Educational outcomes of Learning for Sustainability: literature review

Literature review exploring the impact of Learning for Sustainability on educational outcomes.

4. Concluding comments

4.1 This review examined literature relating to the educational outcomes of Learning For Sustainability as understood in terms of policy development within and across Scotland. Whilst the review process revealed a number of positive outcomes, it has in turn confirmed that there are a limited number of studies focusing on LfS specifically rather than its individual features (education for sustainable development, global citizenship and outdoor learning). This dearth of literature forced us to broaden the scope of our review to consider notions of outcome and attainment more broadly and to search using the individual concepts nested within LfS. When we loosened the parameters we found a substantial increase in the number of studies returned under these more general headings (in particular in ESD), especially within the last five years and a notable increase in the number of studies returned related to outdoor learning across a range of disciplines. These findings were not unsurprising as we were aware of general growth in research interest in the field. With regard to outdoor learning, there was growing interest amongst researchers from a range of disciplinary perspectives (e.g. psychology). However, research taking place specifically in the context of LfS within Scotland was scarce. There are a range of postgraduate dissertations and doctoral studies currently under way, and a number recently completed in the field, and these will bring greater insight and weight to the existing research. So too will the forthcoming LfS-focused special issue of the Scottish Educational Review, with contributions covering, amongst other things, LfS within Initial Teacher Education institutions and the issue of teacher enactment of LfS policy. Additionally, there are a number of practitioner enquiry studies and related practical resources being developed by in-service teachers which will bring further insight at a praxis-orientated level. This increase in research activity and output is welcomed and must be continued in order that a community of LfS practice is developed to demonstrate the range of opportunities, challenges and pedagogical approaches within schools across Scotland.

4.2 The notion of educating for and about sustainability is widespread internationally. Many countries have sustainability woven throughout their curriculum and educational policy (see for example Green and Sommerville, 2015 and Morgan and Gerike, 2017 a, b). What persists as unique within Scottish education is our commitment to outdoor learning as a core and central part of teaching and learning, and more recently as a facet of Learning for Sustainability. This commitment to learning beyond the classroom – within local communities, urban and wild spaces – affords an opportunity to enact and ground the fundamental aspects of LfS. For example, it offers young people the opportunity to see and experience the processes that sustain life at first-hand; not only to hear, learn and talk about democracy and change, but to step outside into the places in which they live as active citizens and critically engage in issues that they and their families experience. Alongside this it affords teachers and learners the opportunity to bring many aspects of the taught curriculum to life through active participation in interdisciplinary lessons. Literacy, numeracy, sciences, languages and many other aspects of the curriculum can be woven into short, day-long or residential experiences. Such essential experiences afford huge potential for interdisciplinary learning; enriching and cultivating skills for life and work that impact far beyond formal educational settings.

4.3 Further, such interdisciplinary learning opportunities – both indoors and outdoors – offer ways to consider the planetary biogeochemical processes that sustain life, the limits to our potential to interfere with these, and how we might develop an ethic of care and respect for our planet. Essentially, this offers a holistic view of learning and teaching that creates opportunities to engage in deep questioning that provokes each of us to consider what it means to live well, and how we may continue to do so whilst facing contemporary complex global challenges. These are difficult issues for educators to broach and address with their learners, but we live in a time where the circumstances in Scotland at least, are favourable. Firstly, young people are demanding that we pay attention to these global issues, and are receptive to us doing so; secondly, we have an accommodating educational policy architecture (Curriculum for Excellence) that supports and encourages vital skills in critical thinking and discourse; and thirdly, as this review has shown, our unique and progressive Learning for Sustainability policy offers coherent ways forward that engage learners, teachers, whole schools and communities in purposeful and transformative ways.



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