Saturday, June 11

Understanding Systems Content

Anyone who creates formal learning experiences has to understand how something happens in order to present it, to test it, and increasingly to create an environment where people can play/practice in it.

To do this beyond the most simple examples, the next generation of educational content creators are going to have to get good at identifying and building systems. Spreadsheets, STELLA, and some of Forio's tools all are places to practice. Computer games are places to see the results of some interesting systems that others have built.

Just some of the terms that soon should be commonpace are:
  • Energy of activation
  • Feedback
  • Feedback loops
  • Negative feedback loops
  • Blancing factors
  • Delay
  • Pendulums
  • Noise
  • Load balancing
  • All-or-nothing activation
  • Fuzzy logic
  • Throttles
  • Butterfly effect
  • Geometric growth
  • Primary variables
  • Secondary and tertiary variables
  • Chaos theory
  • Rate determining steps
  • Calibrating agents
  • Nodes and supernodes
  • Short-term fixes
  • State-based systems
We will have to look at physics and chemistry, engineering, even environmental studies for the right language. This list may seem daunting to some. But I believe it will be second nature to increasingly large numers of instructional designers.


Clark Quinn said...

Actually, Clark, I'd go a wee bit further. I think modelling systems is a skill that more than just designers will need to acquire, going forward. I reckon it's part of a new curriculum (way beyond No Child Left Untested) about design, systems-thinking, leadership, etc.

And in the experience I've had with some clients, it's not that the designers or SMEs have to be able to model it, but they have to be able to express it (guided by some appropriate questions) in a way that someone can model it, but it may be a programmer, not necessarily a learning designer.

It's hard to do a good job of creating a compelling storyline, and it's hard to model as a set of rules, variables, etc, and, as my colleague Debbie Zimmerman has remarked, it's hard to try to do both. Her recommendation, which I second, is to have a team, not just one person trying to do both. Because when you're trying to create a compelling experience, it's hard to want to think in rules, and when you're trying to create an elegant rule system, it's hard to deal with hiccups that might make a better rule system.

jay said...

It would be less confusing to comment here if one of you Clarks would kindly change your name.

That said, I agree with Clark A but see his systems vocabulary as but one of many lenses through which to improve learning effectiveness. If, for example, I put on my storyteller glasses, I'd tell you that you need to know about personas, dialog, emotion, metaphor, myth, etc.

I've been toying with the concept of pattern languages for instruction & performance improvement. This approach recognizes the utility of designing from different perspectives.

David Grebow said...

I do not know who The Clark's (espcially Clark A) and Jay have as clients.I actually envious. If I so much as started a conversation using most of Clark A's list, with the clients with whom I'm working, I'd be skewered, roasted and passed around the conference table for lunch.

Whatever happeneed to workflow? How are we reducing the cost of education of employees while increasing their time to performance? Do your clients have infinite amounts of time&money to spend on education, learning, training? Mine do not.

Training in the workplace is not in my experience a PhD sport. It is a down and gritty way of quickly getting the know-how to the people that need it most, when they need it, to help keep their companies profitable and competitive. btw that's globally competitive.

Funny how I have this feeling that the ones who are doing the best job will never contribute (or even lurk) to this blog until we get real - versus academic - about learning in the workplace. Perhaps that's why our numbers of readers are so low.

Clark Quinn said...

Two quick rejoinders: first to Jay, others have already been thinking about patterns, at least for classroom learning.

And, KnowledgeStar (sorry, haven't tracked down your name, if I even can :), I've been broaching model-based training to clients in terms of how to get their people up to speed faster and more durably. And model-based learning, to other clients, with some progress. So the opportunities are there.

The costs are less than many people think, if you invest in upfront thinking on clever design and minimize production.

And sometimes the amortization across populations makes the big investment possible, when the consequences are expensive or the audience is big: Prensky mentions a big 5 consulting (name escapes me) that had a case where they did such a project.

David Grebow said...

Clark Q. A few comments. We live in a celebrity based culture. Each demi monde has their celebs. We have ours - Jay, Elliott and now Clark (A) for example. People who spread ideas with have the weight of their persona behind them, often seem to make the idea seem better, brighter, somehow more reasoned and worth entertaining.

I decided to try an experiment with this blog. Pick another name so NO one knew who I was (maybe I am no one, may be I'm a famous edu celeb as well?) and chuck my name. Any ideas or thoughts I put out there stand on their on. Any insights I have exist independently of that persona known as 'me'.

It's very liberating. I'm free not to be me. I've stepped outside the celebrity culture. The number of books I've authored, the letters after my name, my work and teaching posts, my speaking engagements, are all irrelevant to the moment and the idea being blogged or riposted.

And thank you for your comments. I think we work in different environments - your perhaps more corporate mine more academic. I'll test the 'concept' of DGBL and modeling. Presented correctly i.e. within the proper context, it may gain some traction among the younger more 'game-adept' thinkers. The other Elders will simply zone off into the "schoolwork is not about games" space.

I'd be interested in a more precise site for Prensky and the Big 4. I'd also be interested in what you think about his statement that "... computer games are more effective learning tools because they sustain interest and attention in settings where people are normally bored."

Which came first: the DGBL or changing the boredom level of the setting?

Bill Bruck said...

As I've been starting to read a lot of the posts in th eLearning Circuits Blog, it does seem to me that a lot of the situations many folks face here are ones that are perceived as inherently boring to the learners, or at least there's a lot of writing about how to make the experience compelling or motivating or interesting to learners via games etc.

I'd like to offer a couple thoughts about this from the types of situations I work with customers with.

First, as I've said in other responses, if there's a clear line of sight to a personal benefit, extrinsic motivational techniques become much less important (vis the "crumpled paper" metaphor someone mentioned that Elliott used once).

Second, I find that anohter intrinsic motivational factor is when there are real people having real conversations. As a 'fer instance, we're supporting a group of professional trainees online for two months prior to their 4-week ILT, then for 6 months afterwards. They get to know each other, they converse, and then then ask each other for advise - sort of like virtual prairie dogging (popping the head over the cube wall). "Interesting people talking about interesting things"

Third, one of our folks has a phrase that I've started adopting - "people pay attention to what the boss pays attention to." When we've put action learning projects for AVPs being considered for promotion online, and giving visibility to senior staff, AND if a few senior staff participate in that discussion space, we find that the AVPs do too. Duh.

We even find this in more structured feedback settings. When we've asked managers to post SMART objectives with HR Generalists giving feedback, or when we've asked claim adjusters to post file documentation with senior specialists helping them justify their decisions more appropriately - there just isn't a real problem with adoption and completion.

It's people working with people.

Of course, it's helpful if the technology supports this - if the technology tracks and reports on the behaviors of the learners, the small group interacting with them, and the coaches providing feedback. But even without it, I believe the principles are sound.



Bill Bruck (Q2Learning)
Collaborative Learning Blog
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