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?