Learning in the context of sustainability teaching

Tim Banjeree Dhoul looks at the most effective way to help emerging leaders develop professional skills oriented towards sustainability

Priscila Claro, an associate professor at Insper who teaches courses on strategy, sustainability and social business, wanted to address concerns raised in previous studies that the learning process at many business schools fails to explore the complexity of real life. This is the case because it fails to use a teaching approach that favours the development of sustainability-oriented capabilities (SOCs).

Together with Insper PhD candidate, Nathalia Ramajo Esteves, Claro set out to analyse the impact of the active learning approach when teaching about sustainability.

The main problem she identified was a lack of concrete results to support the idea that active learning methods are effective in leading students to engage in social and environmental questioning.

Central to their findings, now published in the International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, was that active learning yielded improved student engagement in a group project that called for students to propose effective sustainability actions. This heightened engagement was also shown to have a positive influence on grades.

The project in question was undertaken by undergraduate students in business at Insper across two years. It drew on both active and more traditional teacher-led learning activities, with results measured both quantitatively (grades) and qualitatively (through, for example, teacher notes).

As the paper elaborates: “Working with real problems was crucial for students to develop skills in sustainability. Implementing changes in the courses, focusing on collaboration among students and teachers, was also decisive for the success of the activity.” It also pointed to the value of involving external stakeholders in students’ projects, as they contributed to validating the applicability of the business models proposed by the students in the study.

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