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Achieving transformative sustainability learning: engaging head, hands and heart

Yona Sipos (Integrated Studies, Faculty of Land and Food Systems, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada)
Bryce Battisti (School of Education, University of California, Davis, California, USA)
Kurt Grimm (Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Faculty of Science, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 11 January 2008




The current UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development echoes many scholars' calls to re‐envision education for sustainability. Short of a complete overhaul of education, the paper seeks to propose learning objectives that can be integrated across existing curricula. These learning objectives are organized by head, hands and heart – balancing cognitive, psychomotor and affective domains. University programs and courses meeting these learning objectives exhibit an emergent property here termed transformative sustainability learning (TSL).


Theoretically, TSL grew from traditions of sustainability education and transformative education. Practically, TSL emerged from experimental learning collaborations sponsored by the University of British Columbia in 2003 and 2004 in an effort to enable explicit transitions to sustainability‐oriented higher education. Primarily through action research, these community‐based, applied learning experiences constituted cyclical processes of innovation, implementation and reflection.


The paper finds: advancement of head, hands and heart as an organizing principle by which to integrate transdisciplinary study (head); practical skill sharing and development (hands); and translation of passion and values into behaviour (heart); development of a cognitive landscape for understanding TSL as a unifying framework amongst related sustainability and transformative pedagogies that are inter/transdisciplinary, practical and/or place‐based; creation of learning objectives, organized to evaluate a course or program's embodiment of TSL.


By enabling change within existing structures of higher education, the paper complements and contributes to more radical departures from the institution. The work to date demonstrates potential in applying this learning framework to courses and programs in higher education.



Sipos, Y., Battisti, B. and Grimm, K. (2008), "Achieving transformative sustainability learning: engaging head, hands and heart", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 9 No. 1, pp. 68-86.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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