Design of Complex Learning Environments

This year I will focus my efforts on the design of learning environments that are complex – adaptive, emergent, self-organizing, chaotic and personal. As a project description at TU Delft states:

In these situations system content, system structure and system boundaries shift and evolve without any global or central coordinator. Instead, order and regularity emerge from widely distributed bottom-up interactions of subsystems, some with centralized control and others fully distributed.

I am particularly interested in complex adaptive systems in the context of learning because I think that is how learning really is. Somewhere in this area is hidden Illich’s “institutional inverse”, the need to combat Friere’s “culture of silence”, to think of learning as making connections and knowledge as the network. Somewhere in this exercise is the continued feeling of being “continually inspired to change”, the mnemonic for a revolution. Many memes will form part of this discussion.

One such meme shall be open-ness. This will relate to both the extent and nature of open-ness within the system as well that outside the system, and specific mechanisms to initiate, alter or transition to a state of “open-ness”. Another meme shall be self-organization. Equally important will be the meme of “evolution’ – of people, ideas and networks.

I shall also investigate the meme of “flexible boundaries” – boundaries that allow dynamic reconfiguration of the contours of, well everything. Closely related will be the memes of “control” and “structure”.

An important meme shall be that of “language” – the language of learning itself. I think a new vocabulary is definitely required if we are to think afresh. And there may be more that I may discover or abandon as I go along.

3 thoughts on “Design of Complex Learning Environments

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  1. Thankyou Viplav. I find this interesting, because we have also been considering these memes (we call them factors) in relation to our work on emergent learning.

    Like you we (Roy Williams, Simone Gumtau and I) have drawn on what we have read about complex adaptive systems. But we don’t have the ‘language of learning’ in our framework or, at least, I don’t think we have it in the terms you are describing. We do have factors relating to Presence/Writing, but we haven’t thought of this in terms of a new vocabulary.

    If you have time, could you say a bit more about this, i.e. language and learning and new vocabulary. How do you anticipate that these will affect design of learning environments?

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    1. Hi Jenny. Your work seems to be very interesting as well. I need to really explore your thinking more, but a question immediately popped up in my mind as I was going through your Oct 2012 IRRODL article. I always thought I would start by looking at a non-prescriptive, chaotic, open system at the core, rather than look at a prescriptive, traditional system at the core with emergence (chaos) at the edges (did I capture your approach correctly?). To me, if correct, I would prefer standing outside the traditional frame and look at the new language and vocabulary from there. I think the vocabulary would need to define all modes of interaction/conversation, technology, various types of networks, plateaux and composite models thereof. It would need to have terms that emanate from thinking complex and connective systems. For example, could we define the success of a “network” based on a measure of its “plasticity” or “connectedness” or “coherence”? Pretty sure I may not be making any sense right now 😦

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  2. >> I always thought I would start by looking at a non-prescriptive, chaotic, open system at the core, rather than look at a prescriptive, traditional system at the core with emergence (chaos) at the edges (did I capture your approach correctly?).

    Viplav – thanks for your response. In our approach we have tried to avoid assuming that prescriptive learning is wrong and emergent is right. We don’t see our ‘footprint’ drawings as radar charts that go from negative to positive but consider that each could be positive (or negative) depending on the context. I can’t remember if we explained this in the paper. Our thinking has moved on quite a bit since then and we continue to record how our thinking is changing in our open wiki – http://footprints-of-emergence.wikispaces.com/.

    >>For example, could we define the success of a “network” based on a measure of its “plasticity” or “connectedness” or “coherence”?

    Whilst we haven’t used the words ‘plasticity’ ‘connectedness’ or ‘coherence’ these are all things we have considered when trying to determine the factors needed to describe learner experiences in prescriptive/emergent learning environments. We continue to refine our thinking on this. We have found it incredibly difficult to determine which factors to include (see http://footprints-of-emergence.wikispaces.com/Factors+and+Clusters) – how long is a piece of string? – and even more difficult to find the vocabulary to describe these factors, such that others can understand and use them.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts

    jenny

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