Dialogues on learning for sustainable development: This is outside my domain

This is the first post in a series that provides some reflections on common types of exchanges I have had over the years when discussing learning for a sustainable development. Each post begins with a quote on arguments made against calls for changes to promote learning for a sustainable development in higher education, along with my thoughts on those arguments.


”This is outside my domain”

Some academics say they have no background knowledge about concepts such as the planetary boundaries, or the sustainable development goals. They may not be particularly proud of this, but they do not think that the issues of the global world necessarily concern them in their own subject. They mostly wish to continue with their practice and ignore the wider implications of climate change or ecological collapses on their work as teachers and researchers. For the most part it is rational to isolate some concerns of the wider world so that you may focus on making progress in an isolated area. However, the global issues of today are different from distractions of the 24 hour news cycle. In a global highly connected world, with ecological, social and economic links between all parts of the world, the effects of global issues may be felt by everyone, including academics and universities. The impacts of a globally changing climate and conditions for human life will need to shift the core societal project from accelerating economic growth to forming a sustainable and prosperous global society. Either we embrace this project as academics from all disciplines willingly, or we will be forced to face the impending changes unprepared. To have a solid understanding of the core mechanisms that cause climate change will be necessary to properly put your discipline and work in context, and focus on how to contribute to necessary change.

As an analogy, consider how something that may have been peripheral to your academic expertise may have had an important contribution to your work earlier. At some point in time you as an academic may have been unaware about effective learning methods and thought that lecturing and written exams provided the best or only way in which you could support students’ learning. Later you may have learned about the science of how brains and learning work, the importance of feedback and trying your understanding repeatedly to improve your performance. You may also have been blissfully unaware of gender biases in academia, but may have been convinced that there are in fact structures and attitude problems that make women feel much less welcome than men in certain disciplines. In both cases, you will have gained important insights from other domains, insights that are essential to promote a safe, inclusive and supportive learning environment. Gaining those insights are necessary to become a better scholar.


Ola Leifler



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