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Why is this important?

Complex world problems require the coming together of multiple areas of expertise. As a result interdisciplinary collaborations are increasingly a vital characteristic of excellence in research. Intricate global issues also require a workforce which can combine depth of discipline knowledge with a broad experience of other disciplines’ perspectives and insights.

Summary

This page considers the definition of interdisciplinarity and considers the benefits and challenges of interdisciplinary learning. Examples of interdisciplinary collaborations are offered as food for thought.

Further Detail

Davis and Devlin (2007) explain the differences between:

  • Multidisciplinarity: co-existence of a number of disciplines.This means participants can do their own work and do not need to know about, or take account of, other participants’ work.  A multidisciplinary degree would allow students to    study several disciplines over the course of their programme.
  • Cross-Disciplinarity: ‘A topic normally outside a field of study is investigated with no co-operation from others in the area of study concerned,’ (Davis & Devlin, 2007, p3).
  • Interdisciplinarity: Recongises the obvious and subtle ways academic disciplines overlap. Levels of integration differ; from two or more subjects contributing ‘their particular disciplinary knowledge on a common subject’ (Grosskinsky, 2008, p3); to participant disciplines taking account of, and even modifying their methodologies and contributions, in light of other collaborators' work.