Blended Adult Learning for the Social-Ecological Transition (BLAST) is a project run by the transnational Transformative Education Community of Practice formed by members of ECOLISE and other partners. The project is funded by the Erasmus+ strategic partnerships EU programme and started in October 2019. It focuses on the enhancement of transformative blended learning for eco-sociological transition across Europe.
The policy context in Europe is increasingly oriented by the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the ambitious targets of the Paris Climate Agreement, and the European Green Deal with its focus on establishing a circular economy, reducing pollution and assuring a just transition to a low-carbon world, while restoring biodiversity, with this latter goal connecting to the UN decade of ecosystem restoration (2021-2030).
The substantial measures implemented to combat the health, social and economic crisis of the Coronavirus pandemic are becoming, at least partly, tied into this broader policy context. The pandemic has revealed substantial vulnerabilities and resilience gaps, and has highlighted a deepening of social inequalities.
To respond to the climate and sustainability agenda, and to ‘build back better’ from Covid, high-level European and UN policy goals now need to be addressed and connected at national, regional and local levels, creating pressure for enacting substantial changes in key domains like energy, mobility, health & well-being, housing and food, within short time frames. This is an unprecedented challenge.
There are many grassroots movements that have been pioneering and prototyping the required changes, not just for years, but in some instances for decades. Some of them follow a systemic or system-shifting agenda. Many approaches championed by these movements revolve around participation, inclusion, diversity and equity, collaborative change-making and accelerated social learning for meeting demanding environmental and climate goals.
Examples of mature grassroots systems for sustainability learning that have been proven to work well across numerous countries for decades include permaculture, the transition towns movement, the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN), Gaia Education and more. While some of these have subsequently evolved partnerships with formal education institutions, they certainly have not been generated from the mindset or environment of those formal education institutions. Instead, they have been founded for the very reason that those formal institutions have proven unable to offer the quality or style of education that brings the broad range of outcomes that ‘learning for sustainability’ requires (reference?). Examples in the UK are that CAT (Centre for Alternative Technology) in Wales has a partnership with the University of East London (UEL) for its highly respected post-graduate level programmes, and Schumacher College has a partnership with the University of Plymouth.
From both perspectives the above-mentioned high-level policies and the agendas of grassroots movements, it is increasingly clear that pursuing ambitious environmental and climate goals needs to go hand in hand with heightened awareness of socioeconomic inequalities.
Working towards the climate goals requires many substantial transformations that need to spread across society in short periods of time. Well-off and disadvantaged parts of the population are usually affected very differently by the kinds of changes that are needed. Measures of social inclusion, social protection and special support or relief for vulnerable groups need therefore to become default in any approach implemented to meet the European and international environmental and climate policy goals. This includes creating awareness about structural drivers of inequality and overcoming power differentials that are unjustified in view of human rights and constitutional equity in democractic societies.
The BLAST partnership is therefore guided by systemic models, such as the “Doughnut Economics” framework suggested by Kate Raworth (2017), which integrates the ecological ceiling of natural planetary boundaries with the social foundations that need to be guaranteed for a dignified life to be possible for all members of society.
The purpose of the BLAST partnership is to enable educators, trainers, facilitators, mentors, researchers etc. in delivering transformative learning opportunities to citizens, communities and professionals that engage as change-makers and game-changers in the social-ecological transition. The project's activities aim at bringing about massive personal and community-led change over time by supporting people to engage actively in the Socio-ecological transition. The BLAST strategy involves:
- Providing a context for adult educators to improve their competences in delivering blended transformative learning for civic engagement.
- Increasing reach and improving access, quality, attractiveness and coordination of educational delivery of transformative adult education initiatives across Europe that are supporting the social-ecological transition.
- Identifying, pooling, encouraging and spreading related social and educational innovations.
- Exploiting results of other related EU projects.
The BLAST partnership has been set up to interweave three key concepts and respective sets of practices that have mostly evolved independently from each other in the past decades: Blended Learning (BL), Transformative Learning (TL) and Socio-ecological Transition (SET).
Our understanding of Blended Learning (BL), Transformative Learning (TL) and Learning for socio-ecological transitions is informed by the new umbrella concept of “sustainability-oriented ecologies of learning as a blended learning space where multiple actors having different backgrounds co-create sustainability organically using a variety of tools, relations, and forms of learning” (Wals, 2020, p. 61).
“An ecology of learning is a networked, facilitated, and mediated configuration of formal and informal forms of learning aiming for and embedded in a change challenge. A sustainability-oriented ecology of learning essentially comprises a vital coalition of multiple stakeholders engaged in addressing a common challenge and/or realising a common vision, using a blend of learning processes in order to bring about a real, meaningful, and responsible change” (Wals, 2020, p. 64).
The BLAST project is driven by the understanding that the term "change" has a different connotation to the term "transformation". Change can just mean reorganizing and adjusting within the same (old) paradigm and worldview (horizontal). Transformation suggests more than that - it is going beyond "change", to the next level of complexity, opening the next paradigm (verticality). Hence, the BLAST project is focused on transformative learning. The BLAST project combines this focus on transformative learning with a traditional understanding of blended learning (BL), which combines online methods and resources with in-person or face-to-face learning.
“BL is considered a combination of traditional f2f modes of instruction with online modes of learning (OL), drawing on technology-mediated instruction, where all participants in the learning process are separated by distance some of the time” (Skrypnyk et al, 2015, p. 62).
At the same time, the project recognises a new understanding of BL as an emerging set of systemic change practices for accelerating socio-ecological transitions that includes and transforms the traditional understanding of BL which arose mainly in formal (higher and further) education in the past 25 years. This new understanding of blended learning (BL+) incorporates a strong experiential learning dimension, and ensures that learning processes are designed to engage a range of learning modalities and use a range of learning contexts and environments, rather than focusing on traditional academic methodologies in traditional f2f (i.e. classroom) and online environments.
The BLAST partnership pursues the following objectives:
- Provide a context for adult educators to improve their competences in delivering blended transformative learning for civic engagement in community-led initiatives.
- Increase reach and improve access, quality, attractiveness and coordination of educational delivery of transformative adult education initiatives across Europe that are supporting the social-ecological transition.
- Identify, pool, encourage and spread related social and educational innovations.
- Exploit and promote results of other related EU projects.
The following 10 partners located in 7 different countries constitute the core of the BLAST partnership:
- ECOLISE (lead), Belgium
- Asociatia Romania in Tranzitie, Romania
- Col·lectiu Eco-Actiu / Ulex Project, Catalunya, Spain
- Croatian Permaculture, Croatia
- Gaia Education, Scotland
- GEN - Global Ecovillage Network, Scotland
- IfGIC - Institute for Global Integral Competence, Germany
- Permaculture Association Britain / IPEN - International Permaculture Education Network
- IPTL - International Partnership for Transformative Learning @ Visionautik Akademie, Germany
- Sustainable Ireland / Cultivate, Ireland
- Center for Human Emergence, Germany
The BLAST project is designed to enable adult educators to provide needs-based educational opportunities to citizens, communities and professionals that engage as change-makers in the socio-ecological transition. For adult educators it is a challenge to work with learners focused on changemaking action in their local context. It requires providing demand-driven opportunities for learning and reflection on the right topic at the right moment at the right place to ensure receptiveness and continued engagement of those adult learners. Professionals will be trained in training-of-trainers events, who then will train multipliers, who in turn will reach thousands of beneficiaries with offline and online activities.
Through participatory processes across several iterations, the BLAST partnership develops the following outputs:
- BLAST Community of Practice Guide
- BLAST Catalyst Toolkit
- BLAST Competence Framework
- BLAST Training of Trainers Curriculum
Preliminary and final versions of those outputs will be made accessible through the evolving BLAST website
Relevant terms used or created in the BLAST project will be explained here.
Blended Learning for the Social-ecological transition combines experiential place-based learning through immersion in change-making practices in intergenerational local initiatives with online opportunities for exchange and peer learning in geographically distributed intercultural Communities of practice CoP. Blended learning is arising as a powerful approach to extend the reach, facilitate access, improve learner motivation, enhance flexibility, and synergise otherwise disconnected learning opportunities. It also combines "high tech" and "high touch", i.e. access enabled by digital tools to the most suitable resource persons, the best knowledge and the most advanced practices available at the transnational level, and the conviviality of personal encounters and joint face-to-face work in local community settings. Blended learning can overcome the disadvantages of face-to-face and online learning for achieving Transformative Learning.
Transformative learning in the context of socio-ecological transition is particularly focused on an approach that generates transformative outcomes in both the inner and outer world, through both individual and collective transformations. In other words, transformative learning covers the four ‘quadrants’ of inner; outer; individual; collective (as defined by the integral worldview).
Socio-ecological transition is the process through which society as a whole, and therefore its communities, structures and individuals move from the current unsustainable state to a socially and ecologically sustainable state. Transition therefore represents an outcome, as well as a process, that puts in place the elements and relationships at the macro and micro levels that are essential for generating and maintaining resilient communities, ecologies and socio-economic systems. Together, these elements embody a form of dynamic, responsive stability in their system as a whole, as well as the key sub-systems that make up the whole. Socio-ecological transition embodies key characteristics of sustainability such as more equitable systems, social justice and inclusion (within and between generations), and circular net zero carbon and waste economic systems. Socio-ecological transition is fundamentally a process of transformative learning, at an individual and collective level, that is focused on learning how to individually and collectively transform ourselves to generate a regeneratively sustainable culture from the household and local level to the level of society as a whole.
Communities of practice are groups of like-minded people, who provide regular mutual support. Members of those groups share knowledge and practices among peers in a domain of joint interest on an ongoing basis and according to arising needs.