Tuesday, May 19, 2015

E-Learning Evolution-- The Cross Disciplinary Research and Mentor Network--Part I

 Detecting and Solving Real World Problems

Cross disciplinary learning is an approach to learning that suggests that when we need to find and solve real world problems, that no single set of skills will enable us to detect, analyze and solve problems in the 21st century.

Paul Jeffrey (2003) in an article titled: "Smoothing the Waters: Observations on the Process of Cross Disciplinary Research Collaboration" very aptly  stated:

"...A central motivation for research funders to support studies that consider the contributions of more than one disciplinary field is the fact that real world problems do not come in disciplinary-shaped boxes. Indeed, national research policies lay increasing emphasis on problem oriented research, which requires the crossing of disciplinary boundaries..."

PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) recognizes that the world has changed and that the compartmentalization of subjects that was a product of the industrial model of education no longer fits and the globally focused organization, OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), supports this position.


In 2003, PISA recognized that the world was changing and that the way that learners needed to solve real world problems also had to change and take on a cross disciplinary format.

In its progression it is worthwhile to point out that the emphasis in 2015 is collaborative problem solving that not only involves the use of a computer but involves collaboration with other students, using cross disciplinary skill sets that are drawn from the scientific and arts disciplines. The country of Finland, as stated in an earlier post, performs very well in the PISA standings and now has taken the step of moving away from the traditional compartmentalization  of subjects in favour of a cross disciplinary approach.

Cross Disciplinary Research and Learning: The Challenge

One of the points that Jeffrey makes in his article is that for many disciplines, when it comes to collaboration, "they still need to learn how to play well with others in the sandbox"!

If we expect learners in the 21st century to become creators of new knowledge and skill sets that will feed innovation, we need the disciplines to develop the necessary parameters for the collaboration among themselves that is required in order to advance cross disciplinary learning. They need to lead by example and put aside the barriers of the past.

This is not only something that educators want to happen. Business has stated very clearly that what they want in the way of the primary quality in future employees is that they are problem finders and then problem solvers. They want employees to be able  to analyze a situation, detect potential problems and then arrive at preemptive solutions. In a digital age, learners can not be problem finders unless they have the skill sets necessary that when used together give a complete picture of the situation as it exists. This requires more than one perspective to contribute valuable data. No student can have problem changing expertise in all disciplines which means that they need to be able to access those that do.

The Cross Disciplinary Research and Mentor Network

If we accept the growing importance of cross disciplinary learning then how do we nurture it as a way of thinking for solving real world problems for 21st century students and those who will follow them? In the Global Learning Portal, the establishment of a cross disciplinary research and mentor network is a first step in encouraging and addressing this mindset.

Next........ The nature of the Cross Disciplinary Research and Mentor Network and a return to the Mount Everest example

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