Complexity, Complexity Reduction, and ‘Methodological Borrowing’ in Educational Inquiry

  • Noel Gough La Trobe University


Complex systems are open, recursive, organic, nonlinear and emergent. Reconceptualizing curriculum, teaching and learning in complexivist terms foregrounds the unpredictable and generative qualities of educational processes, and invites educators to value that which is unexpected and/or beyond their control. Nevertheless, concepts associated with simple systems persist in contemporary discourses of educational inquiry, and continue to inform practices of complexity reduction through which researchers and other practitioners seek predictability and control. In this essay, I examine a number of theoretical, practical and historical dimensions of complexity reduction in education and their implications for inquiry and action. I focus in particular on the ways in which some education researchers have reduced the complexity of the objects of their inquiries through ‘methodological borrowings’ from other research endeavors, such as borrowing a version of ‘evidence-based’ research from medical science, and borrowing the ‘triangulation’ metaphor from surveying.
Research Articles