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States of a student in the course of learning thinking

In learning systemic thinking, the student goes through the following states. This is just an example, these student states can be easily identified when learning through various methods/ways of work. Note that the states are formulated according to the discussed naming pattern, like "the door is closed", here instead of the door there will be the "student", and what happened to them will be further listed in the states:

1. Realized incompetence. You student realized (note that not "you understand", meaning in the process, but "realized", similar to "the door is closing" and "the door is closed") that you need a systemic approach for some reason. This is a transition from unconscious incompetence ("I have no idea that I don't know how to think systematically") to conscious incompetence ("I know that I don't know how to think systematically"). This is the most difficult step on the path to fluency of thinking, to realize your ignorance.

2. Interested. The student wanted to spend time, nerves, and various other resources (for example, money) on education. This state is difficult to maintain. No motivation - no labor investment, no hard fun[1] Seymour Papert, fun criteria will not be used https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQ2GHzFYxaI] David Deutsch, no metanoia of Peter Senge will happen. Adults come to commercial courses already interested, and everything goes well for them (though not for everyone). Young students usually come "to lectures" usually not interested - and not all of them become interested even by the end of the course. But then students often come back to study a second time, interest arises after accidentally using material on systemic thinking and getting unexpectedly strong results. At this moment, the desire to reinforce success arises. This interest in systemic thinking needs to be maintained throughout the learning process.

It is worth noting that in classical pedagogy, the methodologist in instructional design distinguishes motivational design, and for the teacher leading the work, it is leadership, that is, the ability to keep a person in the role of a student[2]. If you are your own teacher, i.e., you are self-educating, the ability to gather yourself and "persuade yourself to learn", to spend time educating your neural network - this will be your leading skill, the leading ability, "self-leadership." You can spend many years realizing that you cannot do something, for example, you cannot dance, and want to learn this - but still not start learning.

3. Informed. You are familiar with some fragment of the set of concepts of the systemic approach. The material of the textbook or course (or even several) is mastered at this stage in terms of knowing the meanings of words, being able to retell some fragment of the text, reproduce a certain thought, support a conversation about the content of the textbook or course. For example, you are already informed: you know that systemic thinking deals with parts and wholes organized at many levels. You know that there are creators (system creators). You know about the synonym chain "method/function/culture/style/activity/...". You may even be able to add a couple of terms to this chain and remember that this should not be confused with "work" done using this method. You still do not know what to do with this and how to apply it in your projects, but you already have this knowledge/explanations of the meta-meta-model!

4. Understood. The student has understood what the terms of a systemic approach mean in their various versions across different schools, and can productively use concepts of systemic thinking in discussing a wide range of situations. Along with memory, some thinking intuitions are starting to emerge, some necessary thinking processes are being done "automatically".

Part of this skill is achieved by the "sergeant method"[3], through solving simple, similar, numerous training tasks formulated by course authors for practicing, not for knowledge control purposes[4]. An example of such a task: "Peter claims that it is necessary to start purchasing functional parts of the system at this point, while Elena argues that non-functional parts, not functional ones, should be purchased. Who is right? A) Peter B) Elena". You can only answer such a question/quiz if you know about the differences between functional and non-functional parts of the system - to answer, you need to in some way relate the situation in the task to the part of the course where such differences are discussed. After several repetitions of different variants of the question, the answer will become obvious, and no references to the course will be needed. Solving training questions forms "rails in the brain", a set of concepts is internalized, which later drives conceptual thinking.

These questions/quizzes for the course in systemic thinking are also designed in a similar way: they test systemic thinking in terms of correctness of reasoning with counterintuitive concepts of systemic thinking, deviating from folk/common intuitions/common sense. The following evaluation - whether the students follow the given method, and not just "any of the folk beliefs" method - is done using the conceptual inventory method[concept inventory, sometimes conceptual inventory]. The method of verification consists of always offering questions with trap answers corresponding to "popular thinking". This was proposed in physics to check the understanding of Newtonian physics compared to "popular" Aristotelian physics. In Aristotelian physics, the finger pushes the table (that's alive!), but the table does not push back on the finger (as it's not alive!). In Newtonian physics, they push against each other with equal force, which is counterintuitive, does not match "common sense" (but does match Newtonian physics). Questions based on the principles of conceptual inventory check what the graduate thinks about this topic after completing the physics course. And if it turns out that they answer questions about Newton's third law correctly, but still believe that the table does not push on the finger, something went wrong in the teaching process, and more needs to be learned.

Questions/quizzes for the systemic thinking course are also designed in such a way: they test systemic thinking in terms of correctness of reasoning with counterintuitive concepts of systemic thinking, deviation from folk/common intuitions/common sense. Again, understanding "informed" in one specific subject area does not provide a general thinking ability. For example, understanding something in physics does not make you smarter in other tasks[5].

One of the students of the previous versions of the course noted that his mood during solving tasks was - "rage". Because his first answer was consistently incorrect, and correct answers, it turned out, were almost quotes from the course text! And so, task after task: the tasks made him reread the course text, extracting new content from it.

Whatever the questions/quizzes are, they simply allow you to memorize the meanings of terms and some ideas about the connection of concepts - nothing more. "Crammers" who remember the textbook well will do well on these. The situations in these questions are simple, all distractions are removed: only the necessary situations for the correct answer are in focus, as well as a limited set of "thinking traps". Just like in a cycling textbook, asking where the bike's brakes are - and showing several right and wrong answers. It's not certain that a student correctly pointing to the brakes can use this in real life. When riding a bike, their attention and skills will first focus on maintaining balance, and the thought about the brakes, if it ever comes to mind, is unlikely to be implemented.

5. Mastered. The master (no longer a student) can think systematically in the wild, which means in real projects, and fluently, without forcing every thought step, as at the "understood" stage. This is a completely different quality: to be able to solve already formulated tasks (even at the level of Olympiad complexity) from a problem set compared to the ability to set tasks. Setting tasks is to identify the correct objects from the cluttered, noisy, rapidly changing surrounding world with a huge number of insignificant and screaming details, assigning them types described in the reinforcement course. Only then can you solve a task formulated in terms of the domain of the working situation, where objects for solving the task have already been assigned types of systemic thinking concepts. However, here will also be types of other transdisciplines required, and additionally, you need to have a good understanding of the types of objects of the subject area itself - finding objects of these types in life is also not easy. Systemic thinking is just part of the full thinking of a person as a whole (including intelligence and applied mastery). Fully overcoming a certain work problem only through systemic thinking will be impossible (miracles do not happen), but it is much easier than without it. Systemic thinking makes a person smarter, but not so smart to quickly solve absolutely all problems.

In any case, there are no problems from the textbook in life, not even words from the textbook, in real life, you need to identify, discover the "objects from the textbook", attach book knowledge to life. In the diversity of various objects in the surrounding world in your project/your situation, you will need to find, for example, an object of the type "system of interest". But there are thousands and thousands of objects, and in large projects like the project of creating and producing an airliner - there are millions of them! Then, after assigning the type of meta-meta-model (you know these types and for what they are used as you have already gone through the "understood" state), you can already solve the posed task in familiar terms from the textbook.

If you need to find out how many apples are in two piles, you need to guess that apples are of the type "countable objects from the arithmetic textbook," not of the type "fruit: something usually eaten." If you want to describe the super-duper product you are developing, you need to identify which objects in the world are a supersystem for it (that gives the types the "supersystem" object from our course) and which roles (another type from our course) of agents (humans, organizations) are interested in this system, what agents (mostly today - people) in these roles want from this supersystem, not from your super-duper product! After this, you can make a hypothesis about what the system (let's call it the target system) can perform certain functions in the supersystem to satisfy the interests of the people you identified (all this has to be found in real life: some objects that you will assign these types from the textbook/meta-meta-model types). You would then document the hypothesis about the target system and the supersystem at the moment of their functioning/operations/use in the form of a usage concept (this is also a type - a model type describing the behavior of the target system in its environment, more about this will be explained further in the course, as well as in the "Systems Engineering" course). Real projects appear in the training course only here, and this is where the state "mastered" appears.

Yes, you will have to work on a work project during the course, this is a feature of the course. Roughly speaking, you will immediately ride not on a training bicycle, do a training project, but on a real bicycle: apply systemic thinking to your work project.

Only at this stage is the main skill of systemic thinking trained: systemic modeling as a conceptual (type-controlled) focusing on the main/important aspects in real work projects and ignoring the minor/unimportant aspects. This systemic modeling as conceptual focusing and sustaining attention (concentration) on important matters is needed to cope with the complexity of the real world, for thinking economy. You need to be able to find a needle in a haystack: choose with your educated/trained/tuned mind the important objects in the real work project. An educated/trained/tuned mind knows/understands and adeptly compares objects in the working situation with types of the meta-meta-model/concepts from the course of intelligence enhancement, in our case - concepts of the systemic approach, primarily those listed in the "Basic Concepts of the Systemic Approach" section.

Next, you will reflect on these objects, and the types of these objects will suggest what else needs to be thought about, what else needs to be considered for a more accurate forecast of the future situation in the project and planning of the most effective actions that lead to project success.

In the contrived training task conditions, there is no distraction from applying material from the course - no abundance of insignificant details, no absence of important information that needs to be further discovered, no emotional engagement in the situation. For example, you understand that you need to determine the method that the agent does working in the unknown project role to you. But try to figure out what method the boss who yells at you from this unknown, as yet role! Most likely, you won't be able to do this at first, you'll get distracted by the form, the boss's anger, a very heated conversation! They're yelling as "Operations Manager"::role for tasks in "Operations Management"::method, because you're breaking the timing expectations; or as "Requirements Engineer"::role in the "requirements engineering" method, because they're still unable to understand how to live in a world without requirements, as they've been learning too long and got stuck in an obsolete profession? Answering these roles would require different approaches, this yelling is not about "I'm the boss, and you're a fool", but about some project problems! In the training tasks, no one will yell at you, you will have time to think - it's not like real project situations.

In training tasks, there is certainly a solution, yet in real life, in real projects, the existence of an acceptable solution is not guaranteed. Also, the initiative even to solve the right problem is not certain. You need to set the right problem first; only then solve it!

"Project-based learning" happens right here, the result of completing the course tasks on the material of your real work projects and provides the sought after metanoia: the student's brain neural network learns to think systematically, and systemic thinking no longer requires conscious efforts in reasoning, including no effort in anchoring its concepts to real-world objects. This is a transition to unconscious competence, or reaching the "mastered" state in learning systemic thinking with systemic metanoia. After systemic metanoia, you look at a world where system agents create certain systems along long chains, carrying out certain methods/practices/cultures in various roles, and this happens at many systemic levels. When considering the world in this way, it will appear slightly less tangled (you know a lot about the world! You know the types of objects you will find in this world!), you will be surprised a bit less, you will make fewer mistakes.

This will help you in life? Yes, you will compete with other agents who do not have such an advantage. And you won't become a genius, but you will become smarter, giving you a certain competitive edge over other agents.


  1. https://dailypapert.com/hard-fun/, including ↩︎

  2. http://ailev.livejournal.com/1316601.html ↩︎

  3. You can read more about the "sergeant method" in the links on http://ailev.livejournal.com/1287293.html. ↩︎

  4. $Course's main usage --- as a "help" within an online course, focusing on "thinking by modelling" and "written thinking". This online course can be found here: https://system-school.ru/systems-thinking. The training is in form of table completion (modelling), answering questions with written explanations, doing assignments. The course text is a "help" for all these exercises. Simply reading the text unfortunately teaches little. ↩︎

  5. Materials discussing beyond concept inventories towards measuring how students think have appeared --- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2830154/ (concerns about measuring student thinking as opposed to student knowledge, but all these attempts poorly translate into a reproducible method compared to the concept inventory method). More on this topic in the text "Notes on Modeling Theory" by David Hestenes --- https://ailev.livejournal.com/1197467.html.. ↩︎