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Classical paradigms versus complexity thinking in engineering education: an essential discussion in the education for sustainable development

Tiago F.A.C. Sigahi (School of Mechanical Engineering, State University of Campinas, Campinas, Brazil)
Izabela Simon Rampasso (Departamento de Ingeniería Industrial, Universidad Católica del Norte, Anfogasta, Chile)
Rosley Anholon (School of Mechanical Engineering, State University of Campinas, Campinas, Brazil)
Laerte Idal Sznelwar (Department of Production Engineering, University of São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 12 August 2022

Issue publication date: 5 January 2023

83

Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to discuss how the theory of complex thinking can be considered an interesting element in engineering education, especially in the context in which challenges toward sustainable development are multidisciplinary.

Design/methodology/approach

This viewpoint synthesizes the main reflections and discussions generated during a process of debate, research and creation of a proposal for an undergraduate engineering course at a higher education institution in Brazil. The literature on engineering education, sustainability and complexity was considered in an integrated way. Debates were conducted considering the authors’ knowledge and experience as professors of engineering courses and researchers in the field of sustainability. A qualitative and reflexive approach was used to organize the main discussions.

Findings

The prevailing classical engineering paradigm trains professionals to think from a Cartesian, reductionist perspective, appropriate for solving well-structured problems with known solution paths and convergent answers. However, addressing sustainability challenges requires a different kind of thinking capable of dealing with situations characterized by uncertainty, emergence and incompleteness of knowledge. Complexity thinking can be useful for this purpose as it provides a broad system approach to deal with ill-defined, ill-structured and unpredictable problems. This study can be understood as a call to researchers and professionals to consider the value and importance of complexity thinking to advance engineering education for sustainability.

Originality/value

The need to overcome the limits of the classical engineering paradigm is emphasized in the context of sustainability. Complex thinking is considered as a path toward a paradigm shift in engineering education for sustainability. It can contribute to the training of professionals to face pressing challenges now and in the future. This viewpoint provides some insights to enhance debates on education engineering.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to express their gratitude to the Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES Grant no. 1808446) and the Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq Grant no. 307536/2018–1) for their support.

Citation

Sigahi, T.F.A.C., Rampasso, I.S., Anholon, R. and Sznelwar, L.I. (2023), "Classical paradigms versus complexity thinking in engineering education: an essential discussion in the education for sustainable development", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 24 No. 1, pp. 179-192. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-11-2021-0472

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2022, Emerald Publishing Limited

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