Nurturing Sustainability Changemakers through Transformative Learning Using Design Thinking: Evidence from an Exploratory Qualitative Study
What is the value of combining Design Thinking and Transformative Learning as a pedagogy in sustainability education to cultivate sustainable changemakers? We explore this key research question by examining the impacts of the pedagogy model using the case study of the UCD Innovation Academy Professional Diploma of Innovation for Sustainability in Ireland. The programme moves beyond EL, using a transformative pedagogy structured through DT to cultivate sustainability changemakers for early and mid-career professionals by focusing on (1) mindset change, (2) sustainability literacy, and (3) building creative confidence. Data were collected during and after the programme through students’ reflections and teachers’ observation field notes.
This paper makes two significant contributions to the research and practice of ESD. First, we propose a novel ESD pedagogical model potentially relevant to a wide range of students. The framework details how different pedagogical elements of TL and DT complement each other to facilitate the development of sustainability changemakers. By doing so, we address the ongoing challenges students, educators, programme administrators, and funders face concerning the ambiguity of ESD interventions and associated learning outcomes. Second, we argue that mindsets and creative confidence are equally important to other SD competencies as potential ESD programme learning outcomes. By empirically examining the impacts of the pedagogical model on early- and mid-career professionals, we found students’ transformation of not only sustainability literacy but also sustainability mindset and creative confidence to practice and act on sustainability challenges. This occurs independent of the diversity of students’ backgrounds and lack of experience in sustainability before the course. All outcomes support becoming a changemaker.
The paper is structured as follows. The next section problematises the current practice of ESD that might limit learners with incremental change of knowledge building. We then propose a new pedagogical model that helps develop sustainability changemakers. The following section details the research methodology with the case study description and chosen data collection and analysis methods. The findings show that because of the programme, students changed their sustainability mindset, knowledge, and confidence to become changemakers. Finally, we present the conclusions drawn from the study, a discussion, limitations, and implications.
5. Discussion and Conclusions
Secondly, this research, heavily dependent on the qualitative method, fits well with the research question yet poses challenges to the internal and external validity. Future research should expand the research design and employ an experiment/quasi-experiment design that includes control groups. In addition, the sample includes a narrow student segment in early-/mid-career from a single case of an ESD Programme in Ireland. If the findings can be expanded to other segments, they should be explored.
Thirdly, future research should also consider examining ESD’s longer-term impacts on multiple analysis levels within a longer time frame following the end of the ESD Programme by using a longitudinal approach. This is a missing piece in the study due to time limits. With a newly gained mindset, skillset, and creative confidence, how (and if) do these new learnings translate well into actions and benefit students’ individual well-being or career development? What factor explains why graduates from the same cohort perform differently long after the end of the course? What can be the potential organisational/economic/social impacts, etc.? All these mentioned questions are essential to answer.
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