Helping Your Students to Engage in Systems Thinking (Rather Than Just Process Thinking)

There are three types of thinking which can be employed to solve problems:  Linear Thinking, Process Thinking, and Systems Thinking.

We like to think linearly.  It’s the First/Next mindset.  We learn addition first, then subtraction.  When following a recipe, we’re told what to do first, then next.  It’s simple.  The problem is that we employ linear thinking so much is that we think we can solve ALL problems with it.  And sadly, that’s why we’re in so much trouble in so many fields.  In education, it’s the thinking that first, we need to teach children better, so a set of core competencies are created, and next, we teach those competencies so that next, they’ll be able to score higher on tests so that next, more funding can come to those states that do well on standardardized testing.  We’ve all seen how well that approach has worked.

Process thinking is the If/Then mindset.  It considers the consequences and implies options.  It’s a step above linear thinking, and, in businesses, like manufacturing, it’s the consideration that outputs can be improved by taking a closer look at the process involved, and adjusting, modifying, or changing a part of that process to improve the pre-determined output, such as a better quality product, a more efficient process, or a more effective production consisting of fewer errors or inferior products.  In education, it’s the mindset that says, “If we need to get children to achieve at a certain level, we can do several things: prepare tests that challenge them and have the instruction provided which ensures they’ll do well on those tests; or, we can provide examples they can relate to so that they’ll be able to apply the knowledge in those examples to solve other problems that are presented to them as an assessment of their learning; or we can utilize new techniques, such as asking them to review the materials which would normally be distributed in class or accessed online, and then come to class the following day to discuss what they learned an how it could be applied in situations then presented by the instructor to small groups of students, where each person plays a particular role in solving the problem.

Then there’s systems thinking.  It’s where ALL the components need to be in play, in place, or examined, in order to first realize that an outcome will have an effect on something else.  Watch the video for a recent presentation systems thinking in the classroom.