Friday, 25 March 2016

Switching Gears into Transdisciplinary Learning

Retrieved from here.
Something I found interesting throughout my EDUC 4P27 course is the concept of transdisciplinary learning. This is an approach to teaching that moves beyond the disciplines and traditional planning. It begins with student interests and real-world problems, as opposed to pre-determined curriculum objectives (Drake, Reid, & Kolohon, 2014). Students and teachers decide on appropriate and relevant objectives. This approach also relates to inquiry based learning where students create their own questions to investigate.

In the below video, Alan Shusterm, the founder of “School for Tomorrow”, discusses the challenges of subject based learning. For example, students can get confused or frustrated when trying to understand what skills should be used when (STF, 2013). An example of this is when students complete an assignment in science class but are also marked for spelling and grammar. Shusterm is concerned that children are not prepared for real world problems and expectations. He suggests that real world problems and real world questions are inherently transdisciplinary (SFT, 2013). I believe that transdisciplinary learning can help prepare students for real world expectations, because curriculum subjects are not separate, discrete concepts. There is a great deal of overlap and interconnectedness between subjects and we can highlight that in our teaching.

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Shusterm also discusses that research demonstrates that the learning process will be enhanced when the content is meaningful to students (SFT, 2013). Therefore I think transdisciplinary learning can be motivating by helping make learning more meaningful for students and putting their interests first. Transdisciplinary learning also relates to real world problems, which makes learning very applicable for students. Learning should be relevant and authentic so it can be more meaningful for students.

In lecture we learned about a unique way to teach called topic based learning or phenomena based learning. This similar to transdisciplinary learning as students choose topics that are important to them, and subjects are not taught separately but are interwoven within activities. This approach is popular in Finland school boards where students are encouraged to use and apply information, instead of simply memorizing it. In the video bellow they discuss a great example of how to incorporate phenomena based learning into the classroom (Wise Channel, 2015).

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In this example, children were able to demonstrate technological skills and the ability to work in a multicultural environment. The video emphasized the importance of students learning skills they will use in the future. I think education should be authentic and practical. When reflecting on my elementary experiences, practical real world lessons stuck with me and were the most engaging. For example, when I was in grade 5 we held a mock election to learn about how elections and campaigning work. This was a fun and innovative way for us to learn. 

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Although I think that transdisciplinary learning is a great approach, I do see how it can be difficult to implement. Curriculum expectations are very extensive and planning can be very challenging. This form of teaching can appear overwhelming and time consuming. With so many expectations to meet for each subject area, planning beyond the subjects and interweaving them may be difficult. However, you could also look at this from another perspective, where transdisciplinary teaching allows teachers to teach multiple subjects at once and frees up more time for discovery and inquiry. I think more teachers could implement transdisciplinary skills if they were better informed on the practice. I also think that teachers would need to make this transition gradually in order to ensure a successful bridge between more traditional ways of teaching and transdisciplinary learning.


Drake, S. M., Reid, J. L., & Kolohon, W. (2014). Interweaving curriculum and classroom assessment: Engaging the 21st century learner. Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press.

Wise Channel (Producer) (2015, Oct 5). Finland: Replacing Subject with Phenomenon Based Learning. Retrieved from

SFT Youtube (Producer) (2013, Dec 2) Answers- The Future of Education: Transdisciplinary Learning. Retreived from