Connecting curricula and competence through student learning journeys

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This research examines the connection between higher education curricula for sustainable development and student development of key competencies for sustainability. The authors conducted a comparative case study that followed ten students from three graduate sustainability programs. Through a combination of student-generated and contextual data, we created a set of learning journeys. These journeys showed that activities which foster reflection, interaction, and real-world connections are especially critical for competence development as part of the whole curriculum. What and how students found most useful depended on individual disposition and we identified four general categories based on prior experience, attitude to learning, and individual goals. Barriers to competency development were frustration, feelings of helplessness, and being unable to link competence to concrete activities or concepts. These barriers could be mitigated through peer interaction and mentorship, environmental support such as spaces for collaboration, and instructor scaffolding. Because no single course can fit the needs of each student, we recommend that beneficial components in the form of courses that support the above-mentioned activities be part of purposeful curriculum design.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSustainability: Science, Practice, and Policy
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)560-575
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 09.12.2022

Bibliographical note

The authors gratefully acknowledge funding from the Lower Saxony Ministry of Science and Culture and the Volkswagen Foundation for the grant “Educating Future Change Agents–Higher Education as a Motor of the Sustainability Transformation” [A115235] through the program “Science for Sustainable Development.” The authors would also like to thank their colleagues Jan-Ole Brandt, Jantje Halberstadt, Theres Konrad, Aaron Redman, Jana Timm, Arnim Wiek, and Marie Weiss from Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Germany for support on the research design presented in this article and comments on the manuscript. Special thanks to all participating instructors, university staff, and students, without whom there would have been nothing to study.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.

    Research areas

  • Sustainability education - higher education, competence development, curriculum
  • competence development, curriculum, education for sustainable development, Higher education, sustainability education