Real World LearningReal

Real World Learning Model

The Real World Learning model offers a holistic and flexible approach to outdoor learning for sustainability; a way of thinking, reflecting and being. Each element on its own is important, but when delivered as a coherent whole offers a much deeper and more meaningful learning experience.

Is there a frame providing a connecting story?
Frames play a powerful part in how we understand and interpret the world around us. For example when we hear the word ‘nature’, subconsciously a bundle of different memories, emotions and values are activated. Such associations, often leading to strong narratives under the surface of our awareness, are called ‘frames’. In our model the frames are in the palm of the hand as they ensure that values, empowerment, experience, transferability and understanding are connected, leading to a deeper sustainability learning experience.


  • Cycles
    Cycles are processes that can be repeated continuously without degrading the ability of other processes to continue. Cycles in an ecosystem intersect with larger regional and global cycles. We find many cycles in nature: seasons, diurnal cycles, particles, elements.
  • Change
    The world around us never stays the same; it is constantly adapting and responding to feedback and changing conditions. Living in a changing world means that what worked yesterday might not work today or might not be suitable for future generations. Change could be considered a threat for some ecosystems and societies, but without change there would be no development.
  • Stability
    Stability is the concept of dynamic balance. All systems have feedback loops, acting to maintain the system in a relatively stable state. Small fluctuations around the optimal system variables keep the system within tolerance limits. Go beyond these limits and the system can alter forever.
  • Energy
    Energy flow is the movement/transfer of energy between the elements of a system by biotic and abiotic means. As energy flows between different parts of a system it is transformed into different forms of energy.

Are scientific concepts of life involved?
Scientific concepts, like cycles or change, infuse all areas of life. Understanding these concepts means to understand the complex interplay of processes and patterns that sustain life. However, true understanding comes from combining a scientific approach with emotions, values and humanity. Exploring scientific concepts of life in this holistic way develops thinking and action for sustainability.


  • The global society
    This term is widely used as referring to the world society in the age of globalisation. In the learning process it means to connect the learning around scientific concepts, values, experience or empowerment with global issues that mirror this learning at the global scale.
  • The learners' communities
    The place in which we live and the people that form this place, our families, friends and neighbours. On this level the individual has the best chance to take actions for sustainable development.
  • The non-natural environment
    This is the technical environment which humans have created. Take into account in your work where you can see the effects of humans on the environment or what the drivers behind these inventions are.
  • The natural environment
    Everything that is around us and which has not been made by humans: our planet, its elements, organisms, plants and animals. Allow your learners space and time to explore nature, learn in and about it and understand the principles behind it, for example the cycling of nutrients to other areas of life.
  • The learners themselves
    This involves the thoughts, emotions, knowledge, actions and physical being of the individual person. It is important that the learners understand themselves as part of the natural world. Most natural processes can be experienced in their own body, in society and in the non-natural world – all of which have an influence on the individual.

Are different areas of life included?
Sustainability goes through all areas of life. Therefore it is important to transfer learning of, for instance, understanding of scientific concepts, with experiences that learners have had, actions taken or values held. This allows the learners to make connections between themselves, their communities, global society, and the non-natural and natural environment.


  • Provoke and raise curiosity
    Curiosity connects with learning in two important ways: it is a source of motivation and it is powered by questions from both students and teachers. Provoking is a crucial part of teaching. A simple story or an unexpected moment may start a process of dissonance leading to new questions and ideas.
  • Increase sensitivity and encourage learners to relate to the site
    In the outdoor setting we have the unique opportunity to challenge and develop peoples’ attitudes towards nature and environmental issues via direct contact with the environment and various kinds of sensory activities. It is the way to develop environmental sensitivity of learners and promote their love of nature.
  • Involve learners with head, heart and hand
    Whilst education about the environment could be interpreted as being concerned with the head, and education in the environment with the heart, education for the environment can be seen as practical action involving our hands. The integration of education about, in and for the environment forms a holistic head, heart and hands approach
  • Use a variety of methods and reveal something new to the learners
    No single educational model fits for everyone and everything. When we draw from a richness of methods and strategies, we also respect diversity of learning styles and individual experience of our learners. Whatever methods we use, learners should find some new experience relevant for their personal lives. Meaningful experiences can change the way we think, feel, or live. Meaningful experiences stimulate our learning.
  • Remain open to the outcome
    Facing wonders of nature, challenging a real world issue, learners always give their own meaning to their experience. Learners’ learning is always theirs, not the teacher's. It is important to remain open to learners’ ideas and respect even unpredictable outputs as the source of our own learning.
  • Provide opportunity for action and enjoyment in real world settings
    Learners should not only be informed about an issue but they should be provided with an opportunity to deal with that issue – to actively respond to it and to see a change. Experience of success can develop a belief in their capacity to promote a change and develop practical skills for dealing with environmental issues. If the learning process is enjoyable, positive emotions will be involved and learning will be more efficient.

Do learners get in touch with outdoor settings?
By getting in touch with an outdoor setting learners can experience real life with their head, heart and hands, follow their curiosity, become sensitive to the complexities and interconnections around them and recognise that they are a part of a bigger system. This intensity of experience is held and lifted by the other aspects of the model.


  • Enable learners to cooperate, participate, take responsibility and learn in a self-directed way
    The success of a truly sustainable society, as is true for any healthy ecosystem, will be based on elements or individuals in that society cooperating for the greater good. Individuals cannot stand back while others do the acting, they must participate, offering their contribution to the whole. If these two elements are to be effective then individuals and collectives will need to take responsibility for their actions, thinking beyond themselves. The culmination of these three elements is that learners can take the initiative to pursue learning and be responsible for its completion, a fundamental competence for sustainable living.
  • Enable learners to deal with their own feelings and the feelings of others
    To achieve cooperation, participation and responsible action in a sustainable society there is a great need for emotional intelligence amongst its citizens. Issues of sustainability go far beyond just understanding, they involve deep emotions and feelings on an individual and collective level that need to be recognised, processed and evaluated in order to guide thinking and action for sustainability.
  • Enable learners to be reflective and critical thinkers – considering different perspectives to reach informed opinions and decisions
    To be empowered to think reflectively and critically is key to sustainable living in a changing and challenging world. There is such a broad range of information and stimulus available that informs thinking, behaviour and action. Learners will need to be competent reflective and critical thinkers in order to form their views through a deep learning process, basing decisions and actions on the best available evidence, and with consideration of the different perspectives involved.
  • Allow learners to take ownership of their learning and reflect on what and how they have learned
    We are in an era of change. Activating a process of continuous learning enables individuals to consciously address this. Reflecting on what you learn and being prepared to learn continuously means to be ready for change and improvement; it makes us aware of our role in the world and the need to be ready to participate in a positive and meaningful way. It is important for learners to recognise what learning has arisen in any given situation and how they learn the most effectively, the learner will then be empowered to take responsibility of their learning as an active citizen.
  • Empower learners to be creative, flexible and able to take positive action to deal with change
    If we are to live in balance with the planet, creativity will be essential in finding solutions to the challenges we face individually and collectively with respects to sustainable living. Environmental and societal change is inevitable, thus a sustainable society will require its citizens to be adaptive and resilient to these changes, being flexible in their approach, outlook and response to the challenges presented. To make these competences truly sustainable in nature they will have to be manifested in positive action, action that has a constructive and restorative social and/or environmental impact. Sustainability is nothing without positive action.
  • Enable learners to become conscious of interconnectedness - you, me and the world around
    Interconnectedness refers to the idea that all things are one. In this time of intense global challenge it is critically important to remember this interconnectedness; thinking, feeling and acting accordingly are essential requirements to building sustainable organisations and communities - ensuring a healthy future for the planet.

Are learners empowered to shape a sustainable future?
Empowerment brings the learners to the centre of the learning experience: it’s about recognising and realising their own humanity and their own ability to take action for positive change. Empowering learners enables them to cooperate and to take ownership of their learning. Everybody can make a change. To experience this can help learners to shape the future in a sustainable way.


  • Respect for nature and care for the state of our planet
    This recognises the core universalism values that relate to nature, with the goal of preserving the natural environment.
  • Equal opportunities for all people to shape their lives
    This recognises broad societal concern, with the goal of commitment to equality, justice and protection of all people including the welfare of those directly around us.
  • Respect for future generations
    This recognises the need for our thinking and action in the present to be aligned with needs of future generations in terms of all living things.

Are self-transcendence values promoted?
Values represent our guiding principles; our broadest motivations, influencing the attitudes we hold and how we act. Self-transcendence values support bigger-than-self thinking and action. Being concerned about the wellbeing of others and the planet is essential for sustainability.