Emergent learning refers to education that is responsive rather than prescribed or predetermined. According to Elizabeth Jones, co-author of Emergent Curriculum, in her NAEYC article entitled “The Emergence of Emergent Curriculum,” this approach taps into student interests and “focuses on the process of learning” rather than meeting specific standards of content knowledge. Springhouse values emergent learning and structures curriculum in a way that allows for it to occur.
In his doctoral dissertation, “Emergent Learning: Three Learning Communities as Complex Adaptive Systems,” Dr. John P. Sullivan claims that truly emergent learning occurs when there is a balance between boundaries, nonlinearity, and collaboration, and the structure of these three factors varies depending on the group of learners. In these environments, the teacher becomes a facilitator or guide for learning, intently observing student interests and needs and, in response, shaping curriculum and subsequent learning experiences. This emergence ensures that no project or exploration occurs in the same way twice. At Springhouse, a student’s mentor is an important agent in this process, working closely with both student and faculty to ensure that learning experiences both empower the student and appropriately challenge them.
Even though emergent curriculums are commonplace in many early childhood and elementary settings, the literature that applies this type of learning to adolescents is scant. Here at Springhouse, we are dedicated to reimagining the practice of education, which includes the ways in which we structure learning in secondary schools. Since emergent learning is a well-researched educational pedagogy for young children but not for older youth, Springhouse is charting new territory by offering adolescents an emergent learning environment that is structured to allow for spontaneity, curiosity, and freedom.