The Use of Metapatterns for Research into Complex Systems of Teaching, Learning, and Schooling— Part I: Metapatterns in Nature and Culture

Tyler Volk, Jeffrey W. Bloom


We justify the concept of metapatterns as functional patterns or functional principles that are common to a large set of systems that encompass both biology and culture, by starting with the fact that evolved systems, whether biological or cultural, are produced from any iterative sequence of replication, variation, and selection. Therefore the systems that result, with specific functional parts, are formed as wholes that fit particular contexts. The principle of convergence in biological evolution, in which similar structures are independently evolved, is the model that can be extended even beyond biology. If the contexts of evolved systems across widely separated scales are similar, the resulting evolved systems can exhibit convergences that themselves occur at diverse scales. These grand convergences are the metapatterns. For example, the functional advantage of dynamically separating systems from their environments sets the context for the evolution of the metapattern of borders across various scales. We outline fifteen additional examples of metapatterns. We also examine the correspondences and differences between metapatterns as a multi-scale approach to systems and the approach from complexity science. We suggest that metapatterns could serve as tools for thinking about a diverse range of topics, and could thereby motivate the transference of generalizations. Finally, we propose that because metapatterns are employed in human thought, they will be useful in formulating new questions for education research, which is the subject of the companion paper.

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