A Conversation with Clark Quinn

The other day I had a chance to catch up with Clark Quinn, he is passionate about the field of L&D and has been a thought leader in the field for sometime guiding thinking and change in a number of areas.

He has written a number of books on many topics in the field. His latest is Revolutionize Learning & Development where he discusses the need for the field to change and change dramatically. You may recognize Clark from L&D conferences and from his frequent leadership in the #lrnchat Twitter chats on Thursday evenings.

Here is part of our enjoyable conversation.

Kapp: Can you tell us a little about yourself and what you do?

Quinn: I help organizations use technology to optimize performance and facilitate innovation. I saw the connections between computers and learning as an undergraduate, and that’s been my life ever since. After a job designing and programming educational computer games, I went back to get a Ph.D. in applied cognitive science to better understand how we can leverage technology to help us achieve our goals. I’ve been fortunate to be able to stay on the cutting edge of technology, including games, mobile, adaptive systems, and more, helping folks leverage new developments in ways that cut through the hype and find the core value opportunities. I consult through Quinnovation, blog at Learnlets, and tweet as @quinnovator.

Kapp: You’ve been in the field for a while, what is the most dramatic change you’ve seen in your tenure within the field?

Quinn: I have been in the field for a long while, thanks for mentioning it ;), and the most dramatic change I’ve seen is the maturation of our understanding of how we think, work, and learn. We’ve gone from a view that all thinking is in the head to a recognition that our thinking is very much situated in the world. And we’ve gone from thinking a top-down hierarchy is the ultimate goal in business to realizing that empowering people is the successful path. Further, we’ve gone from a belief that learning is like school to a recognition that learning happens through meaningful practice with guided reflection.

Unfortunately, while we’ve also had phenomenal developments in technology, most notably the internet and the world wide web, we’re still lagging in aligning the technology capabilities with our understanding of ourselves. We are still broadcasting classrooms, we’re still developing our systems in line with our business silos, and we’re locking down the connections people could be making with the world.

Kapp: You have just written a fascinating and provocative new book “Revolutionize Learning and Development.” Can you tell us a little about the book and why you wrote it.

Quinn: The book emerged as a reaction to the frustration I’ve felt seeing the huge contributions Learning & Development (L&D) could be making, but is missing. The recognition of how people work, individually and together, provides a rich opportunity to support people at the moment of need, develop them over time, and facilitate their interactions.

The writing is well and truly on the wall: optimal execution will only be the cost of entry, and continual innovation will be the only sustainable differentiator for organizations. Training only helps on the optimal execution side, and only if it’s done well (which, by and large, it’s not, c.f. the Serious eLearning Manifesto, elearningmanifesto.org). There’s so much more L&D can do: include performance support, facilitate communication and collaboration, and more.

L&D has to address this. Currently, L&D is an appendage to the organization who’s value is dropping. Unless L&D can make a shift to a strategic contribution, having an impact on real business metrics, I fear it is doomed to extinction.

The book is the argument for, the understandings needed, and the path to a new L&D, one that has a fundamental role in organizational success.

Kapp: Why do you think that L&D professionals are slow to change our field and what are some ways they might increase the rate of change or adaptation to the information age?

Quinn: I have to admit being puzzled by the barriers to change, and suspect they’re much as many others face: too many things to do and not enough time to do it. My recommendations are mostly that the key is personal knowledge mastery, as suggested by my colleague Harold Jarche, and that L&D folks need to understand that they have to stay on top of developments in effective ways so that they can understand and facilitate these skills for others.

The new workplace is about working smarter by working out loud, working together, and learning faster. L&D has to live this, and then share it with others. The learning organization where there is concrete awareness of how to work and learn effectively, it is modeled and fine tuned, and done in a culture where it’s safe to share, where new ideas are welcome, where diversity is valued, and perhaps most importantly where there’s time for reflection are key. That’s true for an organization that will be successful, as well as business units including L&D.

Kapp: Finally, any advice for graduate students just entering the field of instructional design?

Quinn: Instructional design is ultimately about helping people achieve their goals and it’s a noble calling, so do it justice and continue to develop yourself. Mentor yourself to someone, even by stealth (follow those who learn out loud on twitter and read their blogs and you’ll see how they’re putting the pieces together). Read relevant books, interact with others in your field both within and without the organization by attending events online or face to face. Don’t be complacent, and don’t just be professional, be passionate (or move on to something you are passionate about).

Go beyond the narrow definition of instructional design. Get on board with performance consulting, looking at the performance gap and the root cause, and use all the relevant tools. Consider that emotion is an element too often neglected in learning, we don’t address motivation or anxiety yet these both have an effect on learning. Go deeper and broader, look more into the learning sciences, look at related fields like experience design, marketing, organizational change. Play with technology, too; don’t follow every fad, but if it sticks around past it’s first bubble of hype, check it out. And understand people, looking at the results that come out about how we think, work, and learn.

Be wary of hype. There are many myths that don’t stand up under scrutiny but continue to dog our footsteps: digital natives & generations, learning styles, Dale’s Cone, the list goes on. Ask the tough questions.

Be optimistic, curious, and persistent. Good luck!

Here are some of Clark’s many books.

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