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Unlocking Innovative and Sustainable Teaching in Higher Education Institutions

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050). This special issue belongs to the section "Sustainable Education and Approaches".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (29 February 2024) | Viewed by 5155

Special Issue Editors

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Centre for Applied Research on Economics and Management, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Interests: collaborative entrepreneurship; design science; entrepreneurship education; sustainable business models

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Research Unit on Governance, Competitiveness and Public Policies (GOVCOPP), Department of Economics, Management, Industrial Engineering and Tourism (DEGEIT) Universidade de Aveiro, 3810-193 Aveiro, Portugal
Interests: energy policy and regulation; energy economics; energy markets; energy demand and supply; consumer behaviour; eco-innovation; sustainability
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals

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Guest Editor
Advancis Business Services, 4450-147 Matosinhos, Portugal
Interests: innovation in higher education; design thinking applied to learning; social innovation and social entrepreneurship

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Guest Editor
School of Business and Eonomics, EDU_Lab Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, K. Donelaičio St. 73-421, LT-44244 Kaunas, Lithuania
Interests: quality management; sustainable value and supply chain and new business models’ management

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Our current world can be described as volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (Bennett & Lemoine, 2014), and we are faced with grand societal challenges such as climate change, inequality, disruptive migration, and global pandemics (Voegtlin et al., 2022). The interdependencies and multiplicity of sub-problems raise challenges in the co-creation of solutions and the preparation of future graduates with the necessary skills to address these grand challenges. The skills required are, among others, systems thinking, integrated problem solving (Fabricatore & Lopez, 2012), value thinking, intrapersonal, and implementation skills (Brundiers et al., 2020). The aforementioned grand challenges also cause uncertainties regarding future jobs. Thus, preparing graduates to contribute to solutions becomes even more difficult. Nevertheless, there is a high probability that graduating students will be involved in a job that (in)directly addresses these grand challenges. Thus, there is an urgency to review and redesign existing learning pedagogies and innovations suitable for preparing students to gain the necessary skills for the jobs of the future that tackle grand societal challenges.

How should universities best prepare their students? Several pedagogies have been developed that provide insights (Figueiró & Raufflet, 2015) and valuable guidelines for educational practice. Learning pedagogies that have received considerable attention are, among others, challenge-based learning (Gallagher & Savage, 2020), transformative sustainability learning (Sipos et al., 2008), community-based learning (Shumer, 1994), and game-based learning (Perrotta et al., 2013). Teaching methods that advocate for sustainability include group discussions, stimulus activities, debates, critical incidents, case studies, reflexive accounts, critical reading and writing, role play, and simulations (Chandy & Tellis, 2000; Figueiró & Raufflet, 2015). In particular, the rise of digital technology and increasing advocacy for learning that is playful and social fostered the adoption of game-based learning and the use of gamification (Nah et al., 2014) and (serious) games (Katsaliaki & Mustafee, 2012).

Despite advancements in pedagogy and didactics to address grand societal challenges, COVID-19 has created additional complexities in teaching. Quickly and with little preparation, teachers adapted to online learning (Bartolic et al., 2021), and meanwhile, a significant population of students were confronted with mental health issues (Aristovnik et al., 2020). Therefore, it is necessary to innovate our teaching to improve our students' information literacy (Gómez-García et al., 2020) and equip students with skills to cope with stress and increase their resilience (Krstikj et al., 2022).

In this Special Issue, we aim to publish original research papers that foster the development of pedagogies and learning innovations. While we are open to various pedagogies and innovations, we look for topics related to education for sustainability, which we define broadly as education that helps students change their attitudes and behaviours and gain the skills to carry out their collective responsibilities (Martins et al., 2006). We are interested in conceptual, empirical, and review articles. We encourage submissions which use qualitative and quantitative approaches.


Aristovnik, A. et al. (2020) ‘Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Life of Higher Education Students: A Global Perspective’, Sustainability 2020, Vol. 12, Page 8438, 12(20), p. 8438. doi: 10.3390/SU12208438.

Bartolic, S. K. et al. (2021) ‘A multi-institutional assessment of changes in higher education teaching and learning in the face of COVID-19’,, 74(3), pp. 517–533. doi: 10.1080/00131911.2021.1955830.

Bennett, N. and Lemoine, G. J. (2014) ‘What a difference a word makes: Understanding threats to performance in a VUCA world’, Business Horizons, 57(3), pp. 311–317. doi: 10.1016/J.BUSHOR.2014.01.001.

Brundiers, K. et al. (2020) ‘Key competencies in sustainability in higher education—toward an agreed-upon reference framework’, Sustainability Science 2020 16:1, 16(1), pp. 13–29. doi: 10.1007/S11625-020-00838-2.

Chandy, R. K. and Tellis, G. J. (2000) ‘The Incumbent’s Curse? Incumbency, Size, and Radical Product Innovation’, Journal of Marketing, 64(3), pp. 1–17. doi: 10.1509/jmkg.

Fabricatore, C. and Lopez, X. (2012) ‘Sustainability Learning through Gaming: An Exploratory Study’, Electronic Journal of e-Learning, 10(2), pp. 209–222. Available at: (Accessed: 22 July 2022).

Figueiró, P. S. and Raufflet, E. (2015) ‘Sustainability in higher education: a systematic review with focus on management education’, Journal of Cleaner Production, 106, pp. 22–33. doi: 10.1016/J.JCLEPRO.2015.04.118.

Gallagher, S. E. and Savage, T. (2020) ‘Challenge-based learning in higher education: an exploratory literature review’, doi: 10.1080/13562517.2020.1863354.

Gómez-García, G. et al. (2020) ‘The Contribution of the Flipped Classroom Method to the Development of Information Literacy: A Systematic Review’, Sustainability 2020, Vol. 12, Page 7273, 12(18), p. 7273. doi: 10.3390/SU12187273.

Katsaliaki, K. and Mustafee, N. (2012) ‘A survey of serious games on sustainable development’, Proceedings - Winter Simulation Conference. doi: 10.1109/WSC.2012.6465182.

Krstikj, A. et al. (2022) ‘Analysis of Competency Assessment of Educational Innovation in Upper Secondary School and Higher Education: A Mapping Review’, Sustainability 2022, Vol. 14, Page 8089, 14(13), p. 8089. doi: 10.3390/SU14138089.

Martins, A. A., Mata, T. M. and Costa, C. A. V. (2006) ‘Education for sustainability: challenges and trends’, Clean Technologies and Environmental Policy 2006 8:1, 8(1), pp. 31–37. doi: 10.1007/S10098-005-0026-3.

Nah, F. F.-H. et al. (2014) ‘Gamification of Education: A Review of Literature’, in. Springer, Cham, pp. 401–409. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-07293-7_39.

Perrotta, C. et al. (2013) Game-based learning: latest evidence and future directions (NFER Research Programme: Innovation in Education). Slough.

Shumer, R. (1994) ‘Community-based learning: humanizing education’, Journal of Adolescence, 17(4), pp. 357–367. doi: 10.1006/JADO.1994.1032.

Sipos, Y., Battisti, B. and Grimm, K. (2008) ‘Achieving transformative sustainability learning: Engaging head, hands and heart’, International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 9(1), pp. 68–86. doi: 10.1108/14676370810842193.

Voegtlin, C. et al. (2022) ‘Grand Societal Challenges and Responsible Innovation’, Journal of Management Studies, 59(1), pp. 1–28. doi: 10.1111/JOMS.12785.

Dr. Richard Martina
Dr. Marta Ferreira Dias
Dr. Isabel Gomes
Dr. Asta Daunoriene
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All submissions that pass pre-check are peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed open access semimonthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 2400 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.


  • learning innovation
  • grand societal challenges
  • higher education
  • learning innovations

Published Papers (1 paper)

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20 pages, 691 KiB  
Improving Student Retention in Institutions of Higher Education through Machine Learning: A Sustainable Approach
by William Villegas-Ch, Jaime Govea and Solange Revelo-Tapia
Sustainability 2023, 15(19), 14512; - 5 Oct 2023
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 2903
Effective student retention in higher education represents a critical challenge to institutional stability and educational quality. This study addresses this challenge by integrating machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques in the context of sustainability education. To achieve this, data are collected from a [...] Read more.
Effective student retention in higher education represents a critical challenge to institutional stability and educational quality. This study addresses this challenge by integrating machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques in the context of sustainability education. To achieve this, data are collected from a representative cohort of students undergoing extensive cleaning and pre-processing. Additionally, a pre-trained neural network model is implemented, adjusting key parameters. The model evaluation was based on relevant metrics and error analysis, demonstrating that integrating machine learning and artificial intelligence allows early identification of at-risk students and the provision of personalized interventions. This study addresses contemporary student retention challenges in three critical areas: the transition to online education, student mental health and well-being, and equity and diversity in access to higher education. These challenges are addressed through specific strategies based on data analysis and machine learning, thus contributing to overcoming them in the context of higher education. Additionally, this study prioritizes ethical concerns when applying these technologies, ensuring integrity and equity in decision-making related to student retention. Together, this work presents an innovative approach that uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to improve student retention within the framework of educational sustainability, highlighting its transformative potential in higher education. Full article
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