Complexity theory: supporting curriculum and pedagogy developments in Scottish physical education

Michael Jess, Matthew Atencio, Malcolm Thorburn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper describes how complexity theory principles relating to self-emergence and connectivity have been employed to inform our recent developmental work in Scottish physical education. We suggest that these complexity principles have purchase in postmodern times characterised by uncertainty, multiplicity and contradiction. We cite examples from the development and delivery of a developmental physical education programme in Scotland to assert that complex learning principles can be employed to structure curricular and pedagogical endeavours. These examples from practice highlight the ways in which a complexity-orientated learning approach extends beyond hierarchical, reductionist and behaviourist notions of learning, which have long held a strong foothold in the field of physical education. At the same time, we review critical questions that have been raised regarding the practicality of structuring educational practice with emerging theories, such as complexity theory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)179-199
Number of pages21
JournalSport, Education and Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • Complexity theory
  • Physical education
  • Ecological theory
  • Social constructivism
  • Curriculum
  • Pedagogy


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