Complexity and ELT – Poster presentation @ TESOL France


November 26, 2010 by Willy Cardoso

Here’s an electronic version of the poster with hyperlinked reference.

Complexity and ELT – Willy C. Cardoso

View this document on Scribd

And the handout I’ll just paste down here:


Complex Systems are:

Dynamic | Non-linear | Chaotic | Unpredictable | Sensitive to initial conditions |Open

Self-organizing | Feedback sensitive | Adaptive


  • How far is your class/school a complex system?

If Second Language Acquisition is indeed a complex nonlinear process, we will never be able to identify, let alone measure, all of the factors accurately. And even if we could, we would still be unable to predict the outcome of their combination. (Diane Larsen-Freeman)

  • How far are you and your students comfortable and able to cope with the unpredictable?

To strengthen a system we make more connections. A strong and lasting system is one with strong networks.

Connectedness implies relationships, for example, between individuals and teams; between teams; between subsystems; between the institution and its environment (Lewin and Regine, 2000:19)

  • How open is your class to the external environment?
  • How far is your class able to influence its external environment?
  • How far are students/groups able to create networks with other students/groups?
  • How far are you, the teacher, connected to other teachers?

Self-organization is when order emerges from within. It enables systems to develop, adapt, create, and change so that they can respond to and influence the whole network, which will in turn respond and influence said system, thus creating a feedback loop.

  • How often are groups/students able to organize and direct themselves without ‘top-down’ interference?
  • How far is control/decision making distributed throughout the class/group?
  • How much room is there for creation and innovation?


6 thoughts on “Complexity and ELT – Poster presentation @ TESOL France

  1. Ceri Jones says:

    Great poster. Great questions. Has definitely got me thinking and evaluating. Thanks

  2. Joanne Sato says:

    Brilliant! Just finished an MA TEFL and got into complexity theory as a way of including all the ‘messy bits’ of research in a discourse analysis of classroom interaction between learners.

  3. […] life and how daydreaming and drawing and an understanding of a theory of non-linear learning that Willy will be expounding in France and a theory of language that explores collocations and the dynamic […]

  4. […] talk to on my journey to the airport and she has very interesting ideas on how to engage learners! Complexity Theory and ELT by Willy C. Cardoso- Check out this amazing document with links and the accompanying handout that […]

  5. […] Complexity & ELT – A poster I designed last year that explains the basics of a complexity/ecological perspective of language learning and teaching […]

  6. Debbie says:

    Hi Willy,
    Loved your post and your questions. I have some answers to your questions, but my teaching scenario is quite special.
    I’m studying Rhisomatic Learning with Dave Cormier. Just finished writing about Uncertainty and Chaos. Rhizomes are used as metaphor to explain the complexity of learning.
    I started this journey about an year ago, with Dr. Couros ETMOOC, and I am retaking the subject because I would like to see if rhisomatic learning can work even with a small community. I have connected this metaphor with social learning, after I watched your webinar.
    I have so many questions, like how can I design a syllabus for the next term, in a moment of abundance? If I can feel more or less comfortable with uncertainty, how can enforce independence in my classes?. Note that the word “enforce” is tricky by itself. How can teachers enforce independence in very rigid and formal institutions?
    Being a freelancer, allows me to move more successfully or maybe more easily on this open journey, however this is about breaking very fossilised roots of the roles of the teacher, teaching and learning process.
    Thanks again

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