Thinking differently about sustainability: experiences from the UK Open University

Blackmore, Chris; Ison, Raymond and Reynolds, Martin (2015). Thinking differently about sustainability: experiences from the UK Open University. In: Filho, Walter Leal; Azeiteiro, Ulisses; Alves, Fátima and Caeiro, Sandra eds. Integrating Sustainability Thinking in Science and Engineering Curricula. World Sustainability Series. Cham: Springer, pp. 613–630.




Systems thinking is often invoked as a panacea for dealing with issues of sustainable development. Imperatives towards being more holistic - getting the bigger picture – are often coupled with a need for greater interdisciplinarity - joined-up-thinking – particularly amongst triple bottom line disciplines of economics, social studies and natural sciences. So why are systems thinking courses not more prevalent? And how might the teaching of systems thinking enhance the value of thinking differently about sustainable development?

The Open University, UK, is a recognised international leader in the provision of Systems education for over 40 years. More recent experiences with the launch of a postgraduate Systems Thinking in Practice suite of qualifications at Certificate, Diploma, and Masters level, suggest an appetite for systems thinking amongst mature-age part-time students from a variety of professional backgrounds with an interest in learning for sustainability. This paper outlines three key features of the two core modules of the programme - epistemic understanding, active pedagogy, and design praxis. Significantly, these attributes have helped to complement rather than replace existing skill-sets amongst professionals from different sectors working in the field of sustainable development.

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