Swarm Learning: Complex Adaptive Syllabus (CAS) — Spring 2020

Jamie Schwandt
40 min readJan 3, 2020


Swarm Learning (SL) is a teaching methodology where students provide continuous feedback to change a class while in progress — where the feedback changes how students learn concepts but does not change the concepts they must learn — in order to teach students how to think, not what to think — where the overarching intent is to facilitate a transfer of knowledge.

“To the future students of Dr. Jamie Schwandt, I say to you, with Swarm Learning, you can ask Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How and find the answers you’re looking for. Participate. Collaborate. Ask questions. Get answers. Repeat!” — Josefina Howard, FHSU student Fall 2019, from What I Learned from Swarm Learning

This is the expanded version of the Complex Adaptive Syllabus (CAS) for Administration in Health Care (HHP 630) and Tests and Measurements (HHP 340) — Spring 2020 at Fort Hays State University (FHSU) in Hays, Kansas.


Part 1: What to expect

You are only required to read Part 1.

“I would simply say: Think of everything you never heard of and everything you never did in a class. Now do them. That would be this course.” — Anthony Washington, FHSU student Fall 2019


Please note that my intent is not to provide a long discourse to confuse you. Rather, please try to enjoy reading the syllabus. Use this syllabus as a resource. You will not be asked to memorize anything here. You will not take one single test in this course, so put your pencils down and enjoy!

*Do not try to read this syllabus in one sitting. Instead, chunk it out.

Black Box Thinking — Redefining Failure

SL uses Black Box Thinking. I recommend reading Matthew Syed’s book Black Box Thinking: Why Most People Never Learn from their Mistakes-But some Do.

So, what exactly is Black Box Thinking? Rodion Chachura summarizes it perfectly in “Black Box Thinking” by Matthew Syed,

“Failure is rich in learning opportunities for a simple reason: in many of its guises, it represents a violation of expectation. It is showing us that the world is in some sense different from the way we imagined it to be.”

This course will scare you initially, but do not immediately drop this course. Give it a chance, just as one of my previous students did (see image below).

Hilarious (but perfect summary) feedback from an FHSU student (Fall 2018)


“I’m not sure how you did it, but I appreciate all you have done. Even if it is just teaching a course that significantly changed the way I see the world.” — Nathan Dooley, FHSU student Spring 2019 (Tests & Measurments) and Fall 2019 (Administration in Health Care)

The purpose of this expanded version of the syllabus is to provide a deeper understanding of the structure of my teaching methodology and how this course will be conducted. In addition, I will examine the basic anatomy of this course (its part-whole structure).

Course Information and Schedule

“Over 120 traditional and online academic credit hours later, it was time to take a course on healthcare management as a requirement for my gerontology concentration. I enrolled in the online Fall 2019 HHP 630 Administration in Healthcare class by Dr. Jamie Schwandt at Fort Hays State University; I have never heard of this professor and his teaching style before. I thought the course would be just like any other online classes that I’ve taken; it would use Blackboard and PowerPoint. I expected a straight-from-the-textbook type of instruction and learning. Quizzes and exams would be in multiple-choice and true/false formats. Completion of at least two traditionally formatted essays or research papers and discussion board participation would be required. When the semester began and I received the syllabus, I realized that I was wrong! I was wrong in assuming that HHP 630 would be an easy-peasy traditional online class on healthcare administration!” — Josefina Howard, FHSU student Fall 2019, from What I Learned from Swarm Learning

Both HHP 630 and HHP 340 are conducted as a virtual course. HHP 630 is a graduate three-credit-hour course — HHP 340 is an undergraduate two-credit-hour course.

This schedule is tentative and might change during the semester depending on how the course evolves. The content is subject to change depending on students’ interests and progress. Students will be notified of the changes through announcements sent via e-mail. If time is mentioned in the course, it refers to the Central Time Zone.

Module 1. Weeks 1–4
Module 2: Weeks 5–8
Module 3: Weeks 9–12
Module 4: Weeks 13–17

Assessment Methods and Grading Scale

The grade you earn in this course depends on the total number of points you earn throughout the semester. The assessment methods and grading scale are as follows:

Assessment Methods and Grading Scale
  • You can earn 150 extra credit points for publishing a blog, instead of an essay.
  • The first student to post an assessment will earn 10 extra credit points. For example, the first student to post in HHP 630 and HHP 340 and share KT1 will earn 10 extra credit points. The first student to post and share KT2 will earn 10 extra credit points.
  • Grades will be recorded in Blackboard.

Instructor Information

You can reach me via e-mail at jrschwandt@fhsu.edu. I encourage you to connect with me on LinkedIn and visit my website jamieschwandt.com.

Textbook and Course Material

HHP 630 Required Textbook: Health Care Management: Organizational Design and Behavior (6th Edition)

HHP 340 Required Textbook: Measurement by the Physical Educator: Why and How, 7th Edition (must purchase the Connect program as well)

I recommend the following books as they will allow you to dive deeper into each concept. You are not required to purchase them.

*Some of the following books and documents can be read for free.

  1. Flock Not Clock by Derek and Laura Cabrera.
  2. Systems Thinking Made Simple by Derek and Laura Cabrera.
  3. Thinking at Every Desk by Derek and Laura Cabrera.
  4. The Cartoon Guide to Statistics by Larry Gonick.
  5. Online Statistics Education: An Interactive Multimedia Course of Study developed by Rice University, University of Houston Clear Lake, and Tufts University.
  6. Systems Thinking for Health Systems Strengthening published by the World Health Organization (WHO).
  7. Design Unbound (volume 1 & 2) by Ann Pendleton-Julian and John Seely Brown.
  8. Design in Nature by Adrian Bejan and J. Peder Zane.
  9. The Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto — or use the following free handout: The Pyramid Principle Handout.
  10. The Red Team Handbook: The Army’s Guide To Making Better Decisions published by the University of Foreign Military Cultural Studies (UFMCS).
  11. The Art of Reasoning by David Kelley.
  12. The Logical Structure of Objectivism by William Thomas and David Kelley.
  13. Awareness and Action: A General Semantics Approach to Effective Language Behavior by Mary P. Lahman.
  14. Raising the Bar by Don Vandergriff.
  15. Maneuver Warfare Handbook by William S. Lind.

Course Description

HHP 630: This course is intended for those interested in a systematic understanding of organized principles, practices, and insights pertinent to the management of health services organizations.

HHP 340: This course is intended for those seeking a career in physical education, exercise science, or kinesiology. It will provide you with the necessary skills to conduct measurement techniques properly and effectively.

Course Flow

“Swarming the Classroom emphasizes student learning by focusing on the student’s outcome through feedback and response. Very few classes are as centered on the students. Most classes follow one path, the instructors, with no consideration to the student. Additionally, very few classes have the same amount of instructor engagement, feedback, and response. Dr. Schwandt’s method fosters interest and true learning rather than rote memorization to pass a test.” — Anni T. Satterfield, FHSU student Fall 2018, from Faculty Spotlight: Jamie Schwandt

Step #1. From Blackboard, click Start Here. This will take you to the class WordPress site: https://ltblogs.fhsu.edu/swarmlearningspring2020/

Blackboard page for HHP 340 (will look similar for HHP 630)
  • You will receive an e-mail invite to the WordPress site as well. Both HHP 630 and HHP 340 will use the same WordPress site.

Step #2. Click the Syllabus menu option then Complex Adaptive Syllabus (CAS) (the syllabus blog you are reading now). There is also a traditional syllabus located in the syllabus folder.

Swarm Learning WordPress site (for both HHP 340 and HHP 630)

Step #3. Click How-To Videos, then click (and watch) the Syllabus How-To Video.

Step #4. Click the Plectica menu option, then click the Plectica FHSU Promotion link. Register for your free Plectica account.


Step #5. Click and watch the Plectica Introduction Video.

Step #6. Read course information and class schedule, then begin your first assessment/assignment.

  • HHP 340: Tests and Measurements students will also complete four Learn Smart (LS) modules. The assessments are located in Blackboard (go to the Learning Modules folder). Your grade will automatically be recorded once complete.
HHP 340 Blackboard Learning Modules

Step #7. Click assessments, Module 1: Distinctions, then KT1. Watch the KT1 How-To Video then complete the assessment as instructed.

An Evolving Puzzle

“Swarm Learning is a teaching methodology that adapts, changes, and evolves as a class progresses.” — Dr. Jamie Schwandt

Created by Dr. Schwandt via Plectica

Think of this CAS as a puzzle that continuously evolves — where the goal is for you (the student and the class) to put the puzzle pieces together. Think of this class as “building blocks” that self-assemble due to continuous feedback. It’s an abstract teaching methodology that uses pattern matching — by taking new ideas and matching them to ideas the student already knows.

You can also think of SL as a system. It might not look like it, but there is some form of order within this system. A system consists of units and each unit has a specific role — which depends on the position of the student in the overall structure of the class. Within the system, each student also possesses a different function, where the function is to ultimately learn the concepts in the class — yet each student learns differently.

SL allows a teacher to identify how students learn so they can create a learning environment that teaches students how to think, not what to think.

image via https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6hi-H29jAgw

As you move through the modules, think about how you learn each concept. This is similar to how we make sense of arbitrary relationships.

For example, linguistics or the science of signs (or Semiotics) helps explain why you and someone from another country are able to understand the concept of an apple. This is due to the relationship between the signified (meaning or meaning of a concept) and the signifier (form or sound). The idea of this arbitrary relationship between meaning and form has two parts:

  1. A sound bit (a string of sounds — think of how we pronounce the word apple).
  2. Meaning (think of how we make sense of information).

SL seeks to change the way you learn a concept, but it does not change the concept itself.

There are two parts:

  1. The way a student learns (or makes sense of the meaning of a concept).
  2. The concept (think of a sound bit).

Just as different languages use different sounds for an apple — students learn the concepts differently (think of learning about the concept of an apple). Think of the sound for the word “apple” and how different the sound is in a different language. Even two completely unrelated languages can still point to an apple and know what it is.

SL recognizes that students learn differently. Just as languages use different sounds associated with a concept, so too do students use different approaches to learn the same concepts.

Examples of Semiotics

Four Modules

“Schwandt’s teaching method has made online learning feel like a classroom environment. Most online classes involve reading, quizzes, and tests. This method allows me to feel like I’m interacting not only with the teacher but my classmates as well.” — Wesley Cooper, FHSU student Fall 2018, from Faculty Spotlight: Jamie Schwandt

Both HHP 630 and HHP 340 are structured via four modules. Each module will consist of roughly four weeks of work. Each assessment within each module will consist of simple rules/instructions. Think of these as a boundary to operate within.

Think of the boundary as a map and you are told you can only travel within a region, but I am not telling you how to travel or where to travel within the region, that is up to you.

Feedback Map (via SurveyMonkey)

Included in every assessment is a link to a 10 question feedback map/survey via SurveyMonkey. This is a new addition for Spring 2020.

For example, built into every assignment/assessment is a link to a Feedback Map (via SurveyMonkey). This will provide me with feedback that uses the smallest force (small class setting), in the most efficient space (each class), at the quickest point in time (using the survey to pinpoint student confusion).

Sample questions in the Feedback Map for KT2 created by Dr. Schwandt via SurveyMonkey

Module 1: Distinctions

Select Module 1: Distinctions Then KT1: Simple Rules

This module will consist of two Knowledge Trails (KT): KT1 and KT2; one Essay / Blog Map (EM): EM3; and one Feedback Trail (FT): FT4. A KT is simply a concept map. For every KT, you will be provided simple rules and questions to answer. From there you will create a KT in Plectica, post in the SL WordPress site, and respond to at least two other student posts.

Example of required student response from HHP 630 — Fall 2019

KT1 will introduce an ambiguity test this semester — the Need for Cognitive Closure (NFCC) quiz. Read Get Comfortable With Ambiguity for more information on this quiz.

KT’s provide the student and instructor a way to see how each student thinks. Students think and process information in different ways. KT’s are a great way to visually illustrate this. For example, you can clearly see the difference between these four student KT’s:

How Students Think Differently: Visual Representation of Four Different Student KT’s

EM’s are a way for each student to begin mapping out an essay or a blog. An essay or a blog is due at the end of each semester. Extra credit of 150 points will be provided to each student who decides to write a blog instead of an essay. EM’s provide a visual illustration of how each student logically deconstructs and forms an argument.

Essay or blog topics are intended to facilitate the transfer of knowledge from one domain (the concept or idea you are learning) to another (an innovative concept to connect it to). Students will be provided a list of potential blog topics in EM3; however, feel free to choose your own topic (it must connect to the concept or ideas you are learning).

Student EM and Deconstruction of an Argument using the Toulmin Method

FT’s are the most important part of SL. They are essentially feedback maps that provide the instructor feedback so that he or she can change a class while in progress to meet the needs of the learner. The SL Facebook Group page was created because of student feedback. The following image is an illustration of multiple FT’s on one Plectica map:

FHSU Fall 2019 Class FT

Getting Lost in the Woods

In Faculty Spotlight: Jamie Schwandt, Nicole Frank remarked:

Brian Cicio, a senior majoring in health and human performance, considers Schwandt’s methods to be “a unique way of adaptive learning, where the curriculum can be changed immediately based on student feedback” and describes the experience as “more productive and [more] enjoyable.”

SL empowers students and takes a bottom-up approach similar to the Swedish approach to intelligence. In the 4th Generation Warfare Handbook, William S. Lind and LTCOL Gregory A. Thiele, USMC, write:

“The Swedish word for military intelligence is Underraettelser. The term is a combination of two words, under and raettelse. Under means “from below” and raettelse means “correction.” The word translates literally as “corrections from below.”

Lind also writes about another highly recommended book by Don Vandergriff — Raising the Bar: Creating and Nurturing Adaptability to Deal with the Changing Face of War. Lind writes in Raising the Bar or Cross It (which can be viewed at The University of Antarctica) that:

“Rightly, Vandergriff rejects the crawl, walk, run approach now favored in American military education, which in reality seldom gets beyond crawl. He recommends instead what one German general called the Hansel and Gretel approach: first you let the kids get lost in the woods.”

The following are examples of individual student FT’s:

Individual Student FT’s

Module 2: Systems

Module 2: Systems

The second module consists of two KT’s, one EM, and one FT.

Module 3: Relationships

Module 3: Relationships

The third module consists of two KT’s, one EM, one FT, and the Swarming the Canvas assessment.

Swarming the Canvas is a way for both HHP 630 and HHP 340 (as well as previous students and experts) to complete one KT together at the same time. Watch the following video to see the FHSU Fall 2019 Swarming the Canvas in action (students, previous students, and experts all participated in this assessment — students typically say that this is the most enjoyable assignment).

FHSU Fall 2019 Swarming the Canvas Assessment

Module 4: Perspectives

Module 4: Perspectives

The final module consists of two KT’s, one FT, one end of course evaluation, and submission of either an argumentative essay or blog. Students who successfully complete a blog will receive 150 extra credit points. Students are provided with the option of writing an essay or blog on innovative topics synthesized with the concepts they are learning in order to transfer knowledge from one domain to another. For example, students have the option to write about Biomimicry and how it applies in Healthcare Administration; the Cynefin Framework and how it applies in Healthcare Administration; Lean Six Sigma (LSS) and how it applies in Tests and Measurements; or Red Teaming and how it applies in Tests and Measurements.

As of December 31, 2019, students in SL have published 19 different blogs (for the vast majority, this was the first time they had ever published a blog). For a link to each student blog, go to jamieschwandt.com.

List of Student writing at jamieschwandt.com

How-To Complete Your First Assessment

In Faculty Spotlight: Jamie Schwandt, Nicole Frank remarked:

Monique Holmes, a graduate student majoring in public health administration, is honest about the initial challenge of learning in a new way. She says, “The learning curve was high in the beginning but there was less pressure once you got the hang of things, because you could use the platforms to break concepts down and put them back together in the way that you learn best.” She feels that the Swarming the Classroom method helps with retention, and echoes other students’ comments about the customization of the class, adding, “[it] allows the class to unfold specific to the participants.”

*Remember that the first student to post each assessment (e.g. KT1, KT2, EM3, FM4, etc.) will receive 10 extra credit points. This means the first student in HHP 630 and the first student in HHP 340. So, two students, in each class will receive 10 extra credit points for every assessment.

Step 1. Click + New (to create a post). Follow Simple Rules/Instructions in Module 1 Distinctions, KT1 Simple Rules
Step 2. Complete Post and go to Plectica Map link
Plectica Map Link: https://www.plectica.com/maps/JG7NDLSDI; Google Sheets Link: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1m1-UWSSCNY1hrCubnk8YlnxNbHJ-13YpUekRY3pdi0c/edit?usp=sharing
Your post will show up here
Step 3. Reply to at least two other students

Swarm Learning (SL) Facebook Group

“Less than four months ago, I began a course at Fort Hays State University where Dr. Jamie Schwandt introduced myself and my classmates to a concept called Systems Thinking. We were informed that we would be challenged by not learning what to think, but how to think. I confess that at first I was petrified, as Systems Thinking was foreign to me, and that I had already been conditioned throughout life how to think. Thankfully, Dr. Schwandt’s course materials and Facebook group introduced me to Dr. Derek Cabrera, who developed Systems Thinking v2.0 and Plectica, a tool for mapping out thought processes. While hesitant, I slowly learned how to think in this new manner. After a few weeks of using Plectica, I was given the opportunity to obtain my Systems Thinking White Belt and I jumped at the chance, as I knew it would enhance my learning.” — Brian J. Cicio, FHSU student Spring 2019, from Systems Thinking White Belt Certification: Your First Step to a New Way of Thinking

The SL Facebook Group page was identified as an idea in a student Feedback Trail (FT) during the Spring 2019 semester. SL embraces ideas likes this and immediately tests those same ideas.

This group was created for students participating in a class using the SL teaching methodology and to connect them with others who have used SL, as well as experts in different fields. The overarching idea for SL is to generate continuous feedback that changes a class while in progress and to never teach a class the same way twice.

Multiple students have decided to write a blog at the end of each semester. The idea is to take what they are learning (e.g. administration in health care) and connect it with an innovative concept (e.g. Cynefin Framework, DSRP, etc.) Students who participate in the SL Facebook Group can contact the creators of some of these ideas directly. For example, Dr. Derek Cabrera, creator of Systems Thinking v2.0 and DSRP, and Dave Snowden, creator of the Cynefin Framework, are members of the SL Facebook Group.

In addition, the creators of innovative programs, such as Plectica and Thortspace, are also members of the SL Facebook Group. Students can interact directly with these experts — they can also interact directly with students who have previously taken a course using the SL methodology and they can see examples of KT’s, FT’s, EM’s, blogs, and the Swarming the Canvas assessment. These examples and interaction are key to assisting each student as the vast majority of the ideas and information within SL are new and ambiguous.

Join the SL Facebook Group page by clicking here
SL Facebook Group Page Link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/387029035184032/

Innovative Programs

SL uses innovative programs. A link to each can be found in the SL WordPress site.

Other Links to Innovative Programs


Plectica is the program the class will typically use. Dr. Derek and Laura Cabrera provide multiple tools to combine with Plectica. Go to the Plectica menu and visit the Thinkwater Toolkit and Plectica Map Library.

Another powerful tool within Plectica is Thinkquiry. The Cabrera’s describe Thinkquiry as:

“Thinkquiry is the term we use for thinking differently about how we ask questions from a systems thinking approach. What’s different about Thinkquiry is the underlying logic of DSRP which is multivalent.”

“Traditional question logic is born of Socratic Logic (which is bivalent logic) and typically employs such rubrics as the 5Ws (Who, What, Where, When, Why). DSRP logic expands on this bivalent logic, which means that these kinds of questions can still be asked, but we are encouraged to penetrate deeper into our topic and ask deeper questions.”


SL uses other programs as well. These include the following:


Thortspace is described as:

“An innovative innovation software tool for no-limits thinking, collaboration, and knowledge management. Thortspace enables you to make a diagram of any thinking structure and the relationships amongst any set of thoughts. These Visualizations bring clarity, insight and team alignment to any project.”

For more on this innovative software, watch the following video:

FHSU Student, Fall 2019 Thortspace Creation


Students will use Rationaleonline.com to assist in the formation and deconstruction of arguments. This program allows you to create argument maps — which are an ideal approach to improving your critical thinking ability. Built within the program is the Toulmin Argumentation Method. The Purdue Online Writing Lab: College of Liberal Arts describes the Toulmin Method as:

“Developed by philosopher Stephen E. Toulmin, the Toulmin method is a style of argumentation that breaks arguments down into six component parts: claim, grounds, warrant, qualifier, rebuttal, and backing. In Toulmin’s method, every argument begins with three fundamental parts: the claim, the grounds, and the warrant.”

Toulmin Method — Image via https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/academic_writing/historical_perspectives_on_argumentation/toulmin_argument.html
Image via Rationaleonline.com


Video created by Dr. Schwandt using VidGrid — from mindlyapp.com

Mindly is described as:

“Like an expanding universe, our thoughts evolve fast. One concept leads to another and soon we have a universe of thoughts in our minds. Mindly helps organize your inner universe. Like planets that circle around sun, moons around planets, each concept gets its place in a natural hierarchical structure.”

Example of Mindly Map

I used Mindly to develop a concept within SL called Swarm Thinking. See the video below for an example of Swarm Thinking using Mindly.

Swarm Thinking — Created by Dr. Schwandt


Medium is an online publishing platform (you are reading this syllabus/blog on Medium). It is described as:

“The platform is an example of social journalism, having a hybrid collection of amateur and professional people and publications, or exclusive blogs or publishers on Medium, and is regularly regarded as a blog host.”

I encourage students to use Medium if they choose to write a blog. It’s free and user-friendly. Nearly all of my students have published their blogs via Medium. (19 total blogs so far).

***You can stop reading here. The remainder should be read later in the course. The rest of the discussion dives deeper into the creation and theory of SL.***

Part 2: What is Swarm Learning (SL)?

Created by Dr. Schwandt via Plectica


A Little Film About a Big Idea via https://www.thinkwater.us/

SL uses two innovative structures to expand our understanding of concepts in both classes. The reason we use these structures is explained brilliantly by Derek and Laura Cabrera in Flock Not Clock:

  1. People need tools and training to help them think.
  2. Thinking fuels learning.
  3. Learning drives capacity, which makes mission possible and brings about vision.

The concepts in this course will be analyzed and synthesized using DSRP.

Distinctions: Identity and Other.

Systems: Part and Whole.

Relationships: Action and Reaction.

Perspectives: Point and View.

I used the Cabrera’s VMCL model to construct Swarm Learning (SL).

In Flock Not Clock: Align People, Processes, and Systems to Achieve Your Vision, Derek and Laura Cabrera provide a way forward for organizations to move from a clock and machine mindset to that of a flock mindset. They provide a simple, yet powerful, framework for this called Vision — Mission — Capacity — Learning. I used VMCL to guide and develop SL.

Vision — V. Desired future state or goal.

Mission — M. Rules or repeatable actions that bring about the vision.

Capacity — C. Systems that provide readiness to execute the mission.

Learning — L. Continuous improvement of systems of capacity based on feedback from the external environment.

Swarm Learning (SL) VMCL

Vision: Students change and customize a class while in progress based on constant and immediate feedback.

created by Dr. Schwandt via Plectica

In Flock Not Clock, the Cabrera’s write: “The mission, in simplest terms, is the actions you repeatedly perform to bring about the vision.” And “Mission is the thing your employees do every day that will produce the organizational behavior that, in turn, will eventually achieve your vision.”

Mission: To teach students how to think, not what to think.

created by Dr. Schwandt via Plectica

Capacity: Using OKR’s to build Capacity

The Cabrera’s inform us about capacity: “We build capacity to do our mission.” And “The things you do everyday build capacity.”

created by Dr. Schwandt via Plectica

SL uses Objectives and Key Results (OKR’s) to build capacity.

created by Dr. Schwandt via Plectica

In Flock Not Clock, the Cabrera’s inform us: “The success of any organization depends on its ability to learn: to adapt to feedback from the environment and thrive in the face of change.” And “Thinking drives learning and learning drives capacity, which makes mission possible, and in turn, brings about vision.”

Learning: Adaptation in Response to Feedback

created by Dr. Schwandt via Plectica

This is where the transfer of knowledge takes place. The Cabrera’s inform us of a critical distinction between the transfer of information and the transfer of knowledge: “Although we can transfer information, we cannot transfer knowledge to someone else.”

They provide us a simple equation that helps make this discussion more understandable:

Information + Thinking = Knowledge

1. Information is data.

2. Thinking is the process of structuring information to make it useful.

3. Knowledge (also known as a mental model) is built when you structure information to give it meaning.

The Cabrera’s write that we should build teams that constantly seek feedback in order to thrive.

“The feedback loop between mental models and reality is ever-present in your daily life. When you create a mental model (you are creating them all the time!), you are attempting to describe, summarize, or predict — in summary, to approximate — something about the real world. If you’re paying attention, the real world will provide feedback in the form of information that can: (1) help you to determine the viability of your mental model, (2) select the best mental model among a range of options, or (3) inform how you adapt your mental model. It is this adaptation in response to feedback, at the individual and at the organization level, that drives success.”

“When we interact with the real world, we receive feedback on the accuracy of our mental models. We must then adjust our mental models based on that feedback, ideally refining our models to be ever-closer approximations of reality. That is learning.”

Learning is a feedback cycle and the essence of SL can be defined by the following sentence: “It is this adaptation in response to feedback, at the individual and at the organization level, that drives success.”

Elements of Swarm Learning

Created by Dr. Schwandt via Mindly

I use T.E. Lawrence elements of war as the elements of SL. For more on T. E. Lawrence, read Seven Pillars of Wisdom, which can be found for free online at Project Gutenberg Australia. The elements are as follows:

  1. Hecastics (Function)
  2. Bionomics (Form)
  3. Diathetics (Fit, Logic, and Ideas)

Lawrence found that military tactics should be based on “tip and run: not pushes, but strokes.” He said:

“We should use the smallest force in the quickest time at the farthest place.”

SL is similar to Lawrence and his tactics. In Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Lawrence wrote that we should make intelligent decisions:

“ We should make decisions or adopt alternatives after studying/analyzing relevant factors against irrelevant factors.”

“Irregular war was far more intellectual than a bayonet charge, far more exhausting than service in the comfortable imitative obedience of an ordered army.”

image via https://www.minecraft-schematics.com/schematic/4243/


In T. E. Lawrence: Theorist and Campaign Planner, Major Lawrence W. Moores writes (you can read Moore’s monograph for free):

“The algebraic element dealt with known invariables. It was purely scientific and analyzed the situation according to the laws of mathematics. The algebraic element or hecastics, as Lawrence termed it, dealt with fixed conditions like space and time, and inorganic things. An analysis of the algebraic element yielded information concerning terrain, mobility and average effectiveness of units, firepower effects of weapons, and logistics.”

For those of you who are fans of the book series (or movie) — Ender’s Game, think of Hecastics as the known tactics or techniques used in the movie.

To understand this better, let’s examine terminology from design: Form and Function. When speaking of form and function, we typically discuss this as the shape of something should relate to its purpose or intended function. Typically form follows function, except in Darwinian evolution, where form (variation) precedes function (as determined by natural selection).

Le’ts look at an example of Form and Function:

-Rear Vision (Function)

-Mirror, Camera, Sensor (Parts)(Form)

image via https://www.engineering.com/Education/EducationArticles/ArticleID/7004/Form-Fit-and-Function-A-Framework-for-your-Bill-of-Material.aspx

We can also think in terms of Form-Fit-Function.

image via https://pserj.journals.ekb.eg/article_36735_d4567ba4a4419950481a00a3048595e6.pdf

-Form: Does it look good? Is it aesthetically pleasing?

-Fit: Does it make sense? Does it bring about clarity?

-Function: Does it have the intended effect? Does it have the intended impact?

SL modifies Form -Fit -Function and combines it with T. E. Lawrence’s Elements to get:

Hecastics (Function) — What’s the intended effect?

Bionomics (Form) — What’s the structure?

Diathetics (Logic and Ideas — think Fit) — Does it make sense?.

In SL, Hecastics is the Function (think y=f(x)). It is the concepts and ideas that a student must learn. For example, students in HHP 340 must learn how to calculate the standard deviation. There are fixed rules to follow.

To do this, students will learn to read, write, and lay the following:

  • Knowledge Trails (KT) (formerly known as Concept Maps (CM)).
  • Feedback Trails (FT) (formerly known as Feedback Maps (FM)).
  • Essay / Blog Map (EM).


Moores writes about Bionomics:

“While Lawrence saw the algebraic element as calculable, the biological element or bionomics, as he called it, dealt with uncertainty. It sought to analyze those factors in war that cannot be expressed quantitatively. Under this heading fell the various factors that make waging war an art: illogical variabilities, brilliance, heroism, and fear. Anything that made algebraic estimates uncertain due to the actions of individuals fell into the biological element.”

image via Ender’s Game film

In Ender’s Game, think of this as the Battle School. In SL, Bionomics is the Form or structure — which includes:

  • WordPress Learning Environment
  • Complex Adaptive Syllabus (CAS)
  • Swarm Learning (SL) Facebook Group


This is the psychological element of ideas. Moores writes about Diathetics:

“Arranging the minds of the enemy, so far as we could reach them; then those other minds of the nation supporting us behind the firing line, since more than half the battle passed there in the back; then the minds of the enemy nation waiting the verdict, and the neutrals looking on; circle beyond circle.”

image via Ender’s Game film

Think of this as the Mind Game Ender must play in Ender’s Game — known as the Giant’s Game. I wrote in Fingertip Feeling: A Synthesis of Ideas from Maneuver Warfare, 4GW, the OODA Loop, and Ender’s Game and found a fantastic discussion in ‘Ender’s Game’ and Maneuver Warfare by Kyle Mizokami, the Giant’s Game was run by the Battle School computer. Ender faces off against a giant that kills players in, particularly gruesome ways. No matter what the players do, the giant always wins.

So, what did Ender do?

Ender forced the giant to play by Ender’s rules.

Ender initially believes the Giant’s Game is unwinnable until, in a moment of frustration, he attacks the giant by burrowing through the monster’s eyeball. The only way to win is to not play by the giant’s rules — and force the giant to play by Ender’s rules. Ender refused to play to the giant’s strengths; thus, he dislocated the enemy.

Ender used variation in tactics. Battle School’s focus on attrition strategy stalled innovation in tactics. Ender realizes this and varies his tactics to gain the advantage. He hurries his troops out into the battle arena to gain the initiative. When the enemy begins to expect this trick, Ender inverts it — and deploys slowly, forcing the opposition to wait.

What Ender did was constantly think up new tactics and retire them before the enemy could adapt. The faster you can observe the enemy, orient yourself to react to him, decide what to do and act on your decision, the more likely you are to win. *OODA Loop*

SL seeks to do the same — to constantly adapt. Diathetics is the Logic or Fit and is the essence of teaching students how to think, not what to think. To do this, SL seeks to facilitate a transfer of knowledge, seeks bottom-up learning and feedback, and empowers students through:

  • Innovative ideas to learn and write about.
  • Learning through publishing.
  • Forming and deconstructing arguments.
  • Learning how to spot and weaponize logical fallacies.
  • Getting comfortable with ambiguity.
  • Identifying the Need For Cognitive Closure (NFCC).

Principles of Swarm Learning (SL)

Lawrence found that camel raiding-parties were like self-contained ships. In A Theoretical Exploration of Lawrence of Arabia’s Inner Meanings on Guerilla Warfare, Basil Aboul-Enein and Youssef Aboul-Enein write about Lawrence:

Lawrence: “He who commands the sea is at great liberty, and may take as much or as little of the war as he will and he who commands the desert is equally fortunate. Camel raiding-parties are like self-contained like ships. They could cruise securely along the enemy’s land-frontier, just out of sight of his posts along the edge of cultivation, and tap or raid into his lines where it seemed easiest and benefiting, with a sure retreat always behind them into an element which the Turks could not enter.”

Students in SL are like ubiquitous and self-contained ships. They cruise confidently along the fringes of a new concept, sure of unhindered retreat into the sea since there is no fear of failure.

The following are the Principles of SL:

  1. Ubiquity. Presence everywhere or in many places especially simultaneously.
  2. Mobility. The ability to move or be moved freely and easily.
  3. Adaptability. The quality of being able to adjust to new conditions.
  4. Fluidity. The quality of being graceful or flowing, like the fluidity of a dancer’s movements. Things that move with easy, smooth motions have fluidity — think of clouds moving across the sky on a windy day, or the way a modern dancer’s body moves.
  5. Autonomy. Independent and self-governed.

Feedback and the Logic of SL: Change — Adapt — Evolve

via http://jayse.tv/v2/?portfolio=enders-game

Education is a Complex Adaptive System (CAS). Even if we refuse to recognize it, education holds the principles and characteristics of a CAS. Those who both recognize and embrace that the education system is a CAS are able to increase the speed of knowledge transfer. Let’s examine what it means to be a CAS and how SL logically works within it.

A complex system is one that is difficult to understand or predict. A system is a group of interacting parts forming a whole. A CAS is a collection of simple agents interacting in a system where the large-scale behavior of the system is difficult to predict and may change, adapt, and/or evolve.

A system that changes is able to make things within the system different. A system that adapts is one that makes things fit by change. A system that evolves is one that seeks incremental change over time.

If the goal is to increase the speed of knowledge transfer and to teach students how to think, not what to think, then we must view learning as a CAS. If a CAS is one that changes, evolves, and adapts, then we need to create an environment that facilitates this.

If change means making something different, then we should seek to make a system different. If we seek to make a system different, then we need feedback from those within the system. If the system we are attempting to change is an education system, then we need feedback from students.

If we want to change the system, then we must adapt to the needs of the students. If adapting to the needs of students means making something fit by change, then we should seek continuous feedback from students — we should then use their feedback to change a class. If we seek to change a class, then we should strive to continuously modify the class. To modify the class, the class must evolve. To evolve means incremental change over time.

SL seeks to use continuous student feedback to incrementally change a class over time that fits the needs of the students. Thus, SL must Change, Adapt, and Evolve (CAE). To do this, we must first understand that an education system is a CAS; which possesses the following three characteristics:

1. Decentralization. In a decentralized group (the opposite of top-down centralized command and control), there is no single authority making decisions. Instead, the decisions are made within the group. If we seek a decentralized environment, then we must empower students to think. We must teach them how to think, not what to think. We should seek continuous feedback from students and create an environment that encourages bottom-up education.

2. Emergence. Emergent behavior takes place when parts interact in a wider whole. To bring about this emergent behavior, we must allow a class to self-organize.

3. Self-Organization. A process where some form of order arises from agents locally interacting in what appears to be a disordered system. To self-organize in SL, a class or system must operate and change on its own. We must allow a class to spontaneously change, adapt, and evolve by programming the component parts from the bottom-up.

SL is Learning through Self-Assembly

To spontaneously change, adapt, and evolve, we must create an environment where learning is engendered by self-assembly. To do this, we must step back and simply set the conditions for a class to self-assemble.

Think of how we put together LEGOs. Typically, we purchase a specific LEGO box with specific instructions for how to put the LEGOs together. This is like writing a syllabus that has no room for adaptation. You simply provide your students with a set of instructions and put the LEGO pieces together in the exact order prescribed. But what if you threw away the instructions? What if, instead of structuring a class and never deviating from it, you used simple rules and allowed a class to self-assemble or emerge on its own?

SL aims to mimic the self-assembly example. SL provides students a Complex Adaptive Syllabus (CAS) and seeks to change while a class is still in progress based on student feedback. SL provides the LEGO blocks, yet instead of detailed instructions, SL provides simple rules or boundaries to build within — allowing and empowering students to be the creators.

Evolution of Swarm Learning (SL) — based on the Constructal Law

Evolution of Swarm Learning (SL) based on the principle of Constructal Law created using Thortspace

“For sixteen weeks, my fellow students and I in HHP 630 were immersed in Swarm Learning! We wrestled through many concepts and tools that were introduced to us by our instructor. We created maps to show our understanding of health management concepts from the textbook but also expressed our creativity, emotions, and opinions! The course was not static; it was dynamic! If this course was a class about web design and promotion; it was “organic” and “sticky!” “Organic” because the growth of information and knowledge occurred naturally through interaction between participants, and it will continue to grow! “Sticky” because people will come back over and over and pass the information to others!” — Josefina Howard, FHSU student Fall 2019, from What I Learned from Swarm Learning

Following the principle of Constructal Law, SL has evolved throughout the past few years. Incremental changes based on student feedback has improved the flow of SL. Some of the changes include:

  1. Introduction of innovative concepts, such as: Cynefin Framework, OODA Loop, Biomimicry, Lean Six Sigma (LSS), Systems Thinking v2.0 (DSRP), Constructal Law, Holacracy, Blockchain Technology, Neurogenesis, Desire Path, Stable Datum, Sense-Direction Test, Stigmergy, Quorum Sensing, Tandem Running, Objectives and Key Results (OKR), etc.
  2. Introduction of argument deconstruction, Red Teaming, Toulmin Method.
  3. Blogs published by students (learning through publishing) — 19 blogs published as of December 31, 2019.
  4. Feedback Maps or Feedback Trails (FT).
  5. Concept Maps or Knowledge Trails (KT).
  6. Swarming the Canvas.
  7. Class structure from Blackboard to Loomio to WordPress.
  8. Swarm Learning (SL) Facebook Group — connecting students with experts.
  9. Innovative programs, such as: Plectica, Thinkquiry, Tableau, Rationaleonline.com, Thortspace, NetLogo, Loomio, WordPress, Thesis Generator, Essay Bot, Medium, Prezi, etc.

SL is based on a first principle, which is a self-evident truth that cannot be derived from any other laws. This is the Constructal Law. The Constructal Law was developed by Adrian Bajean and states:

“For a finite-size flow system to persist in time (to live), its configuration must evolve in such a way that provides easier access to the currents that flow through it.”

In Design In Nature: How The Constructal Law Governs Evolution In Biology, Physics, Technology, And Social Organization, Adrian Bejan and J. Peder Zane write:

“Life is movement and the constant morphing of the design of this movement. To be alive is to keep on flowing and morphing. When as system stops flowing and morphing, it is dead.”

Bajean found that everything that moves is a flow system and all flow systems generate shape and structure in time to facilitate this movement. He found that the designs we see in nature are not random, nor are they the result of chance. Instead, they arise naturally and spontaneously — they enhance access to flow in time.

Bajean found that flow systems have two basic properties: 1) a current that is flowing and 2) the design through which it flows.

Bajean provides an example of the two properties in action:

“A lightning bolt, for example, is a flow system for discharging electricity from a cloud. In a flash it creates a brilliant branched structure because this is a very efficient way to move a current (electricity) from a volume (the cloud) to a point (the church steeple or another cloud).”

Bajean found that,

“The constructal law dictates that flow systems should evolve over time, acquiring better and better configurations to provide more access for the currents that flow through them.”

The Constructal Law is about change — change that facilitates faster and easier movement — change that generates better designs for currents flowing through them.

William Faulkner wrote,

“Living is motion, and motion is change and alteration and therefore the alternative to motion is un-motion, stasis, death.”

SL is a flow system of change that evolves over time — acquiring better and better configurations. SL is spontaneous learning. SL is motion. SL is change.

The Constructal Law is an advancement in the understanding of evolution. Bajean stated,

“Evolution means design modifications over time. How these changes are happening are mechanisms.”

“What flows through a design that evolves is not nearly as special in physics as how the flow system acquires and improves its configuration in time. The how is the physics principle — the constructal law. The what are the currents and the mechanisms, and they are as diverse as the flow systems themselves. The what are many and the how is one.”

Teaching How to Think, Not What to Think

“I am so comfortable with the uncomfortable that my uncomfortable is pregnant with my child. Her name will be Ambi.” — Anthony Washington, FHSU student Fall 2019

SL aims to teach students how to think, not what to think. This means teaching students how to be logical, creative, and critical thinkers. SL adopts the view of William S. Lind. In the Maneuver Warfare Handbook, Lind writes:

“Education is more than the learning of skills or the acquisition of facts. It includes acquiring a broad understanding of one’s culture, its development and the principles upon which it is founded. Education develops the ability to put immediate situations into larger context built of history, philosophy, and an understanding of the nature of man. Inherent in education is the ability to think logically, to approach problem solving methodically, but without a predetermined set of solutions.”

Lind writes about the remarks of General F. W. von Mellenthin, a 1937 graduate of the German War College,

“He stressed that there were no right answers. A student was never told his decision was wrong. He was criticized for only two things: failure to make a timely decision, and inability to give a logical, coherent explanation for his decision. But if he made either of these errors, he was criticized severely.”

SL is based on the idea that there are no right answers. Students are not told his or her decision is wrong. Students are empowered to make quick, coherent, and logical decisions. Instead of critiquing the student's ability to memorize information, SL critiques the students thought process. The goal of SL is to improve how a student thinks, to see how he or she thinks.

An example of how to critique students' thought processes is to understand John Boyd’s Observe-Orient-Decide-Act (OODA) Loop. In Brad Pitt’s Ad Astra Is A Playbook for Conquering Men’s Depression, W. E. Messamore writes:

“The OODA loop is a mental model developed by John Boyd, a decorated 20th century fighter pilot and military strategist. It stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act. It’s a vital process for combat pilots, who have to made life or death decisions in a matter of seconds under the most extreme physical and mental stress.”

“When challenged and feeling overwhelmed, instead of panicking and going into free fall, we can stop and observe our situation. Then we can orient ourselves in it, which to Boyd is a process of connecting with reality. Then we can make a decision and act.”

“Action immediately follows decision-making. The OODA Loop is action-oriented. Action is the test phase of the process. It tests how well the pilot performed at the first three phases of the loop. So the OODA loop is a recursive string of experiments.”

SL is a teaching methodology that is new and ambiguous. Most students are threatened by it in the beginning. They exhibit large amounts of mental stress. I encourage them to stop and actually observe the situation — take a gradual approach — and don’t worry about failing. I provide a stable datum in the form of How-To Videos that help them orient to the class. This is like finding your bearing when navigating. I help them connect with reality. From there, I encourage them — through extra credit and connecting with previous students and experts through the SL Facebook Group — to make a decision, then to act by completing the first assignment and move on.

After a few students take the initial leap, other students learn from those who took the initial leap. Once the class gets rolling, students start enjoying the class.

Looking Beyond The What

String of Pearls Technique from The Applied Critical Thinking Handbook (otherwise known as the Red Team Handbook)

Experts from Sean Covey, Chris McChesney, Jim Huling, to L. Ron Hubbard, have provided advice and techniques on eliminating barriers to learning. SL uses these techniques at the very beginning of the course to allows students a better chance at actually learning the concepts.

SL uses the concept of stable datum to eliminate confusion and improve focus.

“Until one selects one datum, one factor, one particle in a confusion of particles, the confusion continues.” — L. Ron Hubbard

Examples of stable datum’s in SL include: How-To Video’s, Feedback Trails (FT), the Cynefin Framework, and the DMAIC problem-solving methodology in Lean Six Sigma (LSS) — where you:

  1. Clearly Define a problem (both in problem-sensing and problem-solving).
  2. Measure the baseline of your problem (and compare anomalies or variations to your baseline).
  3. Analyze the root cause of your problem.
  4. Improve your process (by first testing or piloting the improvement).
  5. Implement Controls once you have thoroughly examined and tested your new process.

SL seeks to eliminate barriers to learning by providing practical knowledge (Theory + Application = Practical Knowledge), process knowledge (you can’t learn how to read without first knowing the alphabet), and to understand meaning (if you attempt to read a book, but you don’t understand the words you are reading, then you will never understand the book).

SL also follows Lind’s advice in that it views critique as:

“A critique should be defined as something that looks beyond what happened to why it happened as it did.”

One of the primary techniques to “look beyond the what” is used near the end of the course. It is a Red Team technique called the String of Pearls. This technique is discussed in The Applied Critical Thinking Handbook (otherwise known as the Red Team Handbook) published by the University of Foreign Military Cultural Studies — Center for Applied Critical Thinking at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas:

The String of Pearls concept is a technique for rigorous analysis of assumptions with consideration of unintended consequences. Use of the tool provides a way to visualize the cumulative effects that result from “wishful thinking” and failure to consider the many possible outcomes in a friendly plan or order. This analysis will show if the plan is vulnerable to faulty assumptions; dependencies that may not remain in place when the plan is executed; or the effects of unmitigated, unintended consequences (cascade or 2nd & 3rd order effects).

This is just a small example of one of the powerful techniques provided in this course. These techniques teach students how to think, not what to think. These techniques move education from single-loop learning to double-loop learning — from following the rules to changing the rules.

created by Dr. Schwandt via Plectica

Digital Nervous System: Look then See (Pay Attention), Remember What Happened, Retain and Create a Pattern in Your Mind (Look — Remember — Pattern-Match)

Image via https://autodeskresearch.com/projects/dreamcatcher

In a fantastic discussion — The incredible inventions of intuitive AI — Maurice Conti provides a discussion on Generative Design AI. In the discussion, Conti provided two key points that fit perfectly with SL:

First, he points out that there are three specific things we must do to learn:

Image from The Back of The Napkin by Dan Roam
  1. Pay Attention. I call this Look then See. The perfect example of this is explained by Dan Roam in The Back of The Napkin.
  2. Remember What Happened.
  3. Retain and Create a Pattern in Your Mind (Pattern-Matching).

Second, he says we need a digital nervous system. He asks, “What about a nervous system for the things that we make?” Conti provides a couple of examples:

A car doesn’t tell the city’s public works department that it just hit a pothole at the corner of Broadway and Morrison.

A building doesn’t tell its designers whether or not the people inside like being there.

Conti points out that we need a system that allows us to use that knowledge (think feedback to the city after hitting a pothole or feedback to a property manager that tells them whether people like the building). He says that we need a system that allows us to use that knowledge to create an experience that is better for the user. Conti says that what is missing is a nervous system — a nervous system connecting us to all of those things that we design, make and use.

He then asks the question: “What if all of you had that kind of information flowing to you from the things you create in the real world?”

Conti says, “We could go from making people want our stuff, to just making stuff that people want in the first place.” He suggests that we need a digital nervous system that connects us to the things we design.

This is exactly what SL is. SL is a digital nervous system that uses student feedback — flowing to change a class (while in progress) so that students actually learn the concepts.

Think of the following:

A class doesn’t tell the instructor or institution that students did not effectively learn a concept at a specific point in time — rarely does a class ever provide this feedback.

A class doesn’t tell an instructor or institution whether or not the students enjoyed the class.

A class doesn’t tell an instructor or institution if a program is assisting the student to learn a concept effectively or whether the student actualy enjoyes the program (or if the student will continue to use the program or if the way the student uses the program matches the intended use of the instructor or those who created the program).

However, SL provides the digital nervous system to:

Allow a class to tell the instructor that they did effectively learn a concept at a specific point in time.

Allows a class to tell an instructor whether they enjoyed the class or not.

Allows a class to tell an instructor if a program assisted the student in learning a concept effectively.

Allows a class to tell an instructor if they will continue to use a program after the class has concluded.

Allows a class to tell an instructor if the student used the program matching the intended use of the program (or the way the instructor intended the student to use it).

Desire Paths

“The box was there but Jamie turned it INSIDE-OUT!” — Anthony Washington, FHSU student Fall 2019

image via https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=smOpgPU9hlA&t=58s

Imagine you are given the task of plotting trails and sidewalks for a city park starting with an open area — where the open area was like a blank canvas.

What if you decided that, instead of paving sidewalks, you would wait and see what paths emerged as people naturally selected their own paths?

This is what SL does. SL uses the concept of the Desire Path and asks students to create their own waypoints or flatten out their own paths. SL asks students how they want to learn and then allows them to pave their own path.


I will conclude with five powerful videos that summarize what I am trying to do with SL. The first video shows the importance of understanding everything as a system. The second video shows why we should empower students to decide the way ahead. The third video provides a perfect discussion on the mindset needed to succeed in SL (and in life). The fourth video provides a discussion on the need to be comfortable with ambiguity. The fifth video shows us the importance of simplicity and tempo in decision-making.

How Wolves Change Rivers (Systems Thinking)

What Can We Learn From Shortcuts? (Feedback and Desire Paths)

Scout Mindset: Why You Think You’re Right — Even If You’re Wrong (Adaptive and curious mindset)

The Strategic Leader in a VUCA World (Ambiguity and the importance of decision-making in ambiguous situations)

Fight Lesson 5 — OODA Loop & Hick’s Law (Simplicity and tempo in decision-making)

For more on Swarm Learning (SL), visit jamieschwandt.com.