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A methodology for exploring emergence in learning communities

McDonald, D.M. and Weir, G.R.S. (2006) A methodology for exploring emergence in learning communities. In: International Conference on Complex Systems (ICCS2006), 2006-06-25 - 2006-06-30.

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    Learning communities are becoming increasingly complex in nature, often being used to drive multiple agendas. For example, there is an increasing move to develop learning cities which seek to draw on synergies to both improve citizen learning and skills as well as economic regeneration. Such synergy-driven learning communities, of which the learning cities are but one example, seek to utilise interaction to develop 'emergent products', be it at the individual level or the system-wide level, which could not be produced in isolation. Successfully enabling emergence is critical to their success. Designing for specific types of emergence is however difficult given the intrinsic unpredictability of complex systems. Insight into the intrinsic characteristics of these synergy-driven learning communities and how their interaction leads to emergence over time is required. This paper reports on the methodology developed to explore these highly complex learning communities. The approach adopted was to combine exploratory case studies which established the intrinsic characteristics of the learning communities with an exploration of emergence guided by a meta-level conceptual framework of emergence. This was augmented by secondary data to aid triangulation and provide rigour. As well as discussing the rationale for the adopted approach, implementation issues and the rich information set obtained are discussed using specific case examples. Findings from the investigations led to recommendations regarding future development of appropriate methods for seeding and managing such complex learning communities. The meta level framework means the approach may be readily adapted to other complex social systems