Review of Clark Quinn’s New Book: Revolutionize Learning and Development: Performance and Innovation Strategy for the Information Age.

One of my favorite people in the workplace-learning space is Clark Quinn. Smart, passionate, and research-based, Clark has been consulting on learning and learning technology for decades. We worked on the Serious eLearning Manifesto together. We attempted—and failed—to build a community of workplace learning thought leaders. We commiserate frequently. I feel that I know some of what is in Clark’s heart. Now you can too!

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With publication of his new book, Revolutionize Learning and Development, Clark shares his unbridled passion for our field. His book is a cross between a furious Charles Bukowski poem and a winding Jack Kerouac road trip. His words stream like a molten-steel lava flow of wisdom, love, and thunder.

Clark loves what we do. He just wishes with hope that we did it better. He puts the focus on on-the-job performance, saying that our learning solutions should be aimed at creating results in the workplace. Indeed, Clark nimbly changes our name from the Learning and Development team to the Performance and Development team! Learning is just a means to performance.

Clark comes to his wisdom based on years of immersion in the learning research and working on practical learning-design issues. Early in the book he explains how the brain works and how its architecture should impact our learning designs. This is very helpful because too many of us in the learning field think that conscious information transfer is all that’s needed, when in fact most of our work is done subconsciously.

In the book, Clark highlights the need for us to redouble our focus on two areas, performance consulting and development facilitation. Performance consulting looks at how to optimize execution. It requires that we analyze tasks and root causes before we develop appropriate solutions—and, incidentally, it demands that we not always look to training as the solution. Development facilitation is focused on how people develop their knowledge and skills over time. Where performance consulting works directly through our outside efforts, development facilitation helps “people improve while working on their own and together.”

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Nuggets From the Book:

  • “Our species has in many ways survived because we learned how to physically augment our resources.” We learned how to overcome our tendency to forget by providing ourselves with informational sources, including such things as reference materials, job aids, and performance support.
  • We in the workplace learning-and-performance field used to have a responsibility to help people execute their job tasks better. Now we also have a responsibility to help them be innovative.
  • We, as workplace learning-and-performance professionals, need to work backwards. “We need to identify the performance we desire and then decide how to distribute information among the individual, network, and resources—digital and real.”
  • “As much as possible, we should resist trying to change the individual, as this is difficult…Our focus must be on how we want people to perform, and we must figure out what can be ‘in the world’… and then what has to be ‘in the head.’”
  • “The principle here is to recognize that, when we want people to perform in a resourced environment, we should develop the formal learning to incorporate the performance resources in the [learning] experience. If we can avoid formal learning, we can and should, be when we can’t, we should develop the resources before we develop the training.”
  • “The very first thing to do is to stop doing what we are doing. That, arguably, is impossible, yet there needs to be fundamental change. We have to stop being order-takers and start being performance consultants and improvement facilitators.”
  • On-the-job learning requires an environment where people feel safe to contribute and make mistakes, diversity is valued, people and groups are open to new ideas, and time is made for reflection. We, as learning professionals, can help enable these tendencies.
  • “A performance support focus is a better starting point for organizations than courses!”
  • “A real revolution in social tools has taken place…these capabilities need to be leveraged for learning as well.”
  • “The room is smarter than the smartest person in the room if you manage the process right. If not, the room might be only as smart as the most dominant person in the room or the one with the most authority.”
  • Workplace learning professionals should consider the “Least Assistance Principle.” It’s counterintuitive for many of us, but it basically suggests that we answer the question, ‘What’s the least I can do to guide performance?’” So instead of jumping in with a training solution, we should consider alternatives first.
  • Formal learning methods are fine for novices but for experts more informal learning methods are needed. See graph below.

 
Critiques of Our Current Practices:

  • Our tendency to have a course/event mindset keeps us from achieving real change.
  • Our tendency to focus on providing knowledge keeps us from focusing on decision-making and task competency.
  • Instead of designing instruction to make the learning intrinsically interesting, we use all manner of attention-getting gimmicks like throwing rubber squish-balls around the room.
  • One of the key things we do wrong is provide insufficient practice. “And we practice until someone gets it right, instead of practicing until they can’t get it wrong.”
  • As an industry we seem incapable of making job aids, even when they are often much more effective than training or training alone.

 
Criticism:

There’s one thing that I regret about the book. Clark needed, and deserved, a better editor/publisher—one who would have wrestled his lightning-bolt wisdom into a tighter package. For example, the book uses the term, “To Hand,” but even after going through the book twice, I still don’t get what that means.

 
Summary:

Banging the drum for revolution, Clark Quinn has done our field a great favor! His research-based focus is on target. His call for a performance-focus captures the high ground.

If you’re new to the idea of a performance focus, the book will help you see through the smoke of current practices.

If you’re a performance true believer, you’ll deepen your passion and restock your armaments with fresh insights and imperatives.

You can buy the book by clicking below.

 

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