Environmental and sustainability education policy research: a systematic review of methodological and thematic trends

Kathleen Aikens, Marcia McKenzie, Philip Vaughter

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

73 Citations (Scopus)


This paper reports on a systematic literature review of policy research in the area of environmental and sustainability education. We analyzed 215 research articles, spanning four decades and representing 71 countries, and which engaged a range of methodologies. Our analysis combines quantification of geographic and methodological trends with qualitative analysis of content-based themes. Significant findings included temporal spikes in published policy research occurring in the mid-1970s, late 1990s, and after 2005, as well as geographic under-representation of Africa, South and Central America, Eastern Europe, and North and West Asia. The majority of articles reviewed were non-empirical; empirical articles overwhelmingly focused on teaching and learning directives, rather than exploring the complexity of policy development or enactment. We conclude our analysis by describing key research gaps as highlighted by the review and propose directions for moving forward policy research in environmental and sustainability education. In particular, we suggest greater research attention to critical policy theory and methodology, issues of intersectionality, and climate change education policy research. By outlining in greater detail the policy research that has been undertaken to date, the review provides a platform for a broadened diversity of policy studies in environmental and sustainability education.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)333-359
Number of pages27
JournalEnvironmental Education Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2 Apr 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • environmental education
  • K-12 education
  • literature review
  • marginalization
  • policy analysis
  • policy research
  • sustainability education

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