Opportunities for transformative learning in the coronavirus crisis

Prof. Dr. Heike Walk

The coronavirus pandemic brings about drastic changes for a great many people. When social life returns to normal once the coronavirus crisis is over, a window of opportunity will open for launching innovative concepts and ideas for sustainable development. This is an area in which universities will be required to take responsibility. The example of Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development (HNE) shows what this could look like:

  • Innovation goal of sustainability transformation: together with a variety of very different stakeholders from practice, HNE Eberswalde has developed sustainability innovations and models for solutions. With stakeholders from society, guiding principles and concepts for sustainable development are formulated in learning forums and reflection rooms. These provide orientation during the search for sustainable developmental paths, and inspire processes of social innovation. In this respect, students are an important bridge to different areas of society and bring scientific knowledge and new ideas into the practical sphere.
  • Experiences with transformation:  trends as different as the Fridays for Future movement, the climate policy of the German government, the unchecked increase in SUV registrations and demonstrations by farmers against environmental regulation show that society was already changing before the coronavirus. It is known from transformation research that crises can lead to far-reaching changes. In this confusing situation, design knowledge for sustainable development is needed to make good use of the available scope for a new start after the coronavirus crisis. This design knowledge is gained in inter- and transdisciplinary research and model projects, in which sustainability concepts are implemented and experiences are gained surrounding the conditions for success and the hurdles. This expertise is taught to students through Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), and is applied at the practical level through partnerships for the transfer of sustainability.
  • Logbook of changes: what does the coronavirus crisis mean for sustainable development? With the "Logbook of Changes" project, the HNE Eberswalde invites citizens to record their observations in a logbook to document social change during the coronavirus crisis. The logbooks are used to investigate whether and how this transformation knowledge can be used once the coronavirus crisis is over.

Universities can make an important contribution to shaping a new sustainable start in society after the coronavirus pandemic is overcome. This will require a close discussion with stakeholders, effective interfaces for the transfer of sustainability, theoretical, empirical and methodological knowledge, as well as critical reflection on goals and concepts. Universities can now bring design knowledge for a transformation of sustainability into the social debate in order to take the historic opportunity for transformative learning and action.

Prof. Dr. Heike Walk

Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development
Vice-President for Academic Affairs at the Eberswalde University for Sustainability and Professor for Transformation Governance at the Faculty of...

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