Lassoing the coltish concepts of Emergent Learning and MOOCs

Why is it that when we find something wonderfully creative, emergent and innovative, we often try to ‘capture’ it, constrain and contain it, package it, order it, thereby effectively destroying what it was about it that attracted us to it in the first place?

This question has arisen in two discussions I have been involved in this week.

Mooc framework graphic2-mini

On Wednesday 20th November George Siemens convened a 6 hour JAM to discuss a framework for MOOCs in Higher Education . What a wild gathering that was. Everyone talking over each other, darting in and out. It was frenetic and completely impossible to see the whole picture at the time (although it is now possible to go back through the archives) – but it was a lot of fun.

Amazingly it was possible to connect with others despite the chaotic feel to it all.  Shaun Kellogg  sent me an article to read after the event (thanks Shaun) and I felt I touched base with quite a few people. But I don’t envy George having to make sense of it all and even more I don’t envy him having to put together a Framework for MOOCs in Higher Education, which seems such a contradiction to me. I’ll try and explain.

I’m not sure how a framework fits with the openness that MOOCs try to promote – nor the diversity or autonomy. I associate a framework in Higher Education with an attempt to impose order, to bring institutions into line with each other, to see consistency, to agree on standards and so on. I can see that this could be done for MOOCs, but would this mean that MOOCs would lose their potential for experimentation, promoting creativity and innovation in Higher Education? Would those dreams of disrupting Higher Education, of searching for new ways to think about education, for democratizing education be lost? Would MOOCs become just another framework in a long list of frameworks?  These thoughts surfaced for me when one of the JAM participants said her institution needed a framework so that the MOOC designers would know what to do, because they didn’t know enough about pedagogy! For her, giving them a framework would answer this problem. For me not only is this a different and dismaying problem, but also very disappointing if that is what the Framework is for.

I would like to be clearer about what purpose the Framework will serve and how it will remain true to the initial aspirations of the early MOOCs, and to be reassured that this won’t be a backward step.

UPDATE 25-11-13 For a different perspective, see Matthias Melcher’s blog post ‘Wrapping and Grasping’.

scope-badgeSimilar stimulating discussions have been happening in the SCoPE community this week, around the subject of emergent learning – key questions being ‘Can you design for emergent learning?’ and ‘Can you assess emergent learning?’ There have been some wonderful comments which reflect on the difficulties in answering these questions.

For example:

Phillip Rutherford – writes in answer to the first question about designing for emergent learning:

To try and harness complexity and emergence is, by definition, to reduce it to a state of equilibrium, that is, stability which may see the notion of intentional design added to the desired objective but which in reality takes the learning out of the hands of the learner and places it in the hands of the teacher.

And Nick Kearney – writes in answer the question about emergent learning and assessment:

The issue about emergent learning (or whatever you want to call it) is that it escapes the prior definitions we have worked with in the field. There are three reactions, and they are present in this debate.

One tries to lasso the coltish concept and drag it back within the fold. Once the emergent learning generates evidence it becomes manageable within a system that fails fundamentally to trust the individual (this is so ingrained we mostly don’t even notice it).

Another notices emergent learning as an interesting anomaly, something worth studying, and of course measuring, and scoping and observing. Welcome of course, but I dare say, eternally marginal.

Then there is the view (not a new view) that understands emergent learning, once it is recognised as existing, as a fundamental and profound challenge to the way our society understands learning, knowledge and socialisation. If you recognise it you have to rethink education.

These comments, and many others in the SCoPE forums, resonate so strongly with my thinking and our work on emergent learning, and I now see more clearly why I have been struggling with the notion of a MOOC framework.

Our discussions in the SCoPE community will remain open until the end of next week  (November 29th). It is an open community, so if these ideas interest you, join us there.

Thanks to everyone in the forums for a stimulating week and to Nick Kearney, Phillip Rutherford, all SCoPE participants and George Siemens for motivating me to think about these ideas and write this post – and especially to Nick for the title of the post 🙂

2 thoughts on “Lassoing the coltish concepts of Emergent Learning and MOOCs

  1. Ben Pearson November 7, 2014 / 7:31 pm

    Hi Jenny

    Do you know where I can a copy of the finalised framework you mention Nov 23 2013? Has it been published yet?

  2. jennymackness November 7, 2014 / 7:38 pm

    Hi Ben – thanks for your question. I’m assuming you are referring to George Siemen’s framework for MOOCs in Higher Education? If so, the link to it is here – and if you need more information I suggest you contact George himself. If I have misunderstood your question, then do get back to me with another one.

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