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Category: Learning to Learn

My footprint of emergent learning in exploring personal learning networks

This appears to be an interesting bonus that has come my way. Last week, or rather the week before because I got held up finishing this post, a tweet forwarded on by my PLN notified me of a webinar run by Jenny Mackness and SCoPE that was shortly getting under way, “what is emergent learning? why is it relevant?“. Not a topic that I know much about, only that it had been recommended by my PLN and that I happened to be free at the given time – so why not!!

It transpired that this would be the first of two webinars. In the first one we’d be introduced to the concept of emergent learning and in the second we’d be shown how to draw a footprint identifying the mix of emergent and prescribed learning experienced within a particular learning event.

Emergent learning being defined as:

“learning that happens when a large number of self-organising people interact frequently, in an adaptive, open environment, with considerable degrees of freedom and minimal constraints; no individual can see the whole picture; agents and system co-evolve”.

That being the case, it immediately put me in mind of the learning experience I’d just had in the open online seminar, Exploring Personal Learning Networks, because I have to say that some of the learning I experienced there was probably some of the most challenging I’ve faced in a long time, possibly ever! So yes, I’d definitely be interested to try and map a footprint of that. Footprints can be used to map not only the learning experience but the design intentions also. They’re also time contextual, so they can be drawn as a series over time by an individual.

So what is a footprint? With complex learning environments in mind, they aim to represent the pedagogy and design elements of a course in an easily accessible and visual way. The footprint is developed around a series of circles with the more structured, prescribed part of the learning experience towards the center, and the more “emergent” self-directed, connectivist elements towards the outside, and beyond which is “chaos”. The white shaded area represents what’s seen as the “sweet spot” for emergent learning.

from the centre out: prescribed learning > emergent learning > chaos
from the center out: prescribed learning > emergent learning> chaos

The series of circles are divided into four areas:

  1. Open/Structure (the space or environment and how it’s set up)
  2. Interactive Environment (the extent of contextualization and interactivity)
  3. Agency (self-direction and autonomy of learning)
  4. Presence/Writing (the learning process and product, or the way the learning is realized)

and in each quarter is a number of elements that can be mapped across the spectrum of circles and then joined up to create the footprint. The more inward parts of the footprint represent the more prescribed or directed elements of the learning experience, and the more outward parts represent the more emergent elements.

This is what a blank footprint palette looks like:

blank footprint palette
blank footprint palette

And here is the link to resources you’ll need in order view the mapping elements and to draw a footprint of your own. There is also a handy video to guide you through the process.

The activity is quite detailed, and in truth requires some amount of effort to fully understand the elements to be mapped, but once you’ve grasped those, I’d say that a footprint, such as the one I drew below, has a lot to offer as an attempt to describe and understand the dynamics at play in the learning experienced in these new and complex open environments.

#xplrpln footprint of emergent learning

It was an interesting and worthwhile activity, and I’d be interested to see what the course #xplrpln facilitators, Jeff Merrill and Kimberley Scott, make of my footprint, and indeed maybe see one of theirs from a design point of view. When I get permission, I’ll upload my completed mapping sheet to the emergent learning wiki so that it’s possible to see how I arrived at my footprint.

Personal learning networks: the power and the glory #xplrpln

An open online seminar, “Exploring Personal Learning Networks” started this week, and I’ve been looking forward to participating ever since I was alerted to it by, yes, you guessed it, my personal learning network (PLN).

This week is introduction/orientation week and it’s been suggested that participants relate something of their stories, either, what does having a PLN mean (that is, if you’ve already got one) and how has it changed the way you learn and practice in your professional field, or if you don’t already have a PLN, maybe, what’s the attraction?

Any way, I think I can safely say that I’ve got a PLN but, most likely it’s the same for a lot of people, it started to take shape before I knew what was actually developing. I first came across the term PLN whilst researching the use of Twitter for teaching and learning in higher education. I can remember reading one paper in which two ‘early adopters’ mentioned that they used Twitter to connect to their personal learning network (PLN). Although I registered the term, I guess I largely equated it at the time with a rail network, or some other piece of infrastructure. Akin to plumbing, probably. But then, as I began to use Twitter and to comment on blog posts and participate in discussion forums, I started to realize that I wasn’t just gathering useful information but I was actually getting to know something of real people. Avatars and headshots were coming alive as peepholes opened up relating snippets about work projects, world views,  conferences, commutes, pet hates and various passions etc. It’s this kind of interaction that builds trust, which in turn opens up opportunities for mutual learning and mutual benefit.

Agreed, engaging in this way and developing a PLN has really opened up my learning and created possibilities that I couldn’t possibly have had otherwise.

At first, my PLN developed by just observing how others interact online, but the really crucial factor has been my participation in a number of connectivist style MOOCs and the connections that these environments have enabled, connections that continue beyond the event to keep a sense of community and create chances for future collaboration. At this point I’ll direct you to Sheila MacNeill’s blog, “after the mooc has gone – the real collaboration and connectivism begins” so you can piece together the story for yourself.

Now, seeing as my personal learning network developed ‘organically’, what I’m interested to explore for this seminar is how others can best be supported to develop personal learning networks of their own and, seeing as I developed my personal learning network outside of any organizational context, how personal learning networks figure from their point of view.

But, before I leave this post, I’d just like to add that introduction/orientation week of Exploring Personal Learning Networks entreats us to try something new: share goals, experiment with new tools or reach out to people we don’t really know very well and maybe share our thoughts about a topic of interest. Well, in line with the anaology that cMOOCs are “like being in a pub“, I’d like to reach out to @JeffMerrill and @MattGuyan who, I notice from his #xplrpln tweets and Twitter bio, is a Pale Ale drinker to say “cheers, here’s to a successful PLN seminar”.

pic 1 (2)

Underlying the development of a PLN is the need for individual learners to be able to have the capacity for self-direction, which requires a higher level of learning maturity— – See more at: http://www.hybridpedagogy.com/Journal/files/Personal_Learning_Networks.html#sthash.FNI4TVHh.dpuf

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Rhizomatic me, a learning nomad.

This blog post has been a long time coming, and it’s still only likely to be a waif of a thing after all that, but here goes any way.

Back in June, I gave a presentation at CELT entitled “beyond the walled garden – the story of how one learner used social media for professional learning and development” (that learner being me, of course). The aim was to make concepts regarding change within Higher Education real by bringing something of the lived experience to the discussion. As such, I related the story of how I discovered social tools for professional networking and development and how I subsequently went on to discover open education, take advantage of the new ways of learning online and to develop as a digitally literate and networked learner/practitioner. Whilst reflecting on and narrating this experience, I acknowledged a number of new ways in which the web facilitates learning and a number of new learning theories pertinent to the digital age, that is to say, learning in communities, social networks and in MOOCs giving reference to connectivism, rhizomatic learning, heutagogy and CoPs. Thinking back over it all, I found the concept of rhizomatic learning to really resonate with me, and to intrigue me equally as well. As such, rhizomatic learning is a topic that I want to understand more deeply, and to understand why it accords so greatly. Well, I’ve made a start.

I’d come across the term, or terms, “rhizome” and “rhizomatic learning” some time ago but what it signified didn’t really interest me, until I discovered, back in January, through quadblogging in #edcmooc, that the metaphor for a rhizomatic learner is the nomad. Thank you Ary Aranguiz. Now, the mention of the word nomad certainly had me interested; why, hadn’t I already got my summer vacation booked to Mongolia and China, part of which, …I kid you not, includes a home-stay with nomadic families (the adventure starts next week, by the way). The choice of destination, Mongolia in particular, seems like a natural choice to me as I generally spend my vacations roaming around and sleeping under canvas. I like to walk long distance paths and I love camping, especially wild camping. Besides, I’m a hopeless idealist who dreams of freedom and travel. Spanning time and space, I’ve read heaps of travel books and accounts from various explorers: ‘Into the Wild’; ‘South’; ‘Touching the Void’; ‘As I Walked Out One Mid-summer’s Afternoon’; ”Ghost Riders – Travels with American Nomads’; ‘In the Empire of Genghis Khan’; ‘Red Dust’… the list goes on.

The nomad in me.
The nomad in me.

Any way, enough of that. Why should it be that the metaphor for a rhizomatic learner is that of the nomad? Dave Cormier, originator of Rhizomatic Learning Theory, explains the thinking.

The nomad is trying to do what I call ‘learning’. Not the recalling of facts, the knowing of things or the complying with given objectives, but getting beyond those things. Learning for the nomad is the point where the steps in a process go away.

Hence, the learning nomad can be thought of as ‘being the thing itself’. It’s like the difference between playing a succession of notes, one after the other, and playing music, or it’s like parallel parking, if you prefer, if you think of the steps and perform them one at a time, invariably you mount the pavement. Either way, there’ s a point where you stop thinking of facts or steps and understand the act.

To me, and to probably a lot of others, a nomad more easily conjures up images of wandering across open spaces. So far though, this aspect has not come through in my reading. However, the notion of freedom and transcending boundaries seems to fit nicely with the idea of play as a habit of learning that I was thinking about in my last blog post, play as exploration that is.

Gwen Gordon, in asking “What is Play?” says that “freedom is a hallmark of play” as it softens boundaries and allows individuals to become adaptive and spontaneous. She continues, playfulness is “the freedom of the total self to move as a whole in relationship to the total environment”( p.8). Now that sounds like a nomad. What’s more, through such play, with its interactions across boundaries and it’s impulse towards both freedom and connection, transformations are made possible.

According to Dave Cormier, nomads (or those with a disposition for play as exploration) “have the ability to learn rhizomatically, to ‘self-reproduce’, to grow and change ideas as they explore new contexts”. So, what does “to learn rhizomatically” actually mean? And, where does the term come from? Well, rhizome refers to a way in which certain plants spread. Often understood as a creeping root stalks, rhizomes go out horizontally and interact with their environment. Certainly, they’re messy, disorderly and difficult to control, but at the same time they’re resilient and have a lot of important qualities, which allows them to adapt within their ecosystem. As such, rhizomes have come to represent a model for learning for uncertainty and, like the learning process of life itself, they’ve no beginning or end either.

By the way, if you have an hour to spare, I heartily recommend that you listen to the Introduction to Rhizomatic Learning that Dave Cormier did on the topic in the #etmooc archive. It’s class.

If you think about it, uncertainty is always part of the learning process. How do we know what things you’re going to need in the future; what problems you’re going to have to solve? Thus, learning, now more than ever, ought to help prepare people for, and be comfortable with, uncertainty; help them to adapt to new situations and help them to make the best decisions they can when the answer is unknown. Therefore, for a learning nomad to develop it’s no good having prescribed learning outcome as this thwarts the ability to explore, make connections, be creative and to solve problems. Besides, the point at which any new idea takes shape, and what it means, will be different for each and every learning nomad.

“Nomads make decisions for themselves. They gather what they need for their own path”.

Incidentally, a nomadic nature is something that Harold Jarche equates with the new “knowledge artisans” of the network era. Connected and knowledgeable individuals with their own learning networks and their own ways of working, individuals who are often more independent and more contractual or shorter-term than previous information age employees, all-in-all, probably more comfortable with uncertainty. Well, I can certainly live with that.

This all sounds wonderful, learning and living nirvana probably, but so far I’ve only thought of rhizomatic learning from my own point of view as a learner and not from the point of view of a facilitator of learning, so now the question becomes how can I, and other educators, help learners to develop their learning nomad abilities and be comfortable dealing with uncertainty? To defuse those predetermined outcomes, rhizomatic learning theory proposes that community becomes the curriculum… and I propose that I save that for another blog post.

Sources:

Cormier, Dave (2011) Workers, soldiers or nomads – what does the Gates Foundation want from our education system? Available at: http://davecormier.com/edblog/2011/10/22/workers-soldiers-or-nomads-%E2%80%93-what-does-the-gates-foundation-want-from-our-education-system/

Cormier, Dave (2011) Rhizomatic Learning – Why we teach? Available at: http://davecormier.com/edblog/2011/11/05/rhizomatic-learning-why-learn/

Gordon, Gwen (2007) What is Play? In Search of a Universal Definition. Available at: http://www.gwengordonplay.com/pdf/what_is_play.pdf

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