I anticipated that we would get this question at our ALT-C workshop, Learning in the Open, and we did get it. Or rather, we got the comment – ‘I can’t see the point of all this’.
I anticipated the question because it’s a question I have been asking myself, and Roy and I had a long discussion about it on Monday evening.
Having written a couple of research papers and run a few workshops on our ideas about emergent learning we know that this is not an easy question to answer. We also know that what we have been thinking about and discussing since 2008, is not easy to put over in an hour’s workshop.
So I will try and answer this question, ‘Footprints of Emergence – so what?’ in this blog post, as succinctly as I can.
For details of what we mean by Footprints of Emergence, see the Executive Summary on our open wiki. Briefly, we see the drawing of footprints as a means of creating a visualization of a description of learning in any given learning environment. Here is an example of one (click on the footprint to enlarge):
This description and visualization will tell us something about the balance between prescriptive and emergent learning. It is a snapshot in time, which describes the perspective on learning, from a learner or designer viewpoint, or a collaborative group viewpoint. In this process we are increasingly aware of the difficulty of describing the learning process.
So that’s the ‘what’ about footprints of emergence – what about the ‘so what’?
Imagine you have now figured out what we are talking about, you know what a footprint is and you know how to draw one and you now have one that, for you, describes your learning experience in a named learning environment or course. So what?
Roy and I have had to consider why we have invested so much time on this and continue to spend literally hours discussing it.
What follows is where I am up to with my thinking.
As was discussed at the ALT-C conference, we live in an age, where much of what we know about traditional ways of learning and teaching, is being challenged. As someone said to me at the conference, students know a lot more about social media and IT than their lecturers and always will, and they are no longer content to ‘sit in a VLE’ and do what they are told. They are literally all over the web, doing their own thing, in spaces of their own choosing, interacting with people far beyond the confines of their own course or learning environment. They have scaled the valley sides of the prescriptive learning zone of a traditional course and are out on the open plateau.
Source: Williams, R., Mackness, J. & Gumtau, S. (2012) Footprints of Emergence. Vol. 13, No. 4. IRRODL
In these complex open learning environments, it is impossible for the tutor to see or know about everything that is going on. Much of the learning is surprising, unpredictable and emergent. MOOCs in particular, which are designed as open learning environments promote a wealth of emergent learning. This emergent learning will have a profound effect on learner identities and their sense of who they are and who they are becoming. You only have to scan through the discussion forums of cMOOC to see evidence of this. Since more and more learners seem to be gravitating towards open learning environments, emergent learning can no longer be ignored. But how can we ‘capture’ and articulate its meaning?
This is what we are trying to do through the process of drawing Footprints of Emergence. The drawing process relies on consideration of 25 factors which influence the balance between prescriptive and emergent learning. 25 factors is a lot – so it is not a quick or easy process. It is messy and difficult, but then learning is messy and difficult. Determining how these factors influence the learning or design process requires careful thought and discussion and the surfacing of tacit knowledge and understanding. It is this surfacing of tacit knowledge and understanding that we believe to be the ‘so what’ of Footprints of Emergence.
To learn and work effectively in open learning environments, learners will need to have the ability to reflect on who they are and who they want to be. Depth of reflection is a skill that all learners need, and will increasingly need for professional development in an age when they can no longer easily predict their career paths. We believe that the Footprints of Emergence offer a process for supporting this development.