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Education as a Complex System: Conceptual and Methodological Implications

  • Author(s): Jacobson, Michael J;
  • Levin, James A;
  • Kapur, Manu
  • et al.

Education is a complex system, which has conceptual and methodological implications for education research and policy. In this article, an overview is first provided of the Complex Systems Conceptual Framework for Learning (CSCFL), which consists of a set of conceptual perspectives that are generally shared by educational complex systems, organized into two focus areas: collective behaviors of a system, and behaviors of individual agents in a system. Complexity and research methodologies for education are then considered, and it is observed that commonly used quantitative and qualitative techniques are generally appropriate for studying linear dynamics of educational systems. However, it is proposed that computational modeling approaches, being extensively used for studying nonlinear characteristics of complex systems in other fields, can provide a methodological complement to quantitative and qualitative education research approaches. Two research case studies of this approach are discussed. We conclude with a consideration of how viewing education as a complex system using complex systems’ conceptual and methodological tools can help advance education research and also inform policy.

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