What Is Emergent Learning?

At its simplest, Emergent Learning (EL) is a set of principles and practices that help people across a system think, learn and adapt together in order to overcome complex challenges and achieve important social change goals.

People often think of “learning” as a product to deliver or as a one-off event. Emergent Learning is a habit — a way of expanding our collective thinking in order to grow our ability to achieve the results we want.

Emergent Learning is about more than a pack of tools — it is about rethinking what it means to achieve complex goals in a complex world. EL focuses on discovering a shared line of sight that allows everyone to find their place in the endeavor; posing questions that invite a wider, more diverse, circle into the thinking process; making thinking visible to encourage a learning dialogue; deliberately testing hypotheses in the work itself; and sharing patterns and insights across a team, network, or community.

The very nature of Emergent Learning is emergent. Especially today, no one person or organization can define — or has the right to impose — a solution for a whole system. It has to be a team sport. EL is designed to support working together in a way that helps us achieve the complex and challenging goals to which we aspire.

See “Emergent Learning: A Framework for Whole-System Strategy, Learning, and Adaptation.” Foundation Review. 2016.