The Importance of Integrative Learning and Interdisciplinary Studies

CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Richard Lee

Integrative Learning and Interdisciplinary Studies is an article that differentiates the ideas of interdisciplinary learning vs. integrative learning. It also explores the similarities of the two and how they benefit each other.

The article begins by defining each of the terms. Klein notes that integrative learning is broader than interdisciplinary studies. “It is an umbrella term for structures, strategies, and activities that bridge numerous divides, such as high school and college, general education and the major, introductory and advanced levels, experiences inside and outside the classroom, theory and practice, and disciplines and field” (Klein, 2005).  Interdisciplinary Studies rather, “is a subset of integrative learning that fosters connections among disciplines and interdisciplinary fields” (Klein, 2005).

The article then goes into the historical perspectives of each term and how they have evolved through time. Klein reports that in 1935 at a meeting sponsored by the National Education Association the participants came to the conclusion that complete unity in educational approaches was not possible; unifying as opposed to unified. At this same meeting integration, content integration, and process integration were identified.

CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 J. Sibiga Photography

It was argued that high levels of learning cannot be accomplished if we are studying subjects separately. To reach these levels we need to see integration of knowledge and using an interdisciplinary approach to education.

Three catalysts across the educational spectrum were also identified. These catalysts consist of the “knowledge explosion” (Klein, 2005), in which there is a massive increase in specialties and fields that largely contribute to the issue of fragmentation; in turn creating a bigger need for making connections in knowledge and learning. We also see a heightened problem focus in which our complex society and community makes it necessary to utilize multiple fields of knowledge. The final catalyst noted is educational reform in which there is linkage between two concepts that have complementary pedagogies.

CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Troels Myrup

Later in the article integrative interdisciplinary pedagogies are discussed. Multidisciplinary approaches that draw from multiple disciplines are mentioned, however because students lack integrative experiences, these disciplines are never truly integrated. We also learn more on additive models that broach disciplinarity, furthering existing compartments, procedures, and compartments. On the other hand, interdisciplinary models accomplish reconstruction of curriculum and focus on experiences that are them, problem, or question based.

Klein stresses that there is no one pedagogy for integrative interdisciplinary learning, rather all these approaches take multiple perspectives to give a more complete and integrated understanding.

CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Richard Lee

Some strategies of these approaches in institutions are clustered and liked courses and interdisciplinary core seminars at introductory and capstone levels.

Integrative interdisciplinary approaches are centrally concerned with the application of knowledge as opposed to acquisition and remembering facts; learning the process of posing questions and problem solving, higher and critical thinking. These important aspects of this approach are ones that cannot be found in a textbook, but rather experienced in effective learning and knowledge seeking that promotes insight into oneself and understanding of individual learning processes.

CC BY-SA 2.0 Stinging Eyes

This article reiterates the importance of integrating knowledge and taking an interdisciplinary approach to learning, of which provides immense benefits. By integrating knowledge from each discipline we are drawing from, we can obtain a more sophisticated, in depth, and comprehensive understanding of a topic. It has also shown me that while there is a central idea to interdisciplinary studies, it can be implemented in various ways. There isn’t a single approach that HAS to be taken, but many approaches that are fluid and can be shaped to address specific needs of students. These approaches can help us stray from conventional learning in which we remember facts and info that become arbitrary after an exam and focus on applying knowledge to our lives and interests and understand its overall impact to our education and knowledge.


Klein, J. T. (2005). Integrative Learning and Interdisciplinary Studies. Association of American Colleges and Universities: Peer Review.

One Reply to “The Importance of Integrative Learning and Interdisciplinary Studies”

  1. Your choice of a Julie Klein article is absolutely excellent. Julie is one of the leading figures in Interdiscipilnary Studies. She is a core member of the Association for Interdisciplinary Studies, which hosts the national Honor Society that we belong to, and much of our program is based on the work she has done in thinking about how IDS fits within universities. This was a great summary, and I love to see our students engage with the work that is so important to the foundation of our major!

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