Our Educational Design Concept

Reflecting on the everyday experience of human behavior in the light of evolution and sustainability

The research questions, concepts, methods and findings of evolutionary anthropology, behavioral science, psychology, and sustainability science offer unique opportunities to explore the causes and consequences of human behavior in the classroom. They thus can contribute to a fascinating and interdisciplinary education that connects to our shared everyday experience and is relevant to pressing societal challenges. But to achieve deeper understandings on the nature of human behavior and sustainability, isolated lessons are not enough. Rather, we need to work on several levels, including on the level of units and curricula.

Our educational design concept aims to help students and teachers develop the skills to reflect on the causes and consequences of everyday human behaviors, and transfer these competencies to their own lives and to diverse sustainable development issues.

For teachers, our design concept aims to offer practical guidance for the development of teaching materials, lessons and units.

Design Principles

Building on educational best practices, our experience in classrooms, and the inquiry processes of evolution and behavioral sciences, we have outlined three overarching principles for the identification of content and methods that help reflect on the everyday experience of human behavior in the light of evolution and sustainability.

These three design principles also help orient educators to the 'big picture' conceptual relationships that connect evolution, behavior, and sustainability science.

Content Anchors

Understanding human evolution, behavior, and sustainability requires students to draw on knowledge and concepts from diverse areas of science, society, and their own experience.

Cross-cutting content anchors reflect the methods and fields of inquiry of evolutionary anthropology, behavioral and sustainability science. From these, we identify content for the development of educational materials that can be used to reflect and discuss the causes and consequences of human behavior in the classroom.

Learn more about the Global ESD Content Anchors.

Teaching Tools

Teaching tools are used across diverse lessons to develop the skills that evolutionary anthropologists, behavioral and sustainability scientists use in exploring the causes and consequences of human behavior, and the complex relationships in social-ecological systems.

Using these tools across content also promotes transfer of learning across themes in evolution, behavior, and sustainability science.

Learning Goals

Global ESD aims to support the development of competencies in education for sustainable development in students, such as interdisciplinary thinking, cooperation, evaluation, self-regulation competency.

These competencies entail many behavioral concepts, including goals, values, feelings, cooperation, flexibility. They require an understanding and awareness of the complex causes and consequences of these human behaviors, including one's own, from the level of the self to the level of global ecosystems and society.

The GlobalESD approach therefore focuses on promoting the knowledge, understandings and skills underlying these competencies towards the ability to reflect on human behavior across contexts.

more information on our Learning Goals

Pedagogical Approaches

We strive to integrate best pedagogical practices from a range of schools of thought into the design of lesson materials and aim to support educators in using a variety of tried and tested approaches and perspectives in education.

Unfortunately, discourse in education is often characterized by a battle between different camps swearing by a particular pedagogical approach, such as the value and need of direct instruction on the one hand, or the value and need of project-based, experiential, authentic experience and critical reflection on the other hand.

In contrast, the “multi-pedagogical” or “reflexive pedagogy” view promoted by Bill Cope and Mary Kalantzis considers all of these different pedagogical approaches as playing an important role in learning - this is because learning involves different processes - different ways of knowing - including direct experience, conceptual understanding, critical reflection, and appropriate and creative application of the learned, all of which can best be cultivated by different pedagogical methods and approaches.

The point of good education is not to choose one over another and disregard the rest, but to choose the right approach for the right moment in the learning process, and to weave them all together in the best way such that learning is maximized.

The different knowledge processes that can be involved in learning and that require different pedagogical approaches are presented in the following diagram:

Image source: adapted from Cope & Kalantzis (2020), https://newlearningonline.com/learning-by-design/pedagogy

see more under Unit & Lesson Design

Adaptation to local classrooms

Global ESD is using Design-Based Research to develop Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) programming. Design-Based Research (DBR; DBR Collective, 2003) is an approach within education science that seeks to develop layers of generalizable design principles for teaching and learning, through the iterative implementation and evaluation of these principles across real-world school contexts, through long-term collaborations between researchers and school-based educators, and with an emphasis on pragmatism and workability in real world contexts (Anderson & Shattuck, 2012 ; Cobb et al., 2003; McKenney & Reeves, 2018).

More specifically, we are advancing Design-Based Implementation Research (DBIR; Fishman et al., 2013) as a framework for investigating the persistent problems facing evolution and sustainability education from a systems perspective that accounts for multiple levels of educational design issues and engages students and educators as active participants in the re-design of systems level solutions to these complex challenges.

Working with educators and school-based curriculum designers helps us further refine and extend materials and guidance, so that educators across subjects, grade-levels and cultures will be empowered to teach and learn about human evolution, behavior and sustainability in a way that enriches their classrooms and their lives.

The Global ESD Teacher's Guide to Evolution, Behavior, and Sustainability Science

Our teacher's guide provides a free and fun overview of the big ideas, essential questions, and core concepts behind the Global ESD project. It is a great starting point for using the resources and teaching materials on this website.


  • Anderson, T., & Shattuck, J. (2012). Design-Based Research: A Decade of Progress in Education Research? Educational Researcher, 41(1), 16–25. http://doi.org/10.3102/0013189X11428813

  • Cobb, P. A., Confrey, J., DiSessa, A. A., Lehrer, R., & Schauble, L. (2003). Design experiments in educational research. Educational Researcher, 32(1), 9–13. https://doi.org/10.3102/0013189X032001009

  • Cope, B., & Kalantzis, M. (2015). A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies. Learning by Design. (B. Cope & M. Kalantzis, Eds.). Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137539724

  • DBR Collective (The Design-Based Research Collective) (2003). Design-Based Research: An Emerging Paradigm for Educational Inquiry. Educational Researcher, 32(1), 5–8. http://doi.org/10.3102/0013189X032001005

  • Erickson, H. L., Lanning, L. A., & French, R. (2017). Concept-Based Curriculum and Instruction for the Thinking Classroom (2nd ed.). Corwin.

  • Fishman, B. J., Penuel, W. R., Allen, A. R., Cheng, B. H., & Sabelli, N. O. R. A. (2013). Design-based implementation research: An emerging model for transforming the relationship of research and practice. National society for the study of education, 112(2), 136-156.

  • McKenney, S & Reeves (2018). Conducting Educational Design Research. 2nd edition. Routledge.

  • Stern, J., Ferraro, K., & Mohnkern, J. (2017). Tools for Teaching Conceptual Understanding, Secondary. Designing Lessons and Assessments for Deep Learning. Corwin.

  • Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA, USA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).