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Bildung für nachhaltige Entwicklung: wiss. Literatur und Materialien (BNELIT)
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The personal context of student learning for sustainability
Results of a multi-university research study
Journal of Cleaner Production

The UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD, 2005–2014) was an important framework and catalyst for increasing Sustainable Development (SD) efforts within academic institutions, worldwide. Tertiary institutions began to embed sustainability into the curriculum, although the extent has varied within and between institutions with many adopting an ad hoc approach. Previous studies of student learning outcomes were generally limited in scope and reported mixed results. Few studies systematically investigated the influence of sustainability education (SE) on student views, attitudes and behaviour across a range of contexts. This study adds to the field by using a common instrument that explored how SE contributed to student learning across multiple disciplines, institutions and countries. A quasiexperimental approach was adopted with tertiary students in ′intervention′ and ′control′ units. Data was collected using an online two-stage pre-post survey and included the Inclusion of Nature in Self (INS) and New Ecological Paradigm (NEP) scales and measures of selfreported behaviour. A series of snapshots of pre-test and post-test perspectives were taken across various terms of study during 2013–2015. Students' initial sustainability perspectives were found to be influenced by personal and educational factors such as gender, age, ″culture″ and discipline of study. Environmental worldviews were characterised by jointly strong ecocentric and anthropocentric orientations that represented a ″utilitarian″ view of human-nature relations. After controlling for pre-test scores, SE significantly increased post-test scores for several NEP dimensions compared to the control group however, the effect was weak and moderated by students' personal and educational context. Students exposed to SE also reported a cognitive shift in their attitudes/perceptions to sustainability that was linked to an increased INS score. The ad hoc approach to SE, combined with students' strong utilitarian worldview and mixed effects of SE indicated learning outcomes were far from certain and probably weak. The paper argued for a rethink of current educational approaches towards a more coherent and targeted educational strategy and concluded with recommendations for policy and praxis to enhance student learning for sustainability in higher education.