Complex Systems Theory as a Shared Discourse Space for TESOL

Achilleas Kostoulas, Juup Stelma, Sarah Mercer, Lynne Cameron, Susan Dawson

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In this article, the researchers explore how insights from complex systems theory might resonate with the experience of TESOL practitioners and argue that complexity can function as a shared discourse space where connections might be drawn between research and practice. The article grew out of a meeting between TESOL practitioners and researchers at the Manchester Roundtable on Complexity Theory and English Language Teaching. It builds on that discussion by exploring how language education practices and processes that are familiar to education practitioners and researchers can be understood in complexity-informed terms.To that end, the researchers outline elements of complex systems theory that can be shown to resonate with what TESOL educators already know. These include a discussion of what complex systems are, how they operate, and how they evolve, all of which are illustrated with examples from research and language education experiences. The authors show that the complexity-informed perspective they outline can provide teachers and researchers alike with an interpretive frame that may make more accessible the interconnected, sometimes unpredictable, invariably creative, and intuitively recognisable nature of language education.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)246-260
Number of pages24
JournalTESOL Journal
Issue number2
Early online date10 Apr 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Complexity theory
  • Language education
  • Professional development


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