Learning as Agency for Transformative Change

Learning as Agency

  1. Transformative Agency
  2. Bildung and Stewardship
  3. The Governance of Agency

1. Transformative Agency

Things have gone rapidly downhill since the Age of Enlightenment, for, once this petty reasoning mind, which cannot endure any paradoxes, is awakened, no sermon on earth can keep it down. A new task then arises: to lift this still undeveloped mind step by step to a higher level and to increase the number of persons who have at least some inkling of the scope of paradoxical truth. We simply do not understand any more what is meant by the paradoxes contained in dogma.” ~ Carl Jung

  1. What does the word ‘paradox’ evoke in you? How do you feel about paradoxical situations?
  2. Are there any paradoxes you simply cannot accept?
  3. How can the perspective of a paradox help you reconcile what previously may have appeared unacceptable or irreconcilable to you?
  4. In what way is your life a paradox?

Facilitating Third Way Solutions

“Nature teaches us the importance of finding ways to bring seemingly conflicting opposites into harmony without destroying either of them. This claim stems from a worldview derived from diverse Indigenous Peoples whose ancestors — also our ancestors — studied nature deeply and holistically for hundreds of thousands of years.” ~ Donald Jacobs, Four Arrows (2016, p.177)

  1. Become aware of dualistic polarization dynamics, which can play out as dualistic cause-effect narratives, either-or thinking, division, conflict, fragmentation, win-lose zero-sum game competition, and oppositional dynamics. Acknowledge what is happening (also beneath the surface) and honestly assess your personal investment in any of these dynamics. Proceed to create clarity about what is going on and why.
  2. Look for a ‘third’ middle ground by focusing on ‘and-and’ perspectives, and by working with the architecture of wholeness behind seeming dualities. Consider the deeper causes as to why a transformative perspective or experience may have become blocked.
  3. Create a safe and generative space that makes it possible to heal what has become revealed, including any divisions. Keep an open mind and heart to multiple perspectives, including those you do not understand, while exploring collaborative approaches.
  4. Test assumptions through a future planetary perspective to deepen inclusiveness — i.e. is what we normalize or propose natural, desirable, and thrivable from the widest and deepest perspective of life as a whole?
  5. Check your commitment towards building our world from the foundations of life and the co-creation of thrivable societies. How does this process live within you, and what is your commitment to become the required person for this change?

Working with Complexity

Sustainability issues are complex and so are people! Humans can also be incredibly complicated, yet that is not the same as complexity. Complexity relates to the degrees of nested interconnections and interdependencies (within and between systems), as well as non-linearity. Complexity sciences, System Dynamics, and System Thinking form integral components of education for regeneration and thrivability, and offer valuable methods and methodologies for supporting learners to work with and embracecomplexity.

Are you able to hold, integrate, and weave various perspectives and approaches through an inclusive attitude and a deepening sense of appreciation for the underlying wholeness and unity of life?

Working with complexity also includes working with uncertainty and transitions. In particular, for embracing the creative tensions between that which is concrete (and perhaps even dominant in our present reality), and that which is seeking to emerge (as a new reality and is not yet tangible or visible for others). Especially when future possibilities are situated right on the edge of emergence.

2. Bildung and Stewardship

Bildung is a German concept that focuses simultaneously on the inner and outer transformations, as well as the development of personal and collective capacities. Bildung as an educational strategy places the focus on our inner transformations within the larger context of our outer societal transformations. The authors of the book “the Nordic Secret” describe Bildung as follows:

Case-study Application

The EARTHwise Education for Sustainability (EfS) program was developed and facilitated by Dr. Anneloes Smitsman for schools in Mauritius, and provided training to over 300 hundred teachers and 20,000 students over a period of 7 years, from 2011–2018. During this period the EfS program became implemented into the curriculum and educational systems of mainstream education in Mauritius, which was documented and evaluated through the Ph.D. research by Anneloes Smitsman at the Maastricht Sustainability Institute, Maastricht University the Netherlands (Smitsman, 2019).

EfS Schools from the EARTHwise Centre EfS Program

Learning and Healing through Ceremony and Rites of Passage

Transformative learning is a rite of passage through which we learn how to embrace and transform existing challenges, discover new perspectives, heal and let go, become more self-aware as we grow into our future becoming. Our ecological and sustainability crisis can also be considered as a collective rite of passage through which we are challenged, and called, to evolve to new orders of reality that belong to the next stages of our evolutionary development.

The required outer transformations will not manifest unless we first embrace and commit to the required inner transformations.

The destruction of our planet, and the death of so many species and ecosystems, are deeply saddening. We need to support people (and ourselves) in coming to terms with all these emotions — especially our grief, anger, and anguish. Most importantly, we need to support children and teenagers in how to process this emotionally. Some may have lost a family member, or a pet, or someone close to them, even more so now with the COVID-19 pandemic and our worsening climate crisis.

Younger generations need our help to move through this challenging time, and especially to grief together and know how they can safely share their feelings and thoughts.

Young people are often confronted with images and stories of death, loss, illnesses, violence, and suffering without preparation or a loving arm around them, which can shock the foundations of their own sense of humanity. Many are experiencing a sense of growing uncertainty, and some teenagers are feeling so terrified, scared, and hopeless that they decide to take their own lives. Suicide rates are growing at an alarming rate around the world.

3. The Governance of Agency

Governance relates to the ways that power and decision rights are distributed in a system, as well as how we can apply, coordinate, and direct our capacities and resources within the systems we form part of. Accordingly, a key component of governance is the self-governance of agency. The self-governance of our agency has an inner dimension and an outer application. Namely, how we govern, balance, and coordinate our inner dynamics, needs, desires, and behaviors, as well as the outer expression of our agency in terms of how we apply ourselves in society and in particular our participation in the governance of the systems, organizations, and cultures we form part.

Autopoiesis and the Governance of Agency

Our current climate emergency reveals clearly that our interdependence with all of life cannot be ignored. To not include governance for interdependence in the design and governance of our societies (and especially our economies), is setting up the way for acts of ecocide. Ecocide, according to the recent (June 2021) legally accepted definition means: “unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts.”

All living systems are autopoietic systems; if we harm the vital autopoietic functions of self-creation, self-regulation, and adaptation, we undermine and harm the foundation for regeneration and thrivability, as well as sustainability.

The principles of autopoiesis reveal how autonomy and sovereignty don’t mean self-determination through disconnection (or separation) from our embeddedness within life. Autonomy and sovereignty, from an autopoietic or living systems perspective, means being able to act on one’s innate capacities for self-creation, self-regulation, and adaptation. When this is no longer possible or restricted, one’s capacity for autonomy and sovereignty becomes reduced.

  1. Respect and support people in their self-governance of agency so they can learn how to regulate and adapt their capacities, engagement, and relationships (inwardly and outwardly) for the learning tasks at hand, and in ways that are safe, healthy, meaningful, and thrivable.
  2. Support people to become (more) conscious of their capacities for regenerative self-governance by helping them become aware of their innate abilities of self-creation, self-regulation, and adaptation through interdependent networks of relationships with each other and our natural world.
  3. Apply living system governance principles in the design and governance of educational systems and for creating learning ecosystems that support learners to develop an embodied understanding of their unity with life, with appreciation and care for each other, life, and our planet.

Without a sense of inner freedom we cannot thrive and it becomes very difficult to be creative and act regeneratively.

Source: Extracts from chapter 5 of the r3.0 Educational Transformation Blueprint.

Other articles in this series:


Andersen, L.R. & Björkman, T. (2017). The Nordic Secret — A European Story of Beauty and Freedom. Fri Tanke, Stockholm.



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