Ecological Dynamics

Ecological dynamics (ED) is a theoretical framework for a nonlinear pedagogy that has roots in dynamical systems theory and James Gibson’s (1979) concept of ecological psychology (Davids at al, 2015). Dynamical systems is a theory of self-organisation of complex systems.

‘Dynamical systems’ is a mathematical theory of complex systems (like people). It emerged in the 1970s from the work of brilliant scientists like Edward Lorenz researching in the fields of long-term weather forecasting and from researchers looking at the pesky problem of turbulence in fluid dynamics. Weather and our waters do not behave like mechanical clocks; there is complexity and disorder in the atmosphere, in the turbulent seas and raging rivers. Knowing the relationship between two components in isolation doesn’t necessarily predict how they will behave in the system as a whole. Tiny differences in initial conditions could dramatically change the behaviour of a whole system over time. This is where the term ‘the butterfly effect’ came from and the concept of ‘chaos’. Complex systems are not sequential or linear. And they don’t require ‘programmes’. But there is order in the disorder, and there are patterns and predictability in the chaos and we can use these to help us understand movement, coaching and learning.

Ecological psychology is the theory of how information is directly perceived and utilised to ‘afford’ movement behaviour in informationally coupled self-organising systems (Gibson, 1979). ‘Affordances’ is the term used to explain how we individually make sense of the world around us in terms of what movement and actions we are offered (afforded) by what we perceive. For each of us, these are unique, but many basic ones are shared because we share many experiences. We are also, as a species, attuned to pick up the same perceptual information (more or less).