Abstract for: The Benefits of System Dynamics Simulation for Sustainability Education

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is vital to the success of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, yet it has so far proved difficult to implement. One reason for this is the systemic understanding required to comprehend the intricate interplay of causal connections typically underlying sustainability issues. This research describes an experimental study conducted to investigate whether ESD can benefit from Systems Thinking and System Dynamics simulation, both in increasing understanding of a specific sustainability problem, and in transferring knowledge to a second sustainability problem with a similar systemic structure. The study was a randomised controlled trial using a two-by-two factorial design. 106 participants were randomly allocated to one of four groups: a Systems Thinking group, a Simulation group, a Systems Thinking and Simulation group, or a control group. Results demonstrated a significant increase in scores for the Simulation group for understanding a sustainability problem, with a large effect size, and a weaker but still significant increase in scores for transfer of skills to a second problem, with medium effect size. The Simulation group was the only group that demonstrated significant benefits.