30 SES 03 A, Paper Session
Despite a sustainability-awareness that has reached the mainstream, there are overall not enough signs that the trends towards unsustainability are being reversed. In this vein, the new UNESCO program “ESD for 2030” is also more radical than its precursor: It aims at an encompassing transformation through “Transformative Action” (UNESCO, 2020, p. 18). Ever-pressing questions in this context remain, however, not sufficiently answered: What exactly leads to an individuals’ inner transformation towards sustainability? Are there similar patterns in how individuals reconstruct their deep sustainability-related learning-processes which, in the end, led to a strong engagement for sustainability?
There are ample fields of study engaging with this question, maybe most relevant the theory of transformative learning (Mezirow, 2009). Here, ten phases are described through which humans fundamentally change their deeper lying structures of thinking and feeling (frames of reference). Those frames of reference determine the way humans perceive themselves, other people, and the world – and are closely linked to habits and behavior.
While decades of research within this domain revealed important insights into objective and subjective factors that shape learning processes, no consensus emerged concerning the following specific questions as the focus of the presented study:
1. How does a transformation of frames of reference begin?
While Mezirows theory postulates a disorienting dilemma as the first of ten steps towards perspective transformation, Nohl (2015) empirically found that at least some transformative learning experiences begin with a “nondetermining start” (p. 39) which do not shake the persons´ worldview at all. Besides that, it is not clear how solely positive experiences might also lead to sustainability-related transformative learning.
2. How crucial are relations to others (social attachments and social networks etc.) throughout a transformative learning process?
The ten phases of transformative learning suggested by Mezirow (2000) include social contexts in which critical reflection takes place and new roles can be experimented with. Nevertheless, Mezirow is often accused of having an overly individualistic perspective on learning (West, 2017).
3. How are emotions involved within transformative learning processes?
Original transformative learning theory is very cognitivist which also led to continuous criticism. Some of the latest research on transformative learning (also specifically within the context of sustainable development) focuses on emotions throughout the learning process (Förster et al., 2019) as well as on emotions as a reaction to a disorienting dilemma (see edge emotions by Mälkki & Green, 2018).
Most of the research dealing with transformative learning was done using qualitative research methods (Romano, 2018). Besides that, also few quantitative scales exist (ibid). In the proposed study, qualitative and quantitative methods are combined to make use of the benefits of mixed-methods approaches (Ridenour & Newman, 2008), especially due to their complementarity by balancing their strengths and weaknesses (Bryman, 2006). Semi-structured interviews will be conducted to reconstruct individual sustainability-related learning processes and the conditions under which the learners´ deeper-lying frames of reference have changed. As part of the interview process, also quantitative scales will be used to measure personality traits (NEO-FFI; McCrea & Costa, 2008), emotions during the learning process (based on Panksepp, 2004), and sustainable behavior. This procedure is supported by visualizing the Bildungs-process (e.g. illustrating learning and awareness-curves and pivotal moments that change the course of the curve). The sample will contain 15-20 participants, all of which are, in some form or another, strongly engaged in creating a sustainable world. The interviews will preferably be conducted in person but can also be realized in digital formats in case of Covid-19 restrictions. The interviews will be conducted between April and June 2021.
We anticipate gathering new insights into sustainability-related transformative learning through the proposed mixed-methods study. We expect some insights into the interplay between affective and intellectual dimensions of deep learning processes. While the open and qualitative methodical facets aim for a more fine-grained picture of individual characteristics of transformative learning, we expect to contribute to quantitative research on transformative learning based on the scales applied. By that, we hope to connect the insights with the current role of formal, non-formal, and informal learning settings and to inform didactics on how to foster deep learning processes that are perceived as personally enriching. This is one pathway to strengthen transformative action, which is a common goal of the 193 states that signed the ESD for 2030 program.
•Bryman, A. (2006). Integrating quantitative and qualitative research: how is it done? Qualitative Research, 6(1), 97-113. •Förster, R., Zimmermann, A. B. & Mader, C. (2019). Transformative teaching in Higher Education for Sustainable Development: facing the challenges. GAiA, 28/3, 249-328. •Mälkki, K. & Green, L. (2018). Working with Edge Emotions as a means for Uncovering Problematic Assumptions: Developing a practically sound theory. Phronesis, 7(3), 26-34. •McCrae, R. R., & Costa, P. T., Jr. (2008). The five-factor theory of personality. In: O. P. John, R. W. Robins, & L. A. Pervin, Handbook of personality: Theory and research (p. 159–181). New York City: The Guilford Press. •Mezirow, J. (2009). Transformative Learning Theory. In: J. Mezirow, E. W. Taylor, & Associates, Transformative Learning in Practice—Insights from Community Workplace and Higher Education (p. 18–32). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. •Mezirow, J. (2000). Learning to Think Like an Adult. Core Concepts of Transformation Theory. In: J. Mezirow & Associates, Learning as transformation: Critical perspectives on a theory in progress (p. 3–33). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. •Nohl, A.-M. (2015). Typical Phases of Transformative Learning: A Practice-Based Model. Adult Education Quarterly, 65(1), 35-49. •Panksepp, J. (2004). Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions. Oxford: Oxford University Press. •Ridenour, C. S. & Newman, I. (2008). Mixed methods research: Exploring the interactive continuum. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press •Romano, A. (2018). Transformative learning: A review of the assessment tools. Journal of Transformative Learning, (5)1, 53-70. •UNESCO. (2020). Education for sustainable development: a roadmap. Paris: UNESCO. •West, L. (2007). Love Actually. In: A. Laros, T. Fuhr & W. Edward, Transformative Learning Meets Bildung (p. 217-231). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.
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