This week’s topics of complexity and chaos illustrated what kind of world the students will have to cope with after they left school. It is immediately plausible that for this world, curricula are not very appropriate that focus on the opposite type of structures: Neat, linear or hierarchical knowledge content, perhaps occasionally complicated (like in jigsaw puzzles), but never messy and complex (like in weather).
So it is seemingly obvious that a teaching style might be more appropriate if it lets the students rehearse complexity right away. The more so as learning itself is complex, as well: Certainly teaching influences learning in some way, but we don’t really know in which way (deterministic unpredictability), and certainly it is not that simple and controllable that teaching them neat concepts (input) will enable them (output) to make the world neat.
But: Hoping that complexity enriched input will lead to complexity enabled output – doesn’t that also presuppose the controllable, cause effect relationship that we just denied learning to be?
Let me explain my doubts with the example of Phelps’ study to apply nonlinear methods to computer literacy learning. Nonlinear is not yet complex, in fact, it can be even simpler than complicated, namely exhibiting clear, tree-like structures. If we just send students out to the internet to find their sources, there is a big temptation that they settle with a resource that neatly arranges all the supposedly relevant facts in a few, hierarchical pages. So the trend would be even towards less complexity?
In the special context of computer training (that Jenny pointed to in her number 2.), this may not be noxious, since the subject matter of menus, click paths and file systems is indeed hierarchical, and the “Ah ha” effect is nice when we discovered that a new shortcut leads to an already known option, much like exploring a foreign city and recognizing a previously visited crossing. But exploring does not necessarily mean to cope with complexity. It is even more precarious when a simulation creates the impression of a true copy of real world that only needs to be mastered to become fit for the next forty years.
So I think this week’s topics do not suggest ready-made recipes for next week’s instructional design. However, they might inform the construction of new, unbiased studies.