Disruptive learning: re-orienting frames of mind towards becoming sustainability change agents

Tillmanns, Tanja (2017) Disruptive learning: re-orienting frames of mind towards becoming sustainability change agents.


Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is a key driver of change agency for sustainability. Nonetheless, the infusion of ESD within higher education remains at a low level, despite efforts at national and international levels by organisations such as UNESCO. This research set-out to explore teaching and learning approaches that could be used to [re]-orient higher education students’ anthropocentric frames of mind. Inspired by Jack Mezirow’s concept of Transformative Learning (1991, 2009) and Kurt Lewin’s notion of Re-education (1948), a series of pedagogic interventions were designed with the intention of ‘disrupting’ learners’ mind-sets, which progressively stimulated more critical thinking about interdependencies that exist between self, society and sustainability inter alia. The pedagogic intervention opened with the presentation of a ‘Visual Cue’, image or video accompanied by a critical question (each Visual Cue representing a disorienting dilemma), which was followed by rational discourse and critical reflection on key sustainability themes and principles. This qualitative research was conducted with participants, drawn from cohorts of initial teacher education students, between 2014 and 2016. Kathy Charmaz’ Constructivist Grounded Theory approach guided the research process, which ultimately resulted in the articulation of the theory of, and processes within, Disruptive Learning. The findings clearly demonstrate that participants recognised concepts, contexts and issues within sustainability; critiqued sustainability contexts and self; re-oriented their perspectives/worldviews with respect to sustainability; and engaged in change agency for sustainability. Key recommendations include the integration of this Disruptive Learning framework in initiatives aiming to foster sustainability education within teacher education, other disciplinary areas in higher education, and other educational contexts. Further suggestions for future research involve the exploration and design of alternative Disruptive Learning interventions, the applicability of this theory and associated pedagogic processes in sustainability education within (higher) education contexts.

View Item