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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: it’s mutual #xplrpln

Week 4 of the open online seminar Exploring Personal Learning Networks gets down to participants pitching to an organizational leader the value (and implications) that PLNs would bring to them. I have to say that over the last few weeks the discussion has been both intensive and extensive as the community discussed the coming together of personal learning networks and the organizational context. Here though, I must point out that it’s the addition of organizational involvement that’s caused me difficulty because, similar to Deborah W Halasz, I’m not directly involved in an organizational context relative to the PLN that I’ve been developing (probably why I was interested to consider PLNs in relation to contractors, adjuncts and the like in my last blog post) and, no surprise here, I’m convinced.

So now what indeed?

Well thanks to suggestions, I’m going to think about others who might benefit from developing a PLN and explore the direction from which they’re best developed. The context I’ve chosen is higher education, as I’d like to think that the sentiments in this blog post might form the basis of a discussion in some kind of teaching and learning forum or committee. Hopefully, this would have representation from both academics and students with discussion/actions being disseminated to administrators and support staff within the institution.

All along within the seminar it’s been suggested that we hone a definition of personal learning networks and consider where this falls between the spectrum of “PLNs are absolutely personal and everyone has their own version of a definition” to “PLNs have clear defining attributes”. I’m squarely in the “personal” camp where each PLN is as unique as a snowflake. And as such, I’m not overly keen on providing a definition. I’d rather describe my PLN and show others how I’ve constructed one and highlight the benefits that it brings. At the moment, I’d describe my PLN something like this:

enhanced by social networking technologies, my PLN is the connections and relationships I develop and nurture in order to pursue my learning goals and to make sense of the things I’m interested in.

In addition, I can offer this screencast, entitled “A Presentation of Networking and Learning” (made for my POTCert class earlier in the year) to show what one might look like. Oh, and I think this #xplrpln tweet nicely captures the nature of my PLN and the dualism that’s at play.

Any way to continue, within the higher ed group that formed it was thought that the development of PLNs might assist members of faculty who wanted to develop their online teaching offer. But, as Rick Bartlett reminds us, it’s not that networking is new to faculty; academics have always had their networks, attended conferences and collaborated with colleagues. It’s just that the technology is changing and with it comes greater opportunity for networking/collaboration, and with a wider audience now too. On this point, it was thought that colleges/universities might encourage PLNs as part of their outreach activities. Virginia Trovato came up with the excellent idea of “campuses as incubators for PLNs” where opportunities for building PLNs would be encouraged and the relevant pedagogies embedded in the curriculum. After all, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that individuals and organizations need to develop a new set of skills and a new mindset to thrive in the new networked era (or possibly just survive even).

The important point in all of this is that personal learning networks are precisely that, and they flourish for mutual benefit when individuals are able to freely persue their interests and their learning goals (or shared learning goals). In which case then, PLNs can’t be mandated by top-down approaches nor, like Jane Hart frequently says, can people be forced to be social either. So it seems to me then that the best way to go is for committed individuals (like me) to model what’s necessary in order to develop and nurture a PLN and to highlight the benefits to be gained from being a connected/networked practitioner. Hopefully, this will encourage others to develop PLNs of their own. Furthermore, seeing as you can’t mandate or force this activity, any organization interested in “incubating” PLNs might best be served by considering the different ways that individuals can be supported to become connected, if and when they choose to, and not have technical issues or policy issues stand in the way.

Hey what do you know, I reckon I could pitch this to an organizational leader after all. In fact, I believe the whole #xplrpln community could do a pretty good job.

Therefore, before I sign off this blog post I’d like to say a great big thank you to Jeff Merrell and Kimberley Scott for facilitating this seminar and to the community of participants who wrestled with this challenging topic. I hope you don’t mind if my artifact is in fact a hyperlink to an existing one and if my final reflections have largely been a synthesis of the discussion we’ve had. I look forward to continuing the discussion in our ongoing connections… PLNs as language – now what’s that all about?

Personal learning networks: the value proposition, work as service and a general foray into unknown territory #xplrpln

First of all, I think I ought to warn you that for me this post is somewhat of a foray into unknown territory, but it’s where my thoughts and readings have taken me this week as we consider, in Exploring Personal Learning Networks, the organizational context. Although I read the main readings for the week, which considered organizational culture and the power and politics inherent in networks, my thinking follows on from the comments on my last blog post and the reflection that is posted in the introduction for this week (week 3).

Considering my reticence to define a PLN, Jeff wonders if we might indeed be doing ourselves a disservice by trying to define them, and in thinking of them as some kind of “intervention” that can be implemented. That being said, he makes the point in reflections that defining, creating and maintaining a PLN is the work of an individual, and it’s not dissimilar to investing in the development of knowledge, skills and abilities. So in that case, might we now safely add network “klout”, “know-how” or “nouse” to that trinity?

You can certainly see how an individual with an effective PLN can bring value to an organization, but what are the politics of allowing an organization to appropriate such an asset. Yes, a PLN is an employee’s asset, something of value, and it’s interesting to think about the “value proposition” that a PLN represents, the power dynamics, or labour relations, that are implicated and the type of organizational structures that are best equipped to reap the benefits.

As I was thinking about this, a fellow participant posted that she does indeed work for an organization where certain staff are required to develop PLNs. It’s an interesting example, and nice to see how new ways of doing things evolve.

However, this brings me to another point, one that I think echoes Gordon Ross to some extent when he asks in his article “Intranet Strategy: Understanding the Impacts of Networks, Power, and Politics“, “who is included in this so-called digital workplace and who is excluded”? What I mean is, in this day and age does everyone actually “belong” to an organization, and if so, to what extent? What does that really mean anyway, and do you even need to “belong” to an organization? So with this in mind, it was with great interest that I read the article by Terri Griffith and discovered the term Work as Service (WaaS). The notion of Work as Service is an adaptation of the idea of software as service (SaaS). Just as software used to come in a box, now it’s generally available online for download. Equally, work might become “free of the box” too, that is free from the organization and available through options such as contractors, mechanization, and/or crowd sourcing. The phrase used in the article is “a people cloud”, and it goes on to mention “people cloud”companies such as oDesk, which I was surprised to find I’d already heard of, and via a local source to boot! Any way, such companies aim to support the process of quickly and flexibly matching talented individuals with workplace opportunities.

"people clouds" and new organizational structures
“people clouds” and new organizational structures

I think it’s interesting to consider all this as organizations endeavor to create new, agile structures and “knowledge workers”, or “artisans“, take stock and adapt to these changes. Like Jeff, I’m wondering if PLNs can become a way for employees to maintain their value and to secure working conditions that are consistent with their talent and their contribution.

Well, I’m not sure if I’ve exactly addressed the question set out his week, which asks what would it look like for an organization to somehow “adopt” PLNs, or some aspect of them, and what would the likely barriers be? Moreover, I’m not sure from what perspective, or scenario, to consider the overall course project from. I’m interested to consider PLNs from the point of view of organizations and freelance or contract workers, or PLNs as they relate to higher education and adjunct staff. I’m just not sure.

Image source: Peter. Lorre http://www.fotopedia.com/items/flickr-2688143773

References:

Griffith, T. (2012) Work as a Service – Is There a People Cloud? Accessed at http://terrigriffith.com/blog/work-service-there-people-cloud

Ross, G. (2013) Intranet Strategy: Understanding the Impacts of Networks, Power, and Politics. Accessed at http://www.thoughtfarmer.com/blog/social-intranet-strategy-networks-power-and-politics/

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