13/Jul/2022 09:26

Training students for complex sustainability issues: a literature review on the design of inter- and transdisciplinary higher education

Esta revisão apresenta novos insights sobre estratégias e elementos de design para a educação inter e transdisciplinar em sustentabilidade.



To prepare students to address complex sustainability issues, they need to be trained in inter- and transdisciplinarity. This paper aims to contribute to better understanding how to do this, by providing insight into design elements and strategies deployed in inter- and transdisciplinary sustainability education.


A systematic literature search was conducted to select inter- and transdisciplinary sustainability programmes. Through deductive and inductive qualitative analysis, design elements and strategies were identified and defined.


Eleven inter- and transdisciplinary programmes were identified. A comprehensive overview of their design elements and strategies is provided. Moreover, three patterns emerged: students were often only involved in the execution, but not in the preparation and evaluation stages of projects, and thus not trained in these; many programmes relied on diverse student representation for interdisciplinary learning and did not explicitly train interdisciplinary integration; and the societal value of transdisciplinary collaboration received little attention in the evaluation of outcomes and impacts.

Research limitations/implications

Follow-up research into the effectiveness of design elements and strategies for inter- and transdisciplinary sustainability education is needed, because the field seems to be understudied.

Practical implications

The comprehensive overview of design elements and strategies for inter- and transdisciplinary sustainability education holds the promise to inform design of novel programmes with similar ambitions. Moreover, the findings urge additional attention for explicitly training interdisciplinary integration and safeguarding the societal value of transdisciplinarity.


This review presents new insights into strategies and design elements for inter- and transdisciplinary sustainability education.