This paper explores students’ learning and learning experiences in environmental education (EE). Recent reviews in the field of environmental education research have made clear that insufficient attention has been paid to question of learning. In particular, there have been very few empirical investigations into the process (as opposed to the outcomes) of students’ learning experiences. There has also been a failure by environmental education researchers to engage with learning theory.
In the light of this situation, this paper will report findings from two studies that focused specifically on learners’ experiences of and responses to environmental curricula. The purpose of the paper will be to highlight the complexity of the learning experience within EE and to draw attention to the need for improved research-based understandings of learning processes.
The studies that inform this paper were undertaken independently but drew on similar theoretical perspectives and methodological approaches. The first focused on students’ responses to environmental geography lessons within three English secondary schools. The other looked at Swedish university students’ learning about environmental issues as part of undergraduate programmes.
Drawing on data, the paper will:
- present detailed empirical illustrations of learning challenges experienced by school and university students during environmental education courses
- reflect upon the possibilities and limitations of what we call ‘an intentional approach’ for researching students’ learning in environmental education
Against the backdrop of wider research on students’ learning in other subjects and contexts, the paper will consider the influence of the values-rich and contested nature of environmental subject matter.
We see this paper as a contribution to the development of environmental education as a research-informed practice, and the strengthening of research and theory relating to students’ learning in these contexts.