Many thanks everyone for a great start to the discussion about emergent learning. Although we have by no means finished discussion in the other forum and we can continue there, there were some questions that came up in the webinar, which perhaps we could discuss further.
One question is:
Can we design for emergent learning or is that a contradiction in terms?
I have been reading and thinking about "emergence", "complexity" and "design". To begin to explore your great question "can we design for emergent learning"? I stumbled upon this website on complexity and emergence. The author suggests that there might be different forms of "emergence" in relation to complexity and if this is the case then perhaps there are design opportunities. The tension for me in terms of design is "who" is doing the designing and what is the intention of the design? In this seminar I am finding myself having to really explore the foundamental concepts and figure out how these fit for me. I lean towards the natural metaphor but having said this, when humans attempt to "design" natural phenomenon we often get into trouble. But, if I begin to think of "emergence" and "emergent learning" as something that bubbles up through networks and different configurations of people, then I can see designing situations and intentially new affilitations where new knowledges and perhaps learning might emerge.
some very preliminary thoughts from me on your very important "design" question : )
Hi. I have been using these concepts for many years now and agree with the author you referred to. I would, however, urge caution, particularly as the author appears to be applying a 'Newtonian Paradigm' - ie, a mechanistic and linear systems approach - to the question. 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.
Such stable learning environments exist everywhere - except in the sphere of emergent learning.
Yes, I concur that the newtoninism is clearly a frame for his conceptions of emergence. I simply found it rather interesting that he has gone as far as he has in terms of differentiating different forms/types of emergence. It's wise to be cautious on all accounts : )
Hi Barb and Phillip - thanks for your interesting comments here. My thinking in relation to this is that you can't design for emergent learning, which by it's very nature is unpredictable - but you can design 'spaces', 'learning environments' which might be conducive to emergent learning.
That's what we've been trying to do with our research - not design these environments oursleves, but explore with others what the factors might be that would contribute to such a space or learning environment.
To explain living organisms’ being able to escape entropy, Autpoiesis (initiated by Humberto Maturana and Francisco J. Varela) allows biological entities to run up the ladder of complexity and not down and degraded as non-living things like rocks do. This suggests things can develop to display uniqueness in being more than their parts—as Barb says, “new affiliations” that in turn could continue on. The emergence in this system is in the whole not being represented in any characteristic of its parts, as neither hydrogen nor oxygen speaking to us about water. Nor will they admit to knowing anything about it.
But is it hopeless to design for this? I wonder. A whole bicycle is proof of itself. In school we can’t prove a bicycle but we can propose, through certain patterns of thought, the possibility of a bicycle almost to the point of the universe manifesting a bike out of the shear likelihood of its being in existence by our thinking of it. Humans can’t make things appear from nothing but we can imagine things, build them, operate them and then think about thinking about them so we come pretty close to the emergence of things already. Why not then design a process for emergence?
Scott - you asked whether or not it is not hopeless to design for learning as a biological phenomenon. In fact I firmly believe it is possible based on the fact that I have been doing so for several years now. I am currently working with our military to institute such an approach to emergent and adaptive learning which supports decision making in complex and asymmetric environments.
My research and experience shows that if, like biology, we treat learning as something which can and will occur naturally regardless of what we do, then the quality of learning (as opposed to 'what' is learned) will be determined by how well we shape the environment and nurture the growing organism.
Shaping the environment means planting the right seed, in the right place, in order to grow the right outcome. And then we water and nurture the seed's growth, shaping and trimming as we go along, so that at the end we have either a towering oak tree or a Bonsai version.
I have also used a similar approach to the introduction of a vocational education and training system into a Middle Eastern country but there are many decades to go before we can see just how successful I have been.
Phillip and Jenny
I think we believe ourselves confined to a single model of knowledge transfer but education is only a cultural construct with limitations that have set themselves into the procedure of it.
Humans are quite adept at understanding the world but my experience is they are held by the institutions they construct around themselves to underperform in the name of sustaining order. Protecting their protector.
Vocations that seem to be breaking away from the security of the one learning model (whatever that is) are the active ones like the military, medicine, trades. I wonder if encountering the world as it is rather than as it is modeled to be forces us to realize a wider spectrum of working strategies? Or based on immediate need to try options in the raw rather than only those known to work because we haven't the time to "normalize" the situation and have to think on the fly?
Some things just jump out at us and we adapt. We seem to be wired for this. I think it's more a case of determining why we become stuck in certain ways of doing things.
Thanks for your thoughts Phillip and Scott.
I wonder if encountering the world as it is rather than as it is modeled to be forces us to realize a wider spectrum of working strategies?
It occurred to me that maybe one of the affordances of the web is that is helps us to encounter the world as it is, much more than we've ever been able to in the past - and so we are having to realise a wider spectrum of working strategies - through cross-cultural/global discussions such as this.
I think it's more a case of determining why we become stuck in certain ways of doing things.
This directly relates to our work on emergent learning. Being stuck in certain ways of doing things is not going to be conducive to emergent learning. There must be so many context dependent reasons why people become stuck in certain ways of doing things, but one reason that we have discussed a lot is risk - How safe do people feel in the learning environment ? How safe is too safe? How risky is too risky? Responses will be individual - which make the design process all the more difficult. So ultimately we need to look at a whole variety of factors that can be balanced - which is what we have tried to do with the footprints of emergence.
Looking forward to discussing this further in the webinar tomorrow and over the coming week.
Jenny, one way to become stuck is to couple the question with its answer in an attempt to streamline the process of inquiry. "This looks like a THIS therefore it is resolved by a THAT. We cheat the problem of its ability to teach by first supposing we recognize it and then search out the answer. Or we have an answer and alter the question to fit? (Is this a description of jumping to a conclusion?
How about changing the term "risky" to "unconfident"? To me, the change of words lowers the price of being wrong and it also might lower the urge to be "right" over a more productive speculative approach. To walk away from a known answer may be risky but it also may allow us a new and better answer.
I like the footprint idea as it seems to decouple question and answer. Listening to a situation and recording without struggling to resolve it is what I see in the patterns.
This is interesting: On The Reality of Congitive Illusions http://www.cs.colorado.edu/~martin/Csci6402/Papers/kahneman-tversky.pdf
One and All ...
encountering the world as it is rather than as it is modeled to be ...
...that is an interesting question ...
The footprints are at one level a complex model, referencing many, many people, texts, and practices, which could obscure our perception. But we try to work with the paradox of encountering the world as it is, while using the semiotic tools we have - by framing the enterprise (it is a 'continuous beta' or WIP) as a palette-for-description.
So, we try to attempt no more than to describe the way we encounter the world (of learning and much else besides) as it is - as learners, as designer, as participant researchers, as facilitators. We offer a palette, but its an open palette, as all palettes must be.
Use some of the colours/factors we have put on the palette, if they are fit for your description of your engagement with the world as it is. In the process you are ikely to find that you are describing yourself - your emergent self - too, and that can be quite unsettling. Ignore particular colours/factors, leave them aside if they are 'not applicable'. Re/Mix new concepts/colours if you need new ones, and share with us, please.
Latour sets us a challenge, i.e. to get the description right, in which case most of the analysis will flow from it automatically. That's a big ask, and I'm not sure if it allows enough role for the imagination, but its one way to think about it.
I really like the idea/metaphor you are proposing - the "palette" - as a way of "describing" my engagement with the world or I wonder if it is my perception of what is going on at a point in time that I am describing? Either way, its an opportunity to paint and thus "see" one's experience of the situation one is describing. By mapping my experience, I am able to see something but without comparing this to another I might not be able to see a full picture or what is possible. I am not sure how by painting the picture I can see my potential as a learner? I am not sure "analysis will flow automatically". What are your thoughts about this?
I am so glad we are going to get practical with our footprints....my head is spinning with all of the comments and I need to ground myself in a real map : )
Barb, a footprint is exactly that - its what you leave behind you at a particular point in time and space.
You can try to describe what's in your mind as it happens, but that's really difficult. I would advise a little room for retrospection - the amount is up to you.
Your next choice is what particular point (or points) in time you select - we advise creating a 'design' footprint (the footprint you as designer are hoping will describe the experience of most participants at the start, or the footprint you as a learner experience/d at the start of the learning event).
You can then add a number of footprints of later stages of your experience of the event, or of most people's experience of the event (if you are a researchers, and are trying to interpret data from participants and visualise it). How many? Depends on how many distinct phases or stages you describe.
Painting a picture is, in our experience as describers of our own experience, a strange experience in itself, and most often surfaces things and thoughts and feelings that you (as footprint creator) were not that aware of. So, who knows what will happen? You have to try it and see ...
The analysis will follow? Its an interesting dream, and a demagogical conceit of Latour's. For us we just want to create a number of descriptions and visualizations that people can use to start conversations with themselves and with others about what 'actually' happended. We can take it quite a bit futher than that, but that's another webinar! We need to cross this bridge first!
Excellent I am keen to get these footprints underway! I watched the video on your wiki last night - it is very good! Thanks to Jenny for pointing us to it in prep for your webinar today. I will try both the digital tool and the pencil/paper version. I rather like the interactive possibilities of the digital and I suspect it will potentially yield a different experience.
Good advice to generate the footprint as "designer" at the start of what we are hoping for. This will definately yield material for conversation not only at the beginning but over the duration of the course.
Sorry to miss you all in the webinar today! I had previously agreed to attend student final project presentations in one of the courses that I have been involved in as a design consultant. I am sorry about this but I will come back this evening to the webinar and will back back in the conversation later as well.
Scott, and All ...
A few thoughts ...
- Emergent learning can be repeated for each (next) individual (like the process of parallel evolution - of eyes, for instance, which I think on current data have evolved on at least four unrelated occasions - so far). Emergent learning for a community (an adademic or professional community) might on the other hand become part of the received wisdom, and not be repeated, although even then, it can always be challenged by the next emergent paradigm.
- Autopoeisis does seem to be a threshold process for evolution, and Deacon (New Scientist last year some time) wrote a piece on a variation of auotpoesis, autocatalysis (in which a chemical is the product of a chemical reaction simultaneously with being a catalyst for the same reaction) as a possible mechanism for early forms of life. (See references to related material here ...)
- I love the scenario of oxygen and hydrogen not 'admitting' to know anything about' the formation of water - because that is totally unexpected (although not necessarily unpredictable) from their point of view. Many of the properties of water are even more unexpected, and many of them are still unpredicatable (from our theoretical framework, which clearly still has a long way to go).
- Mathematics is a wonderful example of people imagining new connections and transformations, and describing them in great depth, before anything has been discovered that exhibits those properties - which sometimes only occurs years later.
- Emergence in evolution is based on interaction, variation, and mistakes (mutations) some of which are serendipitously beneficial, most of which are total failures. So, as part of biological life, our existence and our evolution is premised on millions of failures, among which are a few beneficial adaptations. Emergence (and the 'creation' of life and new ideas) is not for the faint hearted.
- Emergence in learning, as a concept, draws on emergence in evolution, within an overall conceptual schema of complexity (complex adaptive systems theory - CAST), but it is not the 'same as' - we need to take the parts that are useful and applicable, and we still have work to do to assemble and configure those aspects of CAST that might be useful to us in understanding emergent learning, particularly learning within social media.
Roy, you said "our existence and our evolution is premised on millions of failures, among which are a few beneficial adaptations." If the environment is overwhelmingly populated with screw-ups wouldn't it be better to learn from the more 'sucessful' pool of failures than to shop from the tiny selection of things that work?
Scott, just as the oxygen and hydrogen atoms do not admit to knowing anything about water, genetic mutations wiould not admit to knowing anything about evolution. In biology there is evolution (and devolution) without intention, knowing or learning. Its just a process of variation and (possilbe) adaptation. What happens happens.
Learning is different, it is does 'admit' of intention and knowing, and even design. It can create, and can be a response to, all of these factors.
What is common to both is the process of frequent interaction between numerous micro-agents, none of whom can be aware of the whole picture, which is the prerequisit for emergence, but cannot predict that it will happen, or how.
Yes, I completely agree and like the idea of designing "environments" that will bring abouot emergence and emergent learning. This will call for some flexibility and/or opportunity for expansion of what is possible and what is valued in the environment. I can see that what I might value for myself as a "learning" might not be valued by a colleague, or a teacher or a boss for instance. So, this raises other questions about who get's to decide what is of value for another person? Hmmmm
Barbara - we have had a great deal of success with, in your words 'designing' the environment so that learning occurs. Not so much in the classroom but certainly in the workplace where the post-training evaluation takes place. We call it 'shaping' because it enables us to re-'shape' the environment in order to take advantage of the learning as it emerges. Our experience is that trying to 'design' the environment actually imposes a barrier and, once the 'design' barrier is hurdled then learning either stops or goes in a different direction. In order to harness this we continually move the bifurcation point so that the pace and direction of learning is in line with our agreed vision.
Can you explain 'shaping'? I'm thinking it means adapting or responding to activity in the environment?
Scott - shaping means preparing the environment in such a way that the emergent learning is 'shaped'.
For example, information based activities such as meetings, networks, communities of practice are designed with a specific learning endstate in mind. Conditions for emergent learning such as procedures, policies, long-learning or feedback information and decision making loops (where the emphasis is on accuracy) or short feedback loops (where the emphasis is on avoiding errors) are established and monitored. These long/short feedback loops are important as they not only facilitate a shaped learning environment but incorporate a kind of creative chaos which slows down/speeds up the learning thereby making it more resilient.
We have only used this with employees and as a means of creating robust learning organisations. I don't know how they would go in a pedagogical environment. Intuitively there shouldn't be a problem, and testing it would be interesting.
Like the idea of short and long loops. Was thinking of my last job where short deadlines usually resulted in greater accuracy, but only because it allowed us to refuse distractions and other assignments until finished. That said, it did force us to trim details and I wonder if what we lost fidelity to our "good enough" attitude?
My experience with teams are that we roughly split into 'production' and 'detail' groups with oversight in the middle. This works for doing things but I wonder if it creates a learning space in the sense that people could go beyond automatic activity to actual problem solving?
Phillip, shaping is interesting, and works at many levels.
If you are monitoring events, and shaping conditions, on a dynamic, ongoing basis, we would call that 'designing for emergence'. They key for us (and I guess it might be for you too) is that shaping conditions as part of a dynamic process of 'mutual adaptation' (or mutual co-evolution, in complexity terms) is quite different from 'setting' conditions, which is what we would call prescriptive design, or design for compliance.
In systems terms, its the difference between creating a design, shutting down the design process, and then starting the event (setting the conditions and outcomes) - on the one hand, or continuing the design process throughout, on an adaptive, dynamic, co-evolutionary basis (shaping the conditions, not outcomes) on the other hand.
Which means that both the design and the learning have to emerge simultaneously. In principle, as soon as the design process 'ends', emergence is likely to end or to reduce drastically.
So ... is there a straightforward way of describing and naming 'design 1' and 'design 2'? Are they both 'design' (or are neither 'design'?).
Perhaps the problem is that once we use the term 'design' to try and describe what we are doing, most people think we are talking of design as 'setting' the conditions (in micro-bytes of stone).
'Heuticulture' (a mashup of heutagogy and horticulture) is the only option I have for this, but it's just too convoluted - I think it's like a joke that needs too much explaining. (Maybe it'll catch on, who knows).
There is a way to approach this that we get from Dave Snowden's work on complexity, management and leadership, namely to turn the design process upside down, which achieves much the same thing - viz: design by specifying the negative conditions (what should not happen) rather than the positive conditions (what should happen) in learning - as far as is possible.
So specifying an outcome state (which might be stable or unstable) rather than specific outcomes might suffice too, no?
I like a lot of what Snowden says, particularly his thoughts on knowledge management, but my experience is slightly different. I am more in the camp of Clancy or Shaw who see compexity and emergence as forever iterative simply because the act of change creates each time a different platform from which to launch further change.
As for your comments about 'heuticulture' - I had to laugh. Although I suspect that horticulture still requires a certain 'hands on' approach from the master gardener. Had you thought of the Lamarkian biology?
I am also of two minds with the 'creation' and 'shutting down' of design. Isn't it the aim of emergent learning that learning never starts - nor stops? That learning is because it is? (How Kantian of me.) I don't know, but it sounds like something that is perhaps better discussed over a good red wine :-)
Phillip, key texts / ideas from Clancy or Shaw? Tell me more, please. I agree that emergence is forever iterative, and have written extensively on affordances in much the same light (see here ... ).
Horticulture is possibly more 'hands on', but I take my cue from Montessori education, in which 'hands off' (and silent demonstration) are key. So a mashup of the two, perhaps.
I had not realised that Lamark forumulated the idea of evolution pushing biology 'up the chain' of complexity, and in effect countering the hegemony of physics, and the widespread epidemic of 'physics envy' that is still prevalent in social science, and in learning research. The misapplication of the second law of themodynamics has a lot to answer for.
I'll join you in the red wine conversation - always a useful prop to have for emergent learning.
Design - sure, I only realised recently (perhaps I should have read more Kant, and less Barthes) that the discouse of design is largely colonised by people who see it as something that ends before the learning starts. Emegent learning, emergent design, co-evolution of structure and agency, or should we just say co-evolution of design and learning - that feels much better to me, maybe we should change the name of the first quadrant to that Design/Learning?
Hi Barb, one of the issues we faces when we started out was there seemed to be lots of designs which tried to second guess what might be good for learners, and lots of research which asked learners what their learning experience was like ...
But none of this (as far as we could see ...) treated the process as a dynamic, adaptive, changing process - it was generally treated as a single event - one experience.
Our research and interviews with learners (in our NLC papers some time back) seemed to be telling us something quite different - that learning experience, and strategy, and response, and style could all change substantially during a learning event. So we tried to find a way to describe that - as learners, as designers, as teachers, as researchers.
What this yields is a series of snapshots of learning by a range of people, at a range of times. Not the kind of convenient 'big data' that you can enter into a computer and ask it to do the thinking for you - its messy stuff that you have to engage with - preferably by engaging with the footprints (and showing your own, messy ones too) and with the people concerned. Its a big-mulit-triangulation process, not a convenient bid-data process. (Aside: convenient data is like convenience food - very tempting, but not necessarily good for you or sustainable).
So ... maybe no 'one' decides what's good for your or 'them' - you ask yourself and everyone else to describe their experience/s, and then compare notes, have a conversation, and see what comes out of it.
mmmmm.... does that i) make sense and ii) appeal to you?
If not ... well, you might not have come to the right webinar!
Messy indeed and yes, this all makes sense ot me. The biggest issue we all face is imposing what we think will work on others and it usually doesn't hit the mark so acknowledging emergence and being able to recognize opportunities to all for emergence is likely one of the biggest learnings for both learners and instructors especially within systems where "constraint" and overarching expectations seem to be the name of the game.
Yes, the descriptions clearly are a way to open up the conversations among students and instructional teams and across the board. I like to also think of this tool as having sociomaterial properties and thus is part of the process of discovery.
speak with you again!
Barb, sorry you could not make the webinar, but the recording will be up soon I'm sure.
I think there are many 'closet' opportunities for emergence (via online social media, but also via f2f meetings and encounters (which might be circulated via tweets and blogs) that we miss in our teaching. Making people mindful of the opportunities, and the 'closet emergence' going on around us could open up things, even within the constraints of compliance that are imposed on us (and on students) - it really is possible (and desirable???) to encourage 'shadow courses' alongside formal courses, and to start to connect between them.
And yes on both counts - i) particularly if we all take 'description' seriously, footprints are an interesting way to start a non-judgemental conversation between members of an instructional team and students, conversations which are normally compartmentalised into 'us' and 'them' (and the 'evaluators').
And ii) footprints are definitely a sociomaterial part of discovery - in all its aspects: cognitive, affective, professional, and various 'communities'. In our previous work on narratives, students definitely said the 'prompted narrative' exploration of their learning was a major part of what they learnt on their course, despite the fact that it had no formal relationship with their course, and didn't 'count' for any credits.