Linda Booth Sweeney


“Linda Booth Sweeney's ground-breaking work in systems education is good news for all: winsome, wise, desperately needed.”

Joanna Macy, Ph.D.

Learning About Systems

Learning about systems isn’t always easy. We can’t actually see most systems. Instead, we have to imagine the interconnections and processes that give a system integrity. The English language, with its emphasis on nouns and objects over verbs and processes, can limit our awareness of the living systems in our daily lives. Our everyday artifacts – newspapers, magazines, books, and textbooks — even the signage in some museums and nature centers – often direct our attention to isolated events and fragmented information, rather than to interrelationships, patterns, and trends.

In school, many of us were taught subjects in a compartmentalized way, with history in one class, natural science in another, social studies in yet another, and so on. Yet most real world issues, like climate change, terrorism, and water use, cross disciplines such as politics, geography, history, and biology. This approach reinforces the notion that knowledge is made up of many unrelated parts and provides little opportunity for students to see recurring patterns of behavior across subjects and disciplines. Young people and adults must be able to see such important issues as systems, elements interacting and affecting one another.

Education in how living systems function should be a fundamental part of 21st century schooling and anyone’s lifelong learning plan. Fortunately, there are many ways to learn about living systems.

3 Core Learning Capabilities for Thinking about Systems:
Three core learning capabilities for learning about and working with living systems.

systems thinking: the six steps

The six steps

  1. tell the story
  2. name the elements
  3. sketch behaviors over time
  4. make the system visible
  5. look for leverage
  6. share & test