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Approaches to teaching and learning

This short article outlines key approaches to teaching and learning in ESD and provides resources for further exploration.

Active and participatory approaches

Education for sustainable development requires active, participative and experiential learning methods that engage the student and make a real difference to the student’s understanding, thinking and ability to act. This kind of approach to teaching and learning is underpinned by an understanding that sustainability is an ever-changing and uncertain area of endeavour, as is the world around us all. 

Active and participatory approaches are central to ESD because they can help to encourage student voice, exploration and critical engagement, and peer learning. They move away from the educator being the sole transmitter of knowledge by allowing students to contribute to the co-construction of knowledge. These approaches work especially well in ESD because sustainability and climate change issues are complex and do not have ‘easy’ answers, so students need to be equipped with the knowledge and skills to discuss and debate these issues from a range of perspectives. This links to our Week 1 discussion about the diverse roles educators can play in ESD as well as the potential benefits and outcomes it can have for students.

Alongside this, ESD approaches can also draw on systems thinking to encourage students to think holistically about the wider systems (for instance, of production and consumption or use of the world’s oceans) in which sustainability issues are embedded. For instance, this kind of approach can be used to explore policy initiatives such as the SDGs and the ways in which the individual goals are related to, and dependent on, one another. It can also be used to explore the ways in which schools and universities are part of wider local, national and global relationships and systems. 

Reflecting on these approaches

In the next step we’ll reflect on these approaches and what they might mean for your practice. And in Week 3, we’ll look in more detail at examples of these approaches and activities which can support learning about sustainability and climate change. 

For now, you might like to look at the follow resources for some further discussions of active and participatory approaches to pedagogy for ESD:

UNESCO Education for Sustainable Development: Pedagogy – Active learning This video captures education for sustainable development pedagogy used in Ireland. This view of secondary school mathematics classroom shows student-centred, participatory pedagogy in action, recording insights from both the teacher and students.

Earth Charter Webinar: Pedagogical approaches for education for sustainable development

Seatter, C. S. and Ceulemans, K. (2017) ‘Teaching Sustainability in Higher Education: Pedagogical Styles that Make a Difference’, Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 47(2), pp. 47–70.

Bourn, D. et al. (2016) Primary Education for Global Learning and Sustainability: A report for the Cambridge Primary Review Trust. York.

Broström, S., & Frøkjær, T. (2019). Developing a Pedagogy of Education for Sustainable Futures: Experiences and Observations from Danish Preschools. ECNU Review of Education, 2(4), 475–496.

Or these more general articles on active and participatory pedagogy in education:

Cahill, H. and Dadvand, B. (2018) ‘Re-conceptualising youth participation: A framework to inform action’, Children and Youth Services Review, 95: 243–253.

Hart, Roger A. (1992). Children’s Participation: From tokenism to citizenship, Innocenti Essay no. 4, International Child Development Centre, Florence.

Shah, H. and Brown, K. (2009) Critical thinking in the context of global learning. London: DEA ThinkPiece.

Serf, Jeff. (2008) Global Learning in a Changing and Unpredictable World, FORUM, 50(3), 411-418. (PDF available in ‘Downloads’ at the bottom of the page)

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Educating for Sustainable Development (ESD) in Schools and Universities

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