Complexity, Chaos – The Butterfly effect

There was once a famous Chinese philosopher called Chon Chow.  In his dream he saw a butterfly that could fly and he thought he was a butterfly too.  When he woke up, he didn’t know whether he was actually a butterfly living in reality or was merely dreaming himself as a butterly with illusion or fantasy. 

Imagine if each of us is a butterfly and flap our wings, what would be the outcome of such flapping?  What are the impacts of such flapping on the environment, the weather?

The phrase refers to the idea that a butterfly‘s wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that may ultimately alter the path of a tornado or delay, accelerate or even prevent the occurrence of a tornado in a certain location. The flapping wing represents a small change in the initial condition of the system, which causes a chain of events leading to large-scale alterations of events. Had the butterfly not flapped its wings, the trajectory of the system might have been vastly different. Of course the butterfly cannot literally cause a tornado. The kinetic energy in a tornado is enormously larger than the energy in the turbulence of a butterfly. The kinetic energy of a tornado is ultimately provided by the sun and the butterfly can only influence certain details of weather events in a chaotic manner.

Individual and Group Learning (when each of us is flapping our wings) could be chaotic due to the various sources of information and “shared knowledge” under a digital or virtual world.

Learning as a network (with many butterflies flapping our wings and interacting) could be complex. The flapping wing represents a small change in the initial condition of the system, which causes a chain of events leading to large-scale alterations of events.  And when there are many butterflies flapping the wings, this may cause further changes in the initial condition of the system.  So the sharing of such knowledge is also complex, unpredictable and emergent.

Have you flap your wings yet?

“A small change in the initial condition of the system, which causes a chain of events leading to large-scale alterations of events”, when applied in education could mean that if each individual is to connect and cooperate with others via networking, then this would cause a chain of connections and events leading to large scale alterations of learning events.  Such emergence of shared knowledge is unpredictable.  An adaptive curriculum may also be required to suit the individual’s changing needs.

This also explains why a fixed curriculum may sometimes be less effective than an adaptive curriculum in the education system due to the complexity and chaotic nature of “learning” and its poor responsiveness to emergent knowledge.   This may be the reason why “an open and adaptive  curriculum” is welcome in adult education.

Do you find this in our CCK08 course?

What can we learn from Complexity, Chaos and Emergence?

George provided a concise paper on Complexity, Chaos, and Emergence

Thanks to George for such clear definitions and his insights.  It’s an enjoyable read.

It’s also time for my personal reflection on what it means to us in our daily life, and education and learning in particular.

 I think most of us agreed that education and learning is complex and chaotic.  At the moment, we have established institutions which provide an infrastructure in education and training.  This ensures that education and training is streamlined and learning is structured.  This is important to ensure the outcomes of learning and the mode of education is aligned with the best interests of the stakeholders and society at large.  This is also important from a social, economical and political or religious point of view, since education is the foundation of a society.  Without proper education, its citizens would easily loose their identities.  And the citizens may fail to communicate or connect effectively.  This would ultimately cause conflicts between communities and instability to society. 

In order to survive and sustain identity in a community, the citizens would therefore seek out avenues towards better education, so as to make a living, to acquire a job, or vocation, and to live a meaningful life.  That partly explained the migration of people of under-developed countries or developing countries to developed countries.  These people may need to seek “refuge” or look for a better living due to different reasons.  Such reasons could include a deprivation of their “basic human needs and rights” , especially if they haven’t been given the opportunities of education that most developed countries enjoy.

So, are we looking at these issues from a “developed country” point of view? 

Would we be biased in suggesting solutions?  That we are trying to solve issues that are complex and chaotic, without a clear understanding of the basic needs of these “global citizens”, “the net-users” and “non net-users”?   Or do we need to think about what civilization means for our fellow “global – digital and non-digital citizens”?

How do these impact on those who are under-priviledged, those who have not been able to connect to the society due to poverty or disability, or those who are trying to connect but are suppressed to do so due to pressure from their groups, communities, religious or political parties? 

How do these impact on those who are limited in isolated communities or who haven’t even got electricity or basic facilities to support their connection?

Are there complex and chaos solutions to these clear, everyday phenomena?  What are you going to do about it?

Given that we are living in a complex and chaotic society, how are we going to

(a) ensure that learners see things in simple, yet comprehensible term, though the learning process is in itself complex?

(b) ensure that learning is enjoyable for the learners, and that life-long learning is sustainable?

(c) ensure that society could achieve harmony given that there are conflicts of interests and power issues amongst individuals, networks and groups and society at large?

(d) ensure individual values and priviledges are not sacrificed at the expense of collective pressures to conform – Individual voices vs the voice of the crowd?

(e) ensure that people realise the importance of science and art of connection?  That is it is not just about connection but who you are connected to as cited by Geoge and Stephen throughout the course.

(f) ensure that a conceptual framework is built into the infrastructure that is sustainable as pointed by George in the forum?

And finally how can we leverage the power of networks and technology that could promote individual rights, inclusiveness, collective wisdom and tolerance?  At the end, is education a means to a purpose?

So what do we mean by complexity, chaos in learning?  Are we learning individually or in groups or in networks? Do our network learning add value to individuals? How and to what extent to the “global digital and non-digital” citizens?

Without a good understanding of learning from a complexity and chaotic perspective, we may go down the pathway of thinking that learning is linear and so could be “spoon fed” or “structured” for our learners.  And so should curriculum be at the hands of educator or learner or a joint product of educators and learners?  And should curriculum be negotiated between “educators” and “learners”, especially if it is for adult learners?  What does it mean for open education?

But what is the purpose of re-structuring the education infrastruture.

Without purpose, does education mean anything?

And without education, does learning mean anything? 

Education should be the means

And Learning should be the process

If both the means and processes are confusing, unnecessarily complex, chaotic, what will a novice learner think?  Confusion? Frustration? Upset?

But if the means and processes are clear, simple and easy to follow, what will be the reaction of the learner? Enjoyable.  Satisfying. Happy. May be a belief and practice of sustainable life-long learning.

How about the learning for expert learners/teachers?  What are the reactions to these notions of education and learning?  Formal vs informal education, On-line vs Institution,  Blended vs traditional.  Adhoc vs structured learning, Emergent vs specific outcomes etc….

So which pathway do you choose?  It’s your choice.  Is it?  No, it’s too complex and chaotic, back to basic….. for me??

To this end: I would like to quote Stephen’s vision, which I also share: 

This to me is a society where knowledge and learning are public goods, freely created and shared, not hoarded or withheld in order to extract wealth or influence. This is what I aspire toward, this is what I work toward.

And my belief that each of us has our potential that is still not yet released…as so

Learning is sharing…the greatest gift to mankind

A response on education and learning

My friend,
My experience is that instructing four to five year olds is somewhat different from the adults.
For the young toddlers, they are full of imagination. Given the right environment and instruction, they could pick up new ideas quickly. Also, they still have a huge bank of memory (imagine when you re-configure a computer, you notice that there is a huge memory at the start). So learning is an adventure for kids, like Alice in Wonderland, where discovery is more important than reasoning, and fantasy is the dream of those kids. Dictating the learning process for the young ones may soon spoil their interests to learn, as they don’t feel that they could enjoy their freedom. However, it would also be important to be aware of the risks involved. Therefore most formal childhood education are based on experiential learning followed by instruction. This will ensure that kids could develop logical reasoning and rational thinking before they enter adulthood.

Adults learn differently from kids in that they normally would have acquired some experience in their early childhood, which significantly affect how they see the world. Perceptions and prejudices, motivation and attitudes, and values are readily set in an adult of mid twenty onwards. To educate adults require a totally different approach in that adults learner would ask the basic question of:”What’s in it for me (WIIFM)?” Unless an adult sees the value or benefits of changes, otherwise, they will ask: “Why changes?” or “Why learning in this way and not my way?” Also each adult learner has different learning experience, so it’s impossible to prescribe a solution that suits all. The connections of adults will therefore be different from one person to another.

My experience in instructing senior adult (60 plus) learners and those with disabilites is that one has to be very patient in listening to the learner’s needs first. Once you have understood their needs. It is imperative to use a pragmatic and simple tool to start with. For those adult learner who are illiterate, or not having the pre-requisites, or having disabilities then guidance through clear explanation and demonstration is important. At times, some adult learners don’t even know how to use a mouse, or add favourites. So don’t assume, and don’t judge those adult learners.  Empathy is the key.
Senior adult learners who haven’t been exposed to the use of computers would likely take a longer time to learn than the kids and young adults. This should be considered in any adult education program.

Treat any senior adult learners and those with disabilities with respect, even if they have made “silly mistakes”. Do not focus on their weakness, rather, focus on their wealth of experience. Allow more time for them to try. Provide them with clear instructions. If they don’t understand a step, show them the right step. Let them try, practice and practice. If possible, encourage them to seek peer support, so they won’t feel alienated.

So, does a group or network matter?
Does it depend on who these learners are?
May be, should we ask: What are their needs first?