Emergent learning: the designer’s role, the learner’s experience

Discussions about our recently published paper, Footprints of Emergence,  continue, particularly with respect to the relationship between curriculum design intentions and the learner experience.

We have been discussing the paper with the CPsquare community, a group of academic colleagues from FH JOANNEUM, ZML-Innovative Learning Scenarios  and others. These discussions are ongoing and we share our current thinking on this wiki . Anyone who is interested in Footprints of Emergence is welcome to join.

The following points in our recent discussions have caught my attention:

Our experience (i.e. the authors of Footprints of Emergence) is that drawing a footprint from the design perspective and from the learner experience perspective can result in very different images for the same course. This raises the question of whether designer intentions and learner experience can be aligned.

If they can’t, then to what extent can the learner experience be validated by anyone other than the learner?

At this point I need to explain that the learner experience in terms of ‘identity’ development, is for me what learning is all about, but whether or not this can or should be ‘assessed’ is another question.

I can’t see that the curriculum/course/learning environment designer will ever be able to ‘control’ the learner experience, however prescribed the curriculum or however heavily assessed. So what then is the designer’s role?

A number of teachers talk and write about the need to first ‘create the space’ in which the learner can grow and develop their identities, and then facilitate learning within that space. If this is true and learners need ‘space’, why do we still see the design of heavily prescribed, content heavy courses? In addition, online learners seem to need and take/create more space than f2f learners, i.e. contemplative learning space. What does the need for ‘space’ mean for the design of blended learning, integrated online and f2f learning, and a prescribed curriculum?

Another point that keeps cropping up in discussion is the extent to which learners need to be pushed out of their ‘comfort zone’ to promote significant learning – possibly through providing a non-prescriptive, less structured learning environment. At what point does the learning environment become so chaotic and ‘unsafe’ that learning is compromised/jeopardized?

Should we expect learners bend to fit the curriculum/learning design or should the learning design bend to fit the learner? This is a difficult question if you don’t know who your learners are going to be, e.g. in MOOCs.

So finally, at what point is a mismatch between design intentions and learner experience constructive and at what point is it destructive and how might this affect emergent learning?

5 thoughts on “Emergent learning: the designer’s role, the learner’s experience

  1. suifaijohnmak December 16, 2012 / 10:19 pm

    You says:

    “Our experience (i.e. the authors of Footprints of Emergence) is that drawing a footprint from the design perspective and from the learner experience perspective can result in very different images for the same course. This raises the question of whether designer intentions and learner experience can be aligned.

    If they can’t, then to what extent can the learner experience be validated by anyone other than the learner?”

    If the designer’s intentions and learner experience are not aligned, then the learner’s experience could still be validated based on an emergent approach – for instance, by suggesting learner to document and reflect on their learning using their own set of curriculum, and developed criteria for assessments. This is actually the case for some of the learning for PhD’s students, whereas they are expected to explore the forefront of knowledge and create their own space, and thus develop new knowledge that could contribute to their specialised domain. Other ways for validation includes the commenting and reflection on each others’ blog posts, collaboration with others in communities and networks, cooperation with others in joint writings on wikis or research, leading to the publication of research papers, just like some of the participants of MOOCs have done in the past. The use of e-portfolio and PLE are also good means for self-assessment, which could be validated by the learner’s immediate mentor or coach on an ongoing basis, rather than the course instructor or professor.

    This would likely address the alignment issue in a totally different way though some of the above approaches might need to be developed and documented using a social contract or agreement, in order to ensure openness and transparency is maintained.

    The validity, authenticity, reliability and fairness issues relating to the evidences collected in such assessment would also need to be thoroughly examined and addressed in such a course, in an ongoing basis, in order to cater for the emergent learning that evolved.

    “Should we expect learners bend to fit the curriculum/learning design or should the learning design bend to fit the learner? This is a difficult question if you don’t know who your learners are going to be, e.g. in MOOCs.

    So finally, at what point is a mismatch between design intentions and learner experience constructive and at what point is it destructive and how might this affect emergent learning?”

    My response is: If we are to structure a MOOC based on self-directed learning and self-organised learning, with an ultimate going of supporting learners in sense-making and way-finding, then learner experience must be catered for in such a course, in order to continue in supporting the learner’s learning. This is similar to the principles of Ergonomics, whereas we should be designer the machines, environment to suit individuals, rather than re-molding or changing the individuals to suit the machines or environment. It would take another post to elaborate on this important learning principle.
    Thanks again Jenny for these stimulating posts and insightful questions.

    John

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