From the very beginning of the idea of sustainable development, education has been a crucial part of strategies and policy making. The concept of education for sustainability (EfS) first emerged on the international scene in 1992 with the publication of Agenda 21 as a result of the so-called Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro. This then led to the proclamation of the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005–2014), which raised great expectations as stated in the Bonn Declaration, the final document of the UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development: ―Education for sustainable development is setting a new direction for education and learning for all. It promotes quality education, and is inclusive of all people. It is based on values, principles and practices necessary to respond effectively to current and future challenges.
Almost three decades after the concept of sustainable development appeared, 2014 was the year where historical goals were reached, since it was the last year of the United Nations Decade on ESD. Within this decade, research, projects and educational initiatives were developed and deliverables were achieved. Using e-learning is becoming widely accepted in formal and non-formal education proving to have the potential to be effective in expanding Education for Sustainability (EfS).
In particular, EfS aims at enabling people not only to acquire and generate knowledge, but also to reflect on further issues such as the complexity of behavior and decisions in a future-oriented, global perspective of responsibility. The literature on EfS accordingly offers a number of approaches, such as sustainability literacy, sustainability skills, graduate capabilities, shaping competence, that define the underlying cognitive and non-cognitive dispositions in greater or lesser detail. Although the approaches differ to a certain degree, with different terms such as skills, literacy, competencies or capabilities being used, a broad consensus has nevertheless emerged as regards the main aspects to be incorporated. Thus, an important role is played across the different approaches by key competencies that are held to contribute to a more sustainable future, e.g., the competence for anticipatory and systemic thinking, for inter- and transdisciplinary collaboration, for dealing with conflicting goals and, finally, the capacity for empathy and solidarity.
To facilitate the development of key competencies, which can be learnt but hardly be taught‖, it is necessary to create authentic learning processes and reflect upon the various shifts necessary: from teacher- to learner-centered pedagogies, from input- to output-orientation and from a focus on content to problem-solving and process-orientation. Such a socio-constructivist understanding of learning challenges the traditional view of the learning process. Taking this into account, the emphasis in the learning process is not exclusively on knowledge creation but takes in various forms of experience-oriented and problem-based learning.
The type of e-learning that follows the principles outlined above has much in common with the general orientation of EfS. Aspects like problem-orientation, situated and action-oriented learning are in both cases treated as preconditions of learning. These preconditions demand some specific didactic approaches that incorporate multiple perspectives, enable open learning environments and support processes of competence development.
E-learning itself does not support the development of specific competencies, but it delivers tools for the support of learning processes. In addition, e-learning can help to reach the specific learning objectives of EfS.
The substantial benefits can be derived in education from the use of e-learning as a facilitator of on-going innovation in education for sustainability. To balance the specific benefits and barriers of each mode of learning, blended learning environments in which e-learning is embedded in face-to-face learning settings, seem to be of special interest.
Transformative pedagogy for sustainable education
The quest for sustainable development requires a change in attitudes, and intercultural and global cooperation. The combination of ICT and transformative pedagogy can be efficient tools for such change. Traditional education is inadequate to meet the challenges of a global environmental crisis. Education for sustainable development demands a new, transformational pedagogy. Traditional education systems are to some degree based on “Copy, Cram and Reproduce” or the “CCR-pedagogy”.
Education for sustainable development should emphasize concrete and relevant knowledge, learning by doing, encourage creativity, information literacy, collaborative and cultural competence, individual and team management, ecological ethics, economic and social responsibility.
Modern technologies can be important tools to achieve sustainable development. The new pedagogy must consequently be adapted to new communication realities connecting the entire globe in an ever closer electronic network. Development in a true sense is reaching a state of resilient, sustainable livelihoods with healthy and robust ecosystems rather than just increased consumption.
Broadband capacity is still an issue. A pedagogical challenge is to find solutions that make online education work despite outages – and affordable to ordinary people. Online education does not have to be synchronous, with live video streaming and same-time interaction between students and teachers. Asynchronous e-learning can be just as effective, or work even better than the more technologically demanding synchronous modes
The technology of ICT emphasizes communication while e-learning adds peer interaction, tutor guidance, and a holistic view on education. In addition to computer skills, the teacher needs the more advanced competence of being able to combine subject mastery with appropriate learning activities, progression, assessment, quality assurance, grading system and student support system – all required to ensure the achievement of learning objectives or learning outcomes.
A main pedagogical tool is asynchronous, threaded discussions arranged in a discussion forum in a virtual learning environment (VLE). The asynchronous mode is less demanding on broadband capacity than the synchronous alternatives and enables an intercontinental study programme to overcome complex time frames. Asynchronous interaction encourages reflection and gives room for information gathering and critical assessment before expressing opinions. The otherwise more timid participants are more easily included and it allows those with externally fixed schedules to participate. It seems that asynchronous, tutor-guided, peer interaction is conducive to cross-cultural and cross gender communication. Otherwise quiet women raised in patriarchal societies realize after some weeks that nobody can prevent them from contributing as equals.
Transformative, collaborative pedagogy is probably decisive for building good online learning environments. This approach also encourages information literacy, creativeness and critical thinking. These may be crucial factors for our ability to meet the challenges of a seemingly imminent global, economic and environmental crisis and to steer development in a sustainable direction.
Article written by: Natalija Aceska, Scientix Ambassador