System Dynamics in Distance Education and a Call to Develop a Standard Model

Steven C. Shaffer, International Review of Research in Open, Distance Learning, Nov 04, 2005
Commentary by Stephen Downes

This is a very good paper that should be read especially by those of us working toward learning networks and related approaches to education. The author offers a good background of systems theory as it relates to education, highlighting with numerous telling points how failures to recognize systems in learning result in error. For example, "In an educational context, feedback delay could manifest itself in wide swings in policy; for example, administration might fund a DE program, then cut funding too soon after launch, only later to re-fund the program and try again." The author offers a model of the socio-economic environment of distance education (the diagram is too small, though; a link to an enlarged version should be provided). Two major matters spring to my mind in review of this paper: first, the question of whether autonomous decision-making (a la The Wisdom of Crowds) is consistent with this model; and second, the question of systems semantics (how meaning circulates and develops in a system (or network)) is completely untouched.
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