Educators as Architects of Living Systems: Designing Vibrant Learning Experiences beyond Sustainability and Systems Thinking
This article discusses how living systems principles can inform educational design. It describes a theoretical framework for creating academic learning experiences as organic wholes that sustain learning verve. The framework is intended to aid educators in awakening a felt sensation of aliveness, vibrancy, and self-organizing creativity in a group of learners. It seeks to create congruence between learning content and teaching methodology in ways that nurture a felt sensation of engagement and ways that sustain participants as change-makers for a healthier, more sustainable world. The research presented in this paper draws from living systems theory, ecology, ecopsychology, as well as transformative learning theory and related schools of thought. Special attention is given to the “autopoietic” processes of learning experiences as living systems which are self-organizing, dynamic wholes rich in relational patterns that carry the potential for generative insight, emergent knowing, and palpable empowerment of learners. The theoretical framework utilizes metapatterns of nature to create a versatile design structure for mimicking the dynamics of living systems across multiple ways of teaching and learning. The paper concludes with a series of design questions intended to assist educators in testing this new framework in sustainability courses, workshops, and conferences.