Effects of an Educational Scenario Exercise on Participants' Competencies of Systemic Thinking

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Problem statement: Education for sustainable development (ESD) aims to shape key competencies of individuals and therefore needs methods to enable learners to acquire these competencies. Systemic thinking can be regarded as a meta-competency in ESD, because it contains many important aspects found in most key competencies of ESD. Scenario analysis is described as a learning environment that fosters the acquisition of systemic thinking and other important competencies, but empirical proof of this assumption is rarely found in the literature. This article presents such an empirical study and develops a specific instrument to investigate the effects on participants' competencies taking part in ESD seminars in which scenario analysis was used as methodology. Approach: A study was conducted of four educational seminars, using a pre/post design with two treatment groups which took part in a scenario analysis seminar and two control groups. Altogether 72 university students from different disciplines (semesters 1-6) were involved. In a questionnaire, constructs like domain specific knowledge and the perception of the future as well as systemic thinking were operationalized quantitatively in order to achieve a practicable and quick measurement. Similarity Judgement Rating was used to elicit participants' knowledge structures about climate change in order to gain concept-maps for comparison with reference models. Paired t-test, mean values, factor and cluster analysis and correlation were used. Results: No significant changes in the structural knowledge, perception and formal knowledge of the groups could be observed although some developments were noted, e.g. in the perception of the future. The fact that treatment groups showed little advancement in factual knowledge could be read as a hint that generally only weak (measurable) effects had taken place. Conclusion: Some indications were found that the measurement instrument works in principle, but that its application in the thematic domain of climate change seems to be problematic due to a relatively high level of general knowledge and systemic interrelations of concepts (of climate change) that cannot be precisely described. The hypothesis of educational effects of participation was not confuted but should be investigated in a different thematic context.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Social Science
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)51-62
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2011