Refereed journal article or data article (A1)

Learning how to understand complexity and deal with sustainability challenges – A framework for a comprehensive approach and its application in university education

List of Authors: R. Willamo, L. Helenius, C. Holmström, L. Haapanen, V. Sandström, E. Huotari,
K. Kaarre, U. Värre, A. Nuotiomäki, J. Happonen, L. Kolehmainen

Publisher: Elsevier

Publication year: 2018

Journal: Ecological Modelling

Volume number: 370

Issue number: 24 February 2018

Number of pages: 13

ISSN: 0304-3800



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Sustainability challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss,
poverty and rapid urbanization are complex and strongly interrelated. In
order to successfully deal with these challenges, we need comprehensive
approaches that integrate knowledge from multiple disciplines and
perspectives and emphasize interconnections. In short, they aid in
observing matters in a wider perspective without losing an understanding
of the details. In order to teach and learn a comprehensive approach,
we need to better understand what comprehensive thinking actually is. In
this paper, we present a conceptual framework for a comprehensive
approach, termed the GHH framework. The framework comprises three
dimensions: generalism, holism, and holarchism. It contributes to the
academic community’s understanding of comprehensive thinking and it can
be used for integrating comprehensive thinking into education. Also,
practical examples of the application of the framework in university
teaching are presented. We argue that an ideal approach to
sustainability challenges and complexity in general is a balanced,
dialectical combination of comprehensive and differentiative approaches.
The current dominance of specialization, or the differentiative
approach, in university education calls for a stronger emphasis on
comprehensive thinking skills. Comprehensiveness should not be
considered as a flawed approach, but should instead be considered as
important an aspect in education as specialized and differentiative

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