Teaching and Complexity

In my previous post, I described the “complexity barrier” that makes certain types of teaching ineffective (unless, of course, it’s just me).  I then asked what could we do about it?

As a teacher, I believe that one of the key parameters in training a student to do complex things is to allow for continual course corrections.  Define small, meaningful steps that require the student to begin to reason his or her way through the “fog of complexity.”  Let them experience the unknowns; that will prompt the important questions. Let them struggle to make sense of the complexity; that will promote a healthy humility.  This is what truly prepares them to learn.

Then, have them talk through the experience, engage in dialogue to refine their understanding, reinforce their successes, and reflect on the challenges that remain.

It’s best done one-on-one or in a combination of one-on-one discussions and very small group discussions.  It’s seminar style learning, in one sense; but it’s also coaching and mentoring and personal instruction.

I’ve concluded that the goals I’ve set for certain courses cannot be achieved in the typical course environment of the day.  They cannot be achieved by reading a book and taking a test.  They cannot be achieved by working in teams.  They cannot be achieved by watching short videos.  They cannot be achieved without the student taking risks and making mistakes.  They cannot be achieved if the student is not passionate about the subject area.  They cannot be achieved if the goal is merely to obtain a degree.  And they cannot be achieved without mutual trust and respect.

Within industry, this kind of transformational learning is fairly well understood (though perhaps not practiced as much as it had been at one time).  I’ve experienced it at its best.  I know what’s possible.  But, as an instructor, I simply don’t see how we can replicate that without major changes in priorities and approaches.

So, I share that opinion with you.