The Open University since 2006
Alternatively you can skip the navigation by pressing 'Enter'.
Full Steam Ahead: Episode oneSaturday, 23rd July 2016 16:30 - BBC TwoThe first episode of Full Steam Ahead looks at the way Britain changed in the 19th century due to the railways Read more: Full Steam Ahead: Episode one
Thinking Allowed July 2016: Food bank Britain, Food poverty in EuropeMonday, 25th July 2016 00:15 - BBC Radio 4
Exodus: Our Journey To Europe: EPISODE 1Wednesday, 27th July 2016 02:45 - BBC Two
Exodus: Our Journey To Europe: EPISODE 2Thursday, 28th July 2016 00:45 - BBC Two (except Scotland and Northern Ireland)
Full Steam Ahead: Episode oneAvailable until Monday, 22nd August 2016 17:30The first episode of Full Steam Ahead looks at the way Britain changed in the 19th century due to the railways Read more: Full Steam Ahead: Episode one
Thinking Allowed July 2016: Food bank Britain, Food poverty in EuropeAvailable for over a year
Exodus: Our Journey To Europe: EPISODE 3Available until Friday, 19th August 2016 01:15
Exodus: Our Journey To Europe: EPISODE 2Available until Friday, 19th August 2016 00:15
OpenLearn Live: 22nd July 2016A biochemist with a fearsome reputation; how drones are helping ferrets and keeping your workers... Read more: OpenLearn Live: 22nd July 2016
Full Steam AheadIt’s Full Steam Ahead for historians Ruth Goodman, Alex Langlands and Peter Ginn as they bring... Read more: Full Steam Ahead
Employment relations and employee engagementThis free course, Employment relations and employee engagement, looks at raising levels of... Try: Employment relations and employee engagement now
Introduction to bookkeeping and accountingLearn about the essential numerical skills required for accounting and bookkeeping. This free... Try: Introduction to bookkeeping and accounting now
There is increasing recognition that the reductionist mindset that is currently dominating society, rooted in unlimited economic growth unperceptive to its social and environmental impact, cannot resolve the converging environmental, social and economic crises we now face. Understanding the environment: A systems approach, is a free course whose primary aim is to encourage the shift away from reductionist and human centred thinking towards a holistic and ecological worldview. It promotes the shift in perception towards socio-economic systems as dependent upon the finite resources and finite wastes sinks of planet Earth.
After studying this course, you should be able to:
- implement an action learning framework for exploring complex situations
- recognise that the way we engage with the world is through partial models of reality, and that these models are limited by different cognitive styles and ‘thinking traps’
- understand the need to collaboratively incorporate a blend of cognitive styles and multiple intelligences as the basis for effective systems practice and thinking
- appreciate how different modes of communication (verbal, visual and mathematical) affect the way we represent our mental models
- develop verbal, visual and mathematical models that explore both social and natural impacts, and reflect on the use of such models to inform thoughts and actions.
- Current section: Introduction to the 'systems' theme
- Learning outcomes
- 1 This course's fundamental concepts: feedback, models and learning
- 2 How to study this course
- Keep on learning
Study this free course
Enrol to access the full course, get recognition for the skills you learn, track your progress and on completion gain a statement of participation to demonstrate your learning to others. Make your learning visible!
Understanding systems: a systems approach
Introduction to the 'systems' theme
Systems, such as the internet and ecosystems, are characterised by a set of components interacting to produce a common outcome. A system will usually persist over time if the emergent outcomes (the overall pattern that emerges from the interactions of the system's components) are beneficial to its components. Crucially, a system also has to maintain the integrity of the greater systems within which it is nested. However, this is not always the case, and some systems display behaviour that undermines their long-term viability. This course will allow you to develop knowledge and skills in exploring and understanding complex and dynamic systems, with a focus on natural systems and how humanity can live within these sustainably and equitably
In this free course, you will be presented with a range of 'wicked' challenges facing human society at the moment, including climate change and peak oil (I will explain my use of the term 'wicked' in Section 2.4 below). Your task will be to explore the systemic nature of these challenges using the action learning approach outlined below. You might already have some strong ideas about what 'causes' these issues, but, as you engage with this course, you will be encouraged to cast your net wider and explore the multiple interconnections between a range of issues, including resource consumption, population growth, pollution, poverty, and loss of biodiversity. You will also have the opportunity to consider how these interact with different levels of social organisation, from personal behaviour to global governance. The contention of this course is that the major challenges bearing down on natural systems (including the social systems nested within them) can only be constructively tackled once we begin to see the bigger picture.
So, your task within this course is to acquire the skills, techniques and concepts to 'see' complex issues using a range of systemic models and develop these through a process of collaborative learning. This course is all about building your capacity to understand complex situations using systems thinking and practice. If you are in any doubt about the purpose of each section, I would encourage you to review the section's aims and learning outcomes (described at the beginning and end of each section respectively). Overall this course will explicitly aim to deliver the following range of learning outcomes.
This OpenLearn course provides a sample of level 2 study in
This free course includes adapted extracts from an Open University course which is no longer available to new students. If you found this interesting you could explore more free Environmental Studies courses or view the range of currently available OU Environmental Studies courses.
Copyright & revisions
Originally published: Tuesday, 29th March 2016
Last updated on: Tuesday, 29th March 2016
- Creative-Commons: The Open University is proud to release this free course under a Creative Commons licence. However, any third-party materials featured within it are used with permission and are not ours to give away. These materials are not subject to the Creative Commons licence. See terms and conditions. Full details can be found in the Acknowledgements and our FAQs section.
- This site has Copy Reuse Tracking enabled - see our FAQs for more information.
If you enjoyed this, why not follow a feed to find out when we have new things like it? Choose an RSS feed from the list below. (Don't know what to do with RSS feeds?)
Remember, you can also make your own, personal feed by combining tags from around OpenLearn.
All our alternative formats are free for you to download, for more information about the different formats we offer please see our FAQs. The most frequently used are Word (for accessibility), PDF (for print) and ePub and Kindle to download to eReaders*.
- Word (924 KB)
- PDF (2.3 MB)
- ePub 3.0 (781 KB)
- ePub 2.0 (781 KB)
- Kindle (222 KB)
- RSS (81 KB)
- HTML (644 KB)
- SCORM (643 KB)
- OUXML Package (14 KB)
- OUXML File (37 KB)
- IMS Common cartridge
- Moodle backup (186 KB)
*Please note you will need an ePub and Mobi reader for these formats.