Active learning encourages pro-climate and pro-environmental behavior in adolescents

Wu, J., & Otsuka, Y. (2021). Pro-climate behaviour and the influence of learning sources on it in Chinese adolescents. International Research In Geographical And Environmental Education, 30, 24 - 38.

In order to successfully combat the ever-increasing challenges of climate change and to lessen the overall impacts, it is of the utmost importance for humans to shift toward environmentally-friendly behaviors. Environmental education (EE) has been proven to positively effect pro-environmental behaviors (PEB). Based on the role climate change has on the overall health of the environment, pro-climate behavior (PCB) is a subset of PEB. PCBs are individual actions that can support reducing energy and carbon emissions and other negative impacts of climate change. Instilling PCB in adolescents is key and climate change learning materials can aid in strengthening these behaviors. This study aimed to answer the question of whether both activity- and media-based learning plays a role in PCB and how certain life circumstances impact the PCB of adolescents in China.

To understand the effects of learning sources combined with life circumstances on PCB, the researchers randomly selected 676 11th grade students from 4 different schools across 3 school districts in Shanghai, China. A survey was administered to the participants during the school day in November 2018. The survey asked questions about three areas: PCB (both direct and indirect actions), learning sources, and life experiences. Additionally, one question asked about gender and other asked which type of science they like more, social or natural. To measure PCBs, there were 13 different actions represented in the survey and students checked each activity they participated in. To measure learning, different types were listed, formal (school), non-formal (an exhibit at a museum or an NGO), and informal (word of mouth, social media, etc.), and students checked which sources provided them with information on climate change (they could select multiple). To measure life experiences, the survey asked if participants had ever spent time outside in nature, experienced a natural disaster, or been part of an environmental club or group. The data was then statistically analyzed to explore the relationships between each component of the survey.

Of the 676 surveys given out, 657 were used in analysis. Of the participants, 49% were male and 51% were female. In total, 58% liked natural sciences while 42% liked social sciences. Highlighting the PCB results first, the four most common behaviors students selected that they participated in were: walk or cycle within 5 kilometers; use public transportation instead of private; buy/use disposable items; and, buy/use less plastic or over-packaged items. The use of public transport over private transportation was the most popular action in minimizing emissions, which could be due to the fact that public transport in Shanghai is convenient and low-cost. Meanwhile, eating less meat, and buying second-hand or used items were selected by the least number of students. The researchers inferred that because students may not have as much knowledge and information about the effects of certain foods on climate change and may not like buying used clothing, these two items were the least popular. Regarding the types of learning sources students used to get information on climate change, most students selected informal learning sources, followed by formal, and lastly for non-formal sources. Specifically, TV, movies, internet, books, and the use of social media were popular sources of information. WeChat, China's messaging app, and television are the two fastest-growing informal learning sources for climate change information, especially for younger people. School curriculum, NGO/NPO activities, and school-based activities were the least selected learning sources. Lastly for life experiences, most (70%) said they previously spent time outdoors in nature, while only some (19%) were members of environmental clubs. In regards to natural disasters, 35% had never experienced one and rest had experienced one or more.

This study showed students took both direct and indirect positive actions for climate change mitigation. However, many students only contribute through indirect actions, suggesting these actions pose less hurdles for the public. Further, the researchers noted there was a connection for students who mentioned they had enjoyed being outside in nature in the past and were part of an environmental club with having more PCBs. This study also showed many informal learning sources contribute a large amount to how the students in this study got their information on climate change. However, activity-based learning, as opposed to media-based learning, is shown to better relate to PCBs according to the cross examination of the variables measured in this study. An example of activity-based learning includes places like museums, which are built to give visitors the motivation and hands-on experiences to learn about complicated systems. Finally, the researchers found that all the life experiences listed were favorable to having PCBs, which is supported by earlier research. The researchers explained this could be because exposure to specific experiences may increase the overall sensitivity one has towards the environment. For example, if a person has experience playing or partaking in activities outdoors, they are likely to form an attachment to nature. This can foster better awareness and positive behaviors for the environment and climate change.

There were limitations to this study, and the results are not generalizable to all populations. To start, cities and other metropolitan areas may offer more access to partake in pro-environmental behaviors and life experiences. For example, public transportation may not be widely available to those who live in more rural areas. In addition, the role governments play in environmental infrastructure and policy in different countries may not reflect the circumstances of China, which was the focus on this study. Lastly, the study was not clear on the reliability and the validity of the survey, which could affect future replications of this study.

The researchers suggested activity-based learning should be used more often in environmental education and climate change topics in school. Implementing a learning-by-doing activity could reshape misunderstandings about climate change and improve student awareness about climate change impacts. Next, considering these results showed how specific life experiences can forecast PCB, they should be considered when designing environmental education activities. More attention should be paid to certain costs of behavior and socio-cultural facets on the environment and provide students access to learn about these through new skills and tools, and opportunities to take action. Lastly, for the future, there must be a stronger control on measuring the various learning sources that contribute to PCB because the design of activities can have a significant effect on how a student will act toward climate change.

The Bottom Line

<p>By increasing awareness of climate change impacts, especially in adolescents, there is a greater opportunity for students to combat the negative effects humans will face in the future. This study reviewed the ways different learning sources and life experiences affect pro-climate behaviors (PCB) in Chinese students. Study participants were given a survey that examined their PCBs, life experiences, and the sources they used for learning about climate change. The results showed the majority of students had life experiences that led to PCB, used informal sources to get their news and education about climate change, and many already engaged in PCBs like taking public transport to reduce emissions. The researchers recommended educators provide active learning during climate change lessons to foster PCB through critical skill-building and sustainable decision-making.</p>

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