Learning-Scapes: Cultivating Meaningful and Sustainable Learning Ecosystems
St. John’s University (NYC) and International HETL Association
In Being a University (2011, page 143), Ronald Barnett describes his idea of the emerging university of the future. He calls this type of university the ecological university. According to Barnett, the ecological university is not only concerned with protecting and creating a sustainable natural environment but is also concerned about “…a much wider ambit, embracing the personal, social, cultural, institutional and technological environments and knowledge of those environments; in short, the world in its fullest senses.” The ecological university recognizes that it does not operate in isolation of its broader environments. Rather, the ecological university endeavors to cultivate authentic and purposeful interconnections with its broader environments through meaningful and diverse ways of learning and inquiry.
Holistic Learning Ecosystem
In this sense, a learning-scape may be defined as a conceptual construct that shapes our perceptions of our learning environments and how we interact with those environments. In other words, a learning-scape may be viewed as a mosaic of learning environments (i.e., a holistic learning ecosystem including formal, non-formal, and informal ways of learning) interconnected and interacting at all levels in meaningful and purposeful ways. As such, personal, social, cultural, institutional and technological environments can have an enormous impact on learning because all these environments are intertwined and symbiotic to varying degrees.
Learning-scapes should be designed in such a way that learners can more easily and seamlessly interact with all the macro environments (e.g., political, economic, socio-cultural, technological, environmental) they operate within as well as the meso and micro environment (institutional, departmental, communities of practice). Rather than viewing these different environments as separate, isolated systems, they can be viewed as a rich milieu of interacting systems that impact learning in complex and often unforeseen ways.
For instance, rather than using technology in a haphazard way, we can use sound design principles and relevant learning theory to more intentionally integrate technology into the learning experience in a more purposeful manner to both enhance and transform learning experiences at all levels across a diverse set of engaging learning activities. In addition, we can integrate service-learning into the learning experience to engage learners in the wider community. Learning can and should be expanded into the wider community so that the world becomes the classroom.
Assuming that a broader and richer learning experience is a desirable aim, the question then becomes: how can we better integrate technology and service-learning and other types of active, engaged learning into all aspects of the learning process so that learning becomes more personally meaningful and contextualized to the cultural, natural, and physical environments the learner operates within?
Thus, the concept of a learning-scape is used in the fullest sense of the concept. A learning-scape need not be limited to increasing awareness of just the natural environment or just the physical classroom environment. A learning-scape may also be used to increase awareness of and engagement in all the environments that learners interact with. A learning-scape thus becomes viewed as a holistic learning ecosystem. Creating sustainable learning-scapes requires that we interact with all these different environments in a responsible and purposeful manner, based on sound instructional design principles, relevant learning theory, and evidence-based research findings.
The complex and interdependent interplay between these environments, and the role that we humans play in it, implies that we have a personal and social responsibility to develop and maintain this learning ecosystem in a healthy and holistic manner. This is important for many reasons; the chief among them being that our survival and well-being as individuals, institutions, and nations depends on it. It also implies that the quality of our well-being is dependent upon the quality of the reciprocity of these interdependent relationships at all levels.
Reciprocity: Pay it Forward
In the broadest sense of the word, the principle of reciprocity (e.g., pay it forward) is important because our highly interdependent world implies personal and social obligations, which in turn, necessitates that we take a more holistic view of humanity and our increasing role as stewards of our environments. Our role as stewards of our world ultimately implies that we act out of a sense of good-will and responsibility towards others rather than from a position of dominance towards others.
The notion of stewardship rests on validity and merit claims rather than on power and privilege claims. It rests on mutually beneficial outcomes rather than win-lose outcomes or other zero-sum games. Reciprocity in general and pay it forward in particular thus recognizes that we, as free, moral agents acting out of our own volition have both rights and responsibilities at all levels (e.g., individually and socially). Rights and responsibilities are two sides of the same coin called human agency.
These concepts and principles are further discussed in the book, Meaning-centered Education. We therefore need to remind ourselves that imagination, creativity, and meaningful learning are vitally important because they form the basis for and the context of our shared humanity. With respect to learning-scapes, since continual learning and inquiry is of fundamental importance to expanding our consciousness and the scope of our possibilities (i.e., human and social capacity building at all levels), we need to remind ourselves that educational development at all levels and in all forms matters very much.
Blessinger, P. (2013). Learning-Scapes: Cultivating Meaningful and Sustainable Learning Ecosystems. Higher Education Tomorrow, Volume 1, Article 5, https://www.patrickblessinger.com/learning-scapes-cultivating-meaningful-and-sustainable-learning-ecosystems/
Copyright ©  Patrick Blessinger
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and as such do not necessarily represent the position(s) of other professionals or any institution.