Understanding the environment: Thinking styles and models
Understanding the environment: Thinking styles and models

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Understanding the environment: Thinking styles and models

Activity 1D: Exploring your thinking traps

In this activity the aim is to reflect on how typical cognitive 'traps' may influence how you engage in complex situations.

Activity 4

Based on the insights gained from reading Resource Reading 1.7, rank each thinking trap in order of increasingly significant negative effects when it comes to engaging with complex situations. How do you think we can avoid falling into these traps?


As a response to this activity, I can outline several 'traps' that worried me when developing the learning design of this actual free course:

  1. First of all, I acknowledge that my values and past experiences have had a fundamental influence on the material. Many teachers are able to distance themselves from their beliefs and seek alternative points of views and examples to include in their teaching. This is probably my greatest failing – I simply cannot bring myself to justify top-down reductionist approaches for engaging with complex situations, especially when it comes to managing our environment!
  2. It was easy to get carried away in explaining particular concepts or developing particular activities, losing sight of the overall purpose. I estimate that almost half of what I wrote had to be scrapped or summarised, although this is not unusual when engaging with original work.
  3. I was mostly able to avoid the trap of going along with a group's judgement, simply because there was limited group work when it came to the first design iteration of this free course! On the other hand, I have since had a lot of feedback from both students and tutors, and I have to confess that it has been difficult to differentiate between general concerns with the course's design, and those concerns that applied to a minority of a rather vociferous group of individuals.
  4. But most significantly, the breadth of the topics that I cover (from ecology to politics to cognitive science to systems thinking, etc), the number of assets that I make use of (study guide, activities, printed Resource Book readings, audio-visual programmes, Diagramming Resource, discussion fora, etc.), and the variety of values, learning styles and experiences in society, meant that the number of things that I had to keep in mind very quickly escalated beyond the magical number seven (plus or minus two). This, therefore, required constant iteration through the material while attempting to look at it from different perspectives. The ultimate aim was to develop a coherent model of interrelationships between activities, readings and other assets, and amongst participants. Yet, I could only manage to hold a few ideas in my head at any one time. I soon realised that I had created a free course that was in itself a complex system!

    The implication is that I will have to use a range of systems concepts and techniques to optimise this complex learning system over the long run. In fact, I am planning to constantly update and improve this course as a result of your feedback and new insights gained from my scholarship. This iterative approach is, in essence, a constant 'learning process' of observations, evaluations, plans and actions. Cybernetic optimisation, a key concept behind the feedback relationship so apparent in the learning process, is one of the most powerful tools we have available for understanding complex situations, and you will be learning more about this process, and associated concepts such as the feedback loop, as you progress through this course.


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