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Research Programmes

Social Learning and Global Change Research

The UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development identifies transformative learning as a key focus for re-orienting society towards sustainability. The South African National Research Plan identifies social learning for adaptation, innovation and resilience as a key research theme of the Global Change Grand Challenge. Social learning processes for re-orientation of society and education and training systems is needed if South African society is to develop and adapt to new challenges associated with global change.

This has been identified as a key research component in the SADC Regional Environmental Education Programme. It has also been recognised on a continental level, by the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment, which identified the need to mainstream environmental education into all education and social systems in Africa, in order to help society adapt to global change challenges and new development opportunities.

All the research programmes in the Environmental Learning Research Centre contribute knowledge of social learning and global change with an emphasis on social learning processes in different contexts; programmes focus on the re-orientation of education, training and social systems. An active research network focussing on social learning and global change exists, hosted by the ELRC which is increasingly acting as a ‘Social Learning and Global Change’ ESD research hub.

For further information, email elrc@ru.ac.za

Workplace Learning & Sustainability

This research programme focuses on how new sustainability practices are learned in workplaces. It also focuses on workplace learning systems that enable or constrain such learning. Examples include how farmers learn new sustainable agricultural practices, how local government officials learn new practices of waste management or sustainable development service delivery and how big industry learns to become more energy efficient.

Theories of social learning, agency, complexity, systems, critical realism and critical social change, all help researchers examine learning and move towards sustainability in workplaces and workplace learning systems. Social learning in workplaces can be collective learning in communities of practice or multi-levelled institutional learning. To be transformative, such learning needs to be critically constituted and engaged with at the level of organisational change. It involves democratisation of learning and practice, the deliberation and adoption of new work ethics and learning how to develop and work within new systems of production and consumption. This affects the production and consumption value chain, and leads to wider circles of learning in workplace learning activity system networks.

For information on studies in progress, completed studies, research partners, and information on how to link up with, or participate in this research programme, email elrc@ru.ac.za

Educational Quality & Research Relevance

This research programme focuses on how environment and sustainability education can contribute to and improve educational quality and relevance in schools, colleges and universities. It includes micro-level analyses of learning, practice and curriculum development in schools and classrooms, and macro-level analyses of curriculum, knowledge systems, and discourse on quality and relevance. Examples include: studies on Eco-Schools practices and assumptions; how Life Sciences curricula is enacted in rural schools; how educational policy is constituted.

Theories of social learning, transformative learning, curriculum change, cultural reproduction, quality and relevance and educational policy development, all help researchers examine environment and sustainability education contributions to promote educational quality and relevance. Social learning, involving environment and sustainability education in schools, requires engagement with the wider school-community and society to establish relevance. This, in turn, requires curriculum transformation and new forms of educational knowledge, structures, policy and practice. Such transformations are complex, given the format of modern education systems, which remain primarily concerned with reproduction rather than transformation in society. They are, however, necessary if education systems are to respond to contemporary environment and sustainability challenges facing humanity, and if education is to be relevant to the future.

For information on studies in progress, completed studies, research partners, and information on how to link up with, or participate in this research programme and the SADC ESD EdQual research network, email elrc@ru.ac.za

Community Learning and Empowerment

This research programme focuses on how communities learn to be more empowered and resilient in the face of new forms of social-ecological risk and change (e.g. loss of ecosystem services, climate change etc.). Examples include: how communities learn to adapt to or mitigate the depletion of fish resources in lake Malawi; how communities learn to work together to manage water resources in the rural Eastern Cape.

Theories of social learning, agency, social justice and capabilities help researchers to examine these learning processes. Social learning takes place at both individual and community levels. Developing agency involves enhancing our ability to act and learn new processes. Such action can be individual or collective. Collective agency requires developing relationships in communities of practice or relationships between different communities of practice. Learning helps to address the factors that impede or constrain agency and people’s empowerment, however, such learning cannot be narrowly conceived. It needs to take account of existing cultures of practice, existing knowledge and experience, new possibilities, and what people may or may not value, as well as existing power relations.

For information on studies in progress, completed studies, research partners, and how to link up with, or participate in this research programme, email elrc@ru.ac.za