Designing and developing a reflexive learning system for managing systemic change in a climate-change world based on cyber-systemic understandings

Ison, Ray and Blackmore, Chris (2012). Designing and developing a reflexive learning system for managing systemic change in a climate-change world based on cyber-systemic understandings. In: European Meeting on Cybernetics and Systems Research (EMCSR 2012), 09-13 Apr 2012, Vienna.



We offer a reflection on our own praxis as designers and developers of a learning system that is studied by mature-age students through the Open University (OU) UK’s internationally recognised supported-open learning approach. The learning system (or course or module), an investment of between £0.25-0.5 million to develop, thus reflects our own history (traditions of understanding), the history of the context and the history of cyber-systemic thought and praxis including our own engagement with particular cyber-systemic lineages. This module, ‘Managing systemic change: inquiry, action and interaction’ was first studied by around 100 students in 2010 as part of a new OU Masters Programme on Systems Thinking in Practice (STiP) and is now in its second presentation to over 100 students. Understanding and skills in systemic inquiry, action and interaction were intended learning outcomes. Through their engagement with the module and each other’s perspectives students develop critical appreciation of systems practice and social learning systems, drawing on their own experiences of change. Students are practitioners from a wide range of domains and through activities such as online discussions and blogging they ground the ideas that were introduced in the module in their own circumstances and developed their own community. In this process they challenged themselves, each other and the authors as learning system designers. We reflect on what was learnt by who and how and for what purposes. Issues of learning system design and facilitation of learning are addressed. Assuming that our climate-changing world is unknowable in advance the need to take more responsibility for systemic effects of our actions through effective systems practice is discussed. Two conceptual strands incorporated into the design are highlighted and explored. Firstly Etienne Wenger’s idea of a landscape of practices is used to map what learning for sustainability in times of accelerating change might look like. Secondly, systemic inquiry, an institutional innovation that is an antidote to living in a projectified world, was central to the design and shows promise as a means for organising praxis in contexts of uncertainty.

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