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Tensions and Contradictions in Supporting Learning for Sustainability paper

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In this paper we discuss the tensions and contradictions that we have experienced in developing a virtual Leadership for Sustainability Learning Network (LSLN) for the North-West of England.

The LSLN is based on the use of social networking software designed to reflect the ideas and principles of networked learning. The aspiration was to develop a meeting place in which LSLN members could exchange learning, develop resources and support each other in the continuing development of their capacities and impact within the area of sustainability. Its primary aim was to support the learning of members seeking to take action and leadership for sustainability through collaborative and inquiry based action research.

The development of the LSLN was part of a larger project supported by a grant from the Higher Education Innovation Fund. The project also involved running a six month ‘Leading on Sustainability’ development programme in partnership with Business in the Community. The participants of this programme were intended to be the pilot group to use the LSLN. The paper, which incorporates several research strands within an overall action research approach, identifies and describes the following themes as significant for both the development of the LSLN itself and for taking leadership for sustainability.

Technology rather than learning can became a focus of attention
Identity issues in online learning are insufficiently recognised
Networked learning surfaces tacit issues of digital literacy
Hesitancy in participation and engagement
Tensions in the management of content
Challenges of self sustainability

After describing each of these themes we go on to identify significant issues that we believe have emerged from this initiative and research. These include; the congruence between the tensions and contradictions experienced in both the use of networked learning and in relation to leading on sustainability. That it is neither desirable nor possible to eliminate many of the key tensions and contradictions. Recognition of the socio-material affects of technology and, finally, the importance of both content management and digital literacy for learning through or being supported by social networking.