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.

Footprints of Emergence in CPsquare

We had a great discussion about our recent paper Footprints of Emergence  in CPsquare’s Research and Dissertations Series of presentations last night. By we I mean, Roy Williams, Simone Gumtau and myself and by CPsquare I mean the community of practice on communities of practice.

We had some technical difficulties in getting connected and we were small in number, but if ever there was proof that ‘small is beautiful’ in terms of quality of discussion, it was in last night’s discussion.

Some interesting points came out of the discussion.

Our footprints (see diagram below) could be interpreted at first glance as ‘flat’ and static – a bit like a map. Our paper explains that the opposite is in fact the case, but a dynamic, evolving, adaptive 3D footprint is very difficult to depict without the correct software. This is something we are looking into, but personally don’t have the skills to develop – maybe I am just speaking for myself 🙂

Example of a Footprint

Each footprint is a ‘snapshot’ in time. This was so well observed and noted by John Smith (Community Steward of CPsquare). ‘Snapshot’ describes it so well.  They are also snapshots from an individual, or specific group perspective. John said ‘emergence is in the eye of the beholder’. So true.

The footprints can be drawn prospectively and/or retrospectively, dependent on the context and purpose and we discussed a variety of ways in which the footprints have already been used and the case studies we have published in the paper.

The footprints are about the balance to be achieved between prescriptive and emergent learning. We are definitely not saying that in any given learning environment ‘emergent’ is right and ‘prescriptive’ is wrong, or vice versa.

It is difficult to determine exactly where on the footprints the points should lie at any point in time. In determining this we are very aware that the very next day, next hour, we might place them differently. The value is in the discussion or thinking about where to place them.

John contributed an interesting perspective from his reading of Barry Boyce and James Gimian, The Rules of Victory: How to Transform Chaos and Conflict–Strategies from The Art of War (Boston & London: Shambhala, 2009).  and thought that ‘the strange produces the conventional and vice versa’ and that many of the metaphors and issues from the book can be brought over to the same issues that we are discussing in relation to emergent learning. We definitely need to explore this further.

And right at the end of the discussion, the issue of ‘awareness’ was raised. As Roy put it … a possible ‘scenario is that as more people draw more footprints, and they become more ‘aware’ of the dynamics, they are less able to interact with (or in) full ‘awareness’.  This takes us into a whole new realm of discussion for me, so I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops.

But in the meantime – Roy has set up a wiki for further discussion. If you are interested in our footprints framework and would like to contribute a footprint to the wiki, Roy, Simone and I would love to hear from you.

And Roy, Simone and I have decided that our tag for discussions related to this on Twitter, blogs or elsewhere will be #emergentlearning

The Changing Role of the Learning Facilitator

There is an intense discussion going on in the CPsquare community at the moment about the work of learning facilitators. Quite a few members of the CPsquare community work independently as community facilitators or for an organisation. Others like myself, are members of CPsquare not so much because we work as community facilitators, but because we are interested in social learning theory and how people learn in communities of practice.

These two aspects of communities of practice (and there is obviously overlap between them) can also be seen in Etienne Wenger’s publications, e.g. his 1998 book ‘Communities of Practice. Learning Meaning and Identity’ –  focuses on expanding ideas around social learning theory, whereas a later book ‘A Guide to Managing Knowledge: Cultivating Communities of Practice’ (2002) – is written more for managers of communities of practice.

It seems to me that these two approaches, i.e. one on learning, the other on business, could affect the role of the facilitator.

The asynchronous discussion in CPsquare which started at 3.00 pm GMT yesterday and will conclude at 9.00 pm tonight was initiated by Brenda Kaulback, Lisa Levinson, and Doris Reeves-Lipscomb as a way of reflecting on the changing nature of their work and in the light of their recent participation in open learning environments such as MOOCs.

The questions they pose are:

  1. Has your scope of work moved from cultivating walled gardens to supporting do-it-yourself landscapes?
  2. Are you spending less time on convergent activities which create a sense of belonging, a sharing of common interests, and forging of mutual norms and more time on divergent activities in which individuals control their own learning choices, build their own personal networks and land for short periods of time in ad hoc gatherings?
  3. Do you see these new developments as creating possibilities for your role or as putting you out of business?
  4. What impact, if any do these shifts mean for the learning facilitator’s value, and marketing that value? 

The discussion is ongoing, but what is coming out of it so far for me, is how difficult it is to pin down exactly what a learning/community facilitator does, as it seems so very context dependent. Facilitating a MOOC, for example, will be very different to facilitating a community of practice such as CPsquare, or to facilitating an online learning course.

My first experiences of online facilitation were guided by the work of Gilly Salmon and her two books E-moderating and E-tivities.

These books propose a very ‘hands-on’ approach to facilitation and were designed to help a teacher make the transition from working f2f to the online environment. I still find Gilly Salmon’s approach very useful for facilitating small, task-oriented online courses.

But recently my learning experiences have increasingly been in massive open online courses (MOOCs) where the large numbers of participants prohibit a heavily ‘hands-on’ approach to facilitation. In these environments the role of facilitation lies more in the hands of the participants themselves – in peer-to-peer facilitation.

So if there isn’t a facilitator in these environments, who does the organising? There is certainly a ‘convenor’ – but is that the same as a facilitator? The convenor’s role is to provide the learning space and invite people into it. The convenor also provides the ‘syllabus’ / timetable, provides some, but not all, resources (such as links to readings) to stimulate discussion, and explains how the course works (see for example ChangeMOOC ). The convenor then withdraws and lets the learners get on with it. S/he may or may not engage with discussion and doesn’t attempt to moderate or summarise it.

The one instance where, in my experience, a facilitator is definitely needed is in any synchronous sessions that are offered. When I was working with Oxford Brookes University on the FSLT12 MOOC, we discussed this and thought that the online facilitator’s role in a synchronous session might be to support invited presenters as follows:

  • Thank for agreeing to present and confirm the agreement, including date, time, url of Blackboard collaborate, title and content of talk (steer content if necessary)
  • Ask for a bio to post up
  • Ask for slides/links ahead of time so that they can be uploaded in advance
  • Suggest possible ways of engaging the participants, e.g. uploading pre-reading, slideshare, links etc, possible activities that they might want participants to try out
  • Ask what support they might need with the technology – have they used Blackboard Collaborate before? Do they need their slides uploading? Will they want to show video within their slide show? Will they need a practice run beforehand or will it be enough to come into the session half an hour early?
  • Offer the use of a separate Blackboard Collaborate room for dummy runs
  • Suggest meeting 20-30 minutes in advance of the session to check audio, upload slides, prepare webtours, try out interactive features such as polling, writing on the whiteboard
  • Ask what help will they need during the live session?
  • Ask whether they will they want to continue the discussion after the session and therefore do they want us to set up a discussion forum
  • Following their session send an email of thanks

These activities are what you would expect of a facilitator in any online environment – so whilst a MOOC convenor might take a ‘hands-off’ approach to participant learners, a more ‘hands-on’ approach might be needed when hosting invited speakers/presenter, particularly if those speakers are offering their services for free, which tends to be the case in MOOCs. This is no more than common courtesy really 🙂

Digital Storytelling in the US Army

This week Jonathan Silk, a US Army Officer stationed at the United States Military Academy at West point, NY, shared his digital story telling practice with the CPsquare community. For this digital storytelling work he won the 2012 Pepperdine Award for outstanding work in community development.

CPsquare group shot

Storytelling is used in many organisations as a knowledge management strategy. Through storytelling tacit knowledge is elicited and shared for the benefit of the whole organization. Jonathan has shared his own story in a blog post ‘Why I tick when I run’.

In the US Army, storytelling has been used to great effect within the MILSPACE Community of Practice  to share leadership stories from the field; this has been the subject of Jonathan Silk’s action research.

The key point that came out of Jonathan’s CPsquare presentation and the discussion, was that although storytelling is a powerful tool for binding a community, it needs to be managed carefully in terms of the technology, in terms of the stories and commitment to gathering those stories, and in terms of learning from the stories.

The technology

The MILSPACE community uses an ordinary video camera. Videos are edited on a Mac with Final Cut Pro . The Army has a designated person to do this editing and to date has over 1500 video stories of 3-5 minutes in length.

The main issue for the MILSPACE community has been to make the videos easily accessible to community members, easy to search, and easy to comment on and discuss. JCarousel is used to support this and recent work has focused on tags and video titles. Appropriate titles have been found to be very influential on the number of times a video is viewed (see Jonathan’s report for further details).

Managing story collection

The MILSPACE community has over 20,900 members and focuses on the leadership development of cadets, lieutenants and captains in the US Army. Stories are collected in the field. A dedicated team went out to locations such as Iraq and Afghanistan to create the videos. Leaders were almost universally keen to be interviewed and understand that sharing their stories and learning adds value to the whole community.

Video interviews can be conducted with a single leader or with a group and are usually around a given topic, e.g. eight leaders have given video interviews on the topic of ‘Your first 30 days in a country’.

The stories can be highly emotive and elicit deeply reflective thinking. This requires careful, sensitive and experienced management by the interviewer. Trust and positive relationships are essential to the story collection process and it is understood that the videos are ‘owned’ by the interviewees. No videos are published without the consent of the interviewee, although they are carefully screened for any potential security issues.

Learning from the video stories

The collection of over a 1,500 videos does not necessarily mean that they are used effectively for learning. The MILSPACE community is currently exploring means of increasing discussion around the videos. Recent work has involved developing a more structured approach to the management of discussion around the videos, through establishing groups of topic leaders (peer panels) who make personal contact with interviewees and seed discussion and comments around the videos to build learning relationships. This is work in progress.

Final thoughts

It is not difficult to understand what a powerful effect video stories could have on the learning of a community, particularly one such as the US Army where as Jonathan Silk has put it the cycle between action and reflection is so fast and chaotic that it’s difficult to capture the learning.

This potential has been recognized and supported by the hierarchy in the US Army, which has devoted technology and manpower to the process.

Perhaps the most difficult part of the process and potentially the most interesting is yet to be fully developed, and that is an exploration of just how do video stories add value to a community of practice.  This is a process that has recently been highlighted by Wenger et al in their publication

Wenger, E., Trayner, B., and de Laat, M. (2011) Promoting and assessing value creation in communities and networks: a conceptual framework. Rapport 18, Ruud de Moor Centrum, Open University of the Netherlands.

I found Jonathan Silk’s presentation very interesting and valuable, because it helped to clarify the issues surrounding the collection and management of video stories.  It will be interesting to see how the work develops.

(This post has also been copied to the CPsquare blog).

Value Creation in Communities of Practice – further insights

I first wrote about the Value Creation Framework when I attended last year’s BEtreat in Grass Valley, California (2011) – see Value Creation in Communities of Practice

This year (Academic BEtreat 2012 ) the value creation framework has again been a topic for discussion, with the added advantage of having a few participants who are using it or planning to use it.  It was a useful discussion, which has further informed my thinking and practice; I am currently working on a project in which we are using the value creation framework to inform our approach to knowledge management in a third sector organization.

The key points for me were:

There has been a tendency (at least in my mind) to confuse value creation with evaluation. The term evaluation is not helpful in this context as it brings with it notions of assessment. I say this despite the fact that both the words ‘evaluation’ and ‘assessment’ are used on the Wenger-Trayner website.

The focus of the value creation framework on storytelling and indicators of value creation (a matrix of indicators and stories) is designed to explore what counts as value in a community of practice. The matrix is the key element of the framework.

Value Creation Matrix

(click on the image to enlarge)

Whilst some quantitative data is collected through the use of the value creation framework (e.g. website statistics as an indicator of immediate value in Cycle 1), much of the framework focuses on collecting qualitative data though story telling in answer to questions such as ‘What activities have you participated in and how has this participation changed your practice?’ or ‘What were the key things that happened that made a difference?’ Stories answer the ‘so what’ question.

My perception is that the process of collecting stories is not that easy to manage, unless it is part of a research project and the stories can be collated and analysed by a research assistant. Analysing stories is a skilled job and begs the question of who will do this in an organization without a researcher.

A number of stories will be needed to validate value creation at a collective level and this will generate a lot of data. It will also require a lot of ‘man hours’, since the story collection process will ideally involve 3 people – the person telling the story, the person responsible for drawing the story out, and the recorder. Value can of course be collected at the individual level, but this is unlikely to impress stakeholders and funders. We need to convince stakeholders and funders and maybe even the senior management team that story telling is not just ‘qualitative fluff’. The value creation matrix combines qualitative and quantitative data with causality trails between indicators. The only people who know and understand the causality links are the storytellers themselves. Thinking of stories as causal trails is more likely to lead to rigorous analysis of the stories.

Stories can also be about ‘lack of value’ and these will be just as valuable.

The value creation framework can be used both prospectively and retrospectively. It’s the negotiation of indicators of value creation in each cycle that is important. These indicators may be emergent and come through in the process of telling a story, e.g. an emerging indicator in Cycle 5 might be the renegotiation of what is viewed as success (an aspirational story), which might happen in an appraisal or performance review process. This would help to shift the appraisal process from being a vertical one to being a transversal one (see Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner’s slide – ‘Vertical and Horizontal Accountability – the need for transversality’ – in my last blog post about Social Learning Capability

Negotiation of indicators is critical to the success of the value creation process. In the negotiation of indicators stakeholders should clarify why an indicator is important.

Examples of indicators

(click on the image to enlarge)

 The following two stories illustrate why the negotiation of indicators is important and how inappropriate use of indicators can be misleading.

  1. Surgeons in New York were graded on the mortality rate of patients – but knowing this, surgeons would aim to achieve a high grade by turning away patients they couldn’t save.
  2. Russian shoe-makers were graded on the number of shoes they could make out of the least amount of leather. They responded by focusing on making Size 5 shoes which led to a shortage in larger sizes.

The value creation framework should be adapted to suit different communities of practice. Indicators of value creation may be unique to the community.

The framework should hopefully become a tool for reflection both at the individual and collective level – a dynamic tool for reflecting on learning capability and optimizing learning.

The number of case studies of how the value creation framework is being used appears to be increasing. The next challenge will be to prove to funders and stakeholders, through the analysis of the stories/data, that the time spent in applying the value creation framework has been well spent.

Academic BEtreat – the technical challenges

Academic BEtreat has got off to a shaky start, with lots of technology difficulties. There are sixteen people in this BEtreat (18 if you include Etienne and Bev) and 8 of those are online. This is a great mix of people, all working on very interesting aspects of communities of practice in their very differing contexts. It is this diverse mix of people that will enrich the experience.

One of the principles of these BEtreats is that online and face-to-face participants should be fully integrated, so for the most part the online people are projected into the face-to-face room through video on Adobe Connect – where presentations can also be shared. However, bandwidth issues make it difficult to use the audio connection in Adobe Connect, so we also connect via Skype – but this also keeps breaking up. This makes full participation and engagement almost impossible and detracts from the content. Ironically one of the sessions on the programme today was to discuss the Chapter on ‘Meaning’ in Etienne’s book, which I was looking forward to, having read the chapter and having some questions I would have liked to have discussed (which I blogged about here), but difficulties with the technology meant that the time for discussion was severely cut short and in particular that it failed just as Etienne was speaking – so I have no idea what he said. There is no recording.

We have been told that this BEtreat is trying to ‘push the boat out’ to explore the challenges of integrating online and face-to-face participation in a course and I think we all recognise how ambitious this programme is. We have been asked to be patient (not my strong point :-)) and reflect on whether it is worth it. This is the start of my reflecting and I hope to continue to blog during the week.

So what have I learned from this first day of the Academic BEtreat?

  • In general motivated learners are incredibly tolerant of technical failure. I have seen this a lot in MOOCs and online courses – but I’m not sure that tolerance is always an appropriate response. As adult learners, and particularly as academics, we need to be critically reflective. This does not necessarily mean criticizing, but it does mean not glossing over the issues that need to be addressed. It’s good to see that this year the comments and feedback on the BEtreat wiki are more critically evaluative than they were last year.
  • Much of my past thinking about the place of technology in learning has been confirmed, i.e. technology should be a tool in the service of learning – it should never dominate – unless it is the focus of the learning – and I wonder if that is the issue here in terms of my expectations, i.e. is technology supposed to dominate in this BEtreat? If so then my personal aspirations for and expectations of this BEtreat are not aligned with the design of the BEtreat.
  • It’s early days, but as yet there is no real integration of the online and face-to-face groups. I suspect that some in each group secretly wish that the other group were not there. I remember last year when I was in California attending the BEtreat face-to-face, being so relieved when in one group activity there was no online person present. Last year I felt that in trying to integrate face-to-face and online participants in this way, the discussion for each group was compromised by the presence of the other, and individual voices were hard to hear (in all senses of the word ‘hear’). So far I have not changed my mind, but I am trying to keep an ‘open’ mind.
  • Finally I have realised that I feel like a guinea-pig in an experiment over which I have very little sense of ownership.

So following this first half day, what would I change in the future. Here are some initial tentative thoughts, but I am aware that I could change my mind by the end of the week.

  • For me the programme is over-complex. I was really hoping for depth of discussion on this BEtreat. Difficulties with the technology takes time out of the programme. Recognising that this is likely to be the case, the programme should aim to maximise how the remainder of the time could focus on learning and discussion of Etienne’s book.
  • Perhaps the BEtreat could learn from the connectivist MOOC models, which range from a very ‘hands-off’ approach by convenors (as in ChangeMOOC) to a much more ‘hands-on’ approach (as in FSLT12 ). MOOCs allow for asynchronous distributed learning, interspersed with synchronous online presentations and discussion. Perhaps the balance between synchronous and asynchronous, integrated and non-integrated face-to-face and online participation in this BEtreat needs to be reconsidered.
  • If the intention is to use the BEtreat as a ‘testing’ ground for pushing the boundaries of distributed participation and interaction, i.e. if it is intended as an experiment, then participants need to be negotiating partners in that experiment. One of the differences between the MOOCs I have attended and this BEtreat is that the MOOCs were ‘free’ – I participated in the MOOC experiment knowing that I had nothing to lose. Is there more to lose in the BEtreat experiment? As a paying participant I am not only hoping for increased insights and learning, but also for ‘value for money’. How that is realised I am not absolutely sure, but I think it does affect my perspective of the BEtreat.

These are my personal perspectives, as is this whole blog post. The thoughts here are my own and are not intended to represent the wider BEtreat group.

So it’s on to Day 2. On the programme today we are due to discuss ‘Communities and Learning’, ‘Boundaries and Scale’, ‘Identity’ and “Identification and power’ – pretty much the whole book! Hope the sound works 🙂

Academic Betreat as a landscape of practice

In preparation for the Academic Betreat 2012 , we have been asked to read a number of chapters from Etienne Wenger’s book, Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity.  I have just read Chapter 4: Boundary (p.103 -121) and Chapter 5: Locality (p. 122 – 133).

I have heard Etienne speak about landscapes of practice before, most notably last year at Lancaster University – I blogged about it here  – but reading these chapters adds some new dimensions to my thinking and understanding.

Chapter 4 Boundary

Chapter 4 keywords – boundary objects, brokering, connections, boundaries, peripheries, negotiation, meaning

In Chapter 4 (p.105)  Etienne writes about two types of connections:

  1. boundary objects – artifacts, documents, terms, concepts, and other forms of reification around which communities of practice can organize their interconnections
  2. brokering  – connections provided by people who can introduce elements of one practice into another

If, as is written on p.107 ‘A boundary object is not necessarily an artifact or encoded information’, it occurred to me that the BEtreat itself might be considered a boundary object and the participants might be considered to be ‘brokers’.  ‘Brokers are able to make new connections across communities of practice, enable coordination, and – if they are good brokers – open new possibilities for meaning.’ Who will emerge as ‘brokers’? Will we all be ‘brokers’ or just some of us? What skills are required?

I also wondered whether people who work as independent consultants are more likely to be ‘brokers’. Some characteristics of brokers are:

  • they tend to stay at the boundaries of many practices, rather than move to the core of any one practice, i.e. at the permeable periphery
  • they translate, coordinate and align different perspectives
  • experience of multimembership and spanning boundaries
  • ability to facilitate transactions across practices and boundaries
  • ability to manage coexistence of membership and nonmembership
  • have enough distance to bring a different perspective,  but also enough legitimacy to be listened to.

My experience is that the last point is not always easy to achieve.

Will we see different types of boundary encounters in the BEtreat (a one-on-one conversation between two participants, immersion through visiting the practice of one participant, or delegations)?  Will the BEtreat keep the insiders in and the outsiders out, or will we be inviting outsiders in and working across boundaries ourselves?  Is this realistically possible in such a short period of time where the activity will be very intense?  What do we mean by insider and outside in this context? Do brokers necessarily work on the periphery?

Chapter 5 Locality

Chapter 5 keywords: locality, constellation, practice, landscape, geography

In Chapter 5 (p.122)  Etienne writes about how the concept of a community of practice constitutes a level of analysis, through discussing locality of practice and a constellation of practices. For me this chapter is summed up by the following two quotes:

‘My argument is not that physical proximity, institutional affiliation, or frequency of interaction are irrelevant, but rather that the geography of practice cannot be reduced to them. Practice is always located in time and space because it always exists in specific communities and arises out of mutual engagement, which is largely dependent on specific places and times. Yet the relations that constitute practice are primarily defined by learning. As a result, the landscape of practice is an emergent structure in which learning constantly creates localities that reconfigure the geography.’ (p.130)

These lines, for me, relate very closely to the work I have been doing with Roy Williams and Simone Gumtau (Portsmouth University, UK) on emergent learning and emergent curriculum, in which we have developed a 3D model of landscapes of learning, for exploring the relationship between prescribed and emergent learning in any given curriculum. This paper has been submitted to IRRODL  and accepted but has not yet been published. (see Publications for further information)

The second quote is from the final lines of Chapter 5 (p.111), in which Etienne writes that communities of practice

‘… are important places of negotiation, learning, meaning, and identity. Focussing on the level of communities of practice is not to glorify the local, but to see these processes – negotiation of meaning, learning, the development of practices, and the formation of identities and social configurations – as involving complex interactions between the local and global.’

So will the Academic BEtreat be a community of practice or simply a course? It seems to fulfill many of the criteria of a CoP. What would prevent it from being a community of practice? Does it matter anyhow? What will be our experience of landscapes of practice in this BEtreat?