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

Kathleen Aikens, Marcia McKenzie, Philip Vaughter

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Otherpeer-review


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
Title of host publicationEnvironmental and Sustainability Education Policy
Subtitle of host publicationInternational Trends, Priorities and Challenges
EditorsKatrien Van Poeck, Jonas A. Lysgaard, Alan Reid
Place of PublicationAbingdon UK
Number of pages27
ISBN (Print)9781138301740
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes

Cite this

Aikens, K., McKenzie, M., & Vaughter, P. (2018). Environmental and sustainability education policy research: a systematic review of methodological and thematic trends. In K. Van Poeck, J. A. Lysgaard, & A. Reid (Eds.), Environmental and Sustainability Education Policy: International Trends, Priorities and Challenges (1st ed., pp. 265-291). Routledge.