MDDE 603 Assignment #3 Summary

The goal was to choose a face to face or distance educational system and to collaboratively identify its components.  Analysis of the system was to be provided by using one of Banathy's three lenses for describing educational systems.  Additionally, it was necessary to analyze the system based on the 7 stages of Checkland's soft systems analysis and to provide a rich picture as a visual representation.

The most difficult is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do.

You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, and the process is its own reward.

Amelia Earhart

Applying Systems Theory to an Educational Setting


Janelle Untereiner, John McNeil, Ronda Olds,

"A Systems Analysis of the Open Learning System"

   Rich Picture

Rich Picture


Artefact Reasoning

My knowledge and growth in the areas of systems analysis theory, on-line collaboration, project management and understanding my own educational work environment were key benefits of this assignment.  This assignment was a large undertaking and really represented what I felt was my first personal success in the Masters of Education in Distance Education program. My personal victory with the final product and my deepened understanding of my own work environment demonstrate the value that this assignment has for me.


MDDE 603: Foundations of Instructional Design: Systems Analysis and Learning marks my transition from a face to face M.Ed. environment to an on-line environment.  This course explored the widely accepted educational theories that foundationally drive online teaching and learning. During this semester, I worked full-time, handled administrative and accounting responsibilities for our business and took three M.Ed. courses.  The workload was heavy and required that I manage my commitments with multiple and varied time constraints (6.5).  The online environment  required more time for reading and discussions than my f2f classes and that I be more disciplined in organizing my schedule.  During this semester I fit coursework in where I could but should have designated specific days and times just like my previous f2f courses had demanded.  This would have minimized my stress and given me the freedom to enjoy myself during off times.  As a result, I found that I thought about my courses around the clock and turned down many opportunities to socialize with family and friends. 

Transition to Online Learning

In hindsight, I now recognize that my direct jump into MDDE 603 lacked the scaffolding (2.1, 2.7) support that MDDE 601 would have offered had I chosen to start there. As such, I missed the lead in to  the APA writing style, the basic introduction to components of distance education and the opportunity to develop connections with an ongoing cohort.  I was overwhelmed because of this. APA formatting was a struggle and I was forced to learn through the process.  My greatest help strategy was in implementing Google searches and using the Owl Purdue website.  Additionally, receiving instructor feedback was crucial and insured that I efficiently implemented APA in subsequent assignments. Coming from a f2f program, I initially missed the direct peer contact. Developing connections with other learners was critical for me and the discussions within the course were helpful to understand content.  Group projects helped me to connect in a direct way and another strategy I employed was to directly email students who seemed to have like minded thinking that I determined through forum input.The reasoning is clear to me now for developing programs with successive courses and how students benefit from following the system as outlined (1.10). 

The Schunk course textbook was thorough and reading intensive.  At this point, I hadn’t yet established an M.Ed. study strategy and had not yet abandoned the undergrad learning mindset. I was still worried about learning for the purposes of regurgitating a singular correct answer.  My personal process was difficult and I took more time than I should have, reading, processing, posting and working on assignments. It took several courses to realize that I didn't need to read everything and could skim and scan (1.4, 1.5) for necessary quotations as long as deeper understanding existed with the concepts. Support from the facilitator was critical and looking back I recognize the moments where she strategically checked in with me after having expressed my inability to keep up. This was my first applicable introduction to key elements of distance education design (1.5, 1.10, 2.1, 2.7). My insecurity in a new learning environment and lack of solid M.Ed. processing strategies had me doubting that I could even complete this course.  Eight courses later the process has inspired me to develop a WordPress site to provide pointers and strategies for those students embarking on their M.Ed. journey; something that I hope to collaborate on with other MDDE graduates in the next year.

Artefact 1 Connections

Initially, I dreaded the group work that comes with distance education and wished that I had found an independent study program that did not rely on syncing schedules and group participation. I did not want to be bound or limited by another student's schedule or thinking. The collaboration with other students on this project however, demonstrated the value of dividing up workload, supported me in understanding the topic and made completion of the project possible in a timely manner. There was strength and a comfort that came from collaboration (4.5, 4.7) and my original overwhelmed feelings dissipated throughout this process (4.4, 4.8). Collaboration (4.7), reduced the individual stress in deciding on and defining a problem (1.1, 1.2).  By turning to an authentic work environment it was easy to  ask pertinent questions (1.3) and collaboration provided the opportunity to share many ideas and to brainstorm about where to focus. The collaborative process allowed for division of workload and made it much easier for all of us to find (1.4), evaluate (1.5, 1.7) and apply the research support (5.1-5.5).  Our presentation was clearly written and communicated (4.1 - 4.3), provided possible solutions (1.7, 1.8, 1.9), graphics  and a rich text image (3.1-3.4) to demonstrate our messy situation (5.7). We critically evaluated the information  (4.6) together which demonstrated the need to understand the theory behind open pedagogy and helped us to understand how systems theory applied to each of the sections that we developed. Defining the problem, researching the information to deliver an analysis so that solutions can be found provided the foundation that I needed to develop further assignments in the MDDE program. This process also served in developing a strategy to organize regular communication with educational and business colleagues.



My work in Open Learning at Thompson Rivers University inspired looking at my environment and the topic of openness for our collaborative system analysis. It was meaningful for me to define a local problem and to apply systems theory (2.1, 2.2, 2.7) to deepen my understanding of trends and issues within my own distance education environment (6.1, 6.2) and the struggles that exist (5.6, 5.8) among the various departments. It was necessary to consider the epistemological basis for each stakeholder involved in our messy problem (2.1).  This advanced the learning from the pages of a textbook to an authentic applicable scenario.  Furthermore, this analysis afforded me the opportunity to consider modality issues more closely and how modality choice impacts (2.7) our students. The conflict between choosing independent or cohort based modalities for courses demonstrates the influence of the Constructivist theory but also our institution's desire to be student-centred and to provide students with the freedom and flexibility that they are looking for.  Modality offerings and print were recognized issues (6.1, 6.2) and before I may have perceived it logical to do away with print in such a technology based society, however through the analysis process, I recognized that being open necessitates finding a cost effective way to continue delivering it to those students who need it to have access to education (6.3).

Primary source information was obtained through interviews (5.9) and had the by-product of making me feel closer to my work colleagues and more connected to the work we do (5.9). Interviews and information gleaned from colleagues necessitated clear and consistent communication with my assignment group (4.5) so that they could fully understand the messy problem. My first collaborative experience in a distance education environment forced implementing a range of communication strategies and technologies including Skype and Google Docs (3.1, 3.2, 5.10). Initially, I had concerns about analyzing the Open Learning system with course members.  I worried that a critical look at my work system may incite questions surrounding the reliability and strength of the TRU system. After completion however, I realized the value at looking critically at all work systems (3.2) to find strategic solutions by looking at their real life and educational contexts (3.3, 3.4) for streamlining and reassessing processes  (5.6, 5.8) that are in place, simply because they have always simply been done that way.  This required an awareness of the current and future climate of distance education (6.1) and an understanding of how business decisions affect work (6.2) results. Evaluation on a broad spectrum is valuable in work, business and personal environments and has the power of inciting necessary improvement and change. My conclusion was that our own business would benefit from a similar system analysis.

Reflection Made During Artefact 1 Development

April 7, 2014

When I did my first read of the Littlejohn, Cookson and Naughton resources I was finding it hard to connect to the material and thought the systems theory approach weak at best. Once I identified my actual educational system and then reread the articles with this system focus in mind, I quickly began to see the value.

Recently I have begun to recognize other systems and messy problems in my work environment and feel that many areas would benefit from performing a systems theory analysis of their own. Littlejohn (1997) stresses that the "...system is the product of the forces or interactions among the parts" (p. 101) and to clearly understand complex systems we must focus on that product.

In my own work environment, the importance of communication between course writers, instructional designers and academic directors came up today with regards to course development.  These are all important stakeholders in the design of distance education and as they discussed their individual needs I agreed with Littlejohn (1997)  that their "...interdependence is the most important defining characteristic of [their] system" (p. 101) and they could benefit from identifying the whole picture first before singling out their parts in it.  We all could.


Overall Conclusion

Simply reading about the Systems Analysis Theory without application wouldn't have demonstrated the value that this process offers.  Through the development of this project I manifested a deeper understanding of the Open Learning system which had me considering both the complex wholeness of our business juxtaposed with the components of our system in a way that I had not considered before (6.1-6.2). I was able to better understand issues (1.2, 1.6) surrounding modality and how subscribing to an open pedagogy encourages us to make certain decisions (1.7) to support our students. Prior to this project, I thought that technology was the only answer to distance education but it is obvious that still making print courses available is a necessary evil.  This was a wider perspective than what I was exposed to in my daily work.  It was informative for me to consider that each interest group believed what they did because of the various theories that supported them.  Applying systems theory to a tangible messy problem was what gave life to the content of MDDE 603 for me (1.1).


Littlejohn, S. (1996). System theory. In Theories of human communication (pp. 42-63). New York: Wadsworth