Institute for Academic Development
Institute for Academic Development

Learning for sustainability

Information and resources for engaging students and staff with social responsibility and sustainability in teaching and learning.

What is Learning for sustainability?

Learning for Sustainability (LfS), or Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), is a wider agenda that has emerged in the UK and internationally at all levels of education.

LfS is defined in multiple ways, for example as ‘a process of learning how to make decisions that consider the long-term future of the economy, ecology and equity of all communities’ (Martin et al. 2013: 1523). As such, how courses are taught is as important as what is taught.

Martin et al: Divergent Evolution in Education for Sustainable Development Policy in the United Kingdom: Current Status, Best Practice, and Opportunities for the Future

IAD workshops about Learning for Sustainable Development

The IAD occasionally runs short workshops which aim to update staff about developments at Edinburgh and in UK Higher Education on learning for sustainable development and discuss how participants can take things forward in their own context by sharing examples of practice in this area at Edinburgh. These are normally at least once annually and are part of the 'Practical Strategies' series.

Details and registration links are found here.

Learning for sustainability case studies

The IAD is compiling case studies of University of Edinburgh courses that engage students with sustainability in different ways:

Sustainability case studies - available on our IAD Case Studies wiki

Learning for sustainability courses at Edinburgh

In 2012 the IAD examined Edinburgh undergraduate course descriptors to identify where and how SRS is currently embedded in the Colleges of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHSS) and Science and Engineering (CSE).

The report can be downloaded in parts or in full below.

Edinburgh University SRS Office

The University Office for Social Responsibility and Sustainability (SRS) has become increasingly active in learning and teaching alongside its established remit that was focused mostly on university operations. They organise talks and discussions and run an academic network, and you can join their mailing list to follow news about all SRS activity at Edinburgh:

University commitment to learning for sustainability

The University’s Strategic Plan 2012-16 expresses a clear commitment to address teaching as a focus for action on social responsibility and sustainability (SRS):

  • Embedding our commitment to social responsibility and sustainability in our curricula, policies, strategies and procedures.
  • Offering every student opportunities to study the broader aspects of current global challenges, social responsibility and sustainability, and to explore in depth how their chosen subjects relate to them.

University Strategic Plan 2012-2016

Further resources and external networks

Learning for Sustainability (LfS) Scotland

Learning for Sustainability Scotland is one of the United Nations University Regional Centres of Expertise (RCEs) for Education for Sustainable Development. RCEs are networks of formal, non-formal and informal education organisations, mobilised to deliver ESD to local and regional communities.

Higher Education Academy

The HEA provides case studies, publications, projects, events, networks, funding opportunities and HE policy statements on learning for sustainability:

Turnaround Leadership for Sustainability in Higher Education

The Australian Government's Office of Learning and Teaching’s 2012 report on a major international study of leadership for sustainability in higher education along with two guides on effective approaches for Deans and Heads of Department and program heads and coordinators.

QAA Education for Sustainable Development

The QAA with help from the Higher education Academy has developed a Guide for UK Higher Education providers. It was issued in June 2014 following a pilot in 5 universities and sector-wide consultation. It is intended to complement the Quality Code and offers practical help for UK HE providers in particular an outcomes-based framework for use in curriculum design, and general guidance on approaches to teaching, learning and assessment



For more information on IAD’s work on LfS, contact:

Tutors and demonstrators: further queries and contact details

Contact details