Sunday, October 19, 2008

Complexity, Chaos and Randomness

Ephemeralization, the ongoing increase in efficiency or productivity of all processes involving matter, energy and information, (Heylighen) has enabled an endless follow of information via the internet to occur, but at the same time created concepts such as ‘information overload’, ‘data smog’ or ‘spam’.

This ever increasing growth of information is limited by the amount of information people can actually process, creating ‘Information Fatigue Syndrome’ causing “anxiety, poor decision-making, difficulties in memorizing and remembering, reduced attention span, reduced work satisfaction and strained relations with collaborators (Waddington, 1996; Shenk, 1997; Wurman, 1990).” (Heylighen)

The ability to distinguish and filter out unreliable and irrelevant information is important (information hygiene), and an individual must also understand the impact of their contribution to ‘data smog’ – as “the cost for the sender (of information) is minimal, the cost for the receivers, while individually almost negligible, is collectively huge”. (Heylighen)

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Intelligence Amplification (IA) through computer generated “augmented” thinking and support systems, and Collective Intelligence, such as modeling how tribes of ants interact as a collective whole, there is potential to extend the limitation of human potential. Collaborative filtering (ranking) and the semantic web, whereby the web learns new links between information sources in the same way the human brain learns to create associations between information will also help support the human mind’s ability to process the avalanche of information available to it.

Although technology has allowed us to access information more readily and educate people more cheaply, leading to the understanding for the need for ‘life long learning’ to keep up-to-date with the ever increasing developments of information in our own field of expertise and society as a whole, the inertia of individuals and organizations to take a long time to adapt to a new technology and to learn how to use it productively, may explain many educators have yet adopted technology into their current teaching practices.

The adoption of technology to support the limitations of the human brain in this information age requires a major paradigm shift in educational practices, as the ability to “autonomously analyse problems, find relevant information, synthesize the results, and thus develop new knowledge” is what is far more required than that of rote, regurgitated learning.

An understanding of Chaos and Complexity theories can help enable this shift in education. By understanding that like the weather, learning is too complex and unpredictable to be restricted and guided by linear curriculum and training paths. And by facilitating rather than directing the power of learning, we educators will better understand that “the two learning systems and cultures, that of school and of the Web, are fundamentally different; one has a basis in control and structure, and the other is seemingly unstructured and chaotic” (
Phelps) and a chaotic, complex approach better reflects how ‘real’ learning occurs.

Just like in the non-linear learning process of child rearing, where a divergent and complex learning cycle occurs through trial, reflection, research and more trialling, and where one course of action and direction is never sufficient, learning occurs when its needed and sourced from a range of different means, with the best lessons learnt are those through trying, investigation and reflection.

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