Global Learning Systems For Sustainability, IFSR Conversations 2010

Proceedings of the IFSR Conversation 2010, Pernegg, Austria
DiscussionPaper (Team 3): Global Learning Systems For Sustainability
Helmut K. Loeckenhoff
As all life systems, Learning Systems represent purposive systems. As to design appropriate and effective learning concepts, the purpose needs be clarified in sufficient detail. As the overarching issue sustainability is set, as to secure survival, procreation and development. In the given context, sustainability mainly points to two targets. The first is tied to the systems performance and its results. Learning systems should successfully teach how plan sustainably, to design and to act; that is to opening and not close chances and future prospects of life. The second follows from the first: the learning system itself should be outlined as a sustainably self-improving, as a (meta-)learning system. It should flexibly respond to both actual and future contexts as well as to changing needs to learn. Under these auspices the concepts of ‘learning systems’ and of ‘sustainability’ are analysed and specified from the requests given and from the essential qualities required to meet them. Details are discussed under topics of a systemic, comprehensive understanding of teaching and learning systems. Systemically and pragmatically teaching and learning must be seen mutually complementing. Both aspects need be conceived as the means to guide and to control rapid, fundamental change both operational and in particular strategic. Sensible issues, design and networking and with existing organisations as UNO, UNESCO, or eventually NGO’s are considered.
Excursus: Designing Learning Programs for a Worldwide Meta-Organisation
The general context addresses the complexity, in particular the interconnectedness of global and regional challenges. In analogue, the relation reflects the ways human life interacts with its inner and outer environments. Against this background the first of two main objectives followed, demands to recollect teaching/learning programs literally on all levels of societal structures and processes. The other aims to design a meta-organisation to organize and network teaching/learning systems on all levels and between all social units involved. They should encourage dialogue, co-operation and mutual learning. Learning thus should be self-organizing and self-driving. Closely tied to sustainability, the support to build a self- responsible identity and shared identity manifest as the core of the innovative character of learning. Innovation lays the base for Evolutional Learning for Guidance and Control (the GECL model) to plan and to guide fundamental change. Learning from experience is complemented by learning from probable futures.
Setting the Stakes for Argumentation
An appropriate agenda may follow the above reasoning.
(Prologue) On Learning and Sustainability of Life Systems. Learning is one of the cogent, if not the most essential quality of life systems. Human learning and social learning must be understood and guided from the basic functions of learning in Life Systems. Life systems include as well the single learning unit as the individual in the teaching/learning environments. Individual learning takes place, is stimulated guided, supported or hindered as well by the natural and the social environments. Learning is dialogic, an evolutional process on all levels. In globalization and within the narrowing limits of the space ship Earth, learning, the acquisition and transfer of knowledge (and of knowing) cannot be seen locally, ethnically, geographically, etc. isolated. As the economic-political development manifests, the worldwide shifts are closely tied to learning (if by differing means). The measure scale for developmental success will be the sustainability – which means the Innovational quality – of learning.
(Introduction) The building of Teaching/Learning systems (T/LS) their role to survival and development of social systems worldwide.
Life of any kind is based on constant learning and co-learning to survive and develop. The faculty to co-operate as well as to compete over scarce resources rely on the sustainability of co-learning efforts. To cease learning is as deadly as to maneuver into evolutional cul-de-sacs, into niches destined to dry out. History shows that these rules apply likewise to social, to ethnic or political groupings up to the rise and fall of entire societies and imperia. In reverse sustainable learning offers the chance – the only chance by that – for the continuous innovation and rejuvenation which are preconditions to stay alive and proliferate. These basic rules of learning apply to all levels from physio-physics and physio- chemistry to highly complex societal form and the constructs of higher consciousness, as e.g. ideologies and religions. The transdisciplinary model set underlines the crucial functions of learning in all developmental and evolutional processes.
(1) Dealing with Complexity Semiosis Dynamics in T/LS. When systemically viewed, actual Contexts pre-given by evolution and history, are, first, dominated by rapidly growing complexity as a main characteristic of every evolvement. Change on human societal levels coupled to evolvement reflects complexity in affecting virtually the entire societal webs in ever widening circles. To cope with change means first to understand (by learning) how to meet increasingly complex challenges. Complexity dynamics are inevitably paralleled by a rapid dynamic re-configurations in meaning and meaning networks. The term meaning addresses purpose and intent behind any barely repetitive behaviour in living systems. Meaning ranges physiological survival and development to meaningful social behaviour, to power driven ideologies or religious convictions in the domain of mental constructs. Recently biosemiotic research has showed the close co-action of complexity and semiosis dynamics. Emotionalisation and ethnisation of conflicts, religious power fights, but also e.g. the impact of ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) on the understanding of privacy and of identity, contribute vivid examples. Too little research findings are yet available on the resulting requests on learning modes and institutions. Learning to cope with complexity and semiosis dynamics need develop systematic, deliberate efforts to teach modes towards guide change. Learning politics have to take into account preconditions and possible consequences long range
and world wide. Planning schedules, operational and strategic, as well as control loops / helices have to be taught. That needs be done on the family and group level as well as by institutionalized teaching/learning systems. – Teachers must be trained and upgraded in parallel to changed request and advanced learning programs.
(2) Phase Transition requests root learning. The actual phase of development is signified by the increasingly rapid and fundamental nature of the ongoing change. Abrupt changes might be expected, the outcome of which cannot be predicted with reliable precision. Nor can be the course of the so called phase transition under way. Such transitions have been experienced around WWI and WWII, altering the very base of societal life. How to meet them? What is to be learned if possible beforehand? – The inquiry of Phase Transitional States virtually compromises all aspects of the systemic societal base, its structures and its life processes. Which factors establish a society, which keep it together, which let it fall apart? Change will affect all factors in depth, as can be actually observed. Which are the modes and instruments to guide and control society, namely change in turbulent times? According knowledge will help to guide – id est between self-organization and strict control – in transitional times. That takes place on the individual as well as on the societal level. – The impact of global change will affect culture and identity felt. To soften cultural incompatibilities and cultural clashes, cultural learning is enforced as to understand the challenge and to deal with. Such knowledge must be taught and learned, fulfilling provocative requests towards teaching and learning. The impact of aggressive religion, in Europe and worldwide, supplies but one outstanding example enforcing sophisticated teaching and learning on both sides. Not least the very identity of the individual as of the society as a whole is on stage. How to re-learn identity? In general, socio-semiotic shifts force to teach and to learn ‘soft’ essentials as to understand and to deal with them. Non-violent conflict resolution, not least, ought to be integral part of the curriculum. It constitutes but one of many ‘soft skills’ to be taught and learned.
(3) Concepts of Sustainable Learning Systems. To teach sustainability, i.e. transferring sustainable knowledge, focuses on teaching how to learn and improve learning. The half life period of data and factual knowledge is short and further shortening. The capacity to learn and meta-learn turns out a salient advantage in the world wide competition – and hopefully co-operation – based on learning. Learning to learn means to be able to innovate and adapt actively, not least to meet unprecedented emergency situations. Such future oriented teaching/learning systems must be subject to sustainable teaching/learning themselves. T/L systems need adapt to new situations, to novel means of teaching learning, and to upcoming requests to be faced.
According tasks, principles and constitutions must be scrutinized both locally as within a worldwide policy to help to guide and control change by providing knowledge. Sustainable Teaching/ Learning systems focus on the integrated transfer of factual and procedural knowledge as a base. They further meta-learning, skills, and not least, make aware culture and identity and its changing features in further learning. On the thus extended base the desirable determinants of the learning systems will be reflected as to their efficacy and robustness; as well in their respective levels as related to the knowledge gain by participants involved. Programs for learning and training are to be designed correspondingly.
(4) Design, Operation, Control; Education Policy. The environments a T/LS has to fit into are pre-given by the pre-qualifications of individuals, and existing or missing institutions on local and global levels. A central role is assigned to the local communities, the core of social nets, entrepreneurial ventures, projects, or innovative assignments and so on. The fact is corroborated by practice e.g. in the RSA and other emerging countries. Against this frame existing institutions are depicted and evaluated. Missing institutions, connections and capacities are identified – and the causes and reasons why this is so. Essentials may be learned from the answers, costly detours and ill placed investments be avoided. Again this is affected both local and global. One should be reminded – see above – that T/LS connect to and grow from culture and civilization roots. – The efficacy of teaching/learning efforts reflects the societal constitution and performance and can be valued as an indicator for the future developmental prospects of a region. – The efficiency and effectiveness of T/LS is determined by two faculties. Learning may either take place ex post, extracting structures from experiences acquired in the past. Ex ante learning is realized when on the base of past experience prognoses are derived or constructed including active policies depicting possible and/or probable futures. As research on primitive and deprived groups elucidate, teaching/learning surmounting its most basic forms begins when planning into the future is worthwhile. – Finally here, dependent form the general knowledge standard, the methods of teaching/learning may come very different. Learning by doing, by mimesis, on the performance of the tasks to be learned can be very useful also in more sophisticated T/L programs. In further advanced learning participative learning or action research learning may be included. – Teachers and their students form a dynamic system in themselves. Teaching and Learning form a unity. – Learning by definition is intended to change behaviour. The normal learning programs focus on skill, on factual and procedural knowledge. A particular issue turns out to teach attitudes, values systems, ethical and moral stances, co-operative and competitive behaviour, communication, knowledge exchange, visions, understanding of human destiny and other foundations and rules of social behaviour. Highly important for the semiotic aspect of T/L, behavioural learning requests need be dealt with separately.
(5) Worldwide T/LS Networking. The worldwide proliferation of change consequently requires worldwide T/LS. They request, on the most general level, a Worldwide Meta-Organization. This is designed to take over the coordination of distributed efforts e.g. on the local level or specialized for example to general education or professional training. It monitors the educational standing in different areas and localities, offers methodical help, teaching/learning materials and funding. It guides and controls educational efforts. It will outline and offer systemic teaching/learning programs, help install and implement them and may run a task force for cases of urgency. In particular UNO, UNESCO and affiliated organizations operate worldwide organizational frames. They offer a starting point, and a fund of experience to profit from when building an own network. Conditio sine qua non remains the need to define the issue to be pursued by a worldwide organizational frame and its specific domain of operation. On the local level related parts of the educational systems up to NGO’s and private initiatives in emerging countries are to be taken into account. Their networkings are to be assessed whether and in which mode they might provide a specialized scaffold to institute learning for sustainability. It might but complement and extend existing facilities to that end. Emphasis is laid that T/LS are designed to respond and adapt sustainably to the changing environmental conditions and newly emerging task. They should in particular reconsider their own systemic performance, furthering creative, innovative thought and intent. That includes to continuously teach the teachers and change the system according to actual and strategy requests. In the learning context the very concept of sustainability ought be specified and reconsidered as to its probable ambiguities. The systemic character of teaching/learning systems should be emphasized and employed to initiate meta-learning as aforementioned.
Systemic Community Principles. To establish a learning community introduces change in two major ways. The first immediate one alters the communal climate of co-operation and competition, the atmosphere of togetherness. Who learns gains in tendency superiority as compared with the non-learners, a fact that may affect also the relations between neighbour settlements. The second change relates to the future: the aim of learning is to change willfully and systematically. These prospects have to be fitted into the web of personal relationships and to the culture. Thus the project needs be carried by the opinion leaders and be the affected. It should be clear, where the act of learning as to change will fit into the culture, and where it may disturb traditional roles of age, gender, ownership etc. The ubiquitous resistance to change can be countered but by the hope for a more appropriate life. That should pre-emptively make well understood. As mentioned afore Western modes of culture and in particular around the principle of performance should be abandoned as the authoritative models. – One of the most difficult tasks will be to link T/LS with the indigenous culture of performance. – As it is trivial but not always seen, the environments, the actual situation and their carrying capacities set the potentials and the limits. For example measures to reduce the mortality of small children must not lead to a growth of the population. Countermeasures, here as in other cases, where traditional limits are transgressed, are necessary. Planning in general needs be holistic; planning a T/LS includes comprising ‘check an balance’ monitoring and implementation. The contrary of ‘good’ is ‘well intended’ but not controlled rationally. – Overall, to introduce learning should be designed, planned and controlled as a learning process in itself. It must allow for the unexpected and the outright impossible to happen and to be dealt with. Computer assisted project management will not be the kernel, but the rational/professional backbone of successful learning. – To ensure sustainability, allies need be found. Who might be interested in people with basic training and education and might be inclined to help? The well tried triad of learning professional facts, skills and self-esteem based identity, will eventually foster entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial self-organization on whatever level. Learning proves sustainably successful when it turns into a self-propagating activity.
(6) Backing up and Funding Sustaining Learning Efforts. Learning does not take place in a vacuum. Its efficacy is dependent on appropriate political, social and material e.g. economic conditions and these from the future prospects they offer. T/LS need by securely and sustainably funded and supported professionally. With increasing quality of the knowledge base and economic/societal emergence the learning and educational systems need constantly change. The implementation of a learning/educational system means to build a lasting and reliable institutional frame, putting particular weight on the training of teachers. Further education after the normal curriculum needs be supported. So do special efforts for training on the job and fundamental training for grown up persons in advanced and further education.
(Epilogue) Chance and Challenge Learning. Teaching(/Learning Systems are the only chance left to prevent anomie and eventual destruction and long range deterioration in the course of worldwide power, culture and economic shifts. The need be worldwide, networked, locally and globally rooted.
Selected References
Laszlo, A; Castro Laszlo K.: Redefining Success: Designing Systemic Sustainable Strategies. Systems Research and Behavioural Science; Vol 27 No 1 2010; pp 3 – 22
Loeckenhoff H. K: Modelling Innovation for Creative Control by Bayesian Syllogism. In: Cybernetics and Systems. R. Trappl editor. Austrian Soc. for Cyb. Studies, Vienna. Vol 1+2 p 381-386 (2004)
Loeckenhoff H. K. Intent, Future, Anticipation: a Transdisciplinary Approach. Paper to CASYS ’07, Conference Liège