Ecological Systems Theory

AKA

Development in Context
Ecological Framework for Human Development
Ecological Theory of Development
Human Ecology Theory

Focus

Co-entangled systems contributing to individual’s development

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … sum of the dynamics across nested systems
  • Knowing is … fitting
  • Learner is … a developing biological-and-experiential being (individual with/in multiple social and cultural systems)
  • Learning is … developing
  • Teaching is … influencing

Originated

1970s

Synopsis

Ecological Systems Theory sees the individual as a developing physical-and-psychological (i.e., biological-and-experiential) being who is nested in and who interacts with five levels of norm-guided, rule-imposing systems:
  • Microsystem (direct influences on the individual);
  • Mesosystem (interacting microsystems);
  • Exosystem (spanning immediate context and a broader community);
  • Macrosystem (culture);
  • Chronosystem (patterns of environmental, sociohistorical, and life events)
Ecological Systems Theory asserts that physical-and-psychological development is complex and, while not determined by the influences of various systems, is completely dependent on them. Ecological Systems Theory asserts that physical-and-psychological development is complex and, while not determined by the influences of various systems, is completely dependent on them.

Commentary

When it was first proposed, in an era dominated by cause–effect thinking, Ecological Systems Theory was greeted by many as provocative but not especially useful. As sensibilities and methodologies evolved over the subsequent 50 years, it was increasingly acknowledged as relevant and necessary, but has to a great extent fallen into the shadows of other Eco-Complexity Discourses.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Urie Bronfenbrenner

Status as a Theory of Learning

Ecological Systems Theory is a theory of learning, broadly understood. It was among the first Eco-Complexity Discourses to have a significant influence in educational theorizing and research.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Ecological Systems Theory is not a theory of teaching, but it does offer insight into the truly complex characters of teaching and formal education.

Status as a Scientific Theory

While it took some decades to develop methodologies that fitted to the assumed complexity of Ecological Systems Theory, there is now substantial empirical evidence to warrant describing the perspective as a scientific theory.

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Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2020). “Ecological Systems Theory” in Discourses on Learning in Education. https://learningdiscourses.com.


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