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  • Writer's pictureSimon Kaack

Harnessing Nature’s Potential with Transformative Learning

Outdoor learning spaces not only provide direct proximity to nature, but also transparency and freedom.

In a world dominated by screens and virtual experiences, the importance of connecting with the natural environment cannot be overstated. Outdoor spaces provide a unique and powerful setting for transformative learning, a process that goes beyond acquiring knowledge to fundamentally reshape individuals' perspectives and lives. Transformative learning is not merely about absorbing information; it's about undergoing a metamorphosis that empowers individuals to navigate the complexities of life with newfound wisdom and resilience.

Traditional classrooms have their merits, but the great outdoors offers an alternative that engages the senses, sparks curiosity, and fosters a deep connection with the environment. Whether it's a sprawling forest, a serene lakeside, or a community garden, outdoor spaces serve as dynamic territories where learners can explore, observe, and interact with the natural world. Transformative learning thrives on hands-on experiences, and the outdoors is a vast playground for exploration. Whether it is identifying different plant species, studying animal behavior, or conducting ecological experiments, the outdoor environment provides tangible and memorable learning opportunities that textbooks cannot replicate.

Human-nature connections arise primarily through practical interaction with flora and fauna.

Transformative sustainability education (TSE), as defined by educational theorist Heather Burns, constitutes a dynamic, relational learning process that goes beyond human and social transformation. It involves unlearning unsustainability, restoring connections with the world, and fostering reciprocal relationships between humans and the living earth. Pedagogical approaches used in this regard include restorative, spiritual, and imaginative engagement, to facilitate deep relational shifts in consciousness.

Thus, transformative sustainability educators are facilitators who draw from the intelligence of the learning community, employing pedagogies that are emotional, spiritual, and embodied. TSE also seeks to challenge unsustainable power structures and promote just, participatory, and transparent learning. The TSE community advocates for engaging with emotions, addressing loss concerning the world condition, and reclaiming small-scale, local initiatives as alternatives to corporate consumerism. O’Brien and Howard further emphasize the need for a transformative vision that is inclusive, expansive, and life-affirming.

However, despite the urgency for reform, TSE has not gained enough attention in traditional educational environments, which tend to promote conformity, potentially hindering the flourishing of sustainability education. Consequently, incorporating innovative pedagogical practices, such as flipped learning and project-based real-world learning, is essential for advancing sustainability education. One way to do so is the concept of "Living Schools”, in which 'life' is central to the learning experience. In a Living School, meaningful contact involves learning from life experiences, engaging with the world physically, and being changed through relationships.

Lively forms of learning encourage curiosity and creativity in finding solutions.

Teachers in a Living School are challenged to rediscover the joy and mystery of learning, becoming guides who respect and nurture student's natural awe and wonder for the world. Practical examples for this concept can be found in the Ontario Living Schools program as well as in the Barefoot College in Rajasthan, India, both aimed at fostering sustainable communities through hands-on learning. As such, transformative learning begins with critical reflection. Individuals engage in a deep examination of their beliefs, values, and assumptions. This self-awareness is the catalyst for change, prompting individuals to question the status quo and explore alternative perspectives.

Accordingly, Lange underscores the significance of sustainability education as a response to diminishing faith in current systems and the advancing impact of climate change. The primary aim of sustainability education is seen as connecting people, facilitating the recovery and generation of essential knowledge, and promoting the open exchange of information for self-organization. Additionally, through restorative learning, pathways to revive suppressed forms of knowledge can be explored and expanded.

Nevertheless, transformative learning requires an open mind. Engaging with learning participants means emphasizing the need for humility, curiosity, and a holistic approach. It encourages individuals to embrace ambiguity, tolerate uncertainty, and be receptive to diverse ideas. This openness fosters a willingness to explore new possibilities and consider viewpoints that may initially seem unfamiliar or uncomfortable.

Transformative learning does not require hierarchies, but rather cooperation between teachers and learners.

In the ever-evolving landscape of education, transformative learning stands out as a powerful force that goes beyond the acquisition of facts and figures. It delves into the realms of personal growth, self-discovery, and a profound shift in perspectives.  As we embrace the transformative journey, we not only enhance our intellectual capacities but also cultivate a richer, more interconnected society where learning becomes a lifelong adventure of self-discovery and growth.


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