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Systems Thinking and Complexity

Learn how to use systems and complexity thinking to address a variety of social, managerial and policy problems.

11,325 enrolled on this course

Sculpture on a lawn, Henry Moore Studio and Gardens, Perry Green, UK
  • Duration

    2 weeks
  • Weekly study

    2 hours

Systems thinking provides theory and practical tools for seeking solutions to messy social and organisational problems at local, regional and global levels.

A system’s behaviour emerges from interactions between its elements. Systems thinking starts with qualitative diagrams but as the number of elements, relations and feedback loops increases we need the computational approach of complex systems science.

Using real-world examples the course provides methods and tools for your own examples, enabling you to apply systems and complexity thinking in your personal and professional life.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 5 seconds What is a system? A system is formed from a set of interacting parts, every part affects, and is affected by, every other part Systems have subsystems. Sometimes systems go wrong. So how can we get the best out of a system, and how can we prevent systems from failing? Systems thinking looks at the interactions and not just the parts. It sees the whole. This insight alone can help you understand problems, and can help you avoid systems failure. But some systems are inherently complex. These complex systems require specialised methods and computer tools to understand, design and manage them. This course will introduce you to systems thinking, and show how it can be used to address problems in our increasingly complex world.

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Apply systems thinking to a wide variety of social and technical systems
  • Apply the method of drawing systems diagrams to represent systems and their dynamics
  • Apply the Formal Systems Model to practical situations
  • Apply knowledge of feedback loops and their likely impact on system behaviours
  • Apply the concepts of Complex Systems System to understand why systems are unpredicatble
  • Collaborate with others analysing and improving systems

Who is the course for?

This course is suitable for:

  • managers in the private and public sectors responsible for commercial and policy problem-solving in their organisation;
  • scientists wanting to take their research into practical applications;
  • officers of organisations such as UNESCO, the European Commission, and ministries in national governments;
  • young people wanting to engage in problem solving;
  • citizens wanting to formulate arguments for or against top-down policies;
  • or members of the general public motivated by curiosity or wanting to understand better the world we live in.

What do people say about this course?

"This course fits in rather well with some other courses I have taken over the past couple of years so I will definitely go on to the sister course, Global Systems Science, to continue the scaffolding of knowledge. This is a lovely intellectual odyssey to begin 2017. A big 'thank you' to the team for putting the course together."

Who will you learn with?

I am Professor of Complexity Science and Design at the Open University & Deputy President of the UNESCO UniTwin Complex Systems Digital Campus. I am interested in interdisciplinary science for policy.

Who developed the course?

UNESCO UNITWIN Complex Systems Digital Campus

The Complex Systems Digital Campus is an international network of individuals and institutions working together to promote research and education in complex systems science and in integrative sciences

Learning on FutureLearn

Your learning, your rules

  • Courses are split into weeks, activities, and steps to help you keep track of your learning
  • Learn through a mix of bite-sized videos, long- and short-form articles, audio, and practical activities
  • Stay motivated by using the Progress page to keep track of your step completion and assessment scores

Join a global classroom

  • Experience the power of social learning, and get inspired by an international network of learners
  • Share ideas with your peers and course educators on every step of the course
  • Join the conversation by reading, @ing, liking, bookmarking, and replying to comments from others

Map your progress

  • As you work through the course, use notifications and the Progress page to guide your learning
  • Whenever you’re ready, mark each step as complete, you’re in control
  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

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