Promoting transfer through complex systems principles

Goldstone, R. L., & Wilensky, U. (2008).  Promoting Transfer through Complex Systems Principles. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 17, 465-516.

Understanding scientific phenomena in terms of complex systems principles is both scientifically and pedagogically important. Situations from different disciplines of science are often governed by the same principle, and so promoting knowledge transfer across disciplines makes valuable cross-fertilization and scientific unification possible. Although evidence for this kind of transfer has been historically controversial, experiments and observations of students suggest pedagogical methods to promote transfer of complex systems principles. One powerful strategy is for students to actively interpret the elements and interactions of perceptually grounded scenarios. Such interpretation can be facilitated through the presentation of cases alongside general principles, and by students exploring and constructing computational models of cases. The resulting knowledge can be both concretely grounded yet highly perspective-dependent and generalizeable. We discuss methods for coordinating computational and mental models of complex systems, the roles of idealization and concreteness in fostering understanding and generalization, and other complementary theoretical approaches to transfer.

Download PDF version of this paper