I’ve subsequently said (and elaborated on the necessary steps):

What I really think microlearning could and should be is for spaced learning.

Here I’m succumbing to the hype, and trying to put a positive spin on microlearning. Spaced learning is a good thing, it’s just not microlearning. And microlearning really isn’t helping them perform the task in the moment (which is a good thing too), but instead leveraging that moment to also extend their understanding.

No, I like the original definition, where we layer learning on top of a task, leveraging the context and requiring the minimal content to take a task and make it a learning opportunity. That, too, is a good thing. At least I think so. What do you think?

3 May 2017

To LMS or not to LMS

Clark @ 8:11 am

A colleague recently asked (in general, not me specifically) whether there’s a role for LMS functions. Her query was about the value of having a place to see (recommended) courses, to track your development, etc. And that led me to ponder, and here’s my thinking:

My question is where to draw the line. Should you do social learning in the LMS version of that, or have a separate system? If using the LMS for social around courses (a good thing), how do you handle the handoff to the social tool used for teams and communities?  It would seem to make sense to use the regular tool in the courses as well, to make it part of the habit.

Similarly, should you host non-course resources in the LMS or out in a portal (which is employee-focused, not siloed)? Maybe the courses also make more sense in the portal, tracked with xAPI?  I think I’d like to track self-learning, via accessing videos and documents the same as I would formal learning with courses: I want to be able to correlate them with business to test the outputs of experiments in changes.

Again, how should I be handling signups for things?  I handle signups for all sorts of things via tools like Eventbrite.  Is asking to signup for a training, with a waiting list, different than other events such as a team party?

Now, for representing your learning, is that an LMS role, or an LRS dashboard, or…?  From a broader perspective, is it talent management or performance management or…?

I’m not saying an LMS doesn’t make sense, but it seems like it’s a minor tool at best, not the central organizing function.  I get that it’s not a learning management system, but a course management system, but is that the right metaphor?  Do we want a learning tracking system instead, and is that what an LMS if or could be for?

When we start making a continuum between formal and informal learning, what’s the right suite of tools? I want to find courses and other things through a federated search of *all* resources. And I want to track many things besides course completions, because those courses should have real world-related assignments, so they’re tracked as work, not learning. Or both. And I want to track things that we’re developing through coaching, or continuing development through coaching and stretch assignments. Is that an LMS, or…?

I have no agenda to put the LMS out of business, as long as it makes sense in modern workplace learning. However, we want to use the right tool for the right job, and create an ecosystem that supports us doing the right thing.  I don’t have an obvious answer, I’m just trying on a rethink (yes, thinking out loud ;), and wondering what your thoughts are.  So, what is the right way to think about this? Do you see a uniquely valuable aggregation of services that makes sense? (And I may have to dig in deeper and think about the essential components and map them out, then we can determine what the right suites of functions are to fulfill those needs.)

2 May 2017

To show or not to show (and when)

Clark @ 8:04 am

At an event the other evening, showing various career technology tools, someone said something that I thought was just wrong. I asked afterwards, and then explained why I thought it was wrong. The response was “well, there can be different ways to go about it”. And frankly, there really can’t.  Think for yourself about why I might say so, and then let me show you why.

The trigger was a design program talking about their design courses. And the representative was saying that once a learner had created a project, it was shown to everybody. Which sounds good, since ‘sharing is caring’, or at least it’s a good example of working out loud. And, in general, this is a good idea. But I think it’s not in learning.

In brainstorming (e.g. informal learning), we know that sharing before others have had their chance to think, it can color their output. This limits the exploration of the total possible space of opportunities that would come from a diverse team. Hearing another response likely will limit that spaces that might get explored. Instead, the goal is to diverge before converging.

And so, too, in learning. I’ve argued for assignment submission systems that only allow you to see the other submissions once you’ve submitted your own. Until you’ve struggled yourself with the challenge, you won’t  get the most out of seeing how others have solved the situation.

If you immediately share the first submission, it may affect those who aren’t that far along yet. Some may even end up holding off to see what others do! This undermines the integrity of the assignment. One explanation that was given was to provide guidance to others, but that, to me, is the role of the assignment specification.

There is, however, real value in seeing the other submissions once you’ve completed yours. Seeing other approaches helps broaden the understanding. Better yet is to have discussion on them, as when critiquing others (constructively) you internalize the monitoring. This discussion also provides the opportunity to experiment with working out loud that eventually develops good working habits.

(I’ve similarly argued, by the way, that ‘rollover’ questions -where the answer is shown once you move your pointer over the question- don’t lead to any meaningful learning. If you haven’t made the mental effort to commit to a response, it won’t stick as well.)

So I believe that, if you’re developing people’s ability to do, you have a responsibility to do so in the most advantageous way. That includes making effort to use the best approach to sharing assignments. I was surprised (and dismayed) to see someone arguing to the contrary! I implore you to do the details on the approaches you work, for your learners’, and the learning’s, sake.

27 April 2017

Innovation Thoughts

Clark @ 8:10 am

So I presented on innovation to the local ATD chapter a few weeks ago, and they did an interesting and nice thing: they got the attendees to document their takeaways. And I promised to write a blog post about it, and I’ve finally received the list of thoughts, so here are my reflections.  As an aside, I’ve written separate articles on L&D innovation recently for both CLO magazine and the Litmos blog so you can check those out, too.

I started talking about why innovation was needed, and then what it was.  They recalled that I pointed out that by definition an innovation is not only a new idea, but one that is implemented and leads to better results.  I made the point that when you’re innovating, designing, researching, trouble-shooting, etc, you don’t know the answer when you start, so they’re learning situations, though informal, not formal.  And they heard me note that agility and adaptation are premised on informal learning of this sort, and that the opportunity is for L&D to take up the mantle to meed the increasing need.

There was interest but some lack of clarity around meta-learning. I emphasize that learning to learn may be your best investment, but given that you’re devolving responsibility you shouldn’t assume that individuals are automatically possessed of optimal learning skills. The focus then becomes developing learning to learn skills, which of needs is done across some other topic. And, of course, it requires the right culture.

There were some terms they heard that they weren’t necessarily clear on, so per the request, here are the terms (from them) and my definition:

  • Innovation by Design: here I mean deliberately creating an environment where innovation can flourish. You can’t plan for innovation, it’s ephemeral, but you can certainly create a felicitous environment.
  • Adjacent Possible: this is a term Steven Johnson used in his book Where Good Ideas Come From, and my take is that it means that lateral inspiration (e.g. ideas from nearby: related fields or technologies) is where innovation happens, but it takes exposure to those ideas.
  • Positive Deviance: the idea (which I heard of from Jane Bozarth) is that the best way to find good ideas is to find people who are excelling and figure out what they’re doing differently.
  • Hierarchy and Equality: I’m not quite sure what they were referring to hear (I think more along the lines of Husband’s Wirearchy versus hierarchy) but the point is to reduce the levels and start tapping into the contributions possible from all.
  • Assigned roles and vulnerability: I’m even less certain what’s being referred to here (I can’t be responsible for everything people take away ;), but I could interpret this to mean that it’s hard to be safe to contribute if you’re in a hierarchy and are commenting on someone above  you.  Which again is an issue of safety (which is why I advocate that leaders ‘work out loud’, and it’s a core element of Edmondson’s Teaming; see below).

I used the Learning Organization Dimensions diagram (Garvin, Edmondson & Gino)  to illustrate the components of successful innovation environment, and these were reflected in their comments. A number mentioned  psychological safety in particular as well as  the other elements of the learning environment. They also picked up on the importance of leadership.

Some other notes that they picked up on included:

  • best principles instead of best practices
  • change is facilitated when the affected individual choose to change
  • brainstorming needs individual work before collective work
  • that trust is required to devolve responsibility
  • the importance of coping with ambiguity

One that was provided that I know I didn’t say because I don’t believe it, but is interesting as a comment:

“Belonging trumps diversity, and security trumps grit”

This is an interesting belief, and I think that’s likely the case if it’s not safe to experiment and make mistakes.

They recalled some of the books I mentioned, so here’s the list:

  • The Invisible Computer by Don Norman
  • The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman
  • My Revolutionize Learning and Development (of course ;)
  • XLR8 by John Kotter (with the ‘dual operating system‘ hypothesis)
  • Teaming to Innovate by Amy Edmondson (I reviewed it)
  • Working Out Loud by John Stepper
  • Scaling Up Excellence by Robert I. Sutton and Huggy Rao (blogged)
  • Organize for Complexity by Niels Pflaeging (though they heard this as a concept, not a title)

It was a great evening, and really rewarding to see that many of the messages stuck. So, what are your thought around innovation?

 

26 April 2017

Human Learning is Not About to Change Forever

Clark @ 8:09 am

In my inbox was an announcement about a new white paper with the intriguing title Human Learning is About to Change Forever. So naturally I gave up my personal details to download a copy.  There are nine claims in the paper, from the obvious to the ridiculous. So I thought I’d have some fun.

First, let’s get clear.  Our learning runs on our brain, our wetware. And that’s not changing in any fundamental way in the near future. As a famous article once had it: phenotypic plasticity triumphs over genotypic plasticity (in short, our human advantage has gained  via our ability to adapt individually and learn from each other, not through species evolution).   The latter takes a long time!

And as a starting premise, the “about to” bit implies these things are around the corner, so that’s going to be a bit of my critique. But nowhere near all of it.  So here’s a digest of the nine claims and my comments:

  1. Enhanced reality tools will transform the learning environment. Well, these tools will certainly augment the learning environment (pun intended :). There’s evidence that VR leads to better learning outcomes, and I have high hopes for AR, too. Though is that a really fundamental transition? We’ve had VR and virtual worlds for over a decade at least.  And is VR a evolutionary or revolutionary change from simulations? Then they go on to talk about performance support. Is that transforming learning? I’m on record saying contextualized learning (e.g. AR) is the real opportunity to do something interesting, and I’ll buy it, but we’re a long way away. I’m all for AR and VR, but saying that it puts learning in the hands of the students is a design issue, not a technology issue.
  2. People will learn collaboratively, no matter where they are.  Um, yes, and…?  They’re already doing this, and we’ve been social learners for as long as we’ve existed. The possibilities in virtual worlds to collaboratively create in 3D I still think is potentially cool, but even as the technology limitations come down, the cognitive limitations remain. I’m big on social learning, but mediating it through technology strikes me as just a natural step, not transformation.
  3. AI will banish intellectual tedium. Everything is awesome. Now we’re getting a wee bit hypish. The fact that software can parse text and create questions is pretty impressive. And questions about semantic knowledge isn’t going to transform education. Whether the questions are developed by hand, or by machine, questions are not intrinsically interesting. And AI is not yet to the level (nor will it be soon) where it can take content and create compelling activities that will drive learners to apply knowledge and make it meaningful.
  4. We will maximize our mental potential with wearables and neural implants. Ok, now we’re getting confused and a wee bit silly. Wearables are cool, and in cases where they can sense things about you and the world means they can start doing some very interesting AR. But transformative? This still seems like a push.  And neural implants?  I don’t like surgery, and messing with my nervous system when you still don’t really understand it? No thanks. There’s a lot more to it than managing to control firing to control limbs. The issue is semantics: if we’re not getting meaning, it’s not really fundamental. And given that our conscious representations are scattered across our cortex in rich patterns, this just isn’t happening soon (nor do I want that much connection; I don’t trust them not to ‘muck about’).
  5. Learning will be radically personalized.  Don’t you just love the use of superlatives? This is in the realm of plausible, but as I mentioned before, it’s not worth it until we’re doing it on top of good design.  Again, putting together wearables (read: context sensing) and personalization will lead to the ability to do transformative AR, but we’ll need a new design approach, more advanced sensors, and a lot more backend architecture and semantic work than we’re yet ready to apply.
  6. Grades and brand-name schools won’t matter for employment.  Sure, that MIT degree is worthless! Ok, so there’s some movement this way.  That will actually be a nice state of affairs. It’d be good if we started focusing on competencies, and build new brand names around real enablement. I’m not optimistic about the prospects, however. Look at how hard it is to change K12 education (the gap between what’s known and what’s practiced hasn’t significantly diminished in the past decades). Market forces may change it, but the brand names will adapt too, once it becomes an economic necessity.
  7. Supplements will improve our mental performance.  Drink this and you’ll fly! Yeah, or crash. There are ways I want to play with my brain chemistry, and ways I don’t. As an adult!  I really don’t want us playing with children, risking potential long-term damage, until we have a solid basis.  We’ve had chemicals support performance for a while (see military use), but we’re still in the infancy, and here I’m not sure our experiments with neurochemicals can surpass what evolution has given us, at least not without some pretty solid understanding.  This seems like long-term research, not near-term plausibility.
  8. Gene editing will give us better brains.  It’s alive!  Yes, Frankenstein’s monster comes to mind here. I do believe it’s possible that we’ll be able to outdo evolution eventually, but I reckon there’s still not everything known about the human genome or the human brain. This similarly strikes me as a valuable long term research area, but in the short term there are so many interesting gene interactions we don’t yet understand, I’d hate to risk the possible side-effects.
  9. We won’t have to learn: we’ll upload and download knowledge. Yeah, it’ll be great!  See my comments above on neural implants: this isn’t yet ready for primetime.  More importantly, this is supremely dangerous. Do I trust what you say you’re making available for download?  Certainly not the case now with many things, including advertisements. Think about downloading to your computer: not just spam ads, but viruses and malware.  No thank you!  Not that I think it’s close, but I’m not convinced we can ‘upgrade our operating system’ anyway. Given the way that our knowledge is distributed, the notion of changing it with anything less than practice seems implausible.

Overall, this is reads like more a sci-fi fan’s dreams than a realistic assessment of what we should be preparing for.  No, human learning isn’t going to change forever.  The ways we learn, e.g. the tools we learn with are changing, and we’re rediscovering how we really learn.

There are better guides available to what’s coming in the near term that we should prepare for.  Again, we need to focus on good learning design, and leveraging technology in ways that align with how our brains work, not trying to meld the two.  So, there’re my opinions, I welcome yours.

25 April 2017

Workplace of the Future video

Clark @ 8:07 am

Someone asked for a video on the Workplace of the Future project, so I created one. Thought I’d share it with you, too.  Just a walkthrough with some narration, talking about some of the design decisions.

One learning for me (that I’m sure you knew): a script really helps!  It took multiple tries, for a variety of reasons.  I’m not a practiced video creator, so gentle, please!

19 April 2017

Top 10 Tools for @C4LPT 2017

Clark @ 8:06 am

Jane Hart is running her annual Top 100 Tools for Learning poll (you can vote too), and here’s my contribution for this year.  These are my personal learning tools, and are ordered according to Harold Jarche’s Seek-Sense-Share models, as ways to find answers, to process them, and to share for feedback:

  1. Google Search is my go-to tool when I come across something I haven’t heard of. I typically will choose the Wikipedia link if there is one, but also will typically open several other links and peruse across them to generate a broader perspective.
  2. I use GoodReader on my iPad to read PDFs and mark up journal submissions.  It’s handy for reading when I travel.
  3. Twitter is one of several ways I keep track of what people are thinking about and looking at. I need to trim my list again, as it’s gotten pretty long, but I keep reminding myself it’s drinking from the firehose, not full consumption!  Of course, I share things there too.
  4. LinkedIn is another tool I use to see what’s happening (and occasionally engage in). I have a group for the Revolution, which largely is me posting things but I do try to stir up conversations.  I also see and occasionally comment on posting by others.
  5. Skype let’s me stay in touch with my ITA colleagues, hence it’s definitely a learning tool. I also use it occasionally to have conversations with folks.
  6. Slack is another tool I use with some groups to stay in touch. People share there, which makes it useful.
  7. OmniGraffle is my diagramming tool, and diagramming is a way I play with representing my understandings. I will put down some concepts in shapes, connect them, and tweak until I think I’ve captured what I believe. I also use it to mindmap keynotes.
  8. Word is a tool I use to play with words as another way to explore my thinking. I use outlines heavily and I haven’t found a better way to switch between outlines and prose. This is where things like articles, chapters, and books come from. At least until I find a better tool (haven’t really got my mind around Scrivener’s organization, though I’ve tried).
  9. WordPress is my blogging tool (what I’m using here), and serves both as a thinking tool (if I write it out, it forces me to process it), but it’s also a share tool (obviously).
  10. Keynote is my presentation tool. It’s where I’ll noodle out ways to share my thinking. My presentations may get rendered to Powerpoint eventually out of necessity, but it’s my creation and preferred presentation tool.

Those are my tools, now what are yours?  Use the link to let Jane know, her collection and analysis of the tools is always interesting.

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