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Helping Others to Learn About Complexity:

Minimum Specifications for Learning Experiences About CAS

Consistent with the theory of CAS, the planning group who developed this Resource Kit began by developing a minimum specification for the learning experience we hoped to create (see the Aides section for more detail about how we did this). We believe that these "min specs" could also apply to the learning experience you create in your own context.

The key thing to keep in mind as you design your group's learning experience is to avoid the urge to over-design and over-specify. When you find yourself thinking, "But we must do X in order to learn" (and X is not in the min specs) catch yourself and ask, "Is this just a result of my own personal learning style?" We honestly believe that no additional specifications are needed beyond the above (although we could be wrong).

Figure 8: Minimum specifications for Our Complexity Learning Experience
  • everyone has enough content to enable intelligent conversation.

  • all agree to be complementary learners; committed to continuous awareness and open, honest, safe reflection, both individually and collectively.

  • good enough diversity, ever-changing (as much as practical and possible to avoid in-breeding).

  • participants have the capacity, permission, and responsibility to take action in their home CAS.

  • enough time together for rich information flow (to enable/allow reproduction).

  • a safe container for reflection.

The outcomes that we are seeking in our learning groups are:

  • Interaction: -with the theory of CAS; with peers; and with experts

  • Co-evolving insight; joint learning that is greater than what any individual could have gotten on their own.

  • Organizational betterment for the common good.

  • Signs of "spark" and "flow experience" in the individuals who participate.

You should have a good discussion about the outcomes that your group expects of itself. The items above can serve as a starting point.

A final planning-group discussion item that we want to share with you concerns the role of the "teacher" in the learning experience. We have not said much thus far about the teacher-we have purposely avoided it because of the image it conjures up within the traditional context of the machine and military metaphors. However, suggesting that there is no "teacher" is fanciful thinking. There is always someone guiding the learning process; someone who is just a little bit more responsible for the direction and pace of the learning activity of the moment than the other members of the group. In a mature group, this role might rotate. In a very mature group, it might even ebb and flow minute-by-minute as a learning dialogue emerges. The fact remains, however, that in most practical learning communities, there is always a "teacher." So, we should be clear about the role.

For the complexity learning experiences we intend to provide using this Resource Kit and the min specs previously mentioned, the teacher:

  • is a co-learner along with the group.

  • might possess special content knowledge, but looks to the group for context knowledge. (That is, "I'll efficiently give you what is known, you give me how to apply it in your context, or let's discover it together.")

  • strives to nudge the system and individual learners off their current attractors and comfort zones, but doesn't (or can't) provide a new attractor (this is the learners' responsibility).

  • strives to act in ways that are consistent with the theory of CAS (except, of course, when being purposefully provocative), but doesn't claim to be perfect and is open to being challenged.

You might want to modify this list for your group's purposes, but we strongly recommend that you have a periodic group reflection about the role of the "teacher" in the group.

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Copyright 2001, Paul E. Plsek & Associates,
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