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Course : T551_1 Systems Thinking and Practice (1999)

T551_1 Systems Thinking and Practice

Publisher:The Open University


Published: 1999 • Delivery Format: Online (Internet)


Provided by The Open University under their OpenLearn website as a free study units with a discussion forum. Study independently at your own pace or join a group and use the free learning tools to work with others.

Time: 8 hours
Level: Intermediate

From The Open University:

What is systems thinking and practice? The essence of systems thinking and practice is in ‘seeing’ the world in a particular way, because how you ‘see’ things affects the way you approach situations or undertake specific tasks. This unit will help you to learn about the problems of defining a system and meet some of the key concepts used in systems theory: boundary, environment, positive and negative feedback, etc.

After studying this unit you should be able to:

  • develop confidence in using systems concepts and language;
  • describe accurately the set of key systems concepts;
  • understand what is distinctive about systems thinking as opposed to other forms of thinking;
  • understand how systems thinking is useful in analysing and improving situations;
  • understand the notion of a system as a creation of the observer, i.e. as an intellectual construct, as opposed to using the term system in other ways, i.e. as entities that exist ‘out there’;
  • identify and represent systems of interest (that are not ‘out there’).

Content / Structure

Introduction Learning Outcomes
  • 1 How to Use this Unit
  • 2 What is this Systems Thing About?
  • 3 Ways of Thinking
    • 3.1 Logical Thinking
    • 3.2 Causal Thinking
    • 3.3 Reductionist Thinking
    • 3.4 Holistic Thinking
    • 3.5 Multiple Partial Views
    • 3.6 Perspectives
    • 3.7 Distinguishing Worldview from Perspective
    • 3.8 Summary
  • 4 Systems Thinking
    • 4.1 Thinking in Systems
    • 4.2 Summary
  • 5 Types of Systems
    • 5.1 Definition of a System
    • 5.2 The Language of Systems
    • 5.3 Summary
References Acknowledgements The T55 Course Team Printable Version

Original Copyright © 1999 The Open University. Now made available within the Creative Commons framework under the CC Attribution – Non-commercial licence (see


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