Tuesday, October 14, 2008

CCK08: I've Had an Ephiphany about emergent learning

I've had an ephiphany...an "aha" moment...I've experienced emergent learning!

(Then, again. I could be wrong. It's impossible to predict.)

People tell me that uncertainty comes with age. I have to admit I see less black and white in the world these days and a whole lot more gray. I continually marvel at the human need to simplify extremely complex ideas. We are always looking for that one cause to explain an issue or problem (e.g. cancer, economic collapse, student failure in school, poverty). The reality is that all of these problems are the result of complex systems. Therefore, cause is difficult to determine because it is the result of the interaction of many variables. We have to consider alternative conceptions of causality. In other words, prediction is uncertain, difficult, maybe impossible. (Phelps, 2003) The cause may turn out to be a system in and of itself. For example, cancer in one individual may be the result of a combination of genetic inheritance, exposure to a combination of environmental chemicals, and the complexities of diet. Removal of any one of those variable MAY decrease the risk, but which one? Are they all dependent upon each other? At this point that is impossible to predict.

How can we extend this concept to learning?
Can we even create specific learning objectives within a framework of complexity? (Framework of complexity...Is that an oxymoron?) Phelps points out that real life is not ordered or structured, but I submit that's the reason we humans try so hard to put structure and order around it. Order facilitates our understanding. If we took Phelps' study to the next level, we might find that students learn more from a free, open, complex content environment. But, I wonder if we would also find (as I am experiencing with this course) a motivation to impose our own individual structure around the chaos. So, maybe it's not about a lack of structure, but more about who's imposing the structure. Do we learn from artificially imposed structure conceived by the teacher, or self-imposed structure that meets our unique individual learning needs? How can teachers help students build those individual learning structures? Is that possible or practical?


Carmen Tschofen said...

Hi Wendy,

I’m not so sure that order facilitates our understanding as much as pattern recognition. I see these as two different things, although probably not everyone does. I also wonder if the idea that we would be motivated to “build structure,” or “impose structure,” whether teacher or learner-initiated, is more of an entrenched cultural behavior than basic human nature. OK, that's big question :-), but if so, maybe this assumption limits our visionary options for education.

With the potential oxymoron of "framework of complexity" I think you're getting at some questions I'm curious about as well: What differences might there be between wanting to help learners figure out how create structure or order out of chaos/complexity, and wanting to help them figure out how to work/play well with chaos/complexity? Is this just semantics? Is it a reflection of past experiences/training as learners? Personal need or personality type? Social or cultural demands?

No answers from me, just more questions, but your post and questions got me thinking—thanks!

Downes said...

Good discussion, and a good comment as well.