Living and Learning Sustainability in Higher Education: Constructing Indicators of Social Learning

Mulà Pons de Vall, Ingrid (2011) Living and Learning Sustainability in Higher Education: Constructing Indicators of Social Learning. PhD thesis, University of Gloucestershire.

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This doctoral study explores the learning that occurs in higher education institutions within differing social and informal contexts, and how this learning can contribute to shifting thinking and actions (within the institution) towards sustainability. The research refers to this learning as ‘social learning’ and acknowledges its potential to influence the sustainability performance of a higher education institution. The study proposes indicators as a key research outcome to assist institutions in improving their contribution to social learning for sustainability. The study is unique in that social learning for sustainability in the higher education sector has been subject to little scrutiny. The originality of the research is underpinned by its focus on staff learning in higher education, but also by the research methodology used which has not been employed in this context or with this focus before. The empirical study was undertaken between 2008 and 2011 at three higher education institutions in the United Kingdom (UK) which were chosen for their explicit commitment to improving the university’s sustainability performance. The pilot study was conducted at the University of Gloucestershire and the main findings were derived at the Universities of Bradford and Bristol. Located within a critical social theory paradigm, the study used innovative research methods such as collective memory-work to capture staff experiences of social learning for sustainability. In each university, the research involved a group of members of staff in (i) writing and critically reflecting on their stories of social learning for sustainability within their institutions; and (ii) identifying contextual factors influencing this learning process. The data generated was triangulated with information captured through institutional documentary reviews, semi-structured interviews with members of staff and a research journal. The research demonstrates that social learning for sustainability in higher education tends to occur as both a facilitated and unfacilitated process. The first includes staff participating in extra-curricular activities, partnerships and networks, multi-stakeholder dialogues, mentoring, or action and participatory research. The latter tends to occur as a spontaneous face-to-face process or through online social networks. There is evidence that social learning processes which are non-hierarchical, involving learning from each other and occurring within comfort zones, are more effective in shifting the thinking and actions of staff in the area of sustainability. The study identifies physical space and academic cultures as key determinants of the frequency and quality of these processes. It also suggests that opportunities in this area need to be provided to all the different sub-cultures which exist in a higher education institution. Finally, whereas the research identifies how institutional culture influences social learning for sustainability, it concludes that a longitudinal study is needed to establish whether this learning process can shape the culture of a higher education institution.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Advisors:
Thesis AdvisorEmailURL
Uncontrolled Keywords: Social learning, Higher Education sector, Sustainability
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB2300 Higher Education
Divisions: Schools and Research Institutes > Countryside and Community Research Institute
Depositing User: Susan Turner
Date Deposited: 29 Jan 2015 13:50
Last Modified: 01 Aug 2021 21:29

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University of Gloucestershire, The Park, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, GL50 2RH. Telephone +44 (0)844 8010001.