Theoretical influences on the characteristics of open learning environments

This is the fourth in a series of posts written in preparation for an e-learning conference keynote that Roy Williams and I will be giving on September 17 in Graz, Austria.

First slide in presentation

Previous posts relating to this presentation are:

  1. Evaluation of Open Learning Scenarios
  2. Characteristics of Open Learning Environments
  3. Emergent Learning in Open Environments

In the second post in this series I wrote about the 25 factors that we consider to be characteristics of open learning environments.[1] [2] The evidence from our research suggests that the presence or absence of these factors influences the potential for emergent learning in any given environment.

We have been asked a few times where this list of factors has come from.[3]

The factors are not arbitrary. They are a result of much reflection and discussion and of our combined extensive experience of teaching and learning, and personal knowledge of open learning environments and theoretical influences. Here is the current full list of clusters, factors and their descriptions. Clusters and Factors Mapping Sheet

Experienced educators recognise the importance of prior learning in developing knowledge and understanding. In retrospect, it is easy to see that a career in education means that this prior learning has often been associated with specific learning theories and theorists, even if this wasn’t consciously recognised at the time.

On a personal level, it is interesting to consider which past learning events may have been associated with which learning theories. In the Table below I have attempted to make these links between significant prior learning events in my career and the associated theorists and theories that have probably influenced my thinking about emergent learning.

Image for blog post 4

This Table is necessarily a summary overview, but reflects some of the influences on my thinking and therefore the discussions I have had with my colleagues in relation to our work on emergent learning and deciding on a list of factors. It is not that we sat down, drew up a list of theories and from these decided on the factors. At the start of this work we drew on our very recent experience of participating in CCK08 (Connectivism and Connective Knowledge MOOC, 2008) and on our experience of autonomy, diversity, openness and connectivity within it. These are the four key principles of learning in a network, which Stephen Downes introduced us to in CCK08.[4] As we shared and discussed our experience, we recognised that we were describing it in more detailed terms than the four principles for networked learning. We realised that the language we were using to describe this experience reflected our past experience and knowledge of theorists and theory.

Discussion also included how to cluster these factors. Pragmatically, and after some testing of different ideas and numbers of clusters, we knew that in order to draw the Footprints of emergence (see the second post in this series for an explanation and example of a ‘footprint’) it would make sense to organise them into four clusters. This works well. We have two clusters that relate to the learning environment – Open/Structure and Interactive Environment; the other two clusters relate to the learner – Agency and Presence/Writing.

The clusters and factors have been tested and refined many times, with different groups of learners in different learning environments. The most difficult aspect of this work has been to develop concise descriptions and associated questions, which we hope will support people who use the Footprints of Emergence framework to reflect on their learning in different learning environments.

So whilst we can each explain how we arrived at a list of factors from our own perspectives [ See 5, for Roy’s perspective], we are doing this retrospectively. At the time, the process was hard work, but complex, messy and unpredictable. It has been what Stephen Downes referred to as design-led research in his talk – Digital Research Methodologies Redux. [6]

References:

  1. Williams, R., Mackness, J. & Gumtau, S. (2012) Footprints of Emergence. Vol. 13, No. 4. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. Retrieved from: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1267
  1. Footprints of Emergence open wiki – http://footprints-of-emergence.wikispaces.com/
  1. Mackness, J. (2013). Footprints of emergence – so what? Retrieved from: https://jennymackness.wordpress.com/2013/09/11/footprints-of-emergence-so-what-2/
  1. Downes, S. (2009). Connectivism Dynamics in Communities. Retrieved from: http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2009/02/connectivist-dynamics-in-communities.html
  1. Williams, R. (2014). From here to CAN. Retrieved from: http://k-m-etaphors.wikispaces.com/From+here+to+CAN
  1. Downes, S. (2014). Digital Research Methodologies Redux. Retrieved from: http://www.downes.ca/presentation/341

Emergent learning in open environments

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 10.18.10

This is the third in a series of posts we are making in preparation for the e-learning conference in Graz, Austria, at which we are speaking on September 17th. The title of the presentation is Surfacing, Sharing and Valuing Tacit Knowledge

Previous posts relating to this presentation are:

  1. Evaluation of Open Learning Scenarios
  2. Characteristics of Open Learning Environments

In my last post I wrote that I would come back to further discussion of what we mean by emergent learning. In our first paper [1], when we started to think about the significance of emergent learning in open learning environments, we wrote:

In this paper we argue that it might be useful for educational institutions to actively explore alternative frameworks such as connectivism (Siemens, 2005), complexity theory (Cilliers, 2005, 2010), communities of practice (Wenger, 1998, 2006), and the underlying threads of emergent learning to inform their planning and strategy. We will attempt to bring together elements of all these areas of research and practice to develop a framework for emergent learning that can be applied across education, work, and social networking, with their increasingly blurred boundaries.

Emergence has been discussed and defined by a number of authors, such as Cilliers (2005), Goldstein (2009) and, at the international systems level, Knorr-Cetina (2005).  For the purposes of this paper, we interpret emergent learning as

learning which arises out of the interaction between a number of people and resources, in which the learners organise and determine both the process and to some extent the learning destinations, both of which are unpredictable.  The interaction is in many senses self-organised, but it nevertheless requires some constraint and structure.  It may include virtual or physical networks, or both.

We still use this explanation of emergent learning and have summarized it in this image……

Emergence is

… but have discussed and expanded on our thinking on our open wiki [2]

Learning in the open (open networks, open courses), particularly where these courses are massive (MOOCs) requires learners first and foremost to be autonomous. Learners must make their own decisions about what to learn, how to learn, where to learn and who to learn with. In open online learning environments there are multiple paths that a learner can choose to follow, multiple resources (the whole of the internet) that a learner can choose to work from and a huge diversity of people from across the globe to interact with. Once learners move into a truly ‘open’ learning environment, the teacher (if there is a teacher) is likely to lose sight of them and therefore cannot plan for the learning experiences that the learner might encounter.

Learners are increasingly moving into open learning environments (such as MOOCs) from choice, but even when enrolled on a ‘closed’ course where the teacher has planned prescribed paths, learners can and do move into their own spaces out of sight of the teacher, e.g. into a Facebook group. This freedom of choice over where to learn is a recognized affordance of the internet and social media.

When learners are not on prescribed paths we cannot know where their learning journey will take them or what they will learn. Learning in these environments is unpredictable and can be surprising and emergent. The more a learner is out in the open and able to cope with uncertainty, the more likely it is that emergent learning will occur.

If you have read this far you might be thinking ‘so what’ [3]?

The answer for me is that if ‘open’ is going to become the ‘name of the game’ in education, and there is plenty of evidence that we are increasingly moving learning into open learning environments (and learners themselves are taking control of their learning and doing this), then we need to recognize that these environments are complex and learners will need new skills to cope.

We are interested in what these skills might be, but we are more interested in the effect that these complex environments will have on learners and their identities. Learners will not only need to be able to navigate these environments and manage their own learning, but they will also need to develop the ability to reflect deeply on their learning and surface their tacit knowledge and understanding. The Footprints of Emergence [4], described in my last post, is a tool for doing this.

The notion of ‘open’ learning environments is, I think, here to stay. This does not mean that there will be no more closed courses or closed learning environments, but we can expect that learners will no longer feel constrained by these and will go wherever they choose. In addition the world is now wide open, as it never has been before and successful learners will be those who understand this, recognize the significance of this for their lives and future development, and learn how to operate in open environments.

Surfacing, recognizing and valuing emergent learning has always been important in teaching and learning, but will become more so as learners move increasingly into open learning environments.

References:

  1. Williams, R., Karousou, R. &  Mackness, J. (2011) Emergent Learning and Learning Ecologies in Web 2.0. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. Retrieved from: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/883
  2. Footprints of Emergence open wiki – http://footprints-of-emergence.wikispaces.com/
  3. Mackness, J. (2013). Footprints of Emergence – so what? Retrieved from: https://jennymackness.wordpress.com/2013/09/11/footprints-of-emergence-so-what-2/
  4. Williams, R., Mackness, J. & Gumtau, S. (2012) Footprints of Emergence. Vol. 13, No. 4. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. Retrieved from: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1267

 

Characteristics of open learning environments

Next month Roy Williams and I will give the keynote presentation at a conference in Graz, Austria, which will focus on learning in open learning environments; how we recognize, value and ‘capture’ it. This is the second in a series of posts that we will make in preparation for this keynote.

The first post was Evaluation of Open Learning Scenarios

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 10.18.10

 

We have been thinking about what might be the key characteristics of learning in open learning environments since 2008. One of the first visualizations that I became aware of at that time, was the map created by Matthias Melcher during CCK08. CCK08 was the first MOOC on Connectivism and Connective knowledge, convened by Stephen Downes and George Siemens in 2008. For me, this was my introduction to ‘learning in the open’. This is Matthias’ map.

CCK08 network Matthias

 

Matthias wrote in his blog

My way of approaching the confusing landscape of countless tools, sites, and resources, was to try and get a visual overview of the salient ones.

Matthias’ map revealed the diversity, distributed and even ‘chaotic’ nature of learning in the open. Interestingly, Roy and I occupied very different spaces in this open course/MOOC and therefore on the map. Roy, for the most part, participated in the course forums. I participated from my blog, as did Matthias. So at the time I had a weak connection with Roy (I was simply aware of him), but a stronger connection with Matthias, who I was connected to through our blogs. My connection with Roy did not become stronger until after the course was over, when we began to research learners’ experiences in this MOOC. [1] [2]

On reflection, it is interesting that open learning environments can lead to learning in more closed, private, collaborative (as opposed to cooperative), spaces. Since CCK08 this has often been my experience and has led to some of my most significant and fruitful learning experiences. I think this has also influenced how we (Roy and I) have written about the characteristics of open learning environments. We acknowledge the role of seemingly ‘non-open’ factors such as solitude and contemplation and the role of prescribed learning, and are interested in the balance between more prescribed, closed environments and open learning environments. We do not claim that learning in the open is superior to learning in more closed environments or vice versa. We are interested in how and why they are different and in the affordances of both open and more prescribed learning environments. We also recognize that learners will move between open and closed learning environments.

Working across distributed platforms, as depicted by Matthias’ map, is a characteristic of open learning environments that has also been highlighted by Stephen Downes.  In addition Stephen has always said that the key principles of an open networked learning environment (a cMOOC) are autonomy, diversity, openness and interaction/connectivity. These four principles have been influential in our thinking about the characteristics of open learning environments. They, along with our past experience and prior knowledge of various learning theories, were our starting point.

Ultimately after many months (even years) of deliberation, discussion, drawing on prior experience, testing and refinement, we now have a list of 25 characteristics of learning in open learning environments (which we call ‘factors’). We have organized these into 4 clusters. These are 1. Open/Structure 2. Interactive Environment 3. Agency 4. Presence/Writing. [3] [4] For each cluster we have a key question:

  • Open/Structure: What is the balance between Openness and Structure?
  • Interactive environment: How is the learning design implemented?
  • Agency: Do learners develop their own capacity for action, or just compliance with given roles?
  • Presence/writing: What traces do you make and leave behind you?

The Table below lists the factors arranged into clusters. In our publications and on our open wiki, each of these factors comes with a description and question (see references at the end of this post).

Clusters and FactorsOur thinking about open learning environments and the factors that influence learning within these environments is ongoing, so we do not see this list of factors as definitive. We offer them as a palette, rather like an artist’s palette of colours, to be selected from according to the most useful and appropriate in any given context. We also recognize that the palette might be added to or the factors changed. Our experience is, though, that a consideration of the complete list of 25 factors provides the richest picture of learning in an open environment. We visualize this picture as a Footprint of Emergence [4], as depicted below.

cck08 footprint

This ‘Footprint’ is a visualization of experience of learning in the Connectivism and Connective Knowledge MOOC (CCK08).

On the Footprint image, factors can be seen as points (black dots) located on the footprint line within the circle. Each factor relates to the list of factors above, but is represented on the image by an abbreviation. So ‘Lim’ relates to Liminal space and ‘Amb’ to ambiguity and so on.

To interpret and understand the footprint visualization, we need to know that in the dark centre of the circle learning is experienced as prescribed. In the white zone learning is experienced as ‘sweetly’ emergent. Moving outwards from the white zone to the darker blue zone, learning is experienced as more challenging and ‘sharply’ emergent. On the dark outer edge of the circle learning is experienced as chaotic.

CCK08 was designed to be open and challenging, and therefore it is no surprise that most of the characteristics/factors that we have identified were experienced as being between sweetly emergent and chaotic, for the point in time at which this footprint was drawn in the course. Footprints visualize an instant in time. We have provided details of how to draw footprints of emergence on our open wiki [5] and in this video below.

The footprint visualization makes explicit the relationship between open emergent learning and closed, prescribed learning. If, as we believe, open learning environments lead to increasing incidents of emergent learning (I will come back to this in my next blog post), then we, as learners, teachers and designers, need to know more about what this learning might entail, how we will recognize it and how we will value it.

References:

  1. Mackness, J., Mak, Sui, Fai, J. & Williams, R. (2010). The Ideals and Reality of Participating in a MOOC. In Networked Learning Conference, Aarlborg (pp. 266-274). Retrieved from http://www.lancs.ac.uk/fss/organisations/netlc/past/nlc2010/abstracts/Mackness.html
  2. Mak, Sui, Fai, J., Williams, R. & Mackness, J. (2010). Blogs and Forums as Communication and Learning Tools in a MOOC. In Networked Learning Conference, Aarlborg (pp. 275-284). Retrieved from http://www.lancs.ac.uk/fss/organisations/netlc/past/nlc2010/abstracts/Mak.html
  3. Williams, R., Karousou, R. &  Mackness, J. (2011) Emergent Learning and Learning Ecologies in Web 2.0. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. Retrieved from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/883
  4. Williams, R., Mackness, J. & Gumtau, S. (2012) Footprints of Emergence. Vol. 13, No. 4. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. Retrieved from: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1267
  5. Footprints of Emergence open wiki – http://footprints-of-emergence.wikispaces.com/

Evaluation of Open Learning Scenarios

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 10.18.10

In September Roy Williams and I will be giving the keynote for this conference in Graz, Austria, at the invitation of Jutta Pauschenwein and her colleagues. The title of the conference for those who do not speak German is Evaluation of Open Learning Scenarios.

The title of our keynote is:

Surfacing, sharing and valuing tacit knowledge

This is the first blog post in a series that we hope to write between now and September 17th. The aim is that these posts will act as advance organizers. We know from experience that some of the ideas that we will discuss in our presentation need more time and reflection to take in than will be possible at the conference itself. We also know that we won’t have time at the conference to cover everything we have thought about in relation to this presentation and all the work we have done on the Footprints.

This is a small annual conference (usually about 100 people). Last year the conference topic was very popular – Learning with Videos and Games; 150 delegates attended.

Jutta has told us that this is the 13th year this conference has been offered. It attracts a loyal group of delegates – university teachers, school teachers and trainers of companies, from Austria, Germany and Switzerland, some of whom attend year after year. Jutta has told us that unlike many of the German speaking conferences, which focus on scientific articles and presentations, this conference takes a more pragmatic approach and attracts an audience who ‘want to know how to do something’. Jutta has therefore invited us to speak about how we use our work on Footprints of Emergence to evaluate learning in open learning environments. She herself has been using our Footprints of Emergence drawing tool extensively since 2012.

Jutta and her colleagues recently used the Footprints for an assignment in their MOOC – Competences for Global Collaboration (cope14) and have often used them in their work in the past. Jutta blogs about them and has, with her colleagues, written articles and presented papers at conferences that make reference to the Footprints.

The conference presenters will also submit papers for review. Here is the programme for the conference – Programme for Graz e-Learning Conference

….. and here is the Abstract of our paper:

Surfacing, sharing and valuing tacit knowledge in open learning

Roy Williams

Jenny Mackness

Abstract:

This paper is situated within the paradigm of open, emergent learning, which exploits the full range of social and interactive media, and enables independent initiative and creativity. Open, emergent environments change the way we experience learning, and this has implications for the way we design and manage learning spaces, and describe and analyse them. This paper explores the ways we have engaged with these issues, as participants, designers, researchers, and as facilitators, and how we have reflected on, visualized, shared, and valued the rich dynamics of collaborative discovery. In particular, we explore how emergent learning can be enabled by using uncertain probes rather than predictable outcomes, by emphasizing tacit rather than explicit reflection, and by seeking ways to give the learners back a real voice in a collaborative conversation about the value of learning and teaching.

Key words: probes, Footprints, emergent learning, tacit knowledge, MOOCs

This paper will ultimately be published along with all the other papers, in an open e-book. For last year’s e-book see the FH/Joanneum Website

I don’t know how often the keynote for this conference has been given in English. Unfortunately neither Roy nor I speak German, but we welcome comments on this blog in either German or English. Most of the papers for the conference will be presented in German, but Jutta and I will run a workshop at the end of the day in both German and English.

It goes without saying that we are very much looking forward to meeting Jutta and all her colleagues and are grateful for this opportunity to present our work in Austria.

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?

Emerging questions on Emergent Learning

scope-badge The SCoPE community discussion forums on emergent learning continue to be very stimulating – and in true emergent form are raising more questions than are being answered.  See the open SCoPE discussion forums for more information.

In tomorrow’s webinar (the second of two) we will be explaining how to draw footprints of emergence and sharing the contexts in which this might be helpful. From our perspective the footprints are particularly helpful for reflecting on learning in open learning environments such as MOOCs, but can also be used for more traditional courses.  We look forward to hearing what others think.

Here are the details for accessing tomorrow’s webinar.

Tuesday, 26 November 18:00 GMT  

Vicki Dale ELESIG workshop

This webinar will focus on drawing footprints of emergence and a discussion of the critical factors, which we use to describe and map out the learning experience. We will encourage all participants to draw their own footprints. In the following asynchronous discussion forum, we hope that you will share your footprints, so that we can critically reflect on the approach, and methodology, in order to improve it and to continue to make it accessible, available and relevant to the broader research and design community.

See also the Preparing for Webinar 2 discussion forum thread – which explains what documents need to be downloaded before the session.

Although we have run face-to-face workshops on how to draw the footprints, we have never tried this online before. We are looking forward to seeing what emerges from this session 😉

Questions about Emergent Learning

We had a great webinar on Emergent Learning on Tuesday, courtesy of Sylvia Currie and the SCoPE community at BCcampus. It’s really stimulating to discover others ‘out there’ who are as interested in emergent learning as we are. For those who would have liked to join us and couldn’t make it, Sylvia has posted a recording of the session.

There were lots of points made in the webinar that I could mention here and some are already being discussed in the asynchronous discussion forum that we have running this week and next (until November 29th).

But two have stuck in my mind:

1. Doesn’t emergent learning happen all the time? It has occurred to me that if our answer to this question is ‘Yes’, then why doesn’t emergent learning crop up very much in discussions about teaching and learning and why isn’t everyone who is interested in teaching and learning also interested in emergent learning?

2. Does emergent learning makes teachers redundant?

I will be thinking more about both these questions. For now I am trying to keep up with discussion!

Apart from the stimulating discussion we have been having, there was also quite a bit of interest in the webinar we will run next week on how to draw footprints of emergence – a tool we have developed to visualise the balance between prescriptive and emergent learning in any course, but particularly in open learning environments. This is a footprint of my experience in Old Globe MOOC. For further information about this see our open wiki

Figure 1 OG Footprint jpeg

…… and for more examples of footprints see here 

In next Tuesday’s webinar (Tuesday, 26 November 18:00 GMT, 10:00 PST) we are hoping that everyone will have a go at drawing a footprint of emergence. We will be talking everyone through the process.

If you are thinking of coming – to get the most out of the webinar, there are one or two things you might like to do beforehand.

1. Have in mind a course that you have designed, taught or experienced, that you would like to explore/reflect on in terms of its potential for emergent learning.

2. Have the following documents either printed out or downloaded onto your desktop. You can find these documents on our wiki here – or in the SCoPE site here.

  • Palette 2.0.1.png. This is for printing out and drawing by hand. It can then be scanned and either uploaded to the wiki or sent to one of us for uploading.
  • Palette new template 2. Docx. This is for downloading to your desktop and working on, on your computer.
  • Mapping sheet 2013. You will need to refer to this as you draw, but we will also talk you through it.

You may also find it helpful to watch the video that is on the wiki (8 mins) and embedded here.

If you have time to look at these documents before Tuesday that would be great, but don’t worry if you don’t have time. We will go through everything in the webinar.

Looking forward to continuing our discussion in SCoPE, or here in this blog, and seeing people again or for the first time in the second webinar on Tuesday 26th November.