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Knowledge in a learning universe: Collaborative, recursive, and digital

, The Union Institute, United States

The Union Institute . Awarded


This analysis of distance learning and complexity theory is a case study in paradigm transition. Four observations about telecommunications and schooling are used to identify patterns of thought in social science and education. The patterns are traced across disciplines and national boundaries to illustrate recursion in human social systems, similar to recursion in complex systems such as rainforests and immune systems.

Patterns in social psychology, literary theory, historiography, and cognitive psychology are described in terms of the properties of complex adaptive systems. In this context, learning emerges as the meta-process for comprehending change in and among continuously interacting, multiply connected, interdependent systems.

Contemporary crises in education are treated as turbulence, emergent with the integration of telecommunications in schools, and new forms of schooling are treated as social arrangements emergent with diverse and new information in dissipating structures. Historical precedents from the Middle Ages are used to consider interdependence among social arrangements in home, work and community life, and how change in the patterns of one, reflects or anticipates change in the patterns of the others.

Distance learning is analyzed in terms of opportunities for people to instantaneously access, reorganize, discuss, and disseminate information. This congealing of activities challenges the notion of universities as the single most appropriate place for creating and husbanding knowledge. The challenge is one way of explaining the ferocious attacks by many in academe on distance learning and for-profit education. From the complex systems perspective, distance learning and for-profit education are new forms of schooling emergent or co-evolving with increased turbulence across multiple systems that feed into and depend upon the education system.

This manuscript takes a positive view of the paradigm shift from linear analyses in pursuit of predictability to nonlinear or multi-linear analyses with limited expectations for predictability. The magnitude of change involved in the current paradigm shift is comparable to the combined changes associated with the Copernican, American and French revolutions. Focus is on the implications of the paradigm shift for understanding changing relations between faculty and students and for considering how, where, when and by or among whom knowledge is constructed.


Freeman, M. Knowledge in a learning universe: Collaborative, recursive, and digital. Ph.D. thesis, The Union Institute. Retrieved August 3, 2020 from .

This record was imported from ProQuest on October 23, 2013. [Original Record]

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