Is this course chaotic or complex?

George has a great way of making what could be very confusing, easier to understand. He also manages to do this with concise papers. His Complexity, Chaos and Emergence paper is an example of this.

There is also an interesting post on  Patrick McAndrew’s Padded Thoughts blog about chaos in relation to learning.

George has posted two questions in the Moodle Forum this week

  1. In what way is learning chaotic?
  2. In what way is learning complex?

He defines chaotic learning as learning that happens within a bounded and predictable frame. So if we think about teaching physics, for example – we know what is the curriculum and we know that the expected outcome is that people will, by the end of the course, have learned the content of the curriculum. But we cannot predict how people will learn this curriculum. So we know the big picture of the curriculum, but the learning processes that go on within the curriculum are unpredictable and chaotic.

In complex learning there is no agreement about what the big picture is. There might be several views of it, but no consensus. So in the case of the physics course, there is no agreed curriculum and no agreed outcomes. There can be many surprises and examples of emergent learning. However, this doesn’t mean that there can’t be an ordered investigation into the area of knowledge being studied.

Is this course chaotic or complex? I would say it is more complex than chaotic. We are not sure where we are going to end up, but we have a semi-organised way of discussing the content.

5 thoughts on “Is this course chaotic or complex?

  1. arieliondotcom October 16, 2008 / 10:02 pm

    I don’t see chaos and complexity as mutually exclusive or as “either/or” but as functions of each other. The course may seem chaotic to us now because we are still at the point of information overload. We can’t see the design because we don’t yet know the patterns around us, either because of the newness of the concepts or because they are still in the process of emergence. Even George and Stephen don’t know whether or how their differing opinions and patterns will turn out. That’s Complexity. But somewhere, somehow, the pattern will show…if the Chaos Theory is valid. So I think both concepts apply to this course.

  2. Tom Whyte October 17, 2008 / 4:54 am

    The course is trying to be complex, however it needs to stay within the framework of a University structure thereby automatically making it at least partly chaotic. If this course were truly complex their would not be weekly objectives, and specific assignments. Freedom would reign.

  3. jennymackness October 17, 2008 / 11:05 am

    Reply to Arielion and Tom

    I agree, Arielion, that chaos and complexity are function of each other and I had a lot of difficulty trying to unravel in my own mind how they are distinct from each other – hence my post. I suppose that all learning is chaotic, but I’m not sure that all learning is necessarily complex. (I’ll have to think about that a bit more).

    I also agree, Tom, that the course is trying to be complex, but because of the structure and assessment is at least partly chaotic. I wonder if those doing the course for accreditation experience it as more chaotic than complex. I am not doing the accreditation and hence my view that – for me – it is more complex than chaotic.

    As we go through the course, I keep coming back to where assessment fits in with connectivism. It seems to me to be a critical factor.

    Thank you both for your comments.


  4. Maru del Campo October 18, 2008 / 9:22 am

    Hi Jenny!

    I love reading you! I don’t know how you manage to produce so many posts, I post one per week and it takes all my strength, he, he, he. Enough fun, back to the point.

    I resonate with many of the views you place in your posts, I would rather get on a live chat with you to talk about them than to type it here. Then we could place a summary of our chat, less typing! LOL Seriously, I would really like to get together with you and chat. Do you think that would be possible?

    I am living the course as more complex than chaotic (the course is not chaotic, the chaos was in me), as you mention it is very well structured. The chaos reigned in my life during the first 4 weeks, but as soon as I placed my wall out there in my week 5 post it became real and I could start tearing it down. I expected more uncertainty this week just from the subject “Chaos and Complexity” and I found instead, to my surprise, peace.

    I agree with Ariel views on the sources of our feelings of chaos and with Tom’s about the intentions of this course to be complex because it has to have a structure approved by the University.

    Learning felt chaotic while I was looking for patterns but once I started sorting my mind out learning was more fluid. All I can say is that learning in an online environment structured with the connectivism views feels chaotic at the beginning but that does not necessarily mean that all learning is chaotic. Sometimes you start learning something and you are able to see the patterns from the beginning. In this experiment we were plunged in to chaos in order to live connectivism , there is no other way to understand it, we have to live it.

    I have also been wandering about assesment in connectivism, that week will be interesting.

    Have a nice weekend. Maru :X

  5. jennymackness October 20, 2008 / 1:27 pm

    Hi Maru – It would be great to chat to you in real time. What a great idea. Do you have Skype? My Skype name is jennymackness (very original ;-))

    I’d really love to hear more about your work in Mexico and how you think you are going to use your learning from this course.

    We have a bit of a time difference between us (I’m in the UK), but I’m sure we can sort it out. When would you like to talk. The weekend would be a good time for me (less pressure!), but I’m happy to fit in with you.

    Jenny 🙂

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