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SUSTAINABLE LEARNING FRAMEWORK

Sustainable Learning 2020

Sustainable Learning

Sustainable Learning refers to a theory of educational practices that contribute to a healthy learning ecosystem in which knowledge is co-created and shared in community; Teachers and the systems in which they work are self-reflective and are adaptive to rapidly changing environments. In a healthy learning ecosystem, learning is an iterative, evidence-based process that addresses immediate needs and provides for the emergence of transformative insights and actions. Sustainable Learning is a set of applied disciplines and the practices that make them actionable.

The Five Disciplines of Sustainable Learning

Discipline I. Systems Thinking – Learning providers recognize and synthesize teaching and learning patterns, interactions, and interdependencies and use networks and communities to responsively design courses, programs, and policy.

Practice A. Collective Impact – intentionally working together and sharing information to solve complex problems

Practice B. Distributed Leadership uses organizational structures such as communities of practice and communities of inquiry to define challenges and opportunities and foster innovative solutions

Practice C. Emergent and Adaptive Structures dynamically adapt instruction, assessment, content, and activities to suit contexts, abilities, or preferences of learners and learning providers

Discipline II. Looped Learning – Teachers and systems of learning use multiple feedback protocols for improving, reframing, and transforming practice and policy 

Practice A. Theory of Change – teachers and other learning practitioners demonstrate how credible, achievable outcomes, defined with stakeholders, are expected to be achieved over the short, medium, and longer-term.

Practice B. Reflective Teaching – Individually and in community, teachers use the “what, so what, now what” reflection method, using tools such as critical dialogue, journals, and e-portfolios, as a continuous process to improve teaching 

Practice  C. Analytics for Improvement – Practitioners have access to and use of data to improve teaching, policy, methods, tools, and technologies

Discipline III. Purposeful Pedagogy – Learning design is driven by a teaching philosophy, a clear purpose, evidence-informed methods, and authentic assessment.

Practice A. Project-Based is a student-centered approach in which students learn about a subject by working in groups to solve an open-ended problem using methods that are typically hands-on.

 Practice B. Evidence-Informed refers to a teaching practice or approach that is supported by robust and reliable research. Evidence-informed pedagogy facilitates the ability to generalize teaching practices and repeat any instructional approach within various environments and contexts.

 Practice C. Digitally-Curated uses finding and selecting, grouping, and contextualizing, preserving, maintaining, archiving, and sharing digital content as an opportunity for community building, critical inquiry, a platform to demonstrate interpretative and creative abilities, and to develop digital literacies of both faculty and students.

 Practice D. Multi-Modal channels of information or anything that communicates meaning in some way and enables the use of a combination of text, images, motion, or audio.

Discipline IV. Democratic Engagement – Assures every participant has the access, support, materials, and safety they need to be active learners, are provided opportunities for peer-to-peer learning, and are included in shaping the learning experience.

Practice A. Facilitated Discourse assures that online discussion (asynchronous and synchronous) has a stated purpose, a facilitator, builds community, asks genuine, open-ended questions, and provides summaries of the exchange.

 Practice B. Open Education Resources are teaching, learning, and research materials in any medium – digital or otherwise – that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation, and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions.

Practice C. Learning in Communities –Communities of Practice are groups of people who come together to improve their practice and co-create knowledge in a structured and facilitated format in which a shared language is used discussion, reflection, and content creation. In teaching, Communities of Inquiry are focused on developing teaching presence, social presence, and cognitive presence.

Discipline V. Digital Geographies provide open systems for online teaching and learning.

Practice A. Connected Knowledge connects courses, people, and resources to develop unique personalized learning pathways

Practice B. Generative Architectures users and developers innovate technology to address emerging needs and ideas by developing plug-ins and other augmentations that customize the performance of the technology. There is no central designer who coordinates this development.

Practice C. Secure Spaces meet established standards for privacy, integrity, availability, and security risk analysis.


In the context of Connected Learning, we believe that education might be the most potent tool in responding to the catastrophic threats of our time, a pandemic, climate change, authoritarianism, and systemic bias and hate. But the degradation of reliable information and the channels and networks through which it flows make quality education harder and harder to deliver.

Learning is a way of being in the world. It is what humans do. Long before there were classrooms and schools, curricula, and tests, humans responded to their environment and gained insight from their experience and that of others around them. Observing not just the successes and travails of species that looked like them but also from those that did not. Digital Ecosystems and Architectures.

If, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. argued, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” Sustainable Learning is the best assurance that that infinite journey will bend in the right direction.

Sustainable Learning Framework 1.0

In 2016,  the Center for Learning in Practice was launched; we issued the first version of a Sustainable Learning Framework. We said:

A Sustainable Learning Framework is necessary because economic, social, and political forces are placing pressures upon organizations to acquire knowledge quickly and execute learning reliably. These forces may threaten the continued health and prosperity of organizations and the people they serve. It is for this urgent reason we have chosen to focus on the development of a Framework for Sustainable Learning. 

The power of rapidly emerging digital connectedness combined with the growing aspirations of civil society organizations to more effectively develop talent and share knowledge presents a singular opportunity for improving how work gets done. 

The Center for Learning in Practice forecasts that a model of sustainable learning will be among the most important developments in realizing the potential of this moment. In fact, we believe that the issues facing organizations in the transmission and collaborative development of knowledge will not succeed without such a model.

We could not have imagined how prescient and how soon our forecasting would prove correct. Based on our work over the past four years with partners and clients worldwide and in response to the multiple global disruptive forces that have erupted in 2020, we updated the Sustainable Learning Framework. A Sustainable Learning Toolkit will be available in early 2021.