Learning Goals

Our educational design work aims to promote a range of interdependent competencies within students and teachers through our theory of school improvement.

At OpenEvo we are interested in how all humans can develop the conceptual understanding and adaptive flexibility needed to live a valued and prosocial life. 

As such our learning goals draw on and overlap with  competency frameworks that have been developed within Education for Sustainable Development and similar movements of 21st century education. 

In line with our Theory of School Improvement, we hypothesize that the development of important 21st century competencies can be supported by, on the one hand, explicit and continuous reflection on our understandings of human behavior, and on the other hand, by the active involvement of learners in self-directed behavior change and community improvement efforts.

After all, the competencies above entail many behavioral concepts, including goals, values, beliefs, feelings, cooperation, flexibility. The self-directed development of these competencies requires a metacognitive understanding and awareness of these behavioral concepts, as well as of the complex causes and consequences of these human behaviors, including one’s own.

The OpenEvo approach to education therefore focuses on promoting the knowledge and skills underlying these competencies by framing core understandings, knowledge, and skills informed by interdisciplinary behavioral sciences. 


Furthermore, the OpenEvo approach integrates concepts and strategies developed within the behavioral sciences to support humans in developing their adaptive flexibility, i.e. their ability to persist or reorient their behaviors in line with values, depending on the demands of the situation, through processes of mindfulness, openness, values clarification, and committed action.

In this way, the OpenEvo Educational Design Concept is highly complementary to a diversity of educational approaches that target 21st century competencies, adding new ideas and skills through our unique focus on transferable understandings of human evolution and behavior involved in important issues of human wellbeing and sustainability we face today.

Download our overview reader on the learning goals and essential questions that drive OpenEvo and our collaborators.

Metacognitive competency is the ability to be aware of, evaluate, flexibly reorganize, and regulate one’s own thinking and behavior, including one’s learning and one’s understanding of concepts as well as one’s behaviors related to important competencies and values. 

Systems thinking includes the abilities to recognize and understand causal relationships in complex systems on different levels, from self to the global level, and within different domains; to analyse complex systems and recognize dynamics such as multiple causality, non-linearity, feedback loops, delays, and emergence; and to deal with uncertainty.

Teaching Tools such as as causal maps and payoff matrices as well as computer models of complex systems can help students develop systems thinking competency.

Evolutionary thinking, similar to systems thinking, involves the abilities to understand and analyze change in populations and complex systems over various scales of time through the dynamics of decentralized processes of variation, selection, and information transmission or retention as well as the goal-directed behaviors of agents.

Teaching Tools such as causal maps, Tinbergen’s questions and analogy maps for the transfer of evolutionary processes across domains; as well as various Content Anchors can help students develop evolutionary thinking competency and apply evolutionary concepts to the analysis of change in ecosystems, self, culture, and society.

Interdisciplinary thinking is the ability to apply, transfer, and combine knowledge, concepts, principles, skills, and methods of different disciplines to understand and solve novel problems.

Teaching Tools such as structure of knowledge diagrams and analogy maps, as well other pedagogical approaches that foster conceptual thinking and transfer of learning, support students in the development of interdisciplinary thinking.

Critical thinking is the ability and attitude to question norms, practices, and opinions; to reflect on one’s own values, perceptions, biases, opinions, and actions.

Understanding human behaviors such as fast and slow thinking, cognitive biases, moral intuitions, social norms, and imitation biases, as well as the practice of psychological flexibility skills can contribute to the development of critical thinking skills.

Self-regulation competency includes the abilities to understand and cope flexibly with one’s feelings, thoughts and desires; to be resilient in the face of adversity; to learn and grow throughout life; and to continually evaluate and further motivate one’s actions towards goals and values.

This competency is closely related to the concept of psychological flexibility as advanced within the field of contextual behavioral science, and as such, concepts and methods developed by this field can support educational content and methods in the service of developing student self-regulation competency.

Teaching Tools such as the Noticing Tool, exploring the concepts of values, emotions, fast and slow thinking and its relation to growth mindset, or the origins of human language and symbolic thinking, can support students in  relating flexibly to their experiences and orienting their behaviors towards goals and values.

Cooperation competency includes the abilities to reflect on and facilitate collaborative and participatory group cultures;  to understand, respect, and relate to the needs, values, perspectives, and actions of others (empathy, perspective taking) across different socio-cultural backgrounds; to negotiate shared goals and values, and to deal with conflicts in a group.

Exploring the evolution of cooperation  particularly in our species, using Payoff matrices to understand the role of social dilemmas in undermining cooperation, and applying principles that tend to foster cooperation in human groups can help students develop the understandings and skills underlying cooperation competency.

Intercultural competence includes the ability to be aware of one’s own cultural context; to understand the influence of culture on human behavior, cognition, values, and beliefs; and to be sensitive to and interact appropriately with humans across different cultures.

Developing intercultural competence can be supported by exploring the cultural diversity of human behavior and cognition, and by exploring the complex causes of human behavior, in particular causes in the cultural evolutionary history.  

Evaluation competency includes the abilities to understand and reflect on the norms and values that underlie one’s opinions and actions; and to negotiate shared values, principles, and goals in a context of conflicts of interests and trade-offs, uncertain knowledge and contradictions.

The development of evaluation competency can be supported by explicit reflections on the concept of “values” and related behavioral concepts, as well as regular clarifications and reflections on personal and shared values, such as with the help of the Noticing Tool.

Future thinking includes the abilities to reflect on, understand, and evaluate multiple future scenarios and their effects on behavior, wellbeing, and sustainability; to create and communicate one’s own visions for the future and identify underlying values and assumptions; to develop goals and action plans for realizing future visions; and to deal with risks and changes flexibly.

The development of future thinking skills can be supported by students’ understanding of the role of future thinking (or “mental time travel”) in human evolution and behavior, its relation to morality, creating shared narratives and values, and in motivating individual and collective action.

Related to critical thinking, metacognitive competency and self-regulation competency, intellectual humility involves the abilities to be aware of the origins, changeability, and limits of one’s opinions and knowledge and to be open to others’ ideas and their values for advancing learning and understanding.

Exploring concepts such as cognitive biases, or using the Noticing Tool to become aware of and accept uncomfortable thoughts and feelings when facing uncertainty or encountering other ideas, can help students develop intellectual humility.

Growth Mindset is an understanding of the human brain and of human knowledge and behaviors as modifiable and shaped by experience; an attitude and ability to learn and grow throughout life even in the face of failures and setbacks.

We regard the concepts of Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset as developed in educational research (Dweck , 2012) as adjacent to concepts of psychological flexibility vs. psychological inflexibility as developed within the field of contextual behavioral science. As such, the development of Growth Mindset can be supported by methods developed for the promotion of psychological flexibility, such as mindfulness, openness to and acceptance of experiences, values clarification and committed action even in the face of uncomfortable experience. 

Community Science competency includes the abilities to use scientific concepts, methods, workflows, practices as well as ethical standards with the aim to understand and improve one’s own communities towards shared valued outcomes.

Our Community Science Lab supports students in acquiring and applying understandings and skills underlying Community Science Competency.

Design thinking includes the understanding that innovation is an iterative and often collaborative process; as well as the abilities to analytically and creatively design solutions, tools, interventions etc. through iterative processes of context and needs assessments, ideation, prototyping, experimenting, evaluation, and redesign.


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