Feed on

In this post I will describe emergent learning as a map, landscape or topography. I do not develop my own views today, I repeat what Jenny and Roy had written already. The sources are their article in IRRODL and the wiki for this research. The topic is so challenging that I have to divide my journey into pieces. The images are taken from the article.

The aim  is to explore ways to visualise what happens in MOOCs, or related open learning event, courses, etc, using the Footprints of Emergence template, based on a work captured in the open wiki which shows how 3D ‘footprints’ are used to map out the dynamics of learning. In any learning community, there is always a need to balance the acquisition of knowledge with the creation of new knowledge. This 3D learning landscape is a model for exploring the relationship between prescribed and emergent learning in any given curriculum.

The graphic is a map – it is metaphorically a 3D landscape, or a 3D topography – of a learning environment. It has a ‘valley’ (the dark blue zone in the central circle) an exposed plateaux (the lighter central zone) , an increasingly steep slope (the outer zone), and a very steep slope, down, in the thin, dark zone just before the edge (of ‘chaos’).

Dia2In this image you can see a half of the whole circle. I have to use the same concepts which the researchers have used. I am not confident with my English (my third language) and it is challenging to handle exact phenomena. In my view every English word has ten meanings and I do not not the connotations in each context. But here is no choice, the research is published in English. I tried a Google translation to my language (Finnish) and it was very funny.

This is a 3 D description with a valley and plateaux and slopes. This gives space for imagination. Dynamics is always complex and this is one way to demonstrate it.

I need another image to show the 3D properties in a cross section view.


I present still some copies about the basic concepts from the wiki. I try to be careful and not to change or distort these descriptions.


All of these four zones have value for learning, each in their own way. None of them is, in principle, better or more desirable than any of the others.

The central circle (or valley) is the zone of prescribed, fixed, stable learning and knowledge, and has value for learning knowledge which is valid in any context, and can be used by any person. The zone for instruction.
The light, central zone (or plateaux) is the zone of ‘sweet’ emergence, for exploring different perspectives, approaches and strategies, for developing your own perspectives, and trying them out in an open but reasonably supportive environment (hence the plateaux metaphor). This is the zone for somewhat challenging learning.
The darker outer zone is the zone of ‘sharp’ or ‘sour’ emergence – a continuation of ‘sweet’ emergence in some ways, but much more challenging learning (experienced as either positively challenging (sharp) or negatively challenging (sour) emergence. It has value for moving learners on to new ideas and new perspectives. This is the zone for challenging and more creative learning.
The outermost, thin, layer is right on the edge of chaos – high risk, not much support, and potentially in danger of falling off the ‘edge’ into chaos – which might be too much information, too little information, too much isolation, overwhelming crowds – of people, ideas and options, etc. It’s where learning unravels, for many different reasons. It can have value too – for shaking learners out of their comfort zones, and stimulating creativity. This is the zone for provocative and disruptive learning.
And then there is the area ‘over the edge‘ which is, unfortunately, where some aspects of learning end up – and from which recovery and re-engagement with learning is much more difficult. You can position factors over the edge too, if that is how you experience them. There is no value in this – it’s not a learning zone at all, it is, instead, a zone for ‘fire-fighting’ and emergency management.

Chaos and over the edge area seem to be a negative process here, not a learning area at all. My orientation to changes in the human mind has based on theories of Bateson and Mezirov in which the change to upper levels goes through disorientation and blurry views and conflicts. All researchers of developmental psychology know this gap between old and new in human mind. In this Footprints of emergence the darker outer zone describes this movement toward new thinking. The idea of transformation must also be within the clusters and  factors, which describe the individual experiments. The main findings are in those concepts, but I had to paint the landscape first in order to settle my mind down there.

I want still to show my visualisation at the beginning of my first open online course CCK08 (September 2008) . You can see the phases from prescribed learning to flow. No chaos but much movement (dynamics). I was eager to learn and optimistic.



3 Responses to “Emergent learning as a landscape”

  1. jenny Mackness says:

    Hi Heli,
    I’m really interested in the images you have chosen and posted at the end of the blog post. I would really like to know more about why you have chosen these particular images.

    Now I will get on with reading your other posts.

    Thanks so much for your interest. I’m hoping I can get this comment accepted now. I think I have worked out what I was doing wrong!


  2. Heli Nurmi says:

    Hi Jenny
    Fine that you found your way to comment area (only leave away your blog name if it isn’t edublogs). It is good to discuss near the posts.

    In this post I tried to internalise/ understand the 3D form of your model of emergence. When I was doing this (by copying your text here and thinking) I remembered these images which I used in September 2008. I felt that there was the same idea from stable to breaking ice and then forwards in a boat. And flow as a hurrying cloud, have you mentioned the flow phenomenon, I am not sure?

    This is an exciting journey I am living this wee when I will summarize my ideas against yours!

  3. Roy Williams says:

    Heli, I love the progression in your images, and particularly the sweet emergence one, in which the movement forwards starts to take off, and there is still turbulence in the water, but its starting to form a stable pattern.