Emergent Learning at ALTC2103

ALT-C is in its second day. I am no longer there and am trying to follow what’s going on via the Twitter stream, but it doesn’t work for me. It’s like being in a crowded room and catching snippets of conversation, which are difficult to follow up or follow through.

But I was there yesterday and Monday evening and thoroughly enjoyed it for the handful of people I met and conversations that I had. I don’t need a room full. Just one meaningful discussion would have been enough for me, and I got more than one. Not least I had a chance to talk face-to-face with my colleague Roy, who I have worked with online since 2008, but I think we have only met face-to-face five times!

Our session – Learning in the Open – went reasonably well, but on reflection I think we could have done a more ‘out of the box’ presentation. It’s ironic that we were talking about emergent learning and the factors that might need to be considered to promote it, but we still fell into a fairly conventional way (a trap?) of running a workshop, even though the ideas we are working on and were presenting are, I think, far from conventional. As we have discovered in running these workshops, the idea that learning is messy, is difficult to control and is unique to each individual learner is as counter-intuitive as it is obvious for many who work in education.

So what about the conference itself? The title is altc2013 Building new cultures of learning – but how much does the conference design promote this.

I was only there one day, and I rarely go to conferences, but it seemed to me to be in a format not dissimilar to conferences I was going to years ago – keynote speakers, breakout sessions, parallel paper presentations, workshops, exhibition hall etc. This is not intended as a criticism. It’s a reflection. As I said above I enjoyed my day and feel that the handful of connections I made were well worth the time and money I spent going to ALT-C, but if I think about it in terms of emergent learning – did I have a transformative, surprising, unpredictable experience, then ‘No’ I didn’t.

Perhaps this is not the purpose of a conference, even one that is considering building new cultures of learning. I am familiar with ‘Unconferences’ – and have even attended one some years back, but that didn’t have the numbers that ALT-C has. How could a conference like ALT-C, with more than 450 delegates in a physical space, do it differently? Should a conference like ALT-C even consider doing it differently?

Thinking off the top of my head – perhaps the place to start, and thinking about building new learning cultures, would be to think in terms of ‘open’ learning environments and the factors which influence that. Which brings me back to footprints of emergence (for examples of what I mean see this page on our open wiki). My colleague Roy is at the conference for the full three days. Perhaps he will draw a footprint of the conference when it is over, and that might provide some further insights into conference design. And we would certainly welcome footprints from conference participants.

Thanks to the conference organizers and to Rose Heaney, our session moderator, for their hard work and support.