What Is Transdisciplinary Education?
"If we really want to start to address the highly complex, often chaotic and incredibly urgent social and environmental issues at play in the world around us, then we must overcome the reductionist perspective and build thinking and doing systems that work for all."
– Leyla Acaroglu, Founder and Chief Disrupter of Unschool
As explained by UNESCO's International Bureau of Education, transdisciplinary education is defined by "an approach to curriculum integration which dissolves the boundaries between the conventional disciplines and organizes teaching and learning around the construction of meaning in the context of real-world problems or themes."
In this video from Michigan Technological University Professor Kathy Halvorsen, educators and researchers explain how solutions to systemic problems require transdisciplinary approaches
Transdisciplinary learning has two required elements:
An authentic, relevant, and complex issue at its core
A need for students to operate between and beyond disciplines as they approach and address the issue
In a transdisciplinary course, students are mathematicians, cultural anthropologists, artists, scientists, historians, and writers, bringing whatever they have—and learning whatever they need to—in order to approach the issue as a solutionary thinker and creator.
How Are Transdisciplinary Courses Structured?
Exploration of Questions
Definition/Analysis of Problems
Conversations with Stakeholders
Demonstration of Understanding
Work with Partner Organizations
In the first phase of a transdisciplinary course, students work collaboratively to develop a
360-degree analysis of the core question/issue at hand through deep research and conversations with stakeholders at various levels and involvement.
With that context in place, midway through the course, students demonstrate their understanding through designing and completing a performance assessment.
In the final phase of the course, students engage in solutionary collaborations with partner organizations outside the school, either designing projects to leverage their new skills and knowledge or joining work on existing projects. Either way, students spend a significant part of their school day doing high-impact work well beyond the boundaries of traditional education.