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Physical education teacher educators’ subjective theories about sustainability and education for sustainable development

Julia Lohmann (Institute of Sport Science, University of Augsburg, Augsburg, Germany)
Antje Goller (TU Dresden, Dresden, Germany; Department of Higher Education Development, University of Vechta, Vechta, Germany and Center for Teacher Training and School Research, Leipzig University, Leipzig, Germany)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 8 November 2022

Issue publication date: 15 March 2023




Physical education (PE) and PE teacher education have great potential to target goals that are important from an education for sustainable development (ESD) perspective. However, ESD has not been studied extensively in the PE context. The purpose of this paper is to explore subjective theories of PE teacher educators about the concepts of sustainability and ESD because they are important precursors of implementing ESD in PE teacher education.


This study was conducted using a qualitative cross-sectional design. Subjective theories about sustainability and ESD from N = 9 PE teacher educators from a university in Germany were assessed in a multistage process, including semistructured interviews and the structure-formation technique. Subsequently, subjective theories were analyzed using qualitative content analysis.


The results reveal a wide range of subjective theories about the concept of sustainability. PE teacher educators described the dimensions of the sustainability concept (ecological, economic, social and political) to different depths and placed different emphases in terms of the levels of action needed to reach sustainable development. The subjective theories regarding the concept of ESD mostly include instrumental and emancipatory aspects of ESD. These subjective theories differ in that they emphasize different forms of ESD.


To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this study is the first of its kind to examine subjective theories regarding the concepts of sustainability and ESD in the context of PE teacher education. This study is one of only a few studies to provide detailed insights into the subjective theories of teacher educators in the area of sustainability and ESD.



The authors want to thank Christoph Kugelmann and Ann-Catrin Grimm for their support in transcribing the interviews and preparing figures.

Funding: The research was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research with the grant number 01JA1809.

Author notes The interview guide, as well as supplemental material, is available on request. Please contact


Lohmann, J. and Goller, A. (2023), "Physical education teacher educators’ subjective theories about sustainability and education for sustainable development", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 24 No. 4, pp. 877-894.



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