Interdisciplinary Education: Preconditions for Success

According to Ghent University’s skills model, the Educational Concept and its six Strategic Objectives, students have to learn to cooperate in an interdisciplinary way. Study programmes should incorporate this interdisciplinary dimension purposefully and explicitly. This educational tip teaches you how to shape these interdisciplinary educational activities. 

What is interdisciplinary education?

Interdisciplinarity:

  • is a cooperation between and integration of knowledge from various disciplines to realize shared objectives and products.
  • is in stark contrast to monodisciplinarity.
  • is called multidisciplinarity when less interaction and knowledge integration occur and if the common problem is simpler than in interdisciplinarity. 
  • is called transdisciplinarity when more interaction and knowledge interaction occur and if the common problem is more complex than in interdisciplinarity. 

Interdisciplinary education:

  • implies an integration or synthesis of various perspectives to reach a deeper understanding, a balanced judgement and a feasible solution or product. 
  • applies various disciplines to solve a problem. 

Which preconditions exist for successful interdisciplinary education? 

Balance between disciplinarity and interdisciplinarity in the curriculum. 

Students acquire interdisciplinary competencies by specializing in the own discipline ánd thoroughly getting to know other disciplines. Each discipline analyzes the world in its own specific way and has its own mental models, frameworks or paradigms for doing so. Students have to become acquainted with these, together with their specific jargon, before they can learn to cooperate interdisciplinarily. Hence, the curriculum should implement interdisciplinary teaching in a sufficient number of, preferably cohesive, course units. Of course, this teaching style builds on a thorough specialization of the own academic discipline. Learning how to think and cooperate interdisciplinarily should be constructed gradually and linearly - for example, by means of a learning line.

Lecturers’ expertise regarding interdisciplinarity

Lecturers who shape and supervise interdisciplinary education are the key to successful learning activities in students. Only those teams of lecturers who have specialized in interdisplinarity, who understand other disciplines well themselves and who can integrate various ways of thinking themselves can create a strong (interdisciplinary) learning environment.  

Activating teaching methods aimed at interdisciplinary cooperation

Interdisciplinary education requires activating teaching methods. Interdisciplinary competencies reach beyond pure reproduction of knowledge. Students have to learn to cooperate with peers, and have to learn to adopt an investigative attitude. Students have to learn to communicate with one another to discover shared and specific perspectives of their various disciplines. They then have to learn how to effectively apply these to solve complex problems. 

Formative and summative evaluation to support and evaluate interdisciplinary competencies

Acquiring interdisciplinary competencies is a learning process which is, preferably, supported by explicitly phrased study and learning outcomes. Frequent midterm, or formative, feedback supports students in that learning process. Additionally, students should be able to gauge to which degree they have acquired the interdisciplinary competencies at the end of the course unit or the study programme by means of summative evaluation. 

Training grounds for interdisciplinary competences and reflection. 

Integrative educational methods such as problem-based education, internships, bachelor or master theses or project activities offer the perfect opportunity to shape interdisciplinary education. A cooperation with other specializations within a study programme, with other study programmes or faculties, or with the professional field are true opportunities in this context. Contrasting perspectives from different disciplines stimulate a critical attitude in students and teach them to break free from their own disciplinary knowledge. Especially lecturers who let their students reflect about said topics, can guarantee the learning effects of interdisciplinarity. 

Do you want to know more?

Read the sources upon which this educational tip is based: 

  • Davies, M., & Devlin, M. (2007). Interdisciplinary higher education: Implications for teaching and learning. Retrieved from 
  • https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/f36f/bdc8cd7238a1107303817edde1afd225d428.pdf
  • Holley, K. (2017). Interdisciplinary Curriculum and Learning in Higher Education, Oxford Research Encyclopedia, Education.
  • Jones, C. (2009). Interdisciplinary approach-advantages, disadvantages, and the future benefits of interdisciplinary studies. Essai, 7(26). Retrieved from http://dc.cod.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1121&context=essai
  • Spelt, E. J. H., Biemans, H. J. A., Tobi, H., Luning, P. A., & Mulder, M. (2009). Teaching and Learning in Interdisciplinary Higher Education: A Systematic Review. Educational Psychology Review, 21(4), 365–378. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-009-9113-z
  • Wemel, D., Vandekerckhove, W., & Vrijsen, H. (2019). Onderwijs voor interdisciplinair samenwerken. Een kader voor VIVES. Retrieved October 28, 2019, from VIVES website: https://www.lno2.be/presentaties/2019/LNO2 congres 2019 VIVES David Wemel Interdisciplinair samenwerken.pdf

Last modified Sept. 1, 2021, 3:54 p.m.