Just out: (Re)views of Social Learning Literature – A Monograph for Social Learning Researchers in Natural Resource Management & Environmental Education

Recently a monograph containing (Re)views of Social Learning Literature in the context of Natural Resource Management & Environmental Education was published by the Southern African Development Cooperation (SADC) in conjuntion with WESSA, Rhodes University, Wageningen University and the Environmental Learning Centre. On the cover page it states: “This monograph provides four different reviews on social learning literature. Rather than seeking to be comprehensive, the reviews provide views on the social learning literature, from different perspectives. The papers scope aspects of the social learning literature, providing access to a wide body of literature(s) on social learning. This monograph should be useful for researchers interested in social learning in the fields of environmental education and natural resources management.”

The monograph was edited by Professor Heila Lotz-Sisitka of Rhodes University and the result of collaboration between Wageningen University and Rhodes with support of SANPAD (the South Africa – Netherlands Partnership for Development funded by the Dutch government) and the UNESCO Chair on Social Learning and Sustainable Development. The full report can be downloaded here: Reviews on Social Learning Literature

The excerpt below comes from the foreword I was asked to write.

How can learning not be social? Isn’t all learning social? These are often the kinds of questions I get when I share my fascination with social learning. Arguably all meaningful learning is inter-relational (with others, including other species, with place and, indeed with oneself) and requires some level of reflexivity by mirroring the significance of one’s encounters with the inner sediments (frames, values, perspectives and worldviews) of prior experiences. The result tends to be a process of further solidification (freezing) or a loosening (unfreezing) or a modification (re-framing) or even the parallel occurrence of all three. So yes, the ‘social’  as inter-relational is crucial in most, perhaps all learning, that we engage in, but even though this is emphasised in social learning, this is not what sets it apart from related learning concepts such as collaborative learning, participatory learning, group learning, and so on.

It appears that in the context of working on inevitably ill-defined and ill-structured issues and situations (e.g. natural resource management issues or sustainability issues) there is an increased awareness that there is no one single perspective that can resolve or even improve such issues. Much social learning literature therefore refers to the importance of bringing together multiple perspectives, values and interests, including marginal and marginalised ones in order to be able to creatively and energetically break with stubborn routines that led to unsustainability in the first place. Despite the range of views on social learning that currently exist, the utilisation of pluralism and/or diversity in multi-stakeholder settings is often referred to as a key component of social learning. Now it would be naïve to think that just by putting people with different backgrounds, perspectives, values and so on together, this creative and energising process would automatically start. This is where another form of ‘social’ comes in: social cohesion, sometimes referred to as social capital. In order to be able to create a constructive dynamic that allows diversity to play its generative role in finding routine-breaking solutions to sustainability challenges, there needs to be sufficient social cohesion between the participating actors, even between those who don’t seem to care much about each other.  In much of the social learning literature stress is placed on things like: investing in relationships, deformalising communication, co-creation of future scenarios and joint fact-finding. The idea is that when people who don’t think alike, or even disagree, engage in a common task in a pleasant and safe environment, they will find their common humanity (which is considered a first step in developing the empathy for the other) needed to open up and engage with the other’s perspective. Creating such an environment is an art in itself and requires careful facilitation – another key topic area in social learning literature.

In the open-access publication acoustics-digital acoustics-digital(which appeared at the launch of the Wageningen University UNESCO Chair on Social Learning and Sustainable Development (Wals et al., 2009) we used the metaphor of an improvising jazz ensemble to capture the essence of social learning.

“Chaos frequently emerges in an (improvising) jazz ensemble, but structure rules. Everyone makes up part of the whole and that whole is, if it sounds good, more than the sum of the parts. Every musician has his/her own experiences and competencies, but also intuition and empathy. The ensemble doesn’t know how
things will sound ahead of time, but its members instinctively know when things sound good. They have faith in one another and in a good outcome. Leadership is sometimes essential and therefore provided by one of the musicians or a director, or it sometimes shifts and rotates. The music is sometimes written down, though this is often not the case, and everyone simply improvises. If it sounds good, then the audience will respond appreciatively, that is to say, those who enjoy jazz music (and not everyone does…). People from the audience sometimes join in, changing the composition of the ensemble. The acoustics of the hall in which the music is played is important as well: not all halls sound alike and some have more character. A concert may also be recorded to serve as inspiration elsewhere, though this does not happen often…” (Wals et al., 2009, p.3).

Indeed social learning processes remind one of an improvising jazz ensemble. They too are intangible in a certain sense, and are therefore not easily controlled. Success often depends on the people concerned and on the manner in which they became involved. There are ideas regarding which direction the participants want to go and there are even recurring patterns, but the ultimate result comes about little by little. Sometimes, but certainly not all the time, the conditions are quite optimal and the process brings out the unique qualities and perspectives of everyone and results in surprisingly novel solutions and actions. Indeed, in social learning too the whole is more than the sum of its parts.This monograph, consistent with some key ideas underpinning social learning, brings together and confronts different views on social learning, in order to arrive at a better understanding of the potential and the limitations of social learning in the context of natural resource management, environmental management and sustainability.  The monograph represents one of the fruits of a collaborative effort between Wageningen University in the Netherlands and Rhodes University in South Africa. It represents a wonderful entry point into social learning for (young) academics not only in The Netherlands and South Africa, but all around the world, as some of the literature reviewed and the issues raised clearly transcend these two countries.

The full report can be downloaded here: Reviews on Social Learning Literature

Reference

Wals, A.E.J., van der Hoeven, N. & Blanken, H. (2009). The Acoustics of Social Learning: Designing learning processes that contribute to a more sustainable world. Wageningen/Utrecht: Wageningen Academic Publishers/SenterNovem.

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Re-orienting, re-connecting and re-imagining – learning for sustainability in times of accelerating change goes open-access!

There may be trouble ahead,
……Before they ask us to pay the bill,
And while we still have the chance,
Let’s face the music and dance
.

Irvine Berlin, 1936

“There are three people in a vehicle. In this story, they all seem to have a foot on the accelerator. Not too far in the distance, and clearly coming into view, there is a noticeboard. It reads: ‘Brake hard or change direction! – Abyss ahead!’.  As the vehicle continues speeding forward, the occupants react differently to the noticeboard.  One has seen it coming for some time; in fact, she anticipated it. Her optician told her she had good foresight. ‘For goodness sake’, she says, ‘we must slow down and change direction while we can’. A second one, who has also been aware of the notice for some time, says ‘It’s certainly an interesting notice. Let’s deconstruct its meaning exactly, then we can develop our critical awareness and understanding, and decide what to do.’ The third person, who was much later in recognising the sign than the other two says, I don’t think there’s any danger ahead, and if there is – which I doubt – we’ll deal with it  then’.   Meantime, the vehicle is still getting closer to the notice, and stays on track….”

A metaphor of course, but perhaps illustrative of our collective predicament.  We all – or nearly all – have a bit of our foot on the accelerator, whilst at the same time, increasing numbers are aware that braking, changing direction, and learning ‘our way out’ is critically important. At the same time, a significant proportion of the population and vested interests drive forward regardless, albeit with a growing suspicion that, in the words of the old Irvine Berlin song, ‘there may be trouble ahead’.”(Sterling, 2012 p. 511)

The above excerpt is the opening of Stephen Sterling’s wonderful Afterword to “Learning for Sustainability in Times of Accelerating Change”. The Afterword is one of the contributions that has been made open-access via Wageningen Academic Publisher’s website. Along with Juliet Schor’s Foreword and the Introductory Chapter to the book, some authors have paid the publisher a fee to unlock their chapter to allow everybody with access to the Internet download it for free for their own use. You can find the full pdf of the Introductory Chapter here: Introduction to L4S in Times of Change Wals&Corcoran

On the publisher’s website the book is introduced as follows: We live in turbulent times, our world is changing at accelerating speed. Information is everywhere, but wisdom appears in short supply when trying to address key inter-related challenges of our time such as; runaway climate change, the loss of biodiversity, the depletion of natural resources, the on-going homogenization of culture, and rising inequity. Living in such times has implications for education and learning.  This book explores the possibilities of designing and facilitating learning-based change and transitions towards sustainability. In 31 chapters contributors from across the world discuss (re)emerging forms of learning that not only assist in breaking down unsustainable routines, forms of governance, production and consumption, but also can help create ones that are more sustainable. The book has been divided into three parts: re-orienting science and society, re-connecting people and planet and re-imagining education and learning. This is essential reading for educators, educational designers, change agents, researchers, students, policymakers and entrepreneurs alike, concerned about the well-being of the planet and convinced of our ability to do better. (click on the book’s cover if you wish to go to the publishers web-page about the book)

The book can be ordered at a discount when going to ‘books’ in the menu bar on top of this page.

“Learning for sustainability in times of accelerating change” presented to Gro Brundtland at Rio +20

Just in time for Rio +20 we were able to finish a wonderful book project that involved many authors from four continents. The book, learning for sustainability in times of accelerating change, was presented at Rio +20 to former Norwegian Prime Minister and Chair of the infamous Brundtland Commission which made a first attempt to define “Sustainable Development” in the 1987 report “Our Common Future”.

Former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland receives the first copy at Rio +20. Brundtland Chaired the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) that wrote “Our Common Future”, a report that introduced the term “sustainable development” well before the first Earth Summit was held in 1992.

On the publisher’s website the book is introduced as follows: We live in turbulent times, our world is changing at accelerating speed. Information is everywhere, but wisdom appears in short supply when trying to address key inter-related challenges of our time such as; runaway climate change, the loss of biodiversity, the depletion of natural resources, the on-going homogenization of culture, and rising inequity. Living in such times has implications for education and learning.  This book explores the possibilities of designing and facilitating learning-based change and transitions towards sustainability. In 31 chapters contributors from across the world discuss (re)emerging forms of learning that not only assist in breaking down unsustainable routines, forms of governance, production and consumption, but also can help create ones that are more sustainable. The book has been divided into three parts: re-orienting science and society, re-connecting people and planet and re-imagining education and learning. This is essential reading for educators, educational designers, change agents, researchers, students, policymakers and entrepreneurs alike, concerned about the well-being of the planet and convinced of our ability to do better. (click on the book’s cover if you wish to go to the publishers web-page about the book)

Here are some nice words from some good people about the book:

We are living in times of incertitude, complexity, and contestation, but also of connectivity, responsibility, and new opportunities. This book analyses the consequences of these times for learning in formal, non-formal, and informal education. It explores the possibilities offered by the concept of sustainability as a central category of a holistic paradigm which harmonizes human beings with Earth. To change people and to change the world are interdependent processes—this book contributes to both. (Moacir Gadotti, Director of Paulo Freire Institute, São Paulo, Brazil).

Moacir Gadotti of the Paulo Freire Institute receives a copy of the book at Rio +20 during the Earth Charter event

I hope you share my excitement about the innovations for sustainability that this book catalogues and analyses. While the ecological news is grim, the human news is not. Even in a time of accelerating change, people are showing their enormous capacities to learn, adapt, restore and protect. (From the Foreword by Juliet Schor, author of True Wealth: how and why millions of Americans are creating a time-rich, ecologically-light, small-scale high-satisfaction economy).

Instead of educational thinking and practice that tacitly assumes that the future is some kind of linear extension of the past, we need anticipative education, recognising the new conditions and discontinuities which face present generations, let alone future ones… This implies a ‘culture of critical commitment’ in educational thinking and practice – engaged enough to make a real difference to social-ecological resilience and sustainability but reflexively critical enough to learn constantly from experience and to keep options open in working for a sustainability transformation. (From the Afterword by Stephen Sterling, Professor of Sustainability Education, Centre for Sustainable Futures, Plymouth University, United Kingdom).

In the coming months this blog will be used to share some main ideas expressed by the authors that are a part of this volume. 

The table of contents can be found here (click on the hypertext)learn4

The book can be ordered at a discount when going to ‘books’ in the menu bar on top of this page.