Sunday, September 19, 2010

Cybernetics feedback loops and education

Arising from PLENK2010 there was a discussion on management cybernetics in the context of teaching. There are a couple of interesting notions arising here. The first overarching (there I’ve used it that means I’m an educationalist not just a teacher) idea is to view educational systems as a system of feedback loops and control mechanisms. For me this is an interesting perspective as it makes me think about signal paths and time constants in an educational setting. This is interesting because it allows us to consider the difference which the use of IT in an educational setting makes. Thus, for example, a program, which provides students with near instantaneous feedback as to whether their answer to a mathematics problem is correct, differs in a significant way from assigning the same exercise as homework. This difference can be characterised primarily as a time constant.
The second notion coming out of this is that of requisite complexity. This is a concept from cybernetics that for any model to accurately reflect the behaviour of a complex system it has to have a commensurate degree of complexity. Again I map this into the various educational models and theories to which I have been exposed and it generates the notion that in many cases to do justice to the educational setting under consideration we need an amalgamation of theories and understandings as the entity under observation is by its nature too complex for a simple system to do a good job.

Ideas here ultimately derive from the work of Dr Stafford Beer (organizational cybernetics) and Ross Ashby (the Law of requisite variety) There is more on their thinking here:

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