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Learning for Sustainability: Developing a personal ethic   

Year Granted: 2015
Institute: University of Edinburgh - Coursera
Course code sustainability

Learning for Sustainability: Developing a personal ethic

We all have our own understandings of ‘sustainability', of its significance as an environmental, social, economic and moral concept, and as a principle for individual, collective or corporate behaviour. This course begins from your starting point and explores how we might make positive differences to the future of our planet, and encourage others to do so.

About the Course

Many issues threaten the future of ourselves and other species on the planet. The most prominent of these is dangerous global climate change; and this with the over-exploitation of our lands and seas, loss of biodiversity, and over-use of manufactured chemicals, affects the stability of the global systems upon which all life depends. For our species these (and other factors) contribute to social inequalities and impact on human well-being and economic stability. It is imperative that we develop an informed response to these challenges and that we feel empowered and enabled to take positive actions towards a sustainable future. 

In this course you will refine your own understanding of 'sustainability' in light of the range of definitions, contexts and educational approaches that we will discuss. This process will enable you to develop a personal ethic and positive response to ‘sustainability’, and help you to communicate these ideas to others. What on Earth could be more important?

Course Syllabus

Week 1: Disruption: Reorienting our thoughts

Using your current thinking as a starting point we will explore a range of contemporary definitions and perspectives. By sharing and discussing our experiences we will broaden our collective understanding of the range and scope of 'sustainability', and address this as a ‘contested concept’. We will introduce the fundamentals of ‘how the planet’s global systems work’.

Week 2: Thinking deeply: Local issues and personal reflections

This week we will begin to contextualise our discussion by asking you to introduce some local sustainability issues. We will then discuss our personal responses to these and consider how we can draw on local matters as drivers for change.


Week 3: Understanding broadly:  Global issues and wider positioning

This week we will widen our discussion to consider how local issues are related to and nested within wider, global contexts. We will discuss how these problems relate to global systems and introduce concepts such as systems thinking and complexity as frameworks to help position our thinking. We will use a range of case studies to exemplify these global connections. 


Week 4: Implement: How do we take action?

Drawing on the knowledge gained in previous weeks we will consider how we can turn our thoughts into action. We will discuss what that ‘action’ would look like at a personal, local and global level, and what impacts we can expect to have.  We will also consider how we could measure and evaluate ‘success’ across those domains.


Week 5: Learning for sustainability: How can we inform and educate others?

Finally we will offer ‘learning for sustainability’ as a strategy for future action. We will discuss how ‘education’ taken in its broadest sense (to include our daily interactions with others, in our homes, in workplaces, and for some in more formal educational settings) can be used to encourage others to develop a personal ethic of sustainability, encourage a value shift at a wider societal level and engender transformational change.     

Learning objectives

By the end of this course you will have:

  1. gained a better understanding of the concept and practice of sustainability.
  2. understood the complexity and range of definitions and responses to the issue of sustainability between and within communities, societies and cultures at local and global levels.
  3. analysed your own situation and considered the manifestation of sustainability within your local space and its connection with the global visioning of sustainability.
  4. developed a personal response to the issue of sustainability and imagined how you could positively respond to local sustainability challenges.
  5. considered the role of education (in its broad sense) and communication as a way to encourage a deeper understanding of sustainability and as a process for positive change.
  6. become more informed, confident and able to encourage others within your family, community and workplace to develop their own understanding of sustainability and to become ‘agents of change’ themselves.  

Recommended Background

No background required, just a willingness to actively engage in the course; all are welcome.

Course Format

Each week there will be a number of short films supplemented with interactive exercises, quizzes and interviews with subject experts. This is a basic, introductory and informal course that requires a degree of engagement and active participation.  We will present key ideas, concepts and case studies before asking you to reflect on the content, engage with activities and discuss your understanding with others.

A number of colleagues from the Outdoor and Environmental Education section and others from across the University of Edinburgh will contribute to the content and delivery of this course. 


Will I get a certificate after completing this class?

Yes. You can register for the Verified Certificate option when you sign up or during the first two weeks of the course. This is an optional paid-for certificate which provides ID verification of your learning, and may be desirable if you wish to demonstrate your learning in a professional context.

If you prefer to do the course for free, you do not need to sign up for the Verified Certificate. There is alternatively a free Statement of Accomplishment for those who complete the course. Information about the requirements for completion will be available once the course begins.

Do I earn University of Edinburgh credits upon completion of the class?

No. The Verified Certificates and Statements of Accomplishment are not part of a formal qualification from the University. However, it may be useful to demonstrate prior learning and interest in applying to a further or higher education institution, or potential employer.

What resources do I need for this class?

No resources needed.


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