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The Ontologies of Complexity and Learning about Complex Systems

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ISAIJLS Volume 39, Number 5, ISSN 0020-4277


This paper discusses a study of students learning core conceptual perspectives from recent scientific research on complexity using a hypermedia learning environment in which different types of scaffolding were provided. Three comparison groups used a hypermedia system with agent-based models and scaffolds for problem-based learning activities that varied in terms of the types of text based scaffolds that were provided related to a set of complex systems concepts. Although significant declarative knowledge gains were found for the main experimental treatment in which the students received the most scaffolding, there were no significant differences amongst the three groups in terms of the more cognitively demanding performance on problem solving tasks. However, it was found across all groups that the students who enriched their ontologies about how complex systems function performed at a significantly higher level on transfer problem solving tasks in the posttest. It is proposed that the combination of interactive representational scaffolds associated with NetLogo agent-based models in complex systems cases and problem solving scaffolding allowed participants to abstract ontological dimensions about how systems of this type function that, in turn, was associated with the higher performance on the problem solving transfer tasks. Theoretical and design implications for learning about complex systems are discussed.


Jacobson, M.J., Kapur, M., So, H.J. & Lee, J. (2011). The Ontologies of Complexity and Learning about Complex Systems. Instructional Science: An International Journal of the Learning Sciences, 39(5), 763-783. Retrieved July 15, 2020 from .

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