The challenge of learning for sustainability: A prolegomenon to theory

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80 Scopus citations


A core question of sustainability science asks how and why human agents learn to deal effectively with complex problems. "Learning" refers to the process by which actors assimilate information and update their cognitions and be-havior accordingly. Successful learning plays a vital role in our ability to achieve sustainability, and yet this process is poorly understood. Commonly-employed perspectives on learning tend to differentiate along two dimensions: the mechanism of learning (social versus individual learning) and the properties of the information being learned (empiri-cal versus normative knowledge). This yields four ideal types of learning that correspond to a central challenge of learning for sustainability. An integrated framework that transcends all of these perspectives is needed. Such a framework is pro-posed here, and includes four essential features: the structure of internal belief systems, the role of social networks in shap-ing knowledge, the role of knowledge in shaping networks, and the role of individual experience in the learning process. This framework is introduced as a prolegomenon (a preface to more detailed and exhaustive theoretical development) to facilitate the development of better theories and empirically- testable models of learning for sustainability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)131-140
Number of pages10
JournalHuman Ecology Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 2009


  • Cognition
  • Environmental policy
  • Individual learning
  • Social learning
  • Social networks
  • Sustainability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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