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Framework to support personalized learning in complex systems

Aklilu Tilahun Tadesse (Department of Geography, System Dynamics Group, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway)
Pål Ingebrigt Davidsen (Department of Geography, System Dynamics Group, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway)

Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education

ISSN: 2050-7003

Article publication date: 31 July 2019

Issue publication date: 17 January 2020



Numerous studies document that students struggle to comprehend complex dynamic systems (CDS). The purpose of this paper is to describe a design framework applied to the creation of a personalized and adaptive online interactive learning environment (OILE) to support students in their study of CDS.


A holistic instructional design is applied in five steps to create the OILE. The OILE has the following characteristics: first, it presents a complex, dynamic problem that learners should address in its entirety. It then allows learners to progress through a sequence of learning tasks from easy to complex. Second, after completion of each learning task, the OILE provides learners with supportive information based on their individual performance. The support fades away as learners gain expertise. Third, the OILE tracks and collects information on learners’ progress and generates learning analytics. The OILE was tested on 57 system dynamics students.


This paper provides evidence that supports the theoretical design framework from the literature. It also provides a sample from students’ progress logs to demonstrate how the OILE practically facilitated students’ cognitive development. In addition, it provides empirical evidence regarding students’ attitudes toward the OILE that was obtained from administering two questionnaires.


In light of supportive evidence from the literature, students’ progress in the cognitive domain, and confirmative response in the affective domain, the use of personalized and adaptive OILE to support learning about CDS is considered promising.



Tadesse, A.T. and Davidsen, P.I. (2020), "Framework to support personalized learning in complex systems", Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education, Vol. 12 No. 1, pp. 57-85.



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