Make It Meaningful by Clark Quinn – Idea Extractions – Part One

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In his latest book, Make It Meaningful, Clark Quinn mentions several ideas that aim to transform the way we design for learning. The book has a lot packed in its 133 pages, and writing and building on these concepts is my way of thinking through these ideas. I hope reading through this helps you as much as it helps me design for deeper learning experiences.

Part One – Action & Reflection

Clark starts the book by saying, “The ability to make better decisions is why we learn.” As a gamification designer, I tend to think about everything from the perspective of a game, and it amazes me how this statement holds true for every single game.

We predict/suspect things working a certain way, and then act according to our prediction/suspicion in life as well as in a game. One of the common things in most games and in real life is RNG (Random Number Generators) or randomness, and however you choose to act, the outcome will always be laced with randomness.

Clark goes on to mention that according to a neuroscientist ‘Karl Friston’, “We learn to minimize the gap between our predictions and the real outcomes.”

Therefore, Learning = Better Decisions = Accurate Predictions & Outcomes

So our actions are essentially the calculated predictions that lead us to our desired outcomes.

A great poker player Annie Duke, the author of ‘Thinking in Bets’ would definitely agree with this as poker is about constantly trying to increase your odds of winning the hand through better decisions that you make by learning more about the play styles of other players.

(Oh, the interconnectedness!)

Clark goes on to mention, “Learning in life, I maintain, is action & reflection. We do things, and when we reflect on them, we can detect patterns and build explanatory models that guide our choices.” He also mentions that usually the action-reflection bit isn’t always consciously attained, but when we make a conscious effort to learn through the loops of action-reflection, we learn deeply – that’s how our cognitive architecture is designed.

All Chess Grandmasters reflect on their games and remember all the move sequences that were made by them and their opponents from 20 years back and the nuances of why those moves were made. Expert gamers have always similarly reflected on their games and actions.

While deliberate action reflection makes total sense within gaming contexts and is widely adopted by professional gamers and athletes, designing for guided reflections within learning experiences may get tricky in corporate settings, especially if the problem to be solved for isn’t diagnosed with clinical accuracy. This would be my only bone to pick with Clark.

What I understand from the broader idea of action-reflection is that effective learning transfer happens when we design actions that help the learners become better decision-makers in their role. This has to be supported by guiding them towards reflecting on those decisions so that better decisions and the reason for them being better are cemented in the learners’ brains. A continuous loop of action-reflection would make for a formidable learning experience.

Clark also stresses the idea that the focus of learning experiences should be decisions. He mentions that “What will typically make a difference in performance is the ability to make the right decisions.“ He also goes on to quote one of my favorite game designers ‘Sid Meier’, the designer of the famous Civilisation series who stated, “A game is a series of interesting decisions.” Clark adds to this by saying, ”Good learning is a series of important decisions.”

For those who haven’t played the Civilisation series, there’s no plot as such in Civilisation and yet every campaign has a different path to success, and you make stories that are extremely unique to you. So, Civilisation is essentially a series of game mechanics that, if put together, give you a different story every single game depending on how you play it and what decisions you make.

While ‘Good Learning’ according to Clark is a series of important decisions, can it also be a unique and personal experience every time you choose to go through those decisions to help guide your reflection with a lot more ease? Watch this space for more on this.

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