Competency 4:

Demonstrate an understanding of the complexity of teaching and learning

Rethinking Education as a Network of Complex Learning Relationships

View from Dallas Road Walkway, Victoria, BC

Complexity theory describes systems and how systems change, develop, learn, and evolve. Rather than parts, complexity theory emphasizes wholes, relationships, open systems, and environments. Schools are complex systems and there are multidimensional relationships and dynamic interactions at play all the time (students, teachers, community, economics and politics, to name a few). Schools and classrooms are not predictable and learning is not linear. As described in the Lil’wat principle Cwelelep, disequilibrium is regarded as a valuable part of complex learning systems, where students self-organize, learning emerges, and  bottom-up change processes are critical (Sanford, Williams, Hopper & McGregor, 2012).

To help describe the learning in our teacher education programs as distributed, relational, adaptive and emerging we have drawn on complexity theory. Complexity theory focuses on describing change. Complexity theory is a theory of change and emergence; it is about the dynamics of change within a system. Complexity theory focuses on the interaction of the parts of a living or social system to evolve and adapt, through a combination of co-operation and competition.


  • What experiences have you had dealing with professional or personal tensions? What understandings and tools have enabled you to navigate these tensions?
  • Consider how a consideration of complexity theory can support multiple pathways to learning?
  • How might considerations of complexity theory support inclusion of multiple voices/perspectives and student choice within formal learning?
  • How has a consideration of complexity helped you to deepen your understanding of ‘learning’ and your role as a teacher?