The chaotic, ordered or complex systems approach?

Dave Snowden’s explanation of different ways to approach achieving learning goals led me to think about a number of ideas that I had not previously considered.

The chaotic approach seems to be the “school of hard knocks” approach. Students are given a scenario and left survive. A good example of this would be throwing a swimming student into the deep end of the pool and assuming they’ll figure out how to avoid drowning. While this approach has merit in providing authentic experiences, our accountability as teachers and duty of care, require that we use methods that have higher probabilities of achieving learning outcomes and student survival.

The ordered approach gives far more scaffolding and direction for students but lacks authenticity and denies students locus of control for their own learning. This approach mirrors the mindset of traditional forms of learning that were almost entirely teacher centred. From my experience working in public schools in Japan, this approach produced students who retained memorised knowledge amazingly well, however these same students were often unable to display deeper understanding of the concepts behind what they had learnt. These students also showed difficulty connecting their learning with knowledge they had acquired from other subject areas. I think this approach has merit when applied with specific purpose.

To be honest, I did not have a good understanding of the complex approach after viewing the above posted video. The video below gave me a clearer understanding of what it was.

The complex approach gives students the freedom to self-organise while providing soft boundaries that can be negotiated. This is beneficial for students as learning how to assess problems is often more important than simply memorising specific methods of resolving them. Knowing various methods will be of use in many instances, however the most challenging problems students will face probably won’t conform with the conditions practiced in classroom settings. I think this approach has a lot to offer to teachers as well. Observing the “tools” that student independently choose to test and employ can provide valuable information about how student understanding is developing and identifying the areas that students are encountering the most difficulty with.


Lansing, S. (2008). Resilience: What is a complex systems approach?Stockholm Resilience Centre TV. Retrieved 12 August 2016, from

Snowden, D. (2009). How to organise a Children’s Retrieved 12 August 2016, from


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