Context
The Academic BEtreat is a four day course run by Etienne and Bev Wenger-Trayner, which integrates online and face-to-face participants, bringing them together in real time to discuss and explore key concepts and issues in social learning theory.

The footprint has been drawn from one participant’s perspective of both the design intentions of the course and her personal experience as an online participant on the course in 2012.

Composite BEtreat.png
Experience and Design Composite Footprint



Key

-----------Participant's experience
----------- Participant's perception of design intentions

Link to Factors and Clusters

Context
The Academic BEtreat is a four day course run by Etienne and Bev Wenger-Trayner, which integrates online and face-to-face participants, bringing them together in real time to discuss and explore key concepts and issues in social learning theory.

The footprint has been drawn from one participant’s perspective of both the design intentions of the course and her personal experience as an online participant on the course in 2012.

General
There was a significant discrepancy in the scores between the perception of the design intentions and the participant’s experience. Broadly, the perception of the design intentions was that participants would experience ‘sweet’ emergence, but the participant’s personal experience was much more in the ‘scary’ and ‘chaotic’ emergent zones.

Specifics
Perceived design intentions
The course was designed to provide an interactive environment in which there was frequent ongoing discussion and activities, which emphasised active engagement and experiential learning. Participants were encouraged to work in groups and take on a variety of roles. There was a mix of people from across the world – from Japan to Europe to the USA – each bringing different experiences and resources and creating a diverse environment. The course was ‘closed’ in the sense that it was fee-paying, and as such was designed to be an environment where trust, mutual respect and personal growth would flourish and risk of failure would be minimised. The course was also highly prescribed with each minute/hour of each of the four days planned out by the course designers.

This heavily prescribed timetable necessarily constrained opportunities for transformative learning, unpredictable outcomes, self-correction, adaptation, co-evolution, self-organisation, autonomy, negotiated outcomes and identity development, all of which require more personal space. Whilst all these factors appeared to be recognized in the design, the ‘packed’ timetable pulled them all towards the prescribed or towards the edge of the prescribed/sweet emergent zone. So while the process left little room for manoeuvre, the participants were expected to interpret and make sense of it on their own terms. An interesting tension.

Participant experience
The participant experience differed significantly from the perceived design intentions with factors in each of the four clusters (open/structures, interactive environment, agency, presence/writing) being experienced more towards the edgy and scary emergent zones.

Perceived risk of failure was higher than you would perhaps expect in a closed course. Reasons for this were thought by the participant to be the complex design of the course, the technological expertise needed to be an online participant, the technological challenges faced, and the fact that the high level of interaction and engagement required led to a ‘risky’ degree of exposure. This degree of exposure was paradoxically increased by online participation, and by interaction with a ‘world-renowned’ authority on social learning theory.

The learning environment was experienced as highly disruptive not only on the level of navigating and engaging with complex technologies, but also with the complex curriculum, which required adopting a number of different roles and the need to be creative and innovative in ways which were experienced as scary emergence. It was also a strange, transformative experience in the edgy emergent zone.

The tightly structured course design constrained some opportunities for sweet emergence. The ‘tight’ timetable limited opportunities for negotiating meaning and learning outcomes, self-correction, autonomy, co-evolution, self-organisation, casual or broader network encounters and multipath options. These factors remained in the prescribed zone, despite an understanding by the participant that the course designers would recognize these factors as desirable.

Two factors were experienced as strongly within the sweet emergent zone – identity and solitude and contemplation. This is attributed to the affordances of online participation and the distance that this allowed; distance from the lack of trust between online and face-to-face participants, personal space away from the intense face-to-face interaction and engagement, space and opportunities for changing the power dynamics of discourse, space for more contemplative interaction and deeper reflection, and space for taking a more strategic approach to establishing a presence, and developing an identity. The strength of these two factors – identity and solitude and contemplation outweighed the constraints of the highly structured course and resulted ina strongly positive experience of the Academic BEtreat for the participant, which was affirmative for her identity.

Arising Issues/Questions
The discrepancy between the design footprint (as perceived by the learner) and the learner experience footprint for the Academic BEtreat raises some interesting questions with respect to the relationship between the course designer and learner.

  • At what point is a mismatch between design and participation constructive or destructive?
  • Should designers design for match or mismatch?
  • Should the designer engage with different perspectives, and allow a new, emergent curriculum to evolve - design 2.0 - either during the course, or for the next learning event, or should the learner change their learning behaviour to fit the design intentions?

In addition in the Academic BEtreat, a structured learning environment/process led to a higher level of emergent learning than might be expected. This suggests that to move forward we, the researchers, need to consider the spaces ‘in between’ prescription and emergence, a disruptive middle space, a space which might be a hybrid of prescription and emergence, a ‘third space’. Currently we have defined and described two ends of a spectrum, which equate to education and training, but we now need to consider variations between these two extremes.