Is complexity theory useful in describing classroom learning?

Book chapter

Hardman, M. 2011. Is complexity theory useful in describing classroom learning? in: Hudson, B. and Meinert, M. (ed.) Beyond Fragmentation: Didactics, Learning and Teaching in Europe Leverkusen, Germany Verlag Barbara Budrich. pp. 355-366
AuthorsHardman, M.
EditorsHudson, B. and Meinert, M.

Complexity theory in the physical sciences describes systems in which groups of agents acting in relation to only their immediate environment nevertheless develop an organisational structure which is able to evolve and adapt. It also highlights the sensitivity of this structure to small changes and the indeterminate nature of these changes.

In education, these characteristics have been applied to understanding action research (Radford, 2008); curriculum (Osberg, 2005; Doll, 2008) and change in educational systems (Mason, 2008). Whilst this is a promising field, complexity theory within education is still in its infancy, and a systematic and rigorous evaluation of the validity of transferring concepts from the physical to the social sciences is urgently required before analysing the usefulness of complexity theory in describing educational settings.

In this paper I evaluate the validity of transferring understanding about complex systems from the physical sciences to understanding the dynamic interactions in a classroom, through focus on the below research questions:
1. What general properties of complex systems can be defined from the physical sciences?
2. What is the validity of using this understanding of complex systems to consider learning in classrooms?
3. How useful are concepts from complexity theory in understanding classroom learning?

Through these research questions the paper leads to the development of a theoretical framework for describing classrooms as a complex system.

Page range355-366
Book titleBeyond Fragmentation: Didactics, Learning and Teaching in Europe
PublisherVerlag Barbara Budrich
Output statusPublished
Place of publicationLeverkusen, Germany
Publication dates
PrintMay 2011
Publication process dates
Deposited21 Jun 2011
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