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MSc in Systems Thinking in Practice

The MSc course builds on your diploma studies and provides you with the opportunity to carry out an investigation into an aspect of systems thinking that is of personal or professional interest to you. In carrying out this in-depth investigation you will extend your knowledge of recent research in your chosen area and become competent in relevant research methods. It will also develop your capability to plan, organise and carry out an extended independent study at masters level and also build your skills in the written communication of research work.

This MSc course looks at the way you think and naturally approach a task or situation. Every person brings with them their own perspective, which means that we all see things in different ways. The discipline of systems thinking in practice will provide you with the tools to challenge your approach to complex situations; to consider the roles other people play; to assess how all the different components within that situation are related; and to provide you with the skills to think more holistically and to work more collaboratively to avoid systemic failures. In a recent survey we found that 93 per cent of students felt that the need for systems thinking was increasing in the modern world.

We have identified three key steps in the development of understanding which correspond to the three levels of the qualifications offered:

  • Understanding the nature of complex problem situations and the tools with which they can be tackled. This is the key purpose of the compulsory module Thinking strategically: systems tools for managing change (TU811) in the Postgraduate Certificate in Systems Thinking in Practice (C72).
  • How, in complex situations you can engage with others in coming to a common language, common understanding and an agreed way to tackle complex problem situations. This is the key purpose of the compulsory module Managing systemic change: inquiry, action and interaction (TU812) in the Postgraduate Diploma in Systems Thinking in Practice (E28).
  • Integrating the knowledge of the tools and approaches of systems thinking in practice with your own specialist discipline area, and knowledge of business and management. This is the key purpose of the additional work to this MSc.

Study Mode

Online Education, Distance Learning & External study modes available

Career relevance and employability

Those with technical interests and responsibilities will find this masters qualification useful to them in their work. It will also provide the opportunity for those wanting to progress to demonstrate their potential to develop new skills. The flexibility of the choice of module allows you to tailor the content to your needs and can be applicable in a wide range of industry sectors; in particular manufacturing, IT and science. The study of systems thinking and practice provides knowledge and understanding that is equally applicable in the public and private sectors. If you are self employed you may also find the knowledge developed by studying this combination of modules provides the opportunity to take a more objective and innovative view of the systems they have already created and how to change these for the future.

There is more information about how OU study can improve your employability in the OU's Employability Statement from our Careers Advisory Service. You can also read or download our publication OU study and your career and look at our subject pages to find out about career opportunities.


For this 180-credit masters degree you require:

120 credits from the Postgraduate Diploma in Systems Thinking in Practice (E28)


30 credits from the following compulsory module

Postgraduate compulsory module Credits Next start
The MSc professional project (T847)

This highly intensive research based course enables you to design, conduct, analyse and report on a research project of your own choosing.

See full description.

30 Nov

Or, subject to the rules about excluded combinations, the discontinued module T842

And 30 credits from the following optional modules

Postgraduate optional modules Credits Next start
Business operations: delivering value (T883)

The course aims to equip managers with the skills to make the business processes in their organisation more effective in meeting the needs of stakeholders.

See full description.

30 May
Capacities for managing development (TU870)

This course provides development practitioners with a conceptual framework for analysing development management practice; and develops skills and capacities for analytical thinking and strategic action.

See full description.

30 May
Continuing professional development in practice (U810)

Audit and assess the impact that your continuing professional development (CPD) activity has had on your work, and evaluate ways of sharing your learning.

See full description.

30 May
Creativity, innovation and change (B822) (or version BZX822)

This interdisciplinary course is about managing innovation and change, sustaining a creative climate in your organisation, and promoting imaginative, flexible and practical thought and action.

See full description.

30 May FINAL
Development: context and practice (TU871)

This foundation course for our MSc in Development Management gives a grounding in development studies and explores the meaning and challenge of international development today.

See full description.

30 May
Environmental decision making: a systems approach (T863)

This course uses systems ideas to explore environmental decision-making situations, to make sense of their complexity and to look for feasible changes and action.

See full description.

30 May
Environmental responsibility: ethics, policy and action (TD866)

This course is about understanding and taking responsibility, individually and collectively, for policy and action relating to environmental dilemmas, from climate change to biodiversity loss.

See full description.

30 May
Financial strategy (B821) (or version BZX821)

This course will help middle and senior line managers develop their knowledge of finance and accounting and how they interact, in public and private sectors.

See full description.

30 May FINAL
Forensic engineering (T839)

This course analyses the problems arising from product failure caused by inadequate materials, poor manufacturing or bad design - and offers guidance on good product design.

See full description.

30 Nov
Information systems legacy and evolution (T853)

IS evolution can be seen in two ways, planned and unplanned. This course discusses both, helping you understand their nature and giving you workplace techniques.

See full description.

15 May FINAL
Institutional development (TU872)

Develop the conceptual and practical skills needed to frame, manage and negotiate institutional development, change organisational structures and adopt new norms and values.

See full description.

30 May
Learning from IS failures (T852)

Information systems are particularly prone to failure. This course looks at how to prevent it, in the design, implementation and operation of information systems.

See full description.

15 May FINAL
Managing for sustainability (T867) NEW

This course will increase your understanding of delivering and supporting sustainability management in your workplace or support your personal interest in this subject.

See full description.

30 May
Marketing in a complex world (B825) (or version BZX825)

Although there are no simple solutions, this course provides the analytical tools needed to make marketing decisions in an increasingly complex and uncertain world.

See full description.

30 May FINAL
Problem solving and improvement: quality and other approaches (T889)

This course focuses on the practical application and deeper understanding of many of the methods and techniques associated with modern quality management and systems thinking.

See full description.

30 May
Supply chain innovation, strategy and management (T882)

Supply chains are reshaping contemporary business and affect everyone. This course looks at the complex challenge of managing them, including their effects, using interdisciplinary approaches.

See full description.

30 May FINAL
Technology management: an integrative approach (T840)

This course looks at the operational aspects of technology management, studying integrative approaches to innovation and how to manage different technologies for competitive advantage.

See full description.

30 May
Technology strategy (T846)

This course concerns technology strategy in public or private sector organisations. It considers the challenges of technology, introducing different perspectives on the strategy formation process.

See full description.

30 May
War, intervention and development (TU875)

This course analyses the roots of violent conflicts, investigates the processes of peace-building and development, and helps develop the tools necessary for successful intervention.

See full description.

30 May

Subject to the rules about excluded combinations, the discontinued modules B820, B823, B856, B857, BZX820, BZX823, T835, T837, T850, T860, T851, T861, T862, T890, TDXX866, TUXX870, TUXX871, TUXX872, TUXX875, TXX863

Educational aims

In this MSc, we aim to:

  • introduce systems methodologies, concepts and theories, and apply them in contexts of your choice
  • define the distinctive ethical nature of systems practice and relate it to many different fields
  • enable you to understand how systems ideas can be used in a field of your choice
  • equip you with the skills to design and carry out systemic inquiries to improve situations in domains of your choice
  • provide opportunities for you to gain experience in systems practice through a project of your own choice that may contribute to professional development
  • enable you to gain independence and confidence in your use of systems techniques in real-world situations so that you can work both with and without guidance.

Learning outcomes

Knowledge and understanding

On completion of this MSc you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the following:

  • the nature of systems thinking, its key concepts, methodologies and multiple traditions
  • the concept of practice and the distinctive ethical nature of systemic practice
  • the many ways in which systems thinking can be applied in different fields
  • the nature of research within technological and systems contexts.

Cognitive skills

On completion of this MSc you will be able to:

  • engage in reflective practice in the use of systems techniques in real-world situations
  • develop awareness of ethical behaviour in a given situation
  • analyse and take action in a range of application domains, creatively and holistically
  • identify and define conceptual and practical systems research problems.

Practical and/or professional skills

On completion of this MSc you will be able to:

  • design systemic inquiries, applying and developing appropriate methodologies
  • manage relationships with stakeholders, taking an ethical and critical approach
  • apply systems techniques to real-world situations
  • evaluate your systemic practice including reflection on project experience.

Key skills

On completion of this MSc you will be able to:

  • learn in familiar and unfamiliar situations, translate and apply that knowledge to other contexts
  • communicate effectively using written and graphical presentations as appropriate
  • seek relevant information from appropriate sources
  • deepen understanding of problematic situations and develop techniques for their improvement.

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