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Learning activities and issues with the conservation of complexity

PIVOT has happened. Reflection happening. Transition done. But issues are arising about the quality and sustainability of what has happened (LMS and video conferencing). Aim is to understan what’s next through applying insights from Tesler’s law - The Law of Conservation of Compelxity - as it applies to learning activities.

Dan Saffer offers this summary of Tesler’s law

All processes have a core of complexity that cannot be designed away. The only question is what handles it: the system, or the user. As Tesler describes in an interview with Safer, the law arose out of work at Apple in the 1980s developing early Mac computers. So perhaps not surprising to see the separation between technology and user rather than .

The argument here is that a learning activity can be seen as a process. A process with a “core of complexity”. Successful learning and teaching is impacted by how effectively that core of complexity can be dealt with by the participants.

Offer a brief description of Tesler’s law. Focuses on a very specific learning activity and describes an evolution from face-to-face, thru pivot, thru asynchronous approach to highlight the complexity

The argument below is that the complexity inherent in quality, authentic learning activities has always been largely dealt with by the students and teachers. With a heavy reliance on the experience, benefits and shared understandings and practices of face-to-face, synchronous communication (though not without limitations). The pivot online has removed this major enabler. While video conferencing provide some approximation of face-to-face it is very different which invalidates prior experience and introduces new complexities. Complexities that have to be handled by

Conservation of complexity

Learning activities

Good learning and teaching is about what the student does. Hence the focus on learning activities. My hypotheses is that implementing digital learning activities effective and efficiently is too complex. Our inability to handle the inherent complexity is a major contributing factor to the perceived poor quality of learning and teaching

An example: analysing and critiquing films


Explain film watching for a particular type of course. Outline the entire steps that a student has to does.How elements in the environment make it easier or better to does.

But what we want them to do is actually engage in depth with the film. ANalyse it in someway. Share their thoughts. Develop their thoughts etc.

Pivot online



Inherent complexity of that task

Talk about this - link to the natur eof the task this is where the finding and watching come into it

Conservation of complexity

Explain the law. If we want to make this easier, someone has to do the work.

Reading list approach

Explain conservation of complexity