An Example of Emergent Learning

The open connectivism courses that are run by Stephen Downes and George Siemens are rich with examples of emergent learning and whether or not intended, the design of these courses can promote emergent learning.

The CCK11 Elluminate session on Friday last (4 th Feb – recording here) was an example of this. Stephen found himself moderating the session on his own (George couldn’t make it), with 40 participants – the majority of whom were reluctant (and actually always are reluctant) to take the microphone – no doubt for a number of good reasons. So for the most part Stephen found himself on his own talking to 40 faceless people.

What is so interesting about these Friday round up sessions is that there is no planned agenda. Participants are asked to come to the session with topics/questions for discussion that have arisen from the week’s work, but we are not asked to post these questions in advance – so there’s no way the facilitators – in this case Stephen – can know what is coming at them or whether they will be able to answer the questions raised. This requires such a different approach to ‘teaching’ – a different mind set about what it’s all about and a different view of the meaning of learning.

Through this ‘openness’ a variety of different topics can be discussed.  There were a couple of points that struck me from Friday’s session.

First that we learn by pruning unused connections. This is really counter-intuitive for me.

And second and even more interesting was the fascinating discussion by Stephen about breaking apart the meaning of words from what they represent. He took the example of the word ‘Paris’ and showed that this means different things to different people. It could mean the city Paris, or Paris Hilton, or plaster of Paris etc. If it means city to me then my understanding of ‘city’ is based on all my prior experience which is different from anyone elses. That would also be the case for any of the other meanings of Paris. So around each possible meaning there is a network of meanings and around each of those a network and so on. This is enormously complex and unique to each person. So here is the crunch:

If this is the case then it must be impossible to transfer one person’s network (understanding) to another person.

This seems so obvious, but if it is then why does the transmission mode of teaching still exist?

I attended the session with no idea that I would come out of it with this very strong message about why a transmission model of teaching is unlikely to be successful. It could be that no one else recognised this as a possible message. It is unlikely that Stephen knew he was going to be talking about Paris before the session began.

So Friday’s session was for me an experience of emergent learning in action.

Emergent Learning Webinar

Please note that this webinar will now start half an hour earlier at 12.30 pm GMT

On Tuesday 15th February (1.00 pm – 2.30 pm GMT) I will be joining Roy Williams and Regina Karousou to run a lunchtime webinar for the ELESIG community about our paper ‘Emergent Learning and Learning Ecologies in Web 2.0’ which is due to be published in the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning online journal within the next month or so.

The paper will be included in a special issue on connectivism.

Yesterday Roy, Regina and I had a Skype call to plan the webinar. In our paper we have explored ‘the nature of emergence and emergent learning, and the conditions that enable emergent, self-organised learning to occur and to flourish’. It was therefore interesting to consider what a webinar that would encourage emergent learning might look like. We are hoping that the webinar will be very interactive and also that participants will feel that they have the opportunity to follow their own lines of enquiry. It is actually quite hard to plan for both structure and openness 🙂 This is one of the problems that we discussed in our paper.

Our planning meeting yesterday brought home even more strongly that a commitment to encouraging emergent learning will necessarily impact on curriculum design. There is still plenty to think about in relation to emergent learning and we are hoping that between us at the webinar we can consider alternative perspectives and dig a bit deeper into the meaning of emergent learning.

If this interests you, do join us on Feb 15th.

Critical thinking

I attended a useful lunchtime session this week at the University of Lancaster (UK)  on the subject of criticial thinking – how to introduce it to students and how to recognise it.

The session was led by Jenny Moon, Centre for Excellence in Media Practice, Bournemouth University, UK, who is also very well known for her work on Reflective Learning.

The critical thinking workshop was based on her book ‘Critical thinking, an exploration in theory and practice‘ which she published in 2008. It was a very interactive session in which we were required to work through an exercise designed to introduce and improve the quality of critical thinking. The exercise that we worked through and others are freely available online at her website. Clicking on ‘Critical Thinking’ takes you to a document full of activities to work on with students. We worked on Resource 5 – ‘The incident on a walk’.

The idea of the activity was to take us through four written accounts of the same incident, each one showing progressively increased critical thinking. We read each account in turn, discussing in a group after reading each account the extent to which the account demonstrated critical thinking. This is a useful exercise as the comparison between accounts highlights the elements of critical thinking and how writing can shift from superficial critical thinking to deep critical thinking. The identification of these shifts then leads to a framework for critical thinking and its representations.

What was interesting about the workshop was how little talking Jenny Moon did, yet on leaving the workshop I could hear people all around me saying how much they had learned.  Of course each person would have learned something different. As Jenny Moon said at the beginning of the session ‘Critical thinking is a different thing to different people’.