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Connectivity: Spike Hall's RU Weblog
News, clips, comments on knowledge, knowledge-making, education, weblogging, philosophy, systems and ecology.

 Thursday, December 12, 2002

Summary: I think systems theory (notably J.G. Miller's Living Systems theory) offers insight into the learning of both individual and group. In this entry I will note the application of several systems principles to the group that has decided to be a system. The payoff, I will explain, is major increase in group accomplishment. Each group member's price is a donation of energy, an agreed-upon focus of thought and action and a portion of her/his autonomy.

In a recent placeholder entry I promised myself

an analysis of system structure and process specs [sigma] as they might affect a bounded system of thinkers.

According to living systems-type thinkers, an individual human is a living system and so is a group, under certain conditions. (An individual cannot escape being a living system. A group may or may not be a living system.)

The following from Bryan Coffman's introduction to Living Systems theory (from J.G. Miller's Living Systems)

Associator (AS) "The subsystem which carries out the first stage of the learning process, forming enduring associations among items of information in the system."

[Examples are:] Filing systems, techniques for deciding which messages go where, skills in analysis, synthesis, and assigning value and meaning to messages, software used in the analysis process, some databases and expert systems, regulated fields of analysis such as accounting, individuals who perform these skills.

Memory (ME) "The subsystem which carries out the second stage of the learning process, storing various sorts of information in the system for different periods of time."

[Examples are:] Filing cabinets, disk drives and removable cartridges, paper that has words or images printed on it, voice mail systems, libraries, individuals responsible for maintaining these systems.

Decider (DE) "The executive subsystem which receives information inputs from all other subsystems and transmits to them information outputs that control the entire system."

[Examples of decider subsystems are:] Any individual or collection of individuals or devices who receive messages, associate them with past experience based on contents in memory, and then choose a course of action that may alter the behavior or state of the system or its components. This system may be distributed, instead of centralized. Decider functions also use outputs for the purpose of requesting specific inputs from other subsystems or from other systems. Also systems that determine what type of messages to scan for, which to admit,and which to turn away from the system.

The Associator, Memory and Decider are at the core of the strategic adjustments that any system has to make to successfully met its goals in a constantly changing environment. The three are subprocesses of individual mental function. The same subprocesses are necessary functions of more complicated, multiperson groups which function as systems.

In such a group there will be an informational boundary between the group and the rest of the world.. a general agreement to jointly pursue common goals (determined by decider) ... and a consequent concentration of communication and communication topics within the group's boundaries and amongst the group's members.

In such a group or organization, there is the possibility to achieve accelerated knowledge production at both individual and group level. When the group functions as a system it's powers of achievement are greater than the sum of the member powers to achieve.

That it happens is not guaranteed. Indeed, it is quite easy, a more probable state, for the group to be simply a collection of individual bodies and actions.

When it does happen it is because of constant creation of the synergic whole by the membership, by the subsystems of which they are a part. It is highly improbable that effective scanning of the landscape by the decider subsystem as it constantly scans for a high-survival opportunities for the system will surface goals and possible strategies for reaching those goals which simultaneously enhance and tone individual and subsystem existence while producing continued survival for the system as a whole.

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Spike Hall is an Emeritus Professor of Education and Special Education at Drake University. He teaches most of his classes online. He writes in Des Moines, Iowa.


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