The Ecosystem Approach and Systems Thinking

The Ecosystem Approach and Systems Thinking 


Enrol in this course / Access this course

 Course Number ENV001 
 Classes Start September 05, 2023 
 Classes End December 22, 2023 

4 to 8 weeks 

Advanced Certificate: 
2 weeks 

Total 6 to 10 weeks 

 Estimated Effort 7 hours per week 
 Price Free 
 Level Introductory 
 Language English 
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Why a course on the Ecosystem Approach and Systems Thinking

We live in a complex and dynamic world. Many problems we face today involve interdependent structures, multiple actors, and are at least partly the result of past actions. Such problems are extremely difficult to tackle and conventional solutions have very often led to unintended consequences.

A systems thinking approach focuses on systems as a whole: how the parts interrelate and how interconnections create emerging patterns. Systems thinking tools allow us to map and explore dynamic complexity. With a better understanding of systems, we can identify leverage points that lead to desired outcomes and avoid unintended consequences. Environmental problems are often described as “wicked problems” to highlight their complexity and the difficulties they entail. Finding answers to current crises such as fisheries collapse, climate change, biodiversity loss, infectious diseases, and inequitable access to resources will be amongst the greatest challenges of our time. The ecosystem approach applies systems thinking to gain a better understanding of how ecosystems function. It can help us identify potential solutions to a myriad of problems inspired in part by the complex dynamics of ecosystems themselves.

What will you gain through this course?

  • A well-developed knowledge of the basic features of ecosystems, the ecosystem approach and systems thinking from an interdisciplinary perspective 
  • An understanding of the distinction between reductionist and holistic thinking 
  • The ability to apply critical systems thinking 
  • Enhanced knowledge of the inter-relationships between ecosystems and human systems:
    • Critical ecosystem functions and services,
    • Threats, drivers and direct and indirect impacts to human well-being and development, and
    • Opportunities for the wider application of the ecosystem approach and systems thinking in other sectors 
  • Specific awareness of case studies selected from representative ecosystems and related global issues, demonstrating the benefits and challenges of integrated approaches for ecosystem management and beyond 
  • The necessary basis for designing creative solutions to ecosystem management and governance problems


  • The first MOOC focusing on the ecosystem approach and systems thinking
  • Case studies from around the world
  • Expert faculty and distinguished visiting lecturers
  • Open to all without restrictions
  • Develop an extensive global network with other students and professionals from around the world
  • FREE of charge, including access to all course material on a 24-hour online platform

Course Options

40 hours of learning introducing the student to the basic concepts of the ecosystem and systems thinking approaches. This track consists of 10 modules geared towards university students, policymakers, managers and professionals who require an overview of the topic in order to integrate the concepts of the MOOC into their professions.

Advanced Certificate:
10 additional hours consisting of a final assignment for those who want to acquire more in-depth knowledge, insights and skills relating to the applicability of the ecosystem approach in their respective areas of specialization, in the larger framework of the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.

Students can obtain a certificate of participation after the completion of the Foundations component of the course, and may elect to take their studies further to obtain a certificate from Advanced The Ecosystems Approach and Systems Thinking.

Last modified: Thursday, 17 August 2023, 2:34 PM