The Transformative Impact of Sustainability Pedagogy and Andragogy

Critical Transformative Learning goes beyond the personal toward community action, even societal transformation. Approaching sustainability education through transformative experience could have pragmatic impact on the learner, the community and the environment. (Singleton, 2015)

Education for Sustainability is “defined as a Transformative Learning process that equips students, teachers, and school systems with the new knowledge and ways of thinking we need to achieve economic prosperity and responsible citizenship while restoring the health of the living systems upon which our lives depend” (Mofid, 2016).

One example of Transformative Learning (TL) approaches in education to achieve sustainability is in management education, where Closs and Antonello (2011) propose that

[T]ransformative Learning theory, which stimulates critical reflection that favors autonomous thinking and liberates conditioned assumptions about the world, others and oneself, may contribute to management education development, encouraging more collaborative, responsible, and ethical ways to manage organizations. (p. 63)

Each of the above comments about TL for sustainability places the reader into a forward-looking perspective. Whether for the community or the environment or the organization, acting in certain ways as a result of experiencing a transformative education means something about the future for the students and graduates who have undergone a shift and/or expanded their personal perspectives about contributing as opposed to merely consuming.

It also means something for the societies and cultures into which the graduates of TL-committed institutions will enter.

It means the institutions are educating for a new future, not merely for a continuance of the past.

And it means new sources of hope for sustainability of culture, language, society, and environment.

University of Eldoret in Kenya, one of the institutions participating in the Transformative Learning International Collaborative (TLIC) based at UCO, reports that the Kenyan Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has said the old teaching paradigm — stand-and-deliver, rote-memorization, teacher-centered — simply does not serve the needs of 21st-century Kenyan society, which is faced with challenges addressed only with creative problem-solving generated by graduates trained beyond textbook case study approaches.

The president of Ashesi University in Ghana, Patrick Awuah, agrees, saying universities can no longer afford to, for example, graduate engineers only capable of following directions; engineering graduates must be equipped and compelled to ask, “What ought to be?” (P. Awuah, webinar, Feb. 8, 2017).

For colleges and universities in places like the state in South Africa where TLIC partner institution University of the Free State says unemployment ranges from 27% to 90%, how and what students learn at university must not be mere academic exercises — societies where these institutions are located are literally depending on graduates to have the skills and the motivation to solve grave challenges to the sustainability of the culture and environment.

A final example: Universidade Presbyteriana Mackenzie, TLIC partner institution in São Paulo, Brazil, reports that the municipal government expects universities to provide graduates who will find solutions to the challenges the São Paulo metropolitan area faces: pollution, infrastructure, intractable poverty, etc.

Figure showing "Place" in a large circle, with 4 circles inside (Transformative Experiences linked to 3 circles: Head, Heart, and Hands)The head-heart-hands model of sustainability education and its overlap with TL as developed by Sipos, Battisti, and Grimm (2008) and discussed by Singleton (2015) — with the figure to the left appearing in Singleton, Battisti, and Grimm — illustrate the transformative potential in educating for sustainability.

The blending of Transformative Learning and education for sustainability is a natural partnership because sustainability and Transformative Learning requires a change in perception, a change in values and active engagement. The model reflects that transformation is a multi-dimensional process and that changing sustainability values and environmental paradigms require more than a logical argument or an emotional appeal. Experience and reflection along with awareness and caring are needed to initiate a true transformational event. (Singleton, 2015)

The point is, it is transformative experience in learners that commits them to the motivation to contribute to the social good. Postsecondary institutions around the world understand the power and the potential in Transformative Learning and are looking to TL as a necessary component in bettering society, culture, and environment. TL can be the mechanism to “effectively address increasingly well-known sociocultural and ecological problems in ways that transform learners and empower them to make change based on a sense of civic responsibility and sustainability” (Burns, 2013, p. 166).



Burns, H. (2013). Meaningful sustainability learning: A study of sustainability pedagogy

in two university courses. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher

Education, 25(2), 166-175. Available:

Closs, L., & Antonello, C. S. (2011). Transformative learning: Integrating critical reflection into management education. Journal of Transformative Education, 9(2), 63-88.

Mofid, K. (2016, February 27). Education for sustainability [Blog post]. Available:

Singleton, J. (2015, March). Head, heart, and hands model for transformative learning: Place as context for changing sustainability values. Journal of Sustainability Education, 9. Available:

Sipos, Y., Battisti, B., & Grimm, K. (2008). Achieving transformative sustainability learning: Engaging head, hands and heart. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 9, 68-86.

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