Learning history in an open system: creating histories for sustainable futures

Margaret R. Gearty, Hilary Bradbury-Huang, Peter Reason

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (SciVal)


What kind of learning is required to bring us towards a more sustainable future? We argue that when behaviourally and technically complex issues intertwine, a collaborative social learning process that engages diverse actors in deep systems change is necessary. The learning required includes but overtakes debate, bringing organisations, individuals and communities into cycles of experiential, cumulative, ad hoc and opportunistic, yet systematic, learning. Current conceptualisations and approaches to learning have not been framed with the requisite level of integrated complexity given our sustainability challenges. This article introduces the action research approach of ‘learning history in an open system’ in the service of such learning. Updating the heretofore single-project focussed learning history, we present recent methodological developments for its use in open systems that support a joining up of projects and sites of endeavour to support deeper and accumulating systems’ learning. We explore the links to learning literature drawing on developments in aesthetics and arts-based action research to suggest our approach is one useful way of responding to the more general challenge of scale that concerns action researchers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)44-66
Number of pages23
JournalManagement Learning
Issue number1
Early online date30 Jan 2015
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2015


  • Action research
  • arts-based learning
  • climate change
  • learning history
  • narrative
  • open system learning
  • storytelling
  • sustainability


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