A Transdisciplinary approach to student learning and development in university settings

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This article considers the opportunities and challenges of transdisciplinary research on student learning in university settings. Fifty years ago, at a meeting in France that convened experts in education and psychology as well as higher education leaders, the term transdisciplinarity was coined as issues pertaining to the structure of the university and its impact on teaching and learning were considered. We argue that to move beyond what has already been discussed requires added insights from both the learning sciences and developmental sciences. In this article, these two areas are combined with the perspectives of higher education leaders. First, research is considered from the learning sciences on deep learning in relation to university learning and teaching. This body of work illustrates ways students need to be actively engaged in their learning and simultaneously frames teachers as facilitators of students’ constructive efforts rather than disseminators of static knowledge. Second, perspectives from the developmental sciences on processes of development are reviewed, focusing on adolescence and emerging adulthood. Here we highlight the importance of considering developmental systems approaches to aspects of organizing learning at universities in light of extensive research on adolescents and emerging adults. Third, we examine new higher education frameworks that have focused on the importance of student engagement, integration and application of knowledge and the implications of these shifts for organizing higher education learning in more holistic ways, often at the national and transnational levels. In reviewing these three areas, we consider what assumptions are made about the learner, the role of teachers and others in enhancing student learning, and the interaction between learners and contexts where learning takes place. We argue that while progress is being made in undergraduate reform efforts, implementation has been uneven. To deliver on this important work will require further alignment of the sort Jantsch (1972) and Piaget (1972) claimed was central to transdisciplinary approaches, namely aligning these different areas through a systems approach that considers education as a purposeful human activity. This will involve alignment and support from the learning and developmental sciences, as well as local, national and transnational efforts and learning communities to support campus efforts.

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Frontiers in Psychology

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