When it comes to myths and superstitions, most of us don’t consider those terms in conjunction with learning. But as leaders in the business of lifelong learning, it’s important to understand these common misconceptions and the impact they can potentially have on the learning outcome.
Dr. Clark Quinn’s latest book, Millennials, Goldfish & Other Training Misconceptions: Debunking Learning Myths and Superstitions, debunks common assumptions of good learning design to help you avoid wasting time and resources on practices not backed by research. Clark has over thirty years of experience in the design, development, and evaluation of educational technology and he helps organizations work smarter by leveraging technology that better aligns with how we think, work, and learn.
In this episode of the Leading Learning podcast, Celisa talks with Clark about misconceptions in learning, the importance of designing for the situation rather than the learner, and the dangers of “best practices”.
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[01:37] – A preview of what will be covered in this podcast where Celisa interviews educational technology expert, speaker, and author, Clark Quinn.
[03:36] – Introduction to Clark and some additional background information about himself and his work.
[06:o4] – Your latest book, Millennials, Goldfish & Other Training Misconceptions: Debunking Learning Myths and Superstitions, prompted me to invite you to be a guest here on the Leading Learning Podcast, so let’s start there first. You don’t address only myths; you also include superstitions and misconceptions. Would you explain learning myths vs. learning superstitions vs. learning misconceptions? Clark explains that myths are things that people adopt and try to accommodate in their designs that we know aren’t so and there’s evidence that these things don’t do any good and can in fact, do harm. Superstitions are practices that he doesn’t think people even consciously would accept but it shows up in their practices and behaviors—so it’s more implicit than explicit. Misconceptions are where there are a lot of undifferentiated viewpoints and you’re trying to make sense of something so you know what makes sense for you to adopt or not.
[08:09] – Is there a scale of severity for the myths, superstitions, and misconceptions you lay out? Is there one that seems more egregious, more dangerous, more counterproductive to learning than the others? Clark says they are all worth addressing because it’s not just about wasting money—some of these things will actually undermine good design and lead you to things that can actually hurt the learning outcome instead of helping it. The severity may be how persistent they are and how hard they are to kill. Learning styles, he says, in an amazing zombie because everybody recognizes that learners differ but we can’t reliably identify a learner’s particular style because so many things affect it. So we should design learning for the learning outcome we are trying to achieve, rather than for a particular learning style.
[10:58] – At multiple points in Millennials, Goldfish & Other Training Misconceptions, you make the point that too often we’re tempted to design for the learner, when we should really design for the material. Would you unpack that statement—what does it mean to design for the learning and not the learner? Clark explains that for learning outcomes, we have different types of goals and they may require different types of processes. One of the things he addresses in the book is Bloom’s Taxonomy, which he says isn’t really well structured. Learning science talks about the certain types of outcomes you want and to accomplish these, they require different types of practice and that’s what we should be focusing on making sure we’re doing. So when figuring out the appropriate approach, you should find out what the learning outcome you need is and then align the learning to that. Clark adds that this also weighs in when deciding which media to use since there are cognitive properties associated with the different types (i.e. videos, photos, diagrams, etc.). If you understand the learning outcome you’re trying to achieve and how that plays out through our cognitive architecture, you can make better choices—the right choices.
[14:03] – One of the specific misconceptions you tackle in the book is the claim that microlearning is the solution to learning. You note that microlearning encompasses several different facets of learning—it can be used for performance support, spaced learning, and contextualized learning. What does that more nuanced view of microlearning, that understanding that there are different facets, mean for the effective design and use of microlearning? Clark points out that it really brings up the question about whether you should use the phrase “microlearning” at all because it leaves it open to interpretation—people may be thinking they’re getting “x” when instead they’re getting “y”. Clark says a mistake that people make is thinking when you take a big course and chunk it up into little ten-minute sections to stream it out over time, that’s microlearning and will lead to better learning outcomes but that’s actually not true. When you break things up into chunks and give little bits over time, some, if not all of these are going to atrophy and you’ll have to bring them back at the right schedule. So there are nuances with doing the spaced learning and calling it microlearning which don’t accurately convey the meaning. Clark also talks about performance support and how there are nuances with doing that right—learning isn’t necessarily an outcome. He mentions the “least assistance principle”– what’s the least assistance that will get people to success?
[17:51] – In your book, you caution against the idea that we can lift best practices from another situation and place them as is in our situation, and this is something we at Tagoras have cautioned against, especially in the area of learning strategy. Given the limitations of best practices, what’s the value in looking at what other organizations are doing with learning and where they’re successful? Are there ways we can use those case studies? Clark recommends that if you look at those good examples of best practices that worked for others, you can abstract the principles about why it worked—so you need to decontextualize it. So instead of best practices, you’re abstracting the best principles and then you re-contextualize those. And Clark suggests finding the people who have abstracted those principles and have them come in and assist you for your particular situation because you can’t just copy what someone else has done—you have to understand why it worked and how you have to revise that.
[20:33] – As a final question about Millennials, Goldfish & Other Training Misconceptions, what do you think makes these myths, superstitions, and misconceptions so prevalent and persistent? What’s the root cause of our less than ideal understanding of and use of sound learning principles? Clark shares the reason they’re so persistent is they simplify the world in a way that resonates with our own interpretations. But the problem is that our explanations of the world aren’t necessarily well aligned with the world. So the inferences we make to simplify things are often wrong. He points out our brains are arguably one of the most complex things in the known universe and the notion that simplistic solutions are going to make systematic changes in such a complex thing is kind of silly. We have some very good principles about what makes good learning design but it requires the learning instead of these simplistic concepts that sound nice and are appealing but happen to be wrong.
[24:21] – You’ve been involved in the design, development, and evaluation of educational technology for more than 30 years. What key changes, for better or for worse, have you seen during that time? Clark says oftentimes there’s a trajectory with technologies and talks about how the Gartner Hype Cycle is a nice way to represent it. He points out there’s not enough understanding of learning science in the industry and that in the past we looked for fast and cheap tools in eLearning. In 2014, Clark joined with Michael Allen, Julie Dirksen and Will Thalheimer to create the Serious eLearning Manifesto trying to bring that back. He hopes the success of his book is going to help and that it’s indicative of a growing interest in trying to do things smart and right. We’ll continue to see new technologies and we’ll continue to hear hype about it but he’s hoping we can raise people’s awareness of how to cut through that and be systematic about it. Clark says he’s an optimist because ultimately what L&D has to bring to the table is understanding and facilitating learning and increasingly that’s going to be the differentiator. As change happens faster and faster, the organizations that learn fastest are going to be the ones that survive and L&D can and should be facilitating that. If they’re beginning to be the catalyst for the best innovation in the organization, they’re going to be the most critical to that organization’s success and that’s a huge opportunity, one he hopes we can take advantage of.
*Make sure to check out our previous interviews with Michael (Building Interactive, Fun, and Effective e-Learning with Michael Allen), Julie (Design for How People Learn with Julie Dirksen), and Will (Rethinking a Dangerous Art Form with Dr. Will Thalheimer).
[28:15] -What’s on the horizon for learning and/or educational technology? Are there any big changes you think or hope we’ll see in the next few years? Clark talks about an initiative that the IEEE is working on with learning engineering to figure out the necessary competencies to start integrating technology and learning science more systematically in preparing people to take on those roles. Because we’re seeing technology advance by leaps and bounds, if we can successfully mesh that with what we understand about our brains we have huge opportunities. The technologies he’s excited about are taking content and beginning to carve it up and tag it so we can start pulling it up description instead of by hardwiring together courses. That’s where we’re going to start getting personalization, adaptivity, and contextual learning.
[30:33] – What is one of the most powerful learning experiences you’ve been involved in, as an adult, since finishing your formal education? Clark shares about an experience where he worked on a game for kids who grew up without parents to help them learn and survive in the game before they had to on the streets. This helped shaped his thinking and in fact his book, Engaging Learning: Designing e-Learning Simulation Games came in large part from reflecting on that experience. It was one of the most rewarding things he’s done in terms of creating a solution that meets a real need.
[34:30] – How to connect with Clark and/or learn more:
- Website: quinnovation.com
- Clark’s Blog: learnlets.com
[35:52]– Wrap Up
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[37:58] – Sign off
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