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Publication Detail
Complexity and Classroom Learning
  • Publication Type:
  • Authors:
    Hardman MA
  • Date awarded:
  • Supervisors:
    Radford M
  • Awarding institution:
    Canterbury Christ Church University
  • Keywords:
This thesis provides a theoretical basis for applying complexity theory to classroom learning. Existing accounts of complexity in social systems fail to adequately situate human understanding within those systems. Human understanding and action is embedded within the complex systems that we inhabit. As such, we cannot achieve a full and accurate representation of those systems. This challenges epistemological positions which characterise learning as a simple mechanistic process, those which see it as approaching a view of the world ‘as it is’ and also positions which see learning as a purely social activity. This thesis develops a materialist position which characterises understandings as emergent from, but not reducible to, the material world. The roles of embodied neural networks as well as our linguistic and symbolic systems are considered in order to develop this materialist position. Context and history are shown to be important within complex systems and allow novel understandings to emerge. Furthermore, shared understandings are seen as emergent from processes of response, replication and manipulation of patterns of behaviour and patterns of association. Thus the complexity of learning is accounted for within a coherent ontological and epistemological framework. The implications of this materialist position for considering classroom learning are expounded. Firstly, our models and descriptions of classrooms are reconciled with the view of our understandings as sophisticated yet incomplete models within complex social systems. Models are characterised as themselves material entities which emerge within social systems and may go on to influence behaviour. Secondly, contemporary accounts of learning as the conceptual representation of the world are challenged.
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