We now have far more opportunities, far more affordances, for learning. But how do we describe, let alone manage, the dynamics of learning in an abundance of affordances and agency?

'Description' is a good place to start. In line with the better parts of Latour's Actor-network theory, I am convinced that a good description goes a long way - in fact if the description is really good enough, most of the analysis takes care of itself.

But it's complex - in the CAST (complexity adaptive systems theory) sense. A few of us who have been working on affordances, emergence, and complexity for some years developed a paper, forthcoming in IRRODL, on Footprints of Emergence. We worked with about five case studies of learning events, or courses, and set ourselves the task of describing what was happening, and describing the dynamics of change within an open learning ecology in which both the learning and (sometimes) the curriculum is emergent.

To do this we needed many variables - in the end we reduced them to 25, which sounds far too many, but the case studies were, indeed, that complex. We wanted to describe and capture the complexity on one page - in one diagram at a time. So we created a new 'footprint' template, with two 'poles' of values - one (towards the centre) for prescribed learning, and one (towards the periphery) for emergent learning. And we added a 3rd dimension, to yield a 3D topography or landscape of learning, which can map out the dynamics of change.

Here is the abstract of the paper:

It is ironic that the management of education has become more closed while learning has become more open, particularly over the past 10-20 years. The curriculum has become more instrumental, predictive, standardized and micro-managed, in the belief that this supports employability as well as the management of educational processes, resources and value. Meanwhile, people have embraced interactive, participatory, collaborative and innovative networks for living and learning. To respond to these challenges, we need to develop practical tools to help us describe these new forms of learning which are multivariate, self-organised, complex, adaptive, and unpredictable. We draw on complexity theory and our experience as researchers, designers and participants in open and interactive learning to go beyond conventional approaches. We develop a 3D model of landscapes of learning, for exploring the relationship between prescribed and emergent learning in any given curriculum. We do this by repeatedly testing our descriptive landscapes (or ‘footprints’) against theory, research and practice, across a range of case studies. By doing this, we have not only come up with a practical tool which can be used by curriculum designers, but also realised that the curriculum itself can usefully be treated as emergent, depending on the dynamics between prescribed and emergent learning and how the learning landscape is curated.


The full paper is available in the link in the 'abstract' toward the bottom of the page on: Describing Changing Curricula on the SEAD White Paper website.

[Cross-posted to:
http://learning-affordances.wikispaces.com/3D+Footprints ]