A whole-person approach to educating for sustainability

Dimity Margaret Podger, Elena Mustakova-Possardt, Anna Reid

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    49 Citations (Scopus)


    Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to explore the concept of a whole-person approach to educating for sustainability (EfS), with a focus on persons' identity, motivation and higher order dispositions. To propose that approach as an alternative to the prevalent focus on specific capabilities and competencies in higher education for sustainability. The paper brings to bear psychological research on the development of critical moral consciousness, research on dispositions for learning in higher education, and field research on spiritually inspired service-learning. Design/methodology/approach: In this paper, critical analysis is undertaken on the discourses that represent two fields of study in order to explore the application of the theory of the ontogenesis of "critical moral consciousness". The model is applied to two discrete areas to consider implications for higher education - field research on grass-root Baha'i-inspired service-learning and EfS, and students involved in design education. Findings: The findings suggest that a whole-person approach to EfS may yield more fruitful societal and personal benefits than traditional, and predominantly, behavioural approaches. Research limitations/implications: The paper only refers to two case studies. One case study is of a faith based organisation used to represent a whole-person approach to EfS in a social context. It could be that the findings of this case are influenced by perceptions of religious activity (for both authors and readers). The second case study is of a particulate discipline area - design. Whilst the findings represent learners in the design context, it may be that learners in different contexts have different (or similar) results. Originality/value: Sustainability has now become a common orientation for learning. The paper contributes conceptual understanding of the types of dispositions higher education needs to foster, as well as congruent pedagogies, in order to nurture human motivations necessary to advance sustainability. In particular, there is a need for EfS to focus on the cultivation of critical moral consciousness and higher order dispositions as a specific orientation towards studies, work, and social interactions.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)339-352
    Number of pages14
    JournalInternational Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 2010


    • Education
    • Ethics
    • Learning
    • Motivation (psychology)
    • Sustainable development


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