- CO2 on the way to school

As educators we should always try to be aware of what we intend for the pupils to learn from any particular activity. Our selection of content, the way we organise the learning activity and the way we evaluate pupils’ learning should all be very closely tied to the intended learning outcomes. Writing down the learning outcomes reminds us that education is about pupils’ learning and helps us think more clearly about why we teach the way we do.

Learning outcomes can also be described as competencies.A competency is what the pupils will be more capable of doing after completing the learning activity. Competencies are always written as verbs, since they are the ability to do something. Knowledge, for example, would not be a competency, but ability to construct knowledge from information or experience would be.

When formulating the suggested learning outcomes for CO2nnect, we could not find any standard framework or formula for describing the learning outcomes of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). UNESCO has provided descriptors for ESD in connection with the United Nations Decade for Education for Sustainable Development but these describe the characteristics of the educational offering (inputs) rather than outcomes for pupils (outputs).

Earlier work under the auspices of UNESCO provided a set of objectives for environmental education which comes closer to a description of learning outcomes (pdf). The learning objectives are grouped under the headings awareness, knowledge, attitudes, skills, and participation. We have used this familiar framework as a starting point and adapted it to the broader perspective of ESD and to the contents of CO2nnect.

Because achieving the learning outcomes is a long process which can’t be achieved after just one activity, our goal is not absolute, but rather to ”stimulate” or ”contribute to” a learning outcome. We expect the pupils to make positive progress toward the goal, but it would be unrealistic to expect them to fully reach the goal immediately.

Your school may want to further modify the learning outcomes to fit with the way you will work with CO2nnect. Which learning outcomes are the most important and which do you not expect to achieve? You may also want to link the learning outcomes to the curriculum. Pupils can be asked to tell what they want to learn from CO2nnect.

There are certainly other ways the learning outcomes could have been described. ESD is supposed to prepare students for their role as citizens creating a more sustainable society. This role of empowered, active citizenry would require, for example:

Peter Senge of Massachusetts Institute of Technology has written a fascinating new book called ”The Necessary Revolution: How Individuals and Organizations Are Working Together to Create a Sustainable World”. It is about organisational learning for sustainable development. Senge argues that sustainable development hinges on all kinds of organisations undergoing a deep transformation and learning process, to become sustainable.

Senge describes 3 key competencies needed for this kind of organisation learning and transformation for sustainability to occur: seeing the wider whole/systems thinking, collaboration, and creating the future. The challenge is not so much about ”finding solutions” or ”being critical,” Senge argues, but rather about having a full understanding of a situation or issue and possessing the skills, attitudes and organisational dynamics to make change happen. Citing examples of a wide range of organisations where such a deep transformation has occurred, Senge paints an optimistic picture of a world full of opportunities for positive change - if we have the competencies needed.

You may also have heard of the work of the OECD to describe key competencies of all education (pdf) (not just ESD). OECD’s DeSeCo project describes 3 groups of key competencies: using tools interactively, interacting in heterogeneous groups and acting autonomously. It is quite interesting that Senge’s key competencies bear such a striking resemblance to these!

Both Senge’s book and the results of OECD’s DeSeCo project are interesting reading, guaranteed to stimulate thoughts about what key competencies young people today will need in their lifetimes to meet the sustainability challenges ahead. Many of the ideas from Senge and the OECD DeSeCo project have been integrated into the intended learning outcomes of CO2nnect.