Sticking with messy realities: How 'thinking with complexity' can inform healthcare education research

Alan Bleakley*, Jennifer Cleland

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

18 Citations (Scopus)


This chapter shows how 'thinking with complexity theory' can be a conceptual lens or framework to give greater power to research in the general field of healthcare education. Complexity theory is defined and some core concepts are introduced. Drawing on a number of illustrative examples, the chapter shows how complex clinical and educational contexts have been researched through applications of complexity theory. The chapter discusses the limits to thinking with complexity and future trends in complexity theory. It thus aims to explain the use of complexity theory in healthcare education research. Healthcare has drawn on complexity science to inform clinical practice and to model decisionmaking. The chapter gives illustrative examples of how the challenge to match researching complex contexts with complex research designs has been met. The key features of linearity and non-linearity, simple, complicated and complex systems are introduced.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationResearching Medical Education
EditorsJennifer Cleland, Steven J. Durning
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9781118838983
ISBN (Print)9781118839201
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jul 2015


  • Clinical education
  • Complexity theory
  • Healthcare education research
  • Linearity
  • Non-linearity


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