Learn transgressively

Let’s explore 8 change processes that catalyze the revolution from anthropocentrism to ecocentrism, from apathy to empathy, toward conscious participation with nature.  In this section we explore the process of learning or critical adult education.



In “Shades of Green,” a study using Grounded Theory method, I found that adults who are deeply connected to nature are already engaged in climate change adaptation because they care about nature (Wolfstone, 2013).  It appears that anthropocentric adults are disadvantaged in climate change adaptation by reason of their indifference to earth’s degradation an17IMAGE_Communityd their alienation from their natural environment.  Ecocentric adults are advantaged simply because they care.  Unfortunately, there is a knowledge gap about why and how adults change from apathy to empathy, from separation to participation, from anthropocentrism to ecocentrism. My Master’s thesis, Becoming Ecocentric: Narratives of Transgression begins to address this knowledge gap (Wolfstone, 2015); this section highlights three of my findings related to ecocentric learning.  The stories of Becky, Martin, Willa and Karlos have been modified to protect the identity of research participants.

A. Ecocentric learning is transgressive

It is transgressive because it goes against the grain of 1_reconciliationmainstream education by generating critical intra-actions that deconstruct the anthropocentric paradigm. It is emancipatory when it decolonizes the mind as well as nature.  Similar to indigenous pedagogies, ecocentric learning is flexible, open-ended, multi-generational, place conscious and community-based (Dei), in contrast to the highly individualistic and egoistic learning paradigm of anthropocentrism.  I include transpersonal learning in transgressive learning because it goes against the grain of mainstream educational practice. In ecocentric learning, transpersonal experiences (i.e., rituals, yoga, and meditation) accelerate the ascent up Barfield’s U because they involve the direct experience of unity with nature.

Transformative learning is not critical or emancipatory if it does not lead to political action (Dei, p.98).  The Western academy tends to valorize Mezirow, Boyd and Dirkx as the principals of transformative learning theory; however, I find their theories inadequate for the urgent task of animating a paradigm shift to ecocentrism in response to the climate crisis.  Their dualistic theories of transformative learning white-wash anthropocentrism and have been co-opted by hegemonic systems, just as sustainability education has been co-opted by business.

B.  Ecocentric Learning is Informal

Let me begin by outlining three modes of adult learning:

  • Informal learning is intentional, but it is less organized, less structured and more experiential than nonformal learning; it may include self-directed, learner-centred and social learning activities that occur at multiple sites in the family, workplace and community (EUROSTAT cited by Werquin, 2007).
  • Non-formal learning is rather organized and may have learning objectives. Learning may occur at the initiative of the individual but also happens as a by-product of more organized activities, whether or not the activities themselves have learning objectives.
  • Formal learning is always organised and structured, and has learning objectives. From the learner’s standpoint, it is always intentional (emphasis mine).

This framework for lifelong learning was first adopted by the Organization for Economic and Co-operative Development (OECD) in 1996.  My definition of informal learning borrows from the European definition because I do not concur with the OECD definition that asserts that informal “is never intentional from the learner’s standpoint”.

I applied the framework to categorize the ecocentric learning activities of research participants who were selected on the basis that they had moved from anthropocentrism to ecocentrism over the last 2-10 years. I found that informal learning is the predominant way of learning for emerging ecocentrics, as illustrated by Figure 2 below.  each participant intra-acting in a total of 12-16 different ecocentric learning activities, of which 10-13 learning activities are in the informal learning  mode (Wolfstone, 2016).

This leads me to conclude that informal learning is the primary mode of ecocentric learning.  More research is required to determine if informal learning is the primary mode of all social justice movements.

1_Community gardenC. Ecocentric Learning is Intentional

The most surprising finding is the diversity and scope of research participants’ self-directed learning.  They invest significant personal time and resources in learning that sustains their paradigm shift toward becoming ecocentric.   The diversity of learning activities indicates extraordinary agential intra-activity, as illustrated by the table below:

Mode Learning Activity
Informal Learning


Internet: video, social media, documentary, TED talk, podcasts
Writing, journaling
Gardening, outdoor experience with nature
Political activism and advocacy
Event (films, lectures, festivals, etc)
Spiritual practises & pilgrimages
Wilderness experience
Mentoring, coaching
Arts (visual, performing)
Ritual & ceremony
Religious & spiritual teachings
Nonformal Learning


Workshops in person
Workshop on line, webinars
Conference / retreat
Formal Learning


University or college studies
Other certification program

Several additional generalizations about ecocentric learning emerged from my research.  Ecocentric learning is:

  • learner-centered.
  • slow and incremental
  • flexible and open-ended
  • place-conscious
  • multi-generational
  • web-enabled

It occurs at multiple sites that provide learners with opportunities to network with other people exploring similar ideas (Wolfstone, 2016).

A few closing thoughts…

Karen Barad‘s agential realism has far reaching implications for learning.  It relocates learning from what takes place in the human mind to what takes place in here-and-now performances.  Her concept of intra-acting movement is focused on intersections, distinctions, boundaries and differences; it supports the transgression of boundaries through openness, curiosity and imagination. Her focus on continuous change builds adaptive capacity, and thus it is highly relevant to climate change adaptation.  Ecocentric learners understand themselves to be part of, emergent from and animated by relational intra-actions with different beings and concepts. Learning takes place in an ongoing “flow of agency” within ecological systems of interdependencies that do not privilege humans as a superior species (Barad, 2003, p.817).

Practices of knowing and being are not isolatable, but rather they are mutually implicated. We do not obtain knowledge by standing outside of the world; we know because “we” are of the world. We are part of the world in its differential becoming (p.829).

Finally, there is an urgent need for theory and praxis on ecocentric learning.  Clearly, there are implications for the delivery of learning. Transgressive ecocentric learning needs to be located in local communities. It would be ineffective if it were located in institutions. The delivery model could draw on the Freirian role of animateur to coordinate informal learning according to the evolutionary process of learners.  The primary goal of the animateur would be to breathe life into the paradigm shift toward conscious participation with nature, and thus increase the capacity of local communities to adapt to climate change.

Reflect:  How are you engaged in learning to become ecocentric? 

See Reference page for details on citations.

18ICON_kokopelliStories Becky’s Story – Finding my tree

Martin’s Story – The Next Seven Generations

Willa’s Story – Spiralling

Karlos’s Story – Finding my Tribe

Actions  The worldwide Transition movement provides opportunity to network with other emerging ecocentrics: https://www.transitionnetwork.org/

 There are four Transition chapters in Manitoba –

18ICON_HyperlinkOther Links Links to ecocentric learning programs that may interest you

·         Bill Plotkin (2008).  Animas Valley Institute programs 

·         Adrian Harris (2013), Bodymind Place  self-learning ideas

·         Joanna Macy (1998).  The Work that Reconnects. Upcoming events

·         Starhawk (2016). Earth Activist Training schedule  

·         Schumacher College, UK  Amazing short courses.  If only we had this kind of a school in Manitoba!


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