Teaching and learning in ecology: a horizon scan of emerging challenges and solutions

Julia Cooke, Yoseph Araya, Karen L. Bacon, Joanna M. Bagniewska, Lesley C. Batty, Tom R. Bishop, Moya Burns, Magda Charalambous, David R. Daversa, Liam R. Dougherty, Miranda Dyson, Adam M. Fisher, Dan Forman, Cristina Garcia, Ewan Harney, Thomas Hesselberg, Elizabeth A. John, Robert J. Knell, Kadmiel Maseyk, Alice L. MauchlineJulie Peacock, Angelo P. Pernetta, Jeremy Pritchard, William J. Sutherland, Rebecca L. Thomas, Barbara Tigar, Philip Wheeler, Rachel L. White, Nicholas T. Worsfold, Zenobia Lewis*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


We currently face significant, anthropogenic, global environmental challenges and the role of ecologists in mitigating these challenges is arguably more important than ever. Consequently there is an urgent need to recruit and train future generations of ecologists, both those whose main area is ecology, but also those involved in the geological, biological and environmental sciences. Here we present the results of a horizon scanning exercise that identified current and future challenges facing the teaching of ecology, through surveys of teachers, students and employers of ecologists. Key challenges identified were grouped in terms of the perspectives of three groups: students, for example the increasing disconnect between people and nature; teachers, for example the challenges associated with teaching the quantitative skills that are inherent to the study of ecology; and society, for example poor societal perceptions of the field of ecology. In addition to the challenges identified, we propose a number of solutions developed at a workshop by a team of ecology teaching experts, with supporting evidence of their potential to address many of the problems raised. These proposed solutions include developing living labs, teaching students to be ecological entrepreneurs and influencers, embedding skills-based learning and coding in the curriculum, an increased role for learned societies in teaching and learning, and using new technology to enhance fieldwork studies including virtual reality, artificial intelligence and real-time spoken language translation. Our findings are focused towards UK higher education, but they should be informative for students and teachers of a wide range of educational levels, policy makers and professional ecologists worldwide.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-28
Number of pages14
Issue number1
Early online date15 Sept 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
– The workshop was supported by the British Ecological Society and the School of Environment, Earth and Ecosystem Science at The Open University. We thank Kelleigh Greene for her help with the workshop logistics. Acknowledgements

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Nordic Society Oikos. Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd


  • ecology
  • global challenges
  • horizon scan
  • teaching and learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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