The key to designing emergent learning and emergent curricula is to define negative constraints, not positive outcomes. The first step is to decide what degree of emergence is appropriate for a particular context.


If we take the example of CCK08, the convenors mapped out (explicitly or tacitly) the degree of constraint on their four factors: connectivity, autonomy, openness and diversity, in their own minds. As participant-researchers, and working with our research respondents, we found we needed to tease these factors out a bit, and elaborate them into, eventually, 25 factors. What we would describe as the de facto (design) constraints, at five points in the event, are mapped out in the five footprints, (see the link, above).


These 25 factors can be used to ‘score’ each factor on a relational, continuous scale, not a discrete scale) . A high score indicates very little constraint, and places the factor ‘near the edge of chaos’ (and the footprint). A very high score indicates no constraints at all, which places the factor ‘over the edge’, potentially into disorder. A low score places the factor towards the centre, and right at the centre the negative constraints are extensive enough for the outcomes to be prescribed as 'positive' outcomes, i.e. with no flexibility or room for emergence at all.


In this way the footprints can be used to design curricula that have varying degrees of emergence and prescription. In the same way, the footprints can be used post hoc - after the fact, to describe the implicit (or tacit) design as it was operationalized and experienced, at that point, by a particular group of stakeholders (researchers, participants, convenors, teachers, etc.) Many educational courses, or events, do respond and adapt to their unfolding context in some measure, in which case the dynamics of the (implicit) design will change, and it might be useful to be able to track and describe those changes.


The design parameters vary from emergent - towards the edge (defined by negative constraint), to prescriptive - towards the centre (defined effectively by so many negative constraints that it makes more sense to define them as narrowly-specified positive outcomes). Within the design process, and within the management of a course, this ‘inversion point’ always needs to kept in mind.


The same applied to learners, or participants. They may need to be guided, or invited, to explore learning in more or less adventurous and creative ways, depending not only on the aims and purpose of the curriculum and the course, but often, more importantly, on the participants' degree of comfort, fear, confidence, familiarity, etc, and their intentions and aims for their learning too.

Emergent learning needs to be integrated into a learning landscape that includes emergent and prescribed learning, in which the emergent learning needs to be designed by ‘negative constraint’, not positive outcomes, turning conventional curriculum design (temporarily) on its head; balanced, where necessary, with prescribed learning in which the converse is the case.