Davis & Sumara (1997) learning complexity

Davis, B., & Sumara, D.J. ( 1997). Cognition, complexity, and teacher education. Harvard Educational Review 67(1), 105-125.

Learning is often over simplified as mechanical processes with distinct parts. Schools organize teaching into frameworks of monological order, focusing on static curricula, textbooks and assessments. However, learning is not linear relationships nor cause and effect. Learning is complex, not complicated.

Complexity theory differentiates between complex and complicated. Complex systems1) spontaneously self-organize and transcend themselves, 2) inextricably intertwine individuals and environments in dynamic and unpredictable ways, and 3) are more than a sum of their parts parts (Waldrop,1992). The whole unfolds from and is enfolded in each of the parts.

Knowledge is not corporeal objects, nor internal representations of external realities. Reject divisions of individuals and and context. Collective knowledge and individual understandings are dynamic co-emergent phenomena. Knowledge is created in wider communities, intertwining deliberate communication, casual conversation and unconscious imitation. Enactivist theory portrays knowledge as continuous ever-evolving action and interaction. Knowledge is embodied in and arises from parts of organismic unity of an ongoing world. School must integrate communities outside classrooms (Bruner 1986) for effective learning.

Constructivism explains learning as dynamic and evolutionary processes with constant change, interdependencies and continuous reorganizing of subjective worlds of experience. Learners are not situated in contexts, but integral parts of contexts. All contributing learning factors are intricately related and inextricably intertwined. Learning is codetermined, coexisting and coemerging in complex webs of events (Vygotsky, 1962, 1978).

Learning is like conversations, shifting and unfolding, arriving at unanticipated places from unspecified paths. Learning is occasioned rather than caused. Learning is collective action that cannot be explained, prescribed, predicted or controlled. Learning in classrooms should take unanticipated (but appropriate) turns.

Teaching is often portrayed as management (organizing, overseeing and controlling) and teacher-education focuses on limited predetermined competencies. However, in reality teaching and learning are not yet fully understood and experienced practitioners are uncertain of what defines good practice. In universities, conflicting understandings of cognition are presented. In schools, external directives are often fragmented and incompatible. Teachers are forced to resort to common-sense practices and teach-to-the-test for a barrage of compulsory standardized external assessments. Student-teachers focus on fitting in, coping, and copying existing practices. However, practice does not make perfect, but instead merely perpetuates practices and offers limited opportunities to develop and improve. Big problems with no clear solutions—gulp!

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