Engestrom, Wenger and Emergent Learning

In a recent great discussion in CPsquare about the changing role of the learning facilitator, Brenda Kaulback posted this video of Yrjo Engestrom being interviewed about his work by Chris Jones

This reminded me of the Networked Learning Conference in Aarlborg 2010, when Engestrom gave a combined keynote (fishbowl style) with Etienne Wenger (See Part 2 flash format).

In revisiting these videos, I have been struck by how much they both have to say about emergent learning, but in different terms.

Engestrom talks about emergent learning in terms of ‘expansive learning’.  At the Networked Learning Conference here are some of the things he said:

‘Learning has to deal increasingly with situations in which the outcomes of learning are not known ahead of time.’

‘Standard learning theories fail to explain processes where learning in radically transformed’.

‘Expansive learning is learning what is not yet there. The object of activity is qualitatively transformed so as to open up a horizon of wider possibilities and new actions.’

Engestrom describes how Gregory Bateson  distinguished learning as

  • Learning 1 – non-conscious, tacit
  • Learning 2 – learning the rules of the game
  • Learning 3 – expansive learning – questioning and deviance, but often thwarted or oppressed, marginalized or silenced. (Watch the video with Chris Jones for details)

For Etienne Wenger, identity in communities of practice, lies at the heart of all learning, i.e. social learning and so a learner needs to be able to learn in a landscape of practices.

‘Each practice in a landscape of practice has some claim to competence/knowledgeability’.

‘Your identity becomes a lived reflection of the landscape as you travel through the world.’

‘Interesting learning (happens) in the interaction between landscapes.’

For me these ideas from Wenger and Engestrom suggest that we cannot predict what that learning might be, so in that sense it will be emergent.

Engestrom also talks about boundary crossing as being risky but important for learning.

‘Working at these boundaries (between multidisciplinary disciplines) can be risky because (you) may end up in no man’s land’ – or as we have discussed in relation to Footprints of Emergence, ‘falling off the edge’ of the learning landscape.

Engestrom says that Level 3 learning  requires very special support and nurturing and like Etienne he talks about having ‘to pay special attention to issues of creating communities within networks’.

All this has implications for designing for emergent learning, although neither Engestrom nor Wenger explicitly mention emergent learning.

8 thoughts on “Engestrom, Wenger and Emergent Learning

  1. suifaijohnmak December 16, 2012 / 9:38 pm

    Hi Jenny, Well said, and a great summary. I watched the videos, and reflected on them in my blog too, though I related to my experience in a slightly different way – on landscape of practice. What I would like to add is Dave Snowden’s views about emergent learning, based on his model of Cynefin (see this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7oz366X0-8). Emergent learning would be best fit to complex (and possibly chaotic) learning scenarios, rather than complicated and simple scenarios, so the risks involved would likely be high and would need to be adequately controlled and constrained when “managed” under an institutional framework. The current debates about the best business model for MOOCs well illustrate such difficult decision about the embracing of MOOC in their organisation, as education business is no longer confined to a closed system of space. There are stakeholders – students, participants, and various outside government authorities callings – with different demands, like compliance to accreditation and assessment, peer assessment, credits awards to degrees, badge awards, etc. These are ongoing debates and could ultimately influence the curriculum design designed by the designers and institutions. Some of the professors of MOOCs have to drop their original designs – like certain assignments, or examinations, in light of the feedback from participants, and concerns about cheating, plagiarism. All these point to the need of a continuous and critical review of how the curriculum of MOOCs should be planned and structured “in the first place”. These examples of emergent learning are rarely perceived as “footprints of emergence” as not every one perceived them that way. Perhaps, there aren’t one single participant who could master all these concepts and principles in a holistic way, and this requires substantial experience in sense-making and way-finding in order to un-earth these unusual phenomena and explain the tacit knowledge in an explicit way. There aren’t text-books or design handbooks detailing the underlying principles of emergence that relate to a connectivist and emergent nature of MOOC (both cMOOCs and xMOOCs) except what you and Roy have done so far, IMO. Back to you. John

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