Human beings tend to impose rationales to explain the phenomena that surround them. Some employ the mechanistic scientific view, and some take a systems view. The former is an analytical, reductionist and linear-causal paradigm, in which the observed phenomenon is broken into parts, and the parts are isolated from the whole and examined separately. Systems theory opposes the reduction of systems. It criticizes the mechanistic view neglects the relationship of the components with the larger systems. It emphasizes the totality, complexity, and dynamics of the system. However, it also argues that, despite of the complexity and diversity of the world, models, principles and laws can be generalized across various systems, their components, and the relationships between them. In other words, corresponding abstractions and conceptual models can be applied to different phenomena.

Systems theory comes from the general systems theory proposed by the biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy. He recognized a compelling need for a unified and disciplined inquiry in understanding and dealing with increasing complexities, complexities that are beyond the competence of any single discipline. The theory pursues scientific exploration, understanding, and controlling of systems.

The systems view investigates the components of the phenomena, the interaction between the components, and the relation of components to their larger environment. The underlying assumption of Bertalanffy's theory is that there are universal principles of organization across different fields. Boulding states that the objectives of GST aim to point out similarities in the theoretical constructions of different disciplines, and to develop something like a spectrum of theories -- a system of systems that may perform a gestalt in theoretical constructions.

Systems theory was furthered by Ross Ashby's concept of Cybernetics. Cybernetics means steersman in Greek. Wiener introduced this idea as the science of communication and control in the animal and the machine. The idea was first described to illustrate the transmission of information through communication channels and the concept of feedback. It evolved to emphasize the constructive power of the observer, who controls/constructs models of the systems with which the observer interacts.

Characteristics of systems theory
The major purpose of systems theory is to develop unifying principles by the integration of various sciences, natural and social. With focus on the structures and functions of the system, the system can be viewed from different perspectives:

What are the assumptions about systems view?
Reigeluth, Bathany, and Olson (1993) described the following assumption in terms of design:

The importance to Instructional Systems Design: Theory into Practice
From a systems view, the instructional system is an open system that interacts with the educational system and is an interdisciplinary subject matter that incorporates different fields, such as psychology, communication, education, and computer science. Also, the systems approach applied to instructional design brings forth an extensive analysis of components that engage in carrying out the instructional goal as well as the input-output-feedback transformational process that interacts between the components (Banathy, 1991).

From a systems view, examination of the processes and components of the instructional system is not adequate to fully understand the system itself. Thus, it shifts the attention from the design components, such as instructional strategies, media selection and material development, to implementation. How the system adopts the instructional innovation or the change becomes the major issue. The systems theory provides a comprehensive perspective for designers to foresee the resistance to change and enables designers to understand the complexity of educational systems.

Banathy (1996) suggests that besides paying attention to this functional structure of the system, we should also look at the system from two other perspectives. One is to examine the instructional system as a synthetic organism in the context of its community and the larger society. The other is to explore what the instructional system does through time. The suggestions, in fact, echoes the ways that Reigeluth, Bathany, and Olson (1993) proposed to adopt systems design:

" We should explore educational change and renewal from the larger vistas of the evolving society, and envision a new design. We should view the system we design from the perspectives of the overall societal context. Approaching education from this perspective, we shall enlarge our horizon and develop the largest possible picture of education within the largest possible context."

Impacts to Educational Systems
Systemic change recognizes the interrelationships and interdependencies among the parts of the educational system, with the consequence that desired changes in one part of the system are accompanied by changes in other parts that are necessary to support those desired changes and recognizes the interrelationships and interdependencies between the educational systems and its community, including parents, employers, social service agencies, religious organizations, and much more, with the consequence that all those stakeholders are given active ownership over the change effort (Jenlink et al 1996.)

According to Banathy (1987), there are four subsystems in any educational enterprise:

  1. The learning experience subsystem: the cognitive information processing of the learner
  2. The instructional subsystem: the production of the environment or opportunities for learners to learn by the instructional designers and teachers
  3. The administrative subsystem: decision making of resource allocation by the administrators based on the instructional needs and governance input
  4. The governance subsystem: the production of policies which provide directions and resources for the educational enterprise in order to meet their needs by "owners"

Based on the interpretations of such analysis, the instructional system is part of educational system. Reigeluth (1996) gave more of his thought on the comparison of ESD and ISD.

What is the relationship between ESD (Educational Systems Development) and ISD (Instructional Systems Development)?

  1. First, let's examine their definitions. Based on the definitions, ISD is within ESD.
    ESD is the "knowledge base about the complete educational enterprise" (Reigeluth, 1995).
    ISD is the "knowledge base about the instructional subsystem" (Reigeluth, 1995)
  2. In what way do these two knowledge bases relate to each other?

What are the common characteristics between ESD and ISD?

  1. Both use systems thinking to examine and explain the mutually interdependent relationships:
  1. Both use design theory to inform the process, which consists of the fundamental elements, such as analysis, synthesis, evaluation and basic activities of deign, development and implementation
  2. Both are not linear: both needs simultaneity and recursion during the process.

Why a New Paradigm in ESD?

  1. Changes in Society: the major paradigm shifts in society is from Agrarian to Industrial to Information. Such shifts bring in changes in all of the society's subsystems including family, business and education.
  2. The need for a new paradigm of education is based on massive changes in both the conditions and educational needs of an information society.
  3. Selection vs. Learning: In terms of the educational function, the industrial age is to use standardization strategy to separate the laborers from the managers, and to build up conformity and compliance in bureaucratic organization. On the contrary, the education and training in the information age should be designed to foster active thinkers, who can take initiatives and think critically in team-based organization.
  4. The systemic changes in the family requires school to become a caring environment due to the systemic changed in the family

Banathy, B. H. (1968). Instructional systems. Palo Alto, CA: Fearon Publishers.

Banathy, B. H. (1987). Instructional systems design. In R. M. Gagne (Ed.), Instructional technology: Foundations. HIllsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Banathy, B. H. (1991). Systems design of education. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publication.

Banathy, B. H. (1996). Systems inquiry and its application in education. In D. H. Jonassen (Ed), Handbook of research for educational communications and technology. New York: Macmillan.

Jenlink, P.M., Reigeluth, C.M., Carr, AA & Nelson, L.M. (Jan-Feb. 1996). An Expedition for Change: Facilitating the Systemic Change Process in School Districts. Tech Trends. Vol 41, No. 1, page 21-30.

Bertalanffy, L. V (1968). General systems theory. New York: Braziller.

Reigeluth, C. , Banathy, B. H. & Olson, J. R. (1993). Comprehensive systems design: A new educational technology. Berlin: Springer-Verlag.