Emergent Learning from thinking about Emergent Learning

On Tuesday of this week we ran our second webinar on Emergent Learning and Drawing Footprints of Emergence for the SCoPE community  and any one else who wanted to attend. SCoPe is an open community – with a wonderfully open and generous facilitator – Sylvia Currie – who not only offered us these opportunities, but in the second webinar volunteered to draw a footprint for us during the live webinar.

What is a footprint? Well – I’m afraid it’s too long a story to recount in this blog post – but you can ‘read all about it’ in this published paper  – or visit and explore our open wiki  –  or visit the SCoPE discussion forums  –  or listen to the recordings of the webinars – Webinar 1 and Webinar 2  – and I have posted an example of a footprint below.

From these experiences the learning for me is that is that there really is no quick and easy way to describe the work we have been steeped in for the past few years. Learning emerges from a complex, messy business, and we haven’t managed to find a way to make understanding  or describing it simple.

And drawing footprints of emergence requires a bit of effort – well more than a bit. First it requires engaging with 25 factors (arranged in four clusters) that may or may not influence your learning process. These are intended to represent the complexity of learning – but that does mean that you might have to ponder a bit about what is meant by factors such as liminality, ambiguity, theory of mind, cross-modality, hybrid modes of writing and so on.  For these SCoPE webinars we have worked on a more visual way of representing these factors, which you can find on our wiki, if you are interested (see Mapping Sheet for Visual Learners on this page of the wiki). But then I have wondered whether including images will influence the way in which the factors are interpreted. Hope I am not putting you off, but drawing and thinking about footprints is not for the faint-hearted, although it doesn’t take long to get the hang of it if you are really interested 🙂

All these thoughts have been pulled together by an interesting post in the forums this week (thanks Nick Kearney). The point made was that drawing footprints and thinking about emergent learning may be OK for academic researchers, but it will be difficult to inspire others outside this community to engage with this process and think about emergent learning. I really appreciate it when people speak their mind and come clean about what they think – and ‘yes’ – drawing footprints of emergence is not easy. Is this why we had only a small handful of people in the second webinar – was the thought of having to do some work during the webinar and not being a passive observer off putting?

It is harder to tell in the online environment why people choose to engage or not – but although we were small in number we straight away received one drawn footprint from Lisa Lane. This was heartening as it was her first experience of drawing a footprint and for me showed that it is possible to get this process across in an online webinar. We have only ever run face-to-face workshops before. So here is Lisa’s footprint which represents the design of her POTCert programme –  and here is her blog post about it.   And as I write this, there are more footprints coming in.

POTdesigner

But I think the big ‘Ah-ha’ moment for me in this experience – the emergent learning if you like – is that there is a tension between complexity and simplicity, between hard work and ease of access, which reflects the tension we have found between emergent and prescriptive learning. Learning is a complex business. Do we best serve it by trying to order and constrain it, or is it better served by recognizing and acknowledging its complexity, and by being aware that we cannot control it and that much of it will be emergent?

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