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Helen Avery

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Transitions Towards an Unknown Future: Non-Formal Learning in Transnational Communities for a Sustainable Society


  • Birgitta Nordén
  • Helen Avery

Summary, in English

The study makes an inventory of learning opportunities young people were offered in connection with CEI 2016, one of the annual international conferences organized by the NGO named Caretakers of the Environment International (CEI), which year 2016 took place in Aalborg in Denmark. The learning opportunities offered by this transnational learning community are discussed in relation to some essential learning qualities to meet the comprehensive sustainability challenges facing our societies - in particular youth, who can be seen as a target group per se, many times in transition-like situations: (1) learning for uncertain future, 82) dealing with complex crossborder issues, (3) ability to collaborate, (4) take initiative and act in society. These qualities are difficult to achieve in formal school systems that are essentially organized to ensure the transmission of a specific learning content and measurable abilities. The question in this study has been inspired by a previous study in a Swedish school context (Nordén, Avery & Anderberg, 2012, Nordén, 2016), about abilities that allow high school students to get an agency towards local and global sustainability challenges. The critical skills identified were: (1) Organization/self-regulation and independent decision-making skills (2) Development of Transnational Learning Communities (3) Democratic cooperation in action. There is widespread consensus that radical new educational approaches are needed to address the challenges of our time (Breiting & Wickenberg, 2010; Mochizuki & Yarime, 2016; Reid & Scott, 2013). Traditionally, focus has been placed on transmitting an existing knowledge base. The situations we face are changing at a staggering rate, and future developments are characterized by great uncertainty. Barnett (2012) therefore claims that preparation for the unknown should be guiding in education. Young people must not only be able to explore different complex situations, but also be prepared to take initiatives to act, find solutions to major environmental and social problems, and steer up their own learning during their life journey (Almers, 2013; Barrat, Barratt-Hacking, Scott & Talbot, 2006; Öhman, 2008). In this context, one has talked about sustainability literacy (Dawe, Jucker & Martin, 2005). CEI's activities are nonformal (Mocker & Spear, 1982) in the sense that they are organized for the purpose of promoting learning for sustainability and have a well-considered overall structure, but participants can independently define the issues and projects they work with . The transnational learning community could thereby support a challenge-oriented learning (UE4SD, 2015). The results indicate that the processes are supported when young people and their teachers experience a sense of community and having a place in the local-global context. This is done both through intensive work on their own projects prior to the conference, through participation in the physical meetings during the conference and the subsequent network activities in connection with it. In order for society as a whole to take advantage of the potential of non-formal learning, alternative educational approaches need to gain increased recognition and attention. The focus has to be shifted from a narrow performance focus that values isolated results, to reflect more widely on the learning opportunities offered by different forms of education in their entirety.


  • Centre for Advanced Middle Eastern Studies
  • Middle Eastern Studies
  • MECW: The Middle East in the Contemporary World

Publishing year




Document type

Conference paper: abstract


  • Educational Sciences
  • Environmental Sciences
  • International Migration and Ethnic Relations


  • Global Learning for Sustainable Development (GLSD)
  • global challenges
  • informal learning
  • refugee education

Conference name

NERA, 2019

Conference date

2019-03-06 - 2019-03-08

Conference place

Uppsala, Sweden