Learning Skills for Sustainability

Learning Skills for Sustainability

Education for sustainability is more than providing students with content related to the framework themes. It also addresses learning skills, perspectives, and values that guide and motivate people to seek sustainable livelihoods, participate in a democratic society, and live in a sustainable manner. However, simply adding content to the curriculum will not be feasible in most circumstances; a full curriculum already exists.

Learning skills for sustainability

To be successful, education for sustainability must go beyond teaching about global issues. It must give students practical skills that will enable them to continue learning after they graduate, to contribute to a sustainable livelihood, and to live sustainable lives. These skills will differ with community conditions. The following list of skills was developed by colleagues from within the four faculties of Macquarie University, drawing from understandings of EfS, and other research in this space. Essentially, this list incorporates the types of skills students will need to fulfil their professional and personal goals and objectives in the face of an ever changing world:

Macquarie Learning Skills
Aligned EfS Component
MQ Aust World Icon
  • Future thinking, visioning
  • Responsible innovation (underpinned by ethical decision-making)
  • Envisioning a better future
MQ Icon Brain
  • Critical thinking; ability to challenge, 'find your voice'
  • Creative thinking
  • Clarification and activation of value systems
  • Leadership
  • Critical thinking and reflection
MQ Flower Icon
  • Self-directed, autonomous and reflective learning
  • Practical, real-world knowledge
  • Participation
MQ Icon Cognitive Thinking
  • Systemic thinking
  • Consequential thinking
  • Systemic Thinking
MQ People icon
  • Stakeholder, group collaboration and wider interpersonal competence
  • Communication skills
  • Partnerships for change

The skillset is underpinned by a pedagogical approach that focuses on broadening the student experience through:

  • Engaging and motivating them whilst learning
  • Stimulating through interesting activities and assessments
  • Interactions with real-world situations
  • Building trust and confidence amongst each other, but also within themselves
  • Reflective practice


Education for sustainability carries with it perspectives that are important for understanding global issues as well as local issues in a global context. Every issue has a history and a future. Looking at the roots of an issue and forecasting possible futures based on different scenarios are part of EfS, as is understanding that many global issues are linked. For example, over-consumption of such consumer goods as paper leads to deforestation, which is thought to be related to global climate change.

The ability to consider an issue from the view of different stakeholders is essential to sustainability. Considering an issue from another viewpoint besides your own leads to intra-national and international understanding. This understanding is essential for creating the mood of cooperation that will underpin sustainable development.


Values are also an integral part of EfS. In some cultures, values are taught overtly in the schools. In other cultures, however, even if values are not taught overtly, they are modeled, explained, analyzed, or discussed. In both situations, understanding values is an essential part of understanding your own worldview and other people's viewpoints. Understanding your own values, the values of the society you live in, and the values of others around the world is a central part of educating for a sustainable future. Two common techniques - values clarification and values analysis - are useful to the values component of EfS.

In EfS, values have a significant role to play. In some EfS efforts, pupils adopt certain values as a direct result of instruction or modelling of accepted values. In other cultures, studying the relationship between society and the environment leads pupils to adopt values derived from their studies. In cultures where inquisitiveness is encouraged, pupils come to value curiosity and questioning. In democratic societies, pupils also develop shared values around concepts of democratic process, community participation in decision making, volunteerism, and social justice. Each of these approaches contributes to the overall goal of sustainability.


Content owner: Office of the Vice Chancellor Last updated: 31 Oct 2019 3:56pm

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