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Sustainable Learning

Melissa AU

(Revised on 18 August 2022)


Extended school closure has caused disruption in teaching and learning that impacted not only students, but also families, societies and educators globally. According to the recent global survey conducted by UNESCO, UNICEF, World Bank and OECD (2021), around one in three countries is taking the first step to mitigate learning loss. Strategies like distance learning, remedial curriculum, longer school days, shorter summer break have been adopted to make up for what has been "lost". While the field is busy "recovering education", some scholars argued that learning has not been lost but transformed. Rachael Gabriel, Associate Professor at the University of Connecticut suggests that learning is never lost, though it may not always be "found" on pre-written tests of pre-specified knowledge or pre-existing measures of pre-coronavirus notions of achievement." Yong Zhao (2021) from the University of Melbourne calls the whole notion of learning loss "a dangerous trap" that can lead to "undesirable outcomes" because the measure of learning has narrowly been defined by high stakes exam scores in key content areas. He urges us to unbind our thinking so we can "pay attention to all educational outcomes" and "engage learners as partners of change and owners of their learning."

The pandemic offers us a chance to make radical change, to think differently about pedagogies, teaching and learning outcomes, and education as a whole. Our view needs to be much longer and complex, in keeping with the uncertainty of our times; we need significant overhaul, not tinkering or minor tweaking. We are called to make a shift from incremental learning to sustainable learning, moving from the what of learning to the who of learning, i.e., the learner as a precious and unique human being. Sustainable learning is not education about sustainability but education for sustainability, that is education for learning that is perennially relevant and also profoundly consequential and therefore can be enduring and transformative. Sustainable learning aims to empower learners to prevail and thrive in the face of ever-changing circumstances and multifaceted challenges. It emphasises authenticity and meaningfulness to activate learners’ creativity and imagination and cultivate deep and transferable learning. We have been teaching as if we can predict what happens next, as we know what learners will need to be “future-ready.” The reality is we haven’t the faintest idea what lies ahead and instead of fixing our gaze on teaching some-thing, we need to recommit our efforts to teaching some-one for some-thing bigger—a future that young people conceive and create themselves, following pathways towards new directions that we cannot yet imagine.

Below are some relevant and timely school examples, internet resources and scholarly contributions that raise issues, considerations, challenges as we are rethinking and re-envisioning ways to design, create, and research learning opportunities and teaching processes to meet the needs of all students and to prepare them to be makers of the future.


Strauss, V. (2021, March 10). What learning loss really means. The Washington Post.

The World Bank. (2021, March 30). Mission: Recovering education in 2021.

UNICEF. (2021, July 13). One in three countries are not taking action to help students catch up on their learning post-COVID-19 school closures: A new UNESCO, UNICEF, World Bank and OECD report documents education responses to COVID-19 in 142 countries [Press Release].

Zhao, Y. (2021). Building back better: Avoid the learning loss trap. Prospects.

Sustainable Learning

Highly-Cited Academic Articles (Based on analysed results from Web of Science)

Berland, L., Schwarz, C., Krist, C., Kenyon, L., Lo, A., & Reiser, B. (2016). Epistemologies in practice: Making scientific practices meaningful for students. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 53(7), 1082-1112.

Dolmans, D., Loyens, S., Marcq, H., & Gijbels, D. (2016). Deep and surface learning in problem-based learning: A review of the literature. Advances in Health Sciences Education: Theory and Practice, 21(5), 1087-1112.

Hays, J., & Reinders, H. (2020). Sustainable learning and education: A curriculum for the future. International Review of Education, 66(1), 29-52.

Samuelsson, I. P., & Park, E. (2017). How to educate children for sustainable learning and for a sustainable world. International Journal of Early Childhood, 49, 273-285.

Sterling, S. (2010). Learning for resilience, or the resilient learner? Towards a necessary reconciliation in a paradigm of sustainable education. Environmental Education Research, 16(5-6), 511-528.

Tai, J., Ajjawi, R., Boud, D., Dawson, P., & Panadero, E. (2018). Developing evaluative judgement: Enabling students to make decisions about the quality of work. Higher Education, 76, 467-481.


Extended Readings

Alliance for Excellent Education. (n.d.). Teaching and learning for deeper learning.

Anderson, J. (2021, August 20). Five ways educators can start innovating. Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Centre for Learning in Practice. (n.d.). Sustainable learning framework. Carey Institute for Global Good.

Heick, T. (n.d.). What are the principles of sustainable learning?. Teach Thought.

Learning Policy Institute. (n.d.). Deeper learning: School organisation and design.

Pijanowski, L. (2018, March 23). Teaching strategies: Eight principles of deeper learning. Edutopia.

Saavedra, A., & Opfer, V. (2012). Learning 21st-century skills requires 21st-century teaching. Phi Delta Kappan, 94(2), 8-13.

Strauss, V. (2015, March 24). The real stuff of schooling: How to teach students to apply knowledge. The Washington Post.

Tatter, G. (2019, April 1). Teaching for deeper learning: How great teachers inspire class participation, student engagement and learning. Harvard Graduate School of Education.

UNESCO. (2019). Futures of education: Learning to become.

UNICEF. (2019, November). Global framework on transferable skills.

United Nations. (2015). Transforming our world: The 2030 agenda for sustainable development (A/Res/70/1). New York: UN General Assembly.


YouTube Videos

EduSkills OECD. (2019, June 19). How do teachers innovate their practice for the 21st century?.

Learning Policy Institute. (2020, February 29). Webinar: Creating schools and systems for deeper learning, equity and social justice.

National Association of Independent Schools. (2020, November 12). Pedro Noguera: Deeper learning.

New Pedagogies for Deep Learning. (2020, May 11). Activating deep learning in challenging times: Webinar by Joanne Quinn.

Partnerships for Sustainability Education. (2021, June 10). TCUSS Global Conference 2021: Sustainable learning by Prof. A. Lin Goodwin.

TEDx Talks. (2016, November 16). TEDxEde – Dirceu da Silva – Why is everything sustainable except our education?.

University of California Television. (2021, June 5). The sustainable learning framework with Diana Woolis.

World Bank. (2019, May 17). Young people reimagine education for the 21st century.


Articles Published in/about the Region

Looi, C., Seow, P., Zhang, B., So, H., Chen, W., & Wong, L. (2010). Leveraging mobile technology for sustainable seamless learning: A research agenda. British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(2), 154-169.

Mak, B., & Pun, S. (2015). Cultivating a teacher community of practice for sustainable professional development: Beyond planned efforts. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 21(1), 4-21.

Tran, T., Hoang, A., Nguyen, Y., Nguyen, L., Ta, N., Pham, Pham, C., Le, Q., Dinh, V., & Nguyen, T. (2020). Toward sustainable learning during school suspension: Socioeconomic, occupational aspirations, and learning behaviour of Vietnamese students during COVID-19. Sustainability, 12(10), 4195.



HKU Centre for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning. (2020). Summer sandbox series: Creative online course designing.

HKU Faculty of Education. (2020, February 27). Members of HKU Faculty of Education Share Innovative Ways of Online Teaching and Collaboration [Press Release].

HKU Technology-Enriched Learning Initiatives. (n.d.). Flipped classroom at HKU.



References in this site to any specific resources and tools are for the information and convenience of the public only. They do not constitute ownership or endorsement by ALiTE of any of the opinions offered by any corporation or organisation or individual.

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