Learning while creating value for sustainability transitions: The case of Challenge Lab at Chalmers University of Technology
Journal article, 2018

To achieve a sustainable future, a variety of societal systems need to be transformed and new ways of social collaboration created. Higher education institutions play an important role in guiding these changes, through education, research, and outreach. In this paper, we study a lab-based learning environment, the Challenge Lab, where master’s degree students engage in, and create value in support of, the transition to a sustainable society. Three student cases are analyzed in-depth to understand how the Lab functions as an expansive learning process and provides space for transformative and integrative value creation. The Lab’s guiding methodology is based on backcasting from principles, combined with clarifying the students’ core values and drivers. The role of the teacher in such a learning environment is to provide the basis for the process by facilitating and guiding. Provided with the right conditions, these students have the ability to challenge underlying assumptions about how systems work and to build trust by facilitating dialogue among actors in society. The students perceived the opportunity to engage in real-world challenges as meaningful, drew valuable lessons for their future, and got to know themselves better. In this transitional period of achieving ambitious sustainability goals and targets, students’ ability to be a source of change – maybe the most important source inside higher education institutions – deserves much more attention.


Learning environment

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)


Higher education



Johan Larsson

Chalmers, Space, Earth and Environment, Physical Resource Theory

John Holmberg

Chalmers, Space, Earth and Environment, Physical Resource Theory

Journal of Cleaner Production

0959-6526 (ISSN)

Vol. 172 4411-4420

Areas of Advance

Information and Communication Technology

Nanoscience and Nanotechnology


Building Futures (2010-2018)



Life Science Engineering (2010-2018)

Materials Science

Subject Categories

Educational Sciences

Other Social Sciences not elsewhere specified

Driving Forces

Sustainable development

Innovation and entrepreneurship

Learning and teaching

Pedagogical work



More information

Latest update

9/6/2018 6