LAS is an award-winning provider of elearning consultancy, design, development and training services in the UK and internationally.
Established in 2005 as LearningAge Solutions, we work with some of the best known organisations in the world to boost their performance through the innovative use of learning technologies. Working in partnership with our customers, we draw on proven principles from human behaviour, how people learn and how the brain works to create impactful digital learning solutions with real return on investment.
About Tess Robinson
Tess is a director of LAS. She has worked in a learning environment for over twenty years. First, as a senior manager in universities, moving into digital learning ten years ago.
How to learn about the hard stuff - 5 ways to support climate change learning
By Tess Robinson
Posted 18 July 2022
Climate change is a really difficult thing to get your head around. As a topic it’s ever shifting and evolving and there’s a lot of complex science, concepts and interconnections in there. However, what makes it particularly hard to contemplate is its existential nature. We all see the news with reports of heatwaves, avalanches, floods and wildfires caused by climate change, but none of us really want to think too deeply about how it all might play out.
If we take a human-centred approach, we acknowledge that people don’t just exist in the microcosm of our organisations, they are also affected by their immediate environments and what is happening in the wider world. When we see big things happening that are largely outside of our control, it can create a great deal of worry and stress, leaving us feeling anxious, demotivated and drained of energy. The pandemic is a good example of how alarming extrinsic factors affected some (most) people’s mental health and resilience, which naturally seeped into their performance at work.
Workplace learning has an important role to play in helping people address and work through difficult topics, such as this one. The lens through which you encourage your learners to look at climate change in relation to your organisation can turn it from a crisis over which they have no control into an opportunity to make positive changes, which in turn can be beneficial for your learners’ mental health. So, how do we do this?
1. Make a clear connection to your company goals and mission
Set out why it is important for your organisation to understand and take action on climate change. A recent survey by WRAP, a long-established climate action NGO, found that over 60% of people in the UK think that businesses should be acting now on climate change. If your organisation isn’t already thinking about their response, they will be soon, as consumer pressure builds. This is a good thing - taking a stand that is clearly aligned to your company mission is something that will help you to recruit, retain and motivate staff. A recent article in HR Magazine cited that 93% of UK workers said tackling climate change was key to their motivation and wellbeing, with 78% ready to tackle the climate crisis at work. A similar study by internet company Ulily also found that 65% of office-based employees were more likely to work for a company with a strong environmental policy. In the time of the Great Resignation, this stuff really matters if you want to be able to hire and keep the best talent. Companies such as Deloitte have recognised this and are now making climate learning part of onboarding, so that all new hires understand how their work is addressing the climate crisis from the outset.
2. Focus on the things your learners can control
No single person can personally solve the climate crisis but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t positive small steps we can take. Whether that’s turning the lights off when you leave a training room or developing products and services that help customers to be more green, it all adds up. Your people will appreciate guidance on how they can personally make a difference and help to build that positive feeling that they are making a contribution. To avoid overwhelm, you can keep the learning and tasks bite-sized and make sure they are relevant by involving your learners in the design process.
3. Encourage mindfulness
Mindfulness is the practice of intentionally paying attention to the present moment without passing any judgement on it. It’s about engaging with your surroundings and training your brain to observe your passing thoughts and feelings, so you can distance yourself from them and gain greater perspective. Forbes argues that mindfulness is a ‘21st-century skill’ and that businesses with mindful teams are better equipped to compete in today’s ever-changing environment. Mindful practices are great for helping people develop mental agility and resilience and feel empowered. They are also a powerful tool for improving creativity - which will be needed in spades to come up with solutions to the climate crisis.
4. Create a community.
Creating a climate change learning community will connect people across your organisation and enable them to learn from each other. Members of the community can be encouraged to share ideas and both successful and unsuccessful experiences, in order to deepen collective understanding. Communities can really help to accelerate progress towards your organisation’s climate goals by facilitating fast-cycle learning and bringing key stakeholders together. Alongside this, communities play a key role in supporting wellbeing, social connection and empowerment which increase people’s resilience – a key skill in difficult times.
The benefits of reflection in learning are well documented. A Harvard study from 2014 found that learners who reflect on their learning increased their performance by almost 23% on the control group. The climate crisis is such a critical issue that we really need to maximise these performance gains. In many cases, learning about the climate may not, at first glance, feel 100% relevant to day-to-day work life. Reflection allows time and space for people to make connections, develop understanding and critical thinking skills and to process how the skills and experiences they have gained through their learning can be translated into their future activities and ideas. Like mindfulness, it is something that learners and managers need to make time for, which may seem hard in a busy schedule, but it can reap great rewards.
It can be challenging to get people to confront and learn about difficult things, but, as we’ve seen, there are things we can put in place to help. The Danish existential philosopher, Kierkegaard (1844) wrote in ‘The Concept of Anxiety’:‘
'He whose eye happens to look down into the yawning abyss becomes dizzy. But what is the reason for this? It is just as much in his own eye as in the abyss, for suppose he had not looked down'.
The ever-more obvious effects of climate change being played out in our media every day are making it impossible not to look down. We are all starting to look up and this will inevitably affect your learners' thoughts, choices and behaviour; both inside and outside work. There will, rightly, be an increasing expectation from employees and consumers that organisations play their part in behaving responsibly towards our planet. In L&D, we can help by equipping learners with the skills, space, tools and support that will bolster their resilience and foster creativity.