The Value of Demonstration
Demonstration centres that also offer learning activities and programmes have a unique and critical role to play in our journeys toward a regeneratively sustainable and resilient future. There are three dimensions to that role:
Firstly, as physical demonstrations of sustainable and regenerative practices they provide visitors and learners with opportunities for experiential learning which embeds learning more deeply, and which cannot be provided by other forms of learning;
“Our Masters programme is very rigorous, with very highly qualified lecturers. But then we get students to do something very practical like building a rammed earth wall or a timber frame building… and when they come in, typically they have a twinkle in their eye that you can’t get from the theory. It is that unique blend that makes it exciting for people. Touching, smelling, being in something you are studying works on different levels of a human being.” Paul Allen, The Centre for Alternative Technology, Machynlleth, Wales
Secondly, as place-based hubs, they make the broad themes of sustainability and regeneration relevant to their particular local and regional context, in terms of people, culture, climate and landscape;
Thirdly, they provide a focus for activity, community engagement and networking, bringing together a broad ecology of people in varied roles from practitioners to educators to learners, and they have a catalytic role in people’s individual and collective learning journeys.
Through these three features demonstration centres with learning and activity programmes help to activate community transformation.
Selection & Use of Demonstration & Learning Environments
For venues and learning and demonstration centres that are helping to expand or deepen climate action and socio-ecological transition outcomes, some key competency areas that trainers and educators will need are:
- The ability to select and use environments that enhance learning in general, and individual and collective action-learning in particular
- The ability to create and develop enhanced learning environments
- The ability to provide a supportive ecology of transformative learning experiences, that have a symbiotic relationship with the demonstration elements and related learning environments, for example through a range of complementary action-learning programmes, volunteering activities, or mentoring / tutor support programmes that relate to what is being demonstrated - for example a great selection of practicals on a permaculture course fulfils this function, alongside a design project, and the theory of permaculture design ethics, principles and tools; volunteering or apprenticeship programmes for green building or regenerative horticulture projects will fulfil the same function, alongside learning any relevant theory or technical information.
The trainers will be expected to start with an intermediate level of competencies in these areas, and aim to develop those competencies to an advanced, expert or multiplier level in order to have the greatest impact on learners, and the communities they are working with.
Environments that enhance learning
Stephen Sterling’s paper Transformative learning and sustainability: Sketching the conceptual ground refers to some of the key considerations for venues, particularly in terms of how their environment, culture and working practices need to reflect the values and subject matter (i.e. sustainability, carbon reduction, regeneration and resilience) of the learning programmes they are promoting and hosting.
One very important point is that standard institutional learning environments (i.e. schools, colleges, universities) tend to do absolutely nothing to demonstrate sustainability in practice, and can therefore be seen as being environments that actually inhibit genuine learning in these areas, because the learner gets embedded only in the theory, without seeing how absolutely essential it is that this is manifested in practice (this is one of the major problems in our culture when it comes to sustainability and sustainable development).