an approach to learning

At the ecodharma centre we are developing a holistic and participatory approach to learning, which is ecologically informed. We are inspired by models of popular education and regard consciousness raising, self knowledge and critical thinking as intrinsic to social and individual transformation. For want of a better term, let’s call the approach Holistic Participatory Learning. It depends on respect for a number of key principles and the effective use of a spectrum of activities which reflect the full range human experience. And we work with a Buddhist inspired approach to integrate our learning more fully and gain deeper insights. This approach passes through the stages of study, reflection, and meditation.

As a holistic approach to learning our practice addresses the whole person, engaging us at the emotional, sensory, cognitive and relational levels. Learning happens through doing; so our events always incorporate practical activities connecting us directly with the land and ecological systems we live amidst. These might include hands on sustainable building; work in the organic gardens; field based learning and study. And this takes us to learning from being – living simply amidst wild nature, both individually and in community, enables us to reconnect more deeply within ourselves, with each other, and with the natural world. This reconnection is an innate source of important learning.

The participatory dimension of our approach is enriched by existing within this holistic context. It draws on approaches to Popular Education and is underpinned by four key principles. Holistic Participatory Learning should:

1. Be empowering – leading to action, especially collective action. Learning of this kind helps people to change their lives according to their own ideas. Participants learn from their engagement in the process and adopt an approach of self-critical reflection and as acknowledge the contribution of other participants.

2. Be proactively inclusive – making it easy for a wide range of people to take part and make their views heard. Learning processes pay attention to differences and do not try to homogenise different opinions and points of view or cultural differences. Differences of language and culture will be approached in this way and learning designed to enable participation.

3. Be radical – enabling people to understand the root causes of the circumstances in which they find themselves in order to make changes, encourage critical thinking which assumes that learners are involved in critical engagement with the learning material – initiating and evaluating ideas. They need to be able to critically assess the kinds of ideas, contexts and relationships which are usually ‘taken for granted’ or accepted as inevitable, in order to question the root causes of the topic at hand (Freire 1970).

4. Be transformative – finding its curriculum in the life experiences of the participants. This is likely to be most effective and sustainable when it is pursued in solidarity with others, when we recognise the struggles we share, and gain empowerment through our collective activities.