What Is Interdisciplinary Learning?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 30 June 2019
  • Copyright Protected:
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Interdisciplinary learning incorporates multiple areas of study to reflect the integrated nature of real life. Rather than focusing on academic subjects in a separated style that divides topics like science, history, and mathematics, students use several disciplines in one study unit. For example, a class learning about the Salem Witch Trials might discuss the psychology of crowds and the economic factors that could have contributed to the circumstances surrounding the trials. Folklore, history, and public policy might also be studied. The lesson is not purely historical, although it is about a historical event.

Students at all levels can use interdisciplinary learning in their educations. Educators learning about different approaches to teaching may discuss this option and receive instruction in how to provide balanced classes to their students. The ability to offer interdisciplinary instruction requires knowledge in multiple subject areas or the ability to coordinate with other educators to create a complete unit. As students progress, different instructors may be involved in classroom teaching.

This can also play a role in higher education, where interdisciplinary degrees are common in some colleges and universities. People may be interested, for example, in the history of psychiatry and its applications to current practices in the mental health sector. They might study public policy, but also spend time in the psychology department and with medical faculty to learn more about the delivery of mental health services. Combining disciplines provides a deeper understanding of the core subject.


Accrediting agencies with an interest in interdisciplinary learning can certify schools offering this information. They evaluate curricula and teaching credentials to determine if students access the knowledge they need and if teachers are qualified to provide it. Some concerns can include weaknesses in curricula that might create disadvantages for students later. For example, mathematics might not be heavily stressed in an interdisciplinary learning program, which could make it difficult for students to participate in advanced math education as they progress educationally.

Community organizations may promote interdisciplinary learning as part of their public outreach mission. Groups that offer education, like environmental organizations interested in facilitating more responsible use of the environment, may use an interdisciplinary approach. They can discuss not just the scientific issues but also the social and cultural ones, like the impact of resource exploitation on indigenous communities. This approach highlights the fact that a number of issues intersect and one or more of these individual topics may be of interest to learners, even if they have trouble connecting with the core lesson.



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