Research Update- “Changing Learning Behavior through Environmental Education”

Today I read the first piece of evidence that I’ll need for my final project, a 1990 study entitled “Changing Learning Behavior through Environmental Education.” This is relevant to the bit of my thesis that deals with environmental education more generally, particularly because the study focused mostly on the adaptations of young adults, whereas I am studying the effects of environmental education on elementary-age children.

The main purpose of the authors, Harold R. Hungerfield and Trudi L. Volk, was to answer the following question- “How might responsible environmental behavior be operationalized?” Firstly, the authors noted how unique environmental education actually was- mainly because it is one of the few types of learning that demands action or change for the bettering of the world. They noticed a flaw in the current system of environmental education, the fact that there was some sort of disconnect between the actual education and the motivation to action.

The authors attributed this disconnect to the fact that many people assume education to linearly lead to a motivation to action. This is apparently a common misconception in the field of education in general, and one that likewise negatively affects other fields, such as the policy making field. Hungerfield and Volk predict that actually, the connection between environmental education and motivation to action has many more variables, and looks closer to this:

screenshot-1 Hungerfield and Volk believe that the combination of all of these variables must be precise in order to motivate responsible environmental behavior. To be able to account for the excessive number of variables that exist in this flow chart, the authors recommended two curricular approaches- the “Issue Investigation and Action Model” and the “Extended Case Study Model”. Both of these are teaching models meant to be applicable on the middle school and high school level.

In the “Issue Investigation and Action Model”, students will learn about environmental problems through an issue analysis approach, along with potential citizenship action. From there, they will develop issue-resolution action plans, and assess the social, cultural, and ecological implications of their plans. In the “Extended Case Study Model”, students will learn the same skills as in the other model, but all while focusing on a predetermined issue chosen by the course instructor. The authors note that they believe the more successful approach would be the “Issue Investigation and Action model” as it gives agency to the students, accounting for multiple variables presented in the chart above, such as the locus of control, personal responsibility, knowledge of issues, and knowledge of action strategies.

The authors concluded by saying that they believe the most effective way for young adult students to be motivated to action over environmental issues was to give them the opportunity to develop ownership over such issues. I believe this raises an interesting point in dealing with environmental education- especially because in my own BASIS Tucson North community, I see a populous well-educated on issues of the environment, but scarcely acting in responsible environmental behavior. This paper seemed to believe that simply giving the students careful choreographed projects could allow them to insert themselves into the issue enough to take action. What factors in our own community mean that the variables presented above don’t line up for our students? Just food for thought I suppose.

All of this is helpful to my project in determining effective environmental education that could surpass all of the variables and lead people to action. Of course, it isn’t exactly similar to what I’m studying- since I’m dealing with the environmental education of elementary age children. What I’m hoping, though, is that there will be one big change in the variables for children that will actually make them more likely to exhibit responsible environmental behavior- and that is in the “Intention to Act” variable. Assuming that the material is presented in a way that is easy to understand, I’m predicting that childlike enthusiasm will greatly increase their willingness to act.



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