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 😉

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 🙂

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.

What is Emergent Learning? Why is it relevant?

This week and next week we will be discussing these questions with the SCoPE community and others. See below for details.

In his Ted Talk earlier this year, Sugata Mitra explained that we now live in a world in which we can no longer think in terms of ‘making learning happen’. We have to ‘let it happen’.  In other words we have to embrace ‘emergent learning’.

Sugata Mitra: Build a School in the Cloud

If you are interested in learning environments which support emergent learning and would like to share and discuss your experiences, please join us. Here are the details.

The discussion forum and online webinars are open to all, not only SCoPE community members, but to anyone who is interested.  Head for the Footprints of Emergence page on the SCoPE site. The discussion forum is now open.

There are two webinars scheduled as part of this 2-week seminar discussion. They will take place in the SCoPE Blackboard Collaborate Room: http://urls.bccampus.ca/scopeevents

Tuesday, 19 November 18:00 GMT  We will introduce ourselves and discuss what emergent learning is and the progress of our research. This will be followed by asynchronous discussion in the forum, where we can discuss further questions and any issues arising from the webinar.

Tuesday, 29 November 18:00 GMT  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.

Many thanks to Sylvia Currie for the invitation and for her help and support in organizing this.

Capturing the learner experience in ModPo and open learning environments

This is an invitation to all Modern & Contemporary American Poets MOOC (ModPo) participants, SCoPE community members, CPsquare members, ELESIG members, FSLT13 participants, POTCert participants, colleagues and friends, and the wider open network to join us in two open webinars to reflect on your learning experiences and discuss emergent learning in MOOCs and open learning environments.

Where and when?

SCoPE Blackboard Collaborate Room: http://urls.bccampus.ca/scopeevents

  1. Webinar 1 – Emergent Learning – Tuesday, 19 November 18:00 GMT
  2. Webinar 2 –  Drawing Footprints of Emergence – Tuesday, 29 November 18:00 GMT

See http://scope.bccampus.ca/mod/forum/view.php?id=9408 for further details of the Webinars.

In these webinars we will be sharing some thoughts about our experiences in MOOCs and other courses,  in my case ModPo, and inviting participants to do likewise. In particular, in the second webinar, we will encourage participants to reflect on their learning to draw a visualization of their learning experience – a Footprint.

This is a visualization of my reflection on my ModPo experience at the end of Week 10, the end of the MOOC.ModPo Week 10 Image 2

In these drawings (we call them Footprints) we consider the relationship between 25 different critical factors  that can influence the learning experience with particular reference to the balance between prescriptive and emergent learning. There is not room here to explain this in detail. We will do this in the webinars and further information can be found on our open wiki and in our published papers – which you can find here and here.

Drawing footprints is a way of surfacing deep reflection, tacit knowledge and understanding about learning in complex learning environments.

I have documented my ModPo experience over the weeks in this document in a series of footprints – see ModPo footprints and explanation 151113

This is how I have described my learner experience at the end of the course (the end of Week 10) which is depicted by the Footprint image above …….

My Learning experience in ModPo – End of Week 10

ModPo has been a bit of a roller coaster ride for me. I have lurched from being thrilled by it, to feeling excessively irritated, from marveling at the open minds of the poets to whom we have been introduced, to feeling that I do not have the competence to understand them, from being disappointed in aspects of the MOOC pedagogy to being really impressed with the way in which the MOOC has been run. This is reflected in the footprints I have drawn at various stages of the course.

Reflecting on my experience of the last week of the course, I find that my perception of the balance between emergent and prescriptive learning in this MOOC has once again shifted more into the ‘sweet’ emergent learning zone (The pale white zone on the footprint is the emergent learning zone. The darker central zone is the prescriptive learning zone. The outer darker zone is the challenging zone, moving towards the edge of chaos).

The footprint I have drawn shows that there are a number of factors that remain in the prescriptive zone. There isn’t a lot of ‘Risk’ in the ModPo environment, or opportunities for the course to be self-correcting or adaptive. There is limited variance in the learning pathways and not really any possibility that I could see of negotiating outcomes. My perception is that these constraints on emergent learning are a result of the design of the Coursera platform.

I also imposed constraints on myself by choosing not to engage in the forums and towards the end of the course I stopped watching the webcasts. For myself I had to balance engagement with the heavy load of poetry we were required to read and engage with, with the demands of engaging in the overloaded forums. I chose the former and instead to engage with the MOOC from my blog. I have blogged each week of the course.

The result has been a mostly sweetly emergent learning experience, i.e. ModPo has been a positive learning experience. I do not feel part of the ModPo community (it has been a ‘purple in the nose’ experience*), but I have found the introduction to poets and their experiments highly stimulating and relevant to my work in education.

*(A story from Etienne Wenger). I have tasted the wine and know there is a lot to know about the wine, but I don’t feel part of the wine-tasting community, I don’t understand their language (purple in the nose) and I don’t think I want to become a member of this community. I will remain at the boundaries of the community.

This is my experience. It is valid for me, but of course there is no way in which it could be said to be representative of the 36 000 ModPo participants. For that we would need many ModPo participants to draw a footprint and share it. Hence the invitation.

And the invitation is equally open to all interested in online learning experiences. We already have many examples of footprints from participants on a range of courses and would welcome more. The more we have, the more we can begin to unpick what it means to learn in open learning environments.

We hope you will join us in the webinars. Everyone is welcome.

Building open communities

Sylvia Currie who manages the SCoPE community at BC Campus spoke to FSLT13   last week on her work as a community facilitator and organizer.

The title of her talk is intriguing, because in some senses communities of practice could be regarded as closed rather than open, in that traditionally they have had clear boundaries. For example, in 2007, Engestrom wrote of the costs of a community of practice as follows:

  • A community of practice is a fairly well-bounded local entity which has clear boundaries and membership criteria.
  • A community of practice has a single center of supreme skill and authority, typically embodied in the master.
  • A community of practice is characterized mainly by centripetal movement from the periphery toward the center, from novice to master, from marginal to fully legitimate participation;opposite centrifugal movement may occur but is not  foundational.

But things have moved on since those early days of communities of practice. Sylvia points out that the term ‘open’ can have different meanings.

Open means many things

Etienne Wenger acknowledges this change in openness in his more recent work on  ‘landscapes of practice’ where he discusses how we are members of different communities of practice and situated in multiple landscapes.

The human world can be viewed as a huge collection of communities of practice – some very prominent and recognized, others hardly visible. Our learning can then be understood as a trajectory through this landscape of practices: entering some communities, being invited or rejected, remaining visitors, crossing boundaries, being stuck, and moving on. In such a landscape, both the core of communities of practice and their boundaries offer opportunities for learning.

He has suggested that learning is often most profitable at the boundaries between different communities, recognizing that community boundaries are permeable.

The SCoPE community is ‘open’ in many senses of the word and Sylvia has recognized that ‘openness’ changes things and requires a different approach in terms of facilitation.

Open does change things

 

Here is the recording of the session:

And here is a link to the complete recording in Blackboard Collaborate, including the chat and an example, in the second half of the session, of how to manage group work in a synchronous online session. Sylvia points out that this is not without risks, so not everything worked out, but if no-one took these risks then where would be the progress?

Sylvia’s talk reflected her wealth of experience (more than 20 years) of community facilitation and her commitment to open sharing of her expertise.

Reference

Engeström, Y. (2007). From communities of practice to mycorrhizae. In J. Hughes, N. Jewson & L. Unwin (Eds.), Communities of practice: Critical perspectives. London: Routledge.