Ecology and Systems – Exploring Personal Learning Ecology

This idea of a Personal Learning Ecology is pulling me to think a bit more deeply.  I still need to put together my concept map for PLENK2010 but I feel I need to really look at how some of my concepts connect to what I feel my PLE/PLN is and what it should be.  I will admit that I have been reluctant join in “mass discussion” via twitter, blog commenting, etc.  I feel so many pulls on my time and I can see if I am not vigilant, my PLE/PLN could suck me in to always being at my computer.  But the idea of ecology – a system feels comfortable to me, there is change and adaptation, but there is also balance and cooperation.  I will get to publishing my concept map, but before I get there, I need to better explore how this all fits together.  So I will begin with some background information on systems and ecology.  In a workshop on Designing and Implementing an Integrated Curriculum, I was taught a systems model by Edward T. Clark, Jr. From my tattered and worn paper handout…

Understanding Systems


There are seven functions that are characteristic of all living systems.

  1. The Resource Base Function Every system must have a resource base which provides the necessary raw materials for that system.
  2. The Unity Function Every system must have an integrative force which unifies the system.
  3. The Duality Function A basic duality principle in the universe is present in all systems as in “explicit duality expressing an implicit unity”
  4. The Maintenance Function Every system must maintain itself in order to insure the continuity of the system.
  5. The Growth Function Every system must grow or die! The function of growth, representing the cutting edge of the system, provides the creativity and direction for the system
  6. The Feedback Function All complex systems must have information feedback to enable them to utilize the information for the purpose of effective system maintenance and growth.
  7. The Energy Function Energy Flow, external to the system, powers all complex systems.

From an ecological perspective, these functions may be characterized as follows

  1. Resource Base – Carrying capacity/ Sustainability: Defines the limits within which the system will survive.
  2. Unity – Interdependence: Defines the mode of relationship that exists between the parts of a system best illustrated in the niche-community relationship.
  3. Duality – Cooperation/Competition/Partnership: Defines the mode of survival for living systems.
  4. Maintenance – Diversity: defines a basic mode of system maintenance which insures system stability
  5. Growth – Evolution/Adaptation/Succession: Mode of system change, creativity and transformation suggesting developmental directionality
  6. Feedback – Cycle: Defines the feedback loops that are fundamental to all systems.
  7. Energy – Energy Flow: Describes the entropic nature of all systems.

In explaining these concepts he shared the following diagram (created digitally using GoogleDocs Draw).

Systems Model

Systems Model diagram from Edward T. Clark, Jr.

As a science teacher I used the model to introduce the rock cycle (resource base), the water cycle (unifier), the air cycle (1/2 of duality), and the food cycle (the other 1/2 of duality); keeping in line with the ecological context.  While this model was presented in the context of ecology it can adapt well to other types of systems.  One of the keys I have found with applying this model in other contexts is to define what/who is the “Unifier”.  For example, a high school with the principal as the unifier will have a different feel than another where the students are the unifier.  Or using government, a unifier of a president would be different than if the unifier were the judicial branch.

My next step is to look at these concepts and see how they apply to my PLE/PLN.


5 Responses to Ecology and Systems – Exploring Personal Learning Ecology

  1. Kate says:

    I LOVE this connection to living systems. I’m working to introduce the concept of PLEs and was looking for a life aspect. Thank you for providing the connection to play with.

  2. rogersvlle says:

    Thanks for the grapevine imagery – on finding your description of systems and how they function I may well be able to apply my intuition about how PLE’s function to a concept map that makes sense.
    An interesting thought about energy flows – perhaps we must all stop and restart our PLE’s – or let one collapse and create a fresh one as we take a new direction or view of our learning. Maybe this is what technology has done for my PLE – I’ve closed down the old one and are having fun with the new one that is growing over the fence like the grape vine?

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