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L. Farinetti1, A. Rasetti2

1Politecnico di Torino - Dauin (ITALY)
2Politecnico di Torino - CeLM (ITALY)
Most frequently eLearning experiences tend to reproduce the traditional face-to-face learning model: the introduction of information and communication technologies changes the surface but does not really impact on the essence of the learning process nor on eLearning potentialities.
The idea behind the paper is that eLearning can be considered as a complex system, and as such, well-known research on General System Theory can be applied to define a model able to guide the design and production of more comprehensive and complex eLearning experiences.
General System Theory (GST) emphasizes that real systems are open and interact with the environment, and that they can acquire qualitatively new properties through emergence, resulting in continual evolution. Systems thinking, whose roots are in GST, is a framework based on the belief that the component parts of a system can be best understood in the context of relationships with each other and with other systems, rather than in isolation. The only way to fully understand why a problem occurs is to understand the part in relation to the whole.
The paper applies the main principles of systems thinking to define an eLearning design framework. In particular, the following schema lists the parallel principles between complex systems and eLearning systems:
1) Self-organization -> Self-organized learning
2) Edge of chaos -> Creative learning
3) Unpredictability, indeterminism -> Learning flexibility
4) Interconnectedness -> Knowledge network
5) Circular causality -> Virtuous circles
6) Try & learn approach -> Exploratory learning
The rationale of these principles will be analyzed in the paper, and their impact on learning further detailed. Starting from these principles, guidelines for the design and the production of Autonomous Learning Objects will be defined.
The paper will also describe how the model has been applied in two concrete situations.
The first experiment resulted in a prototype where the Autonomous Learning Objects are interactive video lectures organized and made available according to the systemic approach. Eight video lectures, recorded in the ambit of the System Design M.S. Course of Politecnico di Torino, and whose topic was complex systems, were deconstructed and reconstructed according to the design philosophy. Additional material to support learning, and Web 2.0 tools were integrated in the resulting eLearning structure to create a more complete and cooperative experience. The paper will describe the navigation structure, the user interface, the collaborative tools and the software architecture behind the project, and some considerations about the effectiveness of the result.
The second experiment, developed in the context of the EADIS project (“European Automotive Digital Innovation Studio”, funded by the European Commission under the Leonardo programme) shows how the model can be easily and quickly adapted to other requirements and different eLearning material. In this experience the goal was to quickly release an easy-to-use environment to search and create connections between simple Autonomous Learning Objects (mainly pictures) to help the creation of on-line educational material. The paper will describe how the model has been adapted (and simplified) in this context and how the collaborative approach is central to the systems thinking view of eLearning design.