Teaching on the edge

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingEntry for encyclopedia/dictionary


In this entry, learning is presented as a complex, emergent and non-linear process: a process that has its foundation in the self-organising capacity of learners to negotiate inside, around and beyond the boundaries they meet as they engage with different tasks on an everyday basis. It specifically explores how the relationship between self-organisation and boundaries acts as the basis for an innovative approach to teaching: an approach that embraces the non-linear and decentred nature of learning. As a starting point in this shift towards innovative complexity-informed teaching, the entry will discuss how there is a need for teachers to acknowledge learners as self-organisers and not simply as passive recipients of knowledge. Self-organisation is defined as a process where some degree of order emerges as neighbouring parts of a complex system interact Unlike the modernist perspective that has long dominated our thinking about learning, this self-organising process is a spontaneous phenomenon that does not require control by an external source and leads to the emergence of behaviours that can be both predictable and unpredictable (Davis, Sumara & Luce-Kempler, 2008). Crucially, the self-organisation process does not ‘just happen,’ but rather, involves learners in a constant process of boundary negotiation. Boundaries are defined as something that specifiesthe limit of a particular space or social grouping. These limits, however, are not only physical, but can also be conceptual, functional, behavioral, and communicational (Zelenyin Khalil and Boulding, 1996, p.133). As a consequence, boundaries are complex, multi-faceted and open-ended and can act to stop communication/interaction taking place whilst conversely enabling communication/interaction. From a human perspective, boundaries are ambiguous and exist within individuals, the environment in which individuals function, and also within the tasks that individuals attempt. As learners progress through their non-linear learning journeys, as discussed later, they self-organise inside, around and outside the many different boundaries in efforts to consolidate, challenge and learn in creative ways. This iterative, messy self-organising process is central to the complexity of the learning process. The entry concludes by briefly considering the implications of this symbiotic self-organisation/ambiguous boundaries relationship for teachers as they seek to embrace and support the non-linear and decentred nature of the learning process.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEncyclopedia of Educational Innovation
EditorsMichael Peters, Richard Heraud
PublisherSpringer Singapore
ISBN (Electronic)9789811322624
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 29 Feb 2020


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