Learning for Regeneration: The Stepping Stones


Learning for Regeneration: The Stepping Stones

Guest blog post written by Luis Camargo, founder of Organización para la Educación y Protección Ambiental/Organization for Environmental Education and Protection, and Joseph A Baust (josephbaust@me.com). To read part 1 of this series, visit Education for Regeneration—A Nature-Based Approach: Part 1.

In the first two parts of this series, we have explored the basic needs and pillars of nature-based education for regeneration and the key components of moving towards a "living systems approach" to participating positively and substantively to life on our planet.

In conjunction with this, we frame this third segment by asking the following questions:

  • How can we engage in the process of learning for regeneration?
  • How do we move in the direction of embracing learning experiences that can allow us to connect deeply, awaken our naturalist spirit, and empower us toward personal transformation?

We believe learning experiences should be integrated so people will self-explore and become enlightened to be able to meaningfully connect to the natural and human-built world. This can be accomplished using the tools of outdoor education, experiential learning, adventure-based counseling, environmental education, environmental interpretation, the arts, and play.

Placing the tenets of each within a broader framework becomes a stronger and more robust core for answering the questions we have posed. Each field has stand-alone and similar components, their differences may be used to enrich the teaching and learning processes. Broader and more diverse approaches from these fields provide more, effectively addresses the cognitive (thinking), affective (feeling), and psychomotor (doing) domains (Bloom) addressing the mind, body, heart, and spirit. [1,2]

The Stepping Stones of Nature-Based Experiences

I: Knowledge/Information (Mind)

Information is omnipresent. We see our surroundings described, how ecosystems and individual species function and behave, and how humans react and interact. Being able to discern what is accurate and be able to guide our lives takes more than memorization. It requires understanding since the learner is left to "connect the dots," if they can.

Happenstance requires a person to decipher what is relevant. Ideas and facts have no relevance to them nor to be able to connect to the world in general. With a panoply of facts to memorize, most often the context of what they learned are mind-numbing bits of information disconnected to the learner and disconnected to bigger ideas.

Example A:

A student is asked to learn a list of words and their definitions. They may also be asked to use the word in a sentence. One of the words in the list may be "community." The definition they see in their dictionary is: "An assemblage of interacting populations occupying a given area." The next day they are given a written test on the definitions. They are asked to memorize and recall, rather lower-level thinking skills (cognitive domain). [3]

Example B:

Students go on a field trip to a local cemetery. They are asked to explore the area in its entirety. The instructor asks them to come together and asks what they have found. The teacher may have asked: “What did you discover and what questions arose as a result of what you have seen or heard?" After their discussion, they are invited to ask questions, ones that have arisen as a result of their first look at the cemetery. They work in pairs/small groups to see if they can answer one question, one they have posed, and return when they believe they have an answer. On their return, the instructor asks: “How did you come to that conclusion? How might we verify what you believe to be the answer?” In class the next day they speak about the class trip and follow up on how to find resources. Before the end of the class the teacher asks the group: “What word(s) might we use to describe those interred in the cemetery? They collect the student’s ideas. One stands out, the word “community.” As a result of our experience, how would we define that word?

In your estimation which example provides the opportunity to create a long-term personal meaning of the word "community?" Which provides a context for a person to understand the concept of community? Which of the two examples has the potential for learners to apply, analyze, evaluate, and create using that knowledge?

Moving beyond information into informed self-discovery based on exploration and inquiry allows existing knowledge to be integrated and appropriated by learners. It becomes significant to the individual in understanding multiple perspectives of reality and the composition of systems, their parts, and interactions. Combs and Robinson both address making meaning, "Any information will affect a person's behavior only in the degree to which the person has discovered the personal meaning of the information to [themself.]" [4,5]

Since the word "community" is used extensively in science and social science, would it not be essential for each person to grasp this concept on an individual basis? We contend that context created by experience has a greater value to individual learners than memorized facts alone.

II: Direct Experience (Body)

While gathering and memorizing information is important in building knowledge but it must not be an endpoint. Therefore, the methods used for connecting to knowledge are important. Practical experience to start understanding, and relating theory or information requires a greater effort than memorization alone. Reality/experiences give pertinence to learning. Direct experience creates an atmosphere that activates our senses as our capacity to sense, feel, and think intuitively becomes greater.

As a species, our bodies have evolved in such a way that we need to become more connected with our surroundings. Modern life has isolated and reduced learning because it is believed that learning is more efficient and less time intensive. Directed or computer-based teaching/learning seems to define current ways of addressing making meaning. It is deemed better because it is more efficient and requires less time. While this may be true, direct/personal experience requires more time but is more full-bodied and vigorous learning.

We contend "learning more deeply versus learning a great deal shallowly", is necessary to have a lasting impact on a learner. It is critical to the regeneration of education. Learning deeply requires doing and exploring at the individual level.

As Sir Ken Robinson suggests, “You cannot predict the outcome of human development. All you can do is like a farmer, create the conditions under which it will begin to flourish.”[6] Indeed he suggests, “What we become as our lives evolve depends on the quality of our experiences here and now.”[7] Deep learning via impactful, first-hand experiences is preparing a fertile field for later success.

III: Emotional Learning (Heart)

We live through meaningful experiences. If they are expansive and deep, we will be more likely to use what we have learned. Transformational learning prepares us to be able to use our experiences to apply and create.

If we are engaged in substantive experiences, the level of involvement with our core emotions in that process is critical. By allowing our emotional selves to relate to the information learned through mind and body, we are more apt to connect our knowledge to new situations. It provides the nexus for relationship creation, a more personal one and of greater and more profound understanding.

An adult artist tells the story of feeling a deeper connection to these biomes after a weeklong experience in the forest, wetland, river. She related in her evaluation the experience she had developed provided her with a keener emotional connection to those places. Knowing in an emotional sense goes well beyond a definition of a biome and continued beyond that day.

Teachers should empower learners to explore, activate, understand, and incorporate core emotions into their learning. Teachers can support this learning or impede it by how they approach their assistance or collaboration with learners. For example, a student in a natural area can be enabled by a leader telling them what they are seeing, telling them why they are seeing this, and telling them the value of what they are seeing. This approach is not based on the thinking or feeling an individual experiences, it is what someone else is telling them to see, think, and feel. In this case, an experience is provided for the learner, but it is based upon what the teacher feels is important, not necessarily what is learned. The reason, the learner is only superficially engaged. There is no real connection to what they see, think, or feel.

It is slow and time-consuming to allow them to be on a nature walk and discover on their own. Yet the benefits assure a steady and studier understanding beyond the being “told” gains. Asking a learner what they have experienced is helpful in seeing what “they” have found. It tells the learner what they have discovered has value, what they have heard is personal and important. It is leaning on the natural senses of learners, as opposed to teaching how/what they think and feel is not as important. It is a confirmation to others: “We are all born with extraordinary powers of imagination, intelligence, feeling, intuition, spirituality, and of physical and sensory awareness.”[8]

We submit the role of a supportive teacher must be at the emotional and thinking level. This connects to the adage of being “the guide on the side, versus the sage on the stage.”

There are other techniques for developing the capacity to be fully present, to sense inner states and emotions, to process, relate and communicate feelings, and to recognize patterns of emotional associations. All of them require learning at a personal level that requires feelings as well as thinking. Being able to connect knowledge, experiences, and emotions (mind-body-heart) enables a holistic learning experience and longer lasting understanding of their learning.

IV: Realization (Spirit)

Nature has a special capacity to generate wonder. [9] Nature-based education allows us to bring learning experiences (mind-body-heart) to moments of experiencing a deep sense of awe. These moments in nature-based education are “windows of opportunity”; they happen naturally, but they can also be facilitated and incorporated strategically in the design of a learning experience. Examples: (C) ending a hard day at a specific place where the sun melts into the horizon and birds dance in the air; or (D) rising before dawn and watching the sun emerge from the horizon.

As individuals learn and experience this greater sense activated by awe, a disposition within them opens the possibility to take experiences to a higher and more subtle level. They connect to what we might call the spiritual, the intangibly profound and transcendent experience. [10]

These realizations are moments in which information, experiences, and emotions become holistically applicable inner knowledge. It is when the individual begins to understand themself as a portion of an interconnected system that includes other living forms that inhabit our planet (other humans, animals, plants, etc.). This is an inner process that occurs on an individual basis. While this may be accomplished collectively (in a group), an individual making an idea become part of their being occurs more often singularly.

V: Appropriation (Coming Full Circle)

After a realization that has in its foundations mind-body-heart to support it, the individual can start appropriating learning into basic attitudes, values, and ethical/moral/social constructs. At this point, the growing sense of inter-being starts informing our actions to activate our regenerative capacities. Being highly sensitive to seeing one’s position in the world suggests that a person begins to harmonize and into a more harmonious relation (self-others-nature); being able to ask and respond to the question:

As an individual, am I acting and considering I am a part of something greater than myself (regenerative force) or do I see and act upon my station in life more self-centered in terms of personal aggrandizement (degenerative one)?

In this process, there are qualities to strengthen and amplify learning experiences. These are the possibilities when considering "learning for regeneration":

  • Thinking and acting for relational thinking, doing, and being:
    It is all about relationships, quality, and health. Learning to strive for, establish and maintain deep, empathic, and respectful relationships with all life on the planet and living systems is a fundamental goal in nature-based education; always keeping in resonance being in the right relation to the self, to others, and to nature.
  • Acting as one amid diversity:
    As we walk into an ancestral forest such as the Amazon or the Chocó forest in Colombia, it is inevitable to sense the resonant and thriving quality. These are some of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet, and one of its essential tenets is diversity. In nature, diversity comes hand in hand with the potential to evolve, to innovate; diversity makes an ecosystem more resilient and brings stability to a constantly evolving system.

    As biomimicry pioneer Janine Benyus says, “Life creates the conditions conducive to life.” In a world where diversity has become a reason for conflict, nature teaches us that diversity has the critical potential to create the conditions for life to thrive. We only need to connect deeply and learn how to act as part of the living system to create conditions for life to prosper and start to embody regenerative cultures. Bill Reed (regeneration advocate and founder of the Regenesis Group), has said, “Life is the process of becoming.” [11,12,13,14] (“It refers to the person’s desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized what he is potentially.”) [15,16]

Values for a Rewilded Nature-Based Education

Considering the rapid changes in information and communication technologies, the education landscape is changing rapidly. This requires a shift towards adaptive educational systems to maintain pertinence in the real world. Adaptive systems must define core values that can guide change without limiting it. Values that can provide a road map towards solving global issues and aligning the human populations towards building peaceful and regenerative communities.

Several essential values are necessary for strengthening education that is currently gaining strength include:

  • Empathic: Developing empathy, inward (towards oneself) and outward (towards others and nature), will be a critical aspect of changing the value pyramid.
  • Compassionate: Activating the capacity to move from empathy into compassionate, thoughtful action.
  • Open/Accessible: As information and technology show us the power of an open approach to invention, open educational systems need to catch on and become open creative systems. This enables them to be adaptive in a dynamic and constantly changing environment.
  • Collaborative: As a system opens, it feeds itself through collaboration creating powerful synergies and co-learning opportunities.
  • Inclusive: Learning communities and educational systems benefit from having a broad range of points of view, experiences, and approaches. Inclusive education assures broad participation and diversity.
  • Eco-centric: Technology and human inventiveness are moving us towards returning to a more sustainable way of life. Nonetheless, changing the way we relate to other living beings (including other humans) is fundamental in enabling us to walk towards environmental peace and sustainable communities. Shifting from EGO to ECO and coming to be in service to life will need be an essential outcome of education.


Embracing nature-based education from a relational and holistic perspective will become a keyway to start shifting education towards one that embraces the potential of a thriving planet. Incorporating these stepping stones, supported by core values that embrace the vision of a global community of living beings (humans, animals, plants, etc.) in search of harmonic coexistence can become part of the change required to prepare future earthlings that work towards a peaceful and regenerative coexistence on the planet.

The person who has lived the most is not the one with the most years, but the one with the richest experiences.—Jean-Jacques Rousseau

1 Bloom, B.S. (Ed.). Engelhart, M.D., Furst, E.J., Hill, W.H., Krathwohl, D.R. (1956). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook I: The Cognitive Domain. New York: David McKay Co Inc.

2 Anderson, L.W., Krathwohl, D.R., Airasian, P.W., Cruikshank, K.A., Mayer, R.E., Pintrich, P.R., Raths, J., Wittrock, M.C. (2001). A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A revision of Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. New York: Pearson, Allyn & Bacon.

3 Ibid.

4 Combs, Arthur W. (1991) The Schools We Need: New Assumptions for Educational Reform. (Denver, CO: University Press of America), Page 42.

5 Robinson, Ken and K. Robinson. (2022) Imagine If: Creating A Future for Us All. (Penguin Books: London, UK) 2022.

6 Robinson, Ken. The Big Books of Spring. In goodreads.com.

7 Robinson, Ken. Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative. New York: Capstone Books

8 Robinson, Ken and L. Aronica. (2009) The Element: How finding Your Passion Changes Everything. (Penquin Books: New York, NY).

9 Carson, Rachel. (1987) The Sense of Wonder. (New York, NY, Harper Collins)

10 Hanh, Thuch Nhat. The Insight of Interbeing. Garrison Institute.

11 Smitsman, A., Baue, B., & Thurm, R. (2021). Blueprint 9: Educational Transformation -7 Transformative Learning Perspectives for Regeneration and Thrivability [Ebook] (p. 52). R3.0.

12 Combs, Arthur Earl C. Kelley, Carl R. Rogers, Abraham Maslow. Perceiving, Behaving, Becoming: A New Focus for Education. (Literary Licensing, LLC), May 26, 2012.

13 Maslow, Abraham (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50 (4), 370-96.

14Mclead, Saul. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In – Simple Psychology (simplepsychology.org)

15 Ibid, Maslow, 1943.

16 Hoffman, E. (1988). The right to be human: A biography of Abraham Maslow. (Los Angeles, CA: Jeremy P. Tarcher), page 382-383.
(It is important to note that self-actualization is a continual process of becoming rather than a perfect state one reaches of a “happy ever after.”)

Photo Credit: Joe Baust; Old City, Bregenz, Austria