Engaging students in education for sustainable development: The benefits of active learning, reflective practices and flipped classroom pedagogies

Rachel A. Howell*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Effective Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) requires appropriate pedagogies that engage learners in transformative learning. These pedagogies include reflective and active learning, involving experiential, collaborative and learner-centred activities. This paper discusses student experiences and perceptions of an interdisciplinary social science ESD course at a UK university that incorporated reflective and active learning by using a ‘flipped classroom’ (FC) design and innovative assessments. FC creates time in class for reflective and active learning by moving content acquisition to pre-class study. Adoption of the flipped classroom in social sciences is rare and literature on use of FC for ESD is very scarce; hence this paper offers valuable insights into the design of a flipped social science ESD course, and participants' responses.

Results of two surveys demonstrate very positive student perceptions of the course, and illustrate several benefits of the FC design. Over 90% of respondents agreed that in-class active learning exercises made the classes more engaging and the material more memorable than usual, offering useful opportunities to put information/learning into practice, with most students expressing strong agreement. In-class mini-lectures were nevertheless also appreciated, as were reflective practices. A large majority of the students considered the workload reasonable. Findings also reveal the importance of incentivising pre-class preparation using graded assessments such as quizzes, which additionally helped students understand/remember content, and gave confidence about contributing in class. It is clear that the active and reflective learning that FC facilitates engages students in ESD. The paper concludes by offering recommendations for successfully implementing this approach.
Original languageEnglish
Article number129318
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Early online date9 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - 20 Nov 2021

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • education for sustainable development
  • sustainability education
  • flipped classroom
  • active learning
  • reflective learning
  • transformative learning
  • student engagement


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