LO's in Higher Education LO19557

AM de Lange (amdelange@gold.up.ac.za)
Mon, 19 Oct 1998 17:44:11 +0200

Replying to LO19478 --

Dear Organlearners,

Artur Silva <artsilva@individual.eunet.pt> writes
in response to Stephanie's question

>>What I'm curious about is the learning that goes on outside of
>>the classroom. Granted that universities are large institutions,
>>but how can a learning experience occur when a student talks
>>with a janitor or a secretary? How does one go about developing
>>a pasion for learning? How do we, at an institution, convey this
>>thought to people or staff who aren't interested in learning?
>>Again, from my "portuguese experience", some more points :
>>Again, these are only small steps; and we have until now
>>concentrated our efforts more in creating the "preconditions
>>for learning and sharing" then in teaching any "disciplines".

Greetings Artur,

I had to snip your examples. But I wish to draw your attention to the
fact that they all were examples of "Team Learning", one of the five
disciplines which Peter Senge identified to get a hold on Learning
Organisations. Thus I am not sure what "disciplines" you refer to -
are they the disciplines of an academical subject or are they the five
disciplines of LOs?

Here is a very interesting example of an university with an
undoubtably superior organisation, but which fails to function as a
LO. I refer to a report brought out by the Presidential Task Force on
Student Life and Learning, charged with undertaking a comprehensive
review of MIT's educational mission on the threshold of the 21st
You will find the next quote under point seven, section 3.3 (Findings:
Formal Education) of chapter 3 (Academics and Research)

----------Quote Begins---------
One problem with the current undergraduate curriculum is the
perceived lack of enthusiasm and excitement in the first-year
program. Many students who come to MIT with exciting goals and
ambitions rapidly become disillusioned about the education they
receive here. There are undoubtedly multiple explanations for
first-year cynicism. For some, MIT represents the first exposure
to hard work. For others, the steady flow of problem sets
presents a stark contrast to their expectations of working on
interesting projects and to the dreams they came to MIT to
fulfill. The large lecture format of many subjects, combined
with the small amount of interaction between freshmen and
faculty, means that many students have few opportunities to
overcome the initial perception that MIT is about drudgery and
requirements rather than the thrill of discovery and progress.
Finally, many have complained that some of the material in the
freshman core is presented in a dry and uninteresting way.
Increasing the level of excitement in the first-year program
should be a priority in the design of the undergraduate program.
--------Quote Ends----------

This quote describes with an eerie precision exactly the case at my
own university. I wonder how many other universities also have this
same "Problem Of Disillusioned First Year Students (PODFYS)"?

I am now going to make a very bold statement.
For any Institute of Higher Education its PODFYS is one of
the clearest indicators that the institute has not yet emerged
into a LO.
Think of all organisations, even Institutes of Higher Education, as
trees. When they emerge into a LO, it is like trees emerging into
fruiting trees. A tree which is bearing fruit is an emergent
phenomenon. In other words, a LO is an emergent phenomenon. It bears
also fruit and not only grows.

It is most extraordinary that this report of the Presidential Task
Force (with MIT being probably one of the top 10 universities in the
world) does not mention the concept "learning organisation" or its
creator Peter Senge even once! It means that either I have made a
grave error with my bold statement on the PODFYS in the face of so
many learned MIT people, or the concept of "learning organisations" is
part of a paradigm shift of such grand proportions that even the
learned Presidential Task Force of MIT and their collaborators are far
from finishing the shift.

With al due respect to the people involved, I am sure I that I have
not made a grave error. I am rather convinced that we are in the midst
of an immense shifting of our paradigm which is so complex that this
shift is still happening and that few people are able to observe that
it is happening and comprehend how it is happening. Ilya Prigogine
(Nobel Prize Chemistry 1977) writes about this shift in his book "From
Being to Becoming" (1980) as follows (pxii):
".... we are in a period of scientific revolution -- one in
which the very position and meaning of the scientific
approach are undergoing reappraisal -- a period not
unlike the birth of the scientific approach in ancient
Greece ....".
He then goes on to identify the nature of this revolution by writing
".... irreversible processes play a fundamental
constructive role in the physical world; they are at the
bases of important coherent processes that appear with
particular clarity on the biological level".

Now what are "irreversible" processes? They are "entropy producing"
processes. Do not feel inferior or incompetent if you have never heard
before of "irreversible" and "entropy production" or do not know how
to use these concepts. For example, is it not the learned Task Force
of MIT who did not use the concept "learning organisation" even once?
What about Prigogine himself as another example? In both his books
"From Being to Becoming" and "Order out of Chaos" *with Stengers as
co-author), he never used the word "emergence" even once! Yet his
accounts of "self-organistion" by means of "bifurcations" are apt
descriptions of "emergences". Take Peter Senge as another example. In
his book "The Fifth Discipline" he never uses the word "emergence" or
draw its bigger picture, but his description of "metanoia" is typical
of an "emergence"!

So what is going on here? Can so many learned people be wrong? No,
they are not wrong because the word wrong should never have been used
for what is happening now. We are all caught up in the emerging of a
new paradigm. For example, when a kid "enters" his/her age of puberty
(also an emergence), nothing is wrong with the kid, but much are
certainly still immature. Likewise we are all trying to fit the pieces
of this paradigm shift which is like one giant jigsaw puzzle. Each of
us obtains through our experiences some pieces of the puzzle which we
try to fit. We do not all have the same pieces because our experiences
differ. But the problem is for each us of to know which pieces we do
NOT have and which other people might have. It becomes a GRAND problem
for each of us because we will not be able to automatically identify
the pieces UNKNOWN to us, but KNOWN to someone else. Why? Because we
all are participating in the PARADIGM SHIFT. In other words, although
we look for these pieces, we will not automatically perceive them. It
is as if we are struck with blindness. Go to a listserver like
Complex-M and study the interactions between the various participants
for roughly a year or so to experience it yourself. Prigogine goes so
far as to refer to this state of affairs as the "end of certitude"!

Have we really arrived at the "end of certitude"? Will we be blind
forever? Or are there a slight possibility that we ought to wait for a
Super-Einstein to appear with enough creativity who can get hold on
all the pieces? No, there is good hope for all of us. We have to
realise three things. Firstly, the paradigm shift itself is an
immensely complex emergence. Secondly, all emergences happen not
automatically, but are highly contingent. Thirdly, the paradigm shift
has to break through two layers, first the layer of conventions and
then the layer of traditions. It is like a woman who has to give
birth, but (1st obstacle) the womb do not want to unlock and (2nd
obstacle) the birth channel through the pelvis is too small. In the
case of a woman it calls for a caesarotomy. However, since Prigogine
has indicated that this "woman" is 2500 years old, birth will not come
easy to her.

Shall we also try a caesarotomy here to skip the two obstacles? Not if
we want to experience the adjoints of this emergence such as bliss,
longing, hope, faith and love. We will have to go the natural way
because these adjoints will provide us with the fuel for the rest of
the paradigm's lifetime. But will the new paradigm not then die in
birth? Yes, it will certainly immerge if it cannot emerge. (Our own
last two children - twins - were delivered of necessity by a
caesarotomy. My wife feared caesarotomy much more than giving natural
birth and afterwards she had difficulty for several weeks to bond with
the twins.) How then can we promote the emergence of the new paradigm?
This is where the seven essentialities of creativity come in. They
will help us to create the unlocking of the womb and to create the
enlargeing of the birth channel. It is as if they perform the function
of a midwife. Thus we need to know them. It is they who make all
emergences highly contingent because they are the requirements for all
emergences to happen.

How will we know these seven essentialities? Knowledge itself is an
emergent phenomenon. Our knowledge of these essentialities can have up
to four emergent levels: first the experential level, then the tacit
level followed by the formal level (like my series on them) and
finally the sapient level. Each of us has to have at least the
experential knowledge, although the tacit knowledge would be better
while the formal knowledge will aid our systems thinking. So how will
we get at least the experential knowledge? By utilising every
opportunity for emergences -- by connecting with the richness of all
life as Victor Frankl so clearly writes about it. Do all sorts of
things -- grow plants, breed animals, construct tools, travel to
strange places, set up a small business, paint pictures, carve
sculptures, write poems, compose music, discover mathematical theorems
and proof them, formulate a practical system of thinking, get jailed
for uphelding the authetic values of humaneness -- yes, go for
whatever fruit come along in life, cultivate them and enjoy them.

Is it not possible to also get a tacit knowledge? Yes, this is where
the Fifth Discipline (not the five disciplines) of Peter Senge comes
in. Every person persuing any subject of academy ought to have his/her
own kind of "Fifth Discipline" such as Peter Senge has his Fifth
Discipline for managerial science. In other words, any person pursuing
the art (theory and practice) of a subject should persistently develop
a systems thinking in which that subject is imbedded -- a subject
orientated philosphy -- a way of organising ALL experiences which that
person had and NOT ONLY those pertaining to that subject. St Paul
formulates it so beautiful for Christians when he writes that they
have to love other humans while delving into the depth and breadth of
Jesus Christ.

And what about emerging to formal knowledge? In my book in chapter 3
(The Bridge of Adjuction) I will document how I have discovered and
formalised them. But I realise all too well that what is clear for me
will be a black hole for others as if they have been struck with
blindness. (Again it is the nature of a paradigm shift.) They simply
do not have the unique experiences which I had up to then, especially
that "entropy production" also happens in the abstract world of mind.
This blackhole of chapter 3 is one of the reasons why publishers (on
advice of their agents) feared to touch the book. I had the same
trouble earlier trying to publish my formalisation of these
essentialities in learned journals with peer refereeing.

How can any person who have made an original paradigm shift (one which
has not been made before) have peers? Max Planck who discovered the
quantum effect and thus initiated the incredible paradigm shift from
Newtonian mechanics to quantum mechanics in physics, have a rather
bleak outlook. He writes that those peers of the last generation on
the old paradigm have to die away for they will not become peers of
those following the new paradigm. Can we afford such a bleak outlook?
No - because then our future will have ended. What shall we do?

Again Peter Senge affords us with some help. What we are in need of is
the disciplines Mental Models and especially Team Learning (TL).
Through my own experiences I have discovered a vital missing piece in
the jigsaw puzzle of TL. Peter Senge managed to fit much of the puzzle
together, but without this missing piece the puzzle will remain
incomplete and skewed. This missing piece is that the learning team
has to organise on the basis of VOLUNTARY and COMMITED participation.
Under no circumstances must the formation be forced by executives --
it has to be spontaneous. Note that these two principles also play a
leading role in Barry Owen's breath taking practice of "open spaces".
Why? Because they are fundamental to the dynamics of "irreversible
self-organisation" (see Prigogine above).

What was this experience of mine? I was appointed some 18 years ago
(then working as senior lecturer in chemistry at the College of
Education for Furher Training) as senior lecturer in the Chemistry
Department of the University of Pretoria (UP). One very important
reason was PODFYS (Problem Of Disillusioned First Year Students) at UP
because it had developed into a crisis. First year students following
the course in fundamental chemistry, necessary for majoring in
chemistry, manifested the PODFYS severely. My plan was to solve the
PODFYS by guiding these students how to learn chemistry CREATIVELY in
a COMPLEX setup.

My appointment also precipitated another crisis. (It is not easy to
write on this, but I have to, otherwise you will not have all the
essential information on how an irreversible self-organising system
may be driven to the edge of chaos where emergences can happen.) I was
the first person ever appointed in the chemistry department as a
senior lecturer without a PhD!. Furthermore, despite my major
experiences in complex chemical systems (industrial like glass and
cement and fundamental like soils and plants), my MSc (cum laude) was
in physics. Last, and not the least, complex, non-linear, chemical
systems like glass, cement, soils and plants are not appreciated by
chemists who specialise in the linear, closed systems of fragmented,
traditional chemistry.

Teaching the first two years (1980-81) already brought much
improvement (step1 of the scientific method -- observe!). By then I
also had acquired a much better picture on what caused the PODFYS.
Thus I launced in 1982 a full scale attack on PODFYS, not compromising
in any way because of the other crisis (a MSc guy doing revolutionary
things which agitated many of the professors with their PhD's or
DSc's). I tried to work as coherently and consistently as never
before, drawing on all my experiences of all my life and not merely
those experiences as a scientist, educator and creative person.

What happened that year (and also 1983) will be documented in chapter
two (The Bridge Experiment) of my book. I discovered in 1982, as a
result of this full scale attack, but on an EMPIRICAL basis, that
"entropy production" also happens in the abstract world of mind. I
found myself right in the midst of what became one of the most
profound experiments ever to be performed. The procedures followed and
the results obtained will be documented in chapter 2. The pattern
which emerged and thus enabled me to conclude that "entropy
production" occurs in both the physical and spiritual world, has to
remain a surprise for those who will buy my book despite its two major
black holes (chapters 3 and 8) and many minor ones. (I will formulate
in chapter 8 the laws of teaching -- not learning -- in mathematical
formulae!) I immediately tried to publish this result ("entropy
production in the abstract world of mind as a result of authentic
learning") in educational journals, but the claim was too incredible
for the reputation of any referee to allow its publication. So I had
to repeat the experiment to make sure that I was not fooling myself --
I owed it to my "scientific upbringing".

The next year (1983) I tried to break my system by changing as much of
it, except its core priciples and values (step 3 of the scientific
method -- falsify!) . By then I also knew very much how to solve the
PODFYS. I decided to shake my system and the PODFYS by one single
strategy. I convinced the head of the department (prof Adriaan
Wiechers) that we should form "tutor classes" to help solving the
PODFYS once and for all. We employed all those lecturing personnel who
were willing to participate voluntarily and commitedly. Twelve of them
(from full professors to junior lecturers) offered their services for
the "tutor classes". I divided the students among them, making sure
that each "tutor class" had bright, medium and poor performers, based
on their school records.

Most important, even the students had to participate voluntarily and
commitedly. Their commitment entailed that they had to attend every
class as long as they prefered to. They were free to stop attending a
"tutor class", but once they made this choice, it was irreversible.
Thus, should they be absent from a class without a written proof of
the reason why, they cannot participate in their "tutor class" again.
Each "tutor class" met once a week.

(Students producing such proofs that year often brought tears to my
eyes. Some handed in funeral letters. Others handed in statements by
pastors that they were involved in the divorce brawls of their
parents. One man even handed in a statement by a police officer that
he was in jail for drunk driving. Another lady handed in a statement
by a police officer that she was answering questions concerning a rape
on her. Two ladies handed in statements by their psychiatrists that
they were mentally unfit due to broken love affairs. Never before and
never after in my 27 years of education did I get such authentic, but
also heart breaking, apologies.)

To the lecturers I explained that it was their opportunity to meet and
influence the students as they see fit. They could have a dialogue on
any topic, for example, the role of chemistry in life, their own
research projects, student life, philosophy or even sport. But each
week I also gave the students a complex chemical problem to solve and
the tutors a detailed solution of the problem. Should the students ask
them how to solve the problem, it is up to them whether they want to
do it and how to do it. These problems required SYSTEMS THINKING to
solve them. In each problem the student had to have mastered at least
ten objectives to solve it. These objectives are then connected
together in a web by the problem. Thus the problem begins with limited
data and a string of questions to aswer. The answer to the first
question provides additional information to the second question and
sometimes subsequent questions. The answer to the second question
provides additional information to the third question and sometimes
subsequent questions, etc., etc. Eventually, the last question solves
the problem initially stated. By that time the student has CREATED up
to x10 times as much data as that which have been supplied initially
with the problem.

I did not tell anybody that by these "tutor classes" I tried to shake
my system of teaching and learning as much as was possible. How could
I do it in the face of two looming crises (PODFYS and me, the "jack of
other trades", teaching the professors)? I knew that some professors
would try their best to shake the system, but I also knew that there
were twelve classes and they could not shake all of them in a ORDERLY
manner. I knew (having just getting hold of Prigogine's "From Being to
Becoming") that my safety was in DYNAMICAL CHAOS -- entropy production
so immense that not even the shrewdest professor could control it. And
fellow organlearners, did some of them not try to shake the system!
The only thing which they did not try to break, was their promise to
participate voluntary and commitedly. And why should they do it -- I
actually gave them the perfect opportunity to act voluntarily and
commitedly to shake me right out of the chemistry department into
oblivion. Some of them threw all conventions and traditions over board
because they had the experience gained from chemistry to do so.
(Beware -- there is nobody like a chemist to beat the system because
in the chemical system itself the chemist often has to try and beat
the system to get significant results.) But in effect they did exactly
what I planned -- to unlock the womb and widen the birth channel.

Note that in 1983 both Peter Senge (with team learning) and Barry Owen
(with open spaces) were not yet on stage. I merely had myself (with my
experiential, tacit and by then also some formal knowledge) and God to
rely upon. I worked up to 20 hours a day, six days a week, learning to
pray while working. Even today I still find it extremely difficult to
pray without working. I also had the opportunity to ABORT the
experiment with an invitation to apply for a directorship in the
national government's Department of Education, but I had to see the
emergence ("birth") through. Finally, neither the head of the
chemistry department nor I knew enough to perform a "caesarotomy". We
had to go the natural way and were too stubborn to abort it.

The Bridge Experiment worked even better in 1983 while PODFYS became
as dead as an animal turned into a statue of salt. My book will
document the necessay details, except those related to PODFYS. (This
is why I have to do it here. I had to exclude the PODFYS from chapter
2 because I did not want to get readers confused on the central
finding of the Bridge Experiment.) I was as happy as a dog with not
one, but ten tails. I was always interested in complexity, but my
curiosity then jumped sky high. My love for the Creator and his
Creation broke through a ceiling which I never had perceived before.

What became of the PODFYS? In 1984 the executive commitee of the
department decided that the tutor classes should be COMPULSORY for ALL
students (and not only those who intend to major in chemistry), using
several mechanisms to enforce it. I felt very unhappy about it, but
gave it a try. The paradigm shift during 1982-83 afforded me the power
to comply - for example, I had to find out what would happen if the
"tutor classes" did not act spontaneously any more. They also decided
that I and the most senior professor (prof dr Reinhard Boehmer) should
share the lecturing. Although initially very negative, he became just
as excited as me about creating being-becoming objectives and
designing complex problems requiring systems thinking. In the end I
had to remind him not to forget that we were dealing with first year
and not senior students.

Well, the tutor classes flopped miserably. After three months only a
third were operative and at the end only four of them (Boehmer's,
Wiechers', Strauss' and mine). The "tutor classes" have failed while
the PODFYS arose like the sphinx of old. The discipline of "tutor
classes" (team learning, open spaces) was abandoned up to this day. I
was also transfered to teach those students following the course for a
professional degree (the medical group for one year and then the
engineering group for four years). These students manifested the
PODFYS on a much lesser scale. In 1988 I was removed from "direct
contact" teaching and in 1990 I was transfered to the newly created
Gold Fields Computer Centre for Education in the faculty of science. I
(like the head of the department) was finally shaken out of the
treasured, traditional system of training in the chemistry department
like that in most chemistry departments of first world countries.

Now, with hindsight and Senge's book, it is clear what the head of the
chemistry department actually tried to do. (He was an expert in the
synthesis of natural products - complex chemical substances occuring
in living species. To synthesize natural products successfully
requires complex systems thinking in all major facets of chemistry.)
Before he became head of the department in the late seventies, there
were four departments, namely the departments of analytical, physical,
inorganic and organic chemistry. Under his leadership they had to
function as one department. He had the insight, even though
intuitively, that the department had to be transformed into a LO.
(Note that Senge's work was not yet available at that time.) He and I
spent uncountable many hours in dialogues on topics of which most
could be classified under the five disciplines. Unfortunately, this
daring, fine gentleman also had far more than his fair share of
professional jealousy to cope with, even outside the department up to
the national echelons of higher education and research funding. He
eventually accepted with relief an invitation to become (1986) a
consultant abroad for chemical industries.

In 1987 many personnel in the department of chemistry noticed a
strange phenomenon. (None of them noticed that this phenomenon was
related to the year of shaking, 1983 -- and I did not have the guts
any more trying to convince them why, neither with the former head of
the department with us to remind them of it.) The MSc group (5th year)
were 4 times as large as normal. The next year they formed more PhD
students than the previous 5 years together or the next 3 years
together. Almost all of those students had the experience of the
"tutor classes" (learning teams, open spaces) during the drama of
1983. Many of them came to visit me during their post graduate years
telling me that (even during their doctorate years) they still get
more value out of their class notes as first year students than in
their subsequent years, learned articles in chemistry journals or
advanced text books. I tried to explain to them that it was not I who
gave such excellent notes since I have not really dictated any notes.
It was rather they with their own experiences in irreversible
self-organisation which enabled them to write down so clearly what
they have learned emergently. Sadly, they could not understand what I

What about the PODFYS today? It is still a crisis. But since 1994 with
the advent of the New South Africa so many new crises in our country
as a whole and education in particular came about that it is difficult
to identify the PODFYS without a systems thinking powerful enough to
allow for its observation. The lesson for all of us is to emerge into
a LO before the complexity of all the crises makes it too difficult to
do so -- before it has become too late.

If only Internet and Senge's work were available during the early
eighties, then our department and even our faculty might have had a
better chance to emerge into LOs.

Artur, you also answered the following questions of Stephanie

>>Lastly, as I learn about LOs, it seems that if a true LO were
>>to exist, the amount of time spent on dialoguing, learning etc.,
>>might be quite considerable. How does one balance this with
>>their "job description?"

by writing

>After one has created ( even only the first elements of) "a
>passion for learning", dialogue and fruitfull sharing does not
>take longer than the current discussions and tensions.
>Taking part in the discussions of some "mailing lists" does not
>use more time than "playing games", or doing nothing.
>Is the paradigm on "how to be in the organization" that you
>have to gently change; all the other things, I think, will come
>in due time.

Artur, in the context of what I have reported above, I smiled gently
at your words
"... paradigm ... you have to change gently...".
My friend, a paradigm do not change gently. Its like a mother giving
birth which is not a gentle issue. My dear wife knows that I myself
can think my own pain away. For example, I had to crawl with an broken
ankle for 10 hours in the Naukluft Mountains of the Namib desert on
hands and knees over rocks for 6 km. But she also knows that I cannot
take it to see someone else in pain -- I get sick and even pass out.
For example, I have to remove myself physically from realistic
violence on the TV in order not to get sick. Thus she said that in my
case it will be ok if I do not attend the birth of our children. So I
never have had the experience to observe her as a mother giving birth
and would probably never observe more than two minutes of any actual
birth happening before the lights will go out for me. Thus I have
decribed above my spiritual emergences during 1982-83 as vividly as
possible, including my spiritual pains. I will have to rely upon the
mothers among us to say how much of it corresponds to the emergence of
a baby from their bodies. What do you ladies say?

One last thing. You or anybody else are free to copy and distribute as
much of my contributions as you want to, but please acknowledge your
source because that is how science works. By now our host Rick must
know that I use his wonderful listserver with its well managed
archival services also for documentation purposes and not merely
dialogue (which is essential). I warned him a couple of years ago that
it will happen, but I wonder if he really understood it. I then used
the metaphor of a thirsty elephant in the Damaraland desert smelling
water when I opened my Learn-Org mail. (Do you still remember it

Please, also email to me your intentions of copying the contributions
and your appreciation for them so that I can built up a witness folder
in case I might need it someday. I am not a racist when I say that we
white, male, Afrikaans speaking people (of whom some designed and
commanded apartheid while others supported it) have it very difficult
now in the New South Africa - I am merely stating a fact which roughly
a million like me are also doing. It is part of the syndrome of
hurting -- of responding to hurt by a message of hurt. (See our
excellent dialogue in the LO forum on this thread.)

Again, please forgive my English -- it is not my mother tongue and I
seldom speak it.

Best wishes


At de Lange <amdelange@gold.up.ac.za> Snailmail: A M de Lange Gold Fields Computer Centre Faculty of Science - University of Pretoria Pretoria 0001 - Rep of South Africa

Learning-org -- Hosted by Rick Karash <rkarash@karash.com> Public Dialog on Learning Organizations -- <http://www.learning-org.com>