Seminar for zoo educators focuses on social and emotional learning

12 August 2013 | News story

A recent EAZA Academy seminar highlighted the value of social and emotional learning and how educators can use this approach in zoos and aquariums.

Fifty zoo and aquarium educators attended a one-day EAZA Academy Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL) seminar on 4 March 2013, preceding the EAZA European Zoo Educators conference held at Burgers’ Zoo, The Netherlands.

  • The European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) represents and links 345 institutions and organisations in 41 countries. EAZA’s mission is to facilitate cooperation within the European zoo and aquarium community towards the goals of education, research and conservation. In 2011 EAZA expanded its capacity to offer professional development and training opportunities through development of the EAZA Academy. The Academy delivers a wide range of applied training to all sectors of the zoo and aquarium community, including educators and those responsible for biodiversity communication.

The seminar aimed to highlight the established principles of SEAL programmes utilised in schools and provide participants with different ways to apply them to zoo and aquarium environments. Many current learning programmes and opportunities presented by animal collections focus their success criteria on the knowledge transfer of facts and figures (cognitive activities). The seminar encouraged participants to expand on this and consider how social and emotional content could be included or added. As recent IUCN CEC campaigns such as ‘Love not Loss’ highlight, positive emotions are often the heart of establishing empathy for animals as well as motivation for behaviour change. With this in mind the seminar wished to highlight that if missions of animal collections are to change visitors’ hearts, minds and behaviour, we cannot achieve this by focusing on cognitive based activities alone.

The highly interactive seminar was excellently delivered by the Chair of EAZA’s Education and Exhibit Design committee, Sarah Thomas (Zoological Society of London). Activities included:

  • creating animals and designing zoos to house them – to demonstrate that social, emotional and cognitive learning can occur through group work, cooperation, creativity and role allocation; and
  • identifying a place where a SEAL activity could take place and then deciding how it could be evaluated.

Participants came from 35 institutions across 18 different countries. It was pleasing to see this included participants from non-EAZA European and American institutions, further highlighting the universal relevance of this subject. Feedback from the seminar was highly positive, indicating inspirational and worthwhile training. When asked what parts of the seminar were most useful participants commented:

  • "Excellent seminar. The ideas of different ways of learning are much needed (not everyone learns in the same way and emotions are more powerful than facts.)”
  • “How to create emotional experiences for kids to get them really involved in nature”
  • “I picked up lots of ideas to work into existing programmes from the activities”
  • “Evaluation of SEAL programmes”

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Through the high quality delivery, interactive nature of the content and diversity of participants those involved now feel motivated and enabled to apply SEAL in their educational programmes/experiences. Because of the success of this seminar it is planned to be offered again in 2014. If you want to find out more please contact the EAZA Academy Training Officer Myfanwy.Griffith@eaza.net