Refurbishing learning via complexity theory: Introduction

Educational Philosophy and Theory 56 (5):407-419 (2024)
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This Special Issue addresses a range of educational issues linked to main themes from our 2019 book The Emergence of Complexity: Rethinking Education as a Social Science. This book elaborated two major theses that raise fundamental questions for philosophy of education. First, that learning by groups is typically a distinctive kind of learning that is not reducible to learning by individuals. Second, that a degree of holism, as against a focus on individuals, is essential for achieving a convincing understanding of this distinctive type of group learning. These two theses are of direct interest to philosophy of education since they challenges the resources of received theories of learning. Yet this kind of group learning characterises the vast bulk of human learning situations that occur outside of formal education systems. In this Special Issue introductory article we, firstly, introduce some basic principles of complexity theory, and demonstrate that, together with the concept of a ‘co-present group’ (between 2 and about 12 individuals), these ideas offer develop novel understandings of the distinctive learning that occurs within such groups. Secondly, we outline and illustrate with further examples the main features of co-present groups. Thirdly, we consolidate our conceptual work by showing five ways in which our account of group learning serves to refurbish the concept of ‘learning’.



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