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Guide to diagrams

Updated Wednesday 29th August 2012

Diagrams allow us to think in new ways and approach problems differently. Learn five invaluable diagramming techniques with this video series and quiz

Guide to diagrams Creative commons image Icon The Open University under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license Launch our guide to diagrams

Drawing diagrams is a very different type of communication than most of us are used to—but it allows us to think in new ways and encourages us to approach problems differently.

In this series of videos and animations, The Open University's Simon Bell and Kevin Collins explain why diagrams are so useful, and discuss 5 different diagramming types that you can use to help solve problems and explore issues.

With examples looking at environmental issues in the Mediterranean and beyond, you'll find out:

  • How rich pictures can help you understand a problem or situation from different perspectives
  • How spray diagrams show connections between related ideas and can begin to bring order to the 'mess' of a rich picture
  • How to capture a snapshot of a situation at a specific time with a systems map to better understand its structure
  • How you can understand the way these systems interact by drawing an influence diagram
  • How you can use multiple cause diagrams to find the 'causal chains' responsible for why an event or change has occurred

When you've watched the videos, you can test your knowledge with a short quiz—which of the diagramming techniques would you use to explore 5 different scenarios?

Study with the OU

If this has inspired an interest in learning more, The Open University runs several courses and qualifications that include diagramming, the environment and systems thinking.

You could try out the 12 hours of learning available in this free study unit on Systems Diagramming.

At undergraduate level you could start with Engineering the future or Introducing environment. At postgraduate level, Environmental decision making: a systems approach is also available.


For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

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