Learning Enticements to Sustainability and Environmental Action

Learning enticements to environmental action are increasing as more calls go out for transforming our education systems.

In 1989, Ornstein and Ehrlich called for "a revolution in the way we bring up children and in the way we teach and what we teach" [67]. In 1991, adult educator Jerold Apps advocated "love for the earth" and "concern for quality above expediency" as touchstones for educational decision making [3].

In 1992, David Orr described a "life-centered" postmodern education "designed to heal, connect, liberate, empower, create, and celebrate" [68]. In 1999, transformative educator Edmund O'Sullivan called for "transformative planetary education" [69].

When I did research into enticements to environmental learning and action for my master's degree, I was focusing on adult education. But the adult learning enticements to sustainability below can be applied to the education of children as well.

I divide these learning enticements into six categories.

(Numbers in square brackets refer to the References page. Feel free to contact me if you need exact page references.)

1. Enticements to Participation

Getting adults to participate in some form of adult education about the environment can be a first step in enticing environmental action. Patricia Cross suggests identifying which groups of people are logically deterred by the provisions and requirements of a program, and removing their barriers. She also points out that potential learners must actually receive program information before the information can entice participation. She further notes that consumers of education "cannot respond beyond their experience" [25], hence educating adults about the availability of environmental adult education is in order.

Also, because positive attitudes toward education seem to be contagious, word of mouth is a powerful recruiting device, as is using membership groups [25], which means informing and inviting members of one sector, profession or club to participate in environmental learning opportunities.

Some authors point out that environmental adult education should appeal to learners of all learning styles [3]. This is very important when teaching environmental education to children; we can't expect them to learn about and take action for the Earth if we're teaching in ways that don't respect children's ways of learning (hands-on, experiential, pictorial, active).

2. Successful Transfer of Learning

Parker and Parikh remind us that numerous complex factors influence change in adult learners: "Forces from within the learner such as motivation, and external forces such as work environment and colleagues, all play a critical role in changing [adults'] behavior" [72].

Adult educator Rosemary Caffarella defines transfer of learning as "the effective application by program participants of what they learned as a result of attending an educational program ... often referred to as the 'so what' or 'now what' phase of the learning process" [16]. She notes that "much of what adults learn tends to have an effect on others (for example, on work colleagues and family)," hence transfer of learning sometimes can be taken literally and promoted thus.

According to Caffarella, planning programs that enhance transfer of learning means ensuring that program participants are ready and willing to learn, and have prerequisite prior skills and knowledge. Program design and implementation must include well executed application strategies, and program content must be relevant and practical, building on participants' previous experience.

Participants must view the (in this case, environmental) changes to be made as doable, with enough time allotted. Participants' organizational and community context must be receptive to change, offering tangible rewards and support from key leaders [16].

One of the biggest barriers to environmental action is lethargy or unwillingness to change coming from the family unit. For children especially, then, it's important to let parents know what environmental actions are being undertaken at school so that parents can help their children to transfer their new learning to the home.

3. Motivational Teaching

Teaching that is based on adult learning theories of motivation and infused with techniques for motivating learners can entice adults to environmental learning and action. For example, transformative education guru Jack Mezirow contends that "no need is more fundamentally human than our need to understand the meaning of our experience" [63].

Motivation expert Raymond Wlodkowski agrees that what fuels adults' motivation to learn is their desire to "make sense of their world, find meaning, and be effective at what they value" [96]. The key to effective instruction, he says, is to evoke and encourage the natural inclination to want to be competent.

Wlodkowski explains that adult learners expect success, choice, value, and enjoyment. He talks of five pillars of effective, motivating instruction (expertise, empathy, enthusiasm, clarity, and cultural responsiveness), and four motivational conditions (inclusion, attitude, meaning, and competence) [96].

Children's motivation to learn is increased by student involvement, differentiated (individually tailored) teaching, and practical learning — all the things we teachers give up when we get stressed about meeting all the curriculum outcomes. And in our haste, we forget that teaching something doesn't mean it's been learned. Learner-centered teaching is enticing for our students. And because environmental education (if it's hands-on and experiential) places students at the centre of their Earth, it can motivate environmental action.

4. Transformative Approaches

Learning that entices environmental action will often, by necessity, be transformative. The adult educator's job, according to Stephen Brookfield, is to help learners realize that what they know and believe is contextual and culturally constructed. "Such an awareness is the necessary prelude to their taking action to alter their personal and collective circumstances" [12].

Brookfield adds that adult learners must be assisted to "contemplate alternatives, to come to see the world as malleable, to be critically reflective, and to perceive themselves as proactive beings." Greene describes this process as provoking "an unease that leads to wonder and to inquiries, that awakens a passion, that provokes desires to choose and to transform" [42].

Mezirow contends that "transformation in meaning perspective can happen only through taking the perspective of others who have a more critical awareness of the psychocultural assumptions which shape our histories and experience" [63]. Philip Chard adds a new dimension to this concept when he asks, "Why not learn from some other entity or process? People are not the only good role models" [19].

Chard notes that changes made or forced are different from (not as long-lasting as) transformations "grown out of experience, emotional journeys, and ritual" [19]. Forester explains that transformative learning takes place in the "messiness, complexity, detail, and moral entanglements of living stories and dramatic role-playing presentations" [33], pointing to the significance of participatory learning approaches.

5. Participatory Techniques

Transformative education often includes participatory techniques, what Slocum, Wichhart, Rocheleau, and Thomas-Slayter call "social imagination at micro-scale" [82]. As one example, Darlene Clover and her colleagues explain that popular education — using tools such as theatre, poetry, storytelling, dancing, singing, and drawing — is based on "the assumption that the world can be transformed, and that all people have both the knowledge and the power to bring transformation about" [21].

Forester talks of "participatory and deliberative rituals" that help learners voice and acknowledge concerns and new commitments. "Our learning, our transformation, is both cognitive and collective," Forester says [33].

A second example of participatory learning is participatory action research, or PAR. According to Park, PAR is learning by researching, and "the result of this kind of activity is living knowledge that gets translated into action" [71]. Gaventa (1993) further explains, "In the process [of PAR], research is seen not only as a process of creating knowledge, but simultaneously as education and development of consciousness and of mobilization for action" [38].

A third participatory technique is dialogue — such as happens in discussion, the quintessential participatory technique for adult learners, what Lindeman [cited in 12] called "the methodological heart" of adult education. Designing for dialogue is based on the assumption that all adult learners come with life experience and personal perceptions that must be respected [Vella, 92]. According to Scott, critical reflection in dialogue with others can lead to personal and social transformation [79].

Clover et al emphasize the importance of creating a safe space for collectively challenging, debating, and critiquing long-held assumptions and beliefs [21]. Slocum et al agree, pointing out that "close attention to the appropriate scale [national, community, livingroom] of problem definition, analysis and action can make a major difference in the quality of participation, the rate of participation, and the representation of all groups involved in a given process" [82].

6. Credibility

Credibility of the messenger and credibility of the message (and supporting materials) are enticements to learning.

Credibility can be expedited at several points in the learning process. Wlodkowski lists expertise among his five pillars of effective, motivating instruction [96]. Aitchison echoes this when he includes in the necessary skills and values of an extension agent the "need to be specialized in order to have credibility" [1]. The Government of Canada recommends that learners be provided with "access to sound, credible, and relevant information from a variety of sources" [41].

One of the motivating lessons we can work on with our students is how to evaluate credibility. This integrates well with information technology and media literacy (evaluating websites as credible sources of information) as well as science (teaching for scientific literacy).

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