What is a discipline? – the importance of subject knowledge in IDL

When talking about IDL and its development, it’s helpful to remind ourselves what disciplines and school subjects are and why they are important in IDL. A discipline is a branch of learning or domain of knowledge that is characterised by distinct objects, concepts, principles, theories, skills, tools and applications. Established disciplines in schools, colleges, higher education and research institutions alike comprise groupings of ‘like-minded’ people with a shared language. Their boundaries are not always well defined. Disciplines give structure and rigour to the development of knowledge, and provide a reservoir of knowledge and skills that contribute economic, cultural and social value to the well being of society (RSE, Pillars and Lintels, 2017).

Discipline boundaries evolve with time as new disciplinary knowledge accrues. However, major new insights and understandings – and solutions to real-world problems – frequently emerge in the gaps between disciplinary boundaries – the interdisciplinary areas. 

Disciplines and school subjects are often conflated. In contrast to disciplines, school subjects are not ends in themselves but are a way of apportioning curriculum content from within and across an increasingly wide body of knowledge (Priestley, 2019). As a broad body of knowledge, the curriculum should embrace both subject knowledge and interdisciplinary knowledge (IDL) in a coherent way.

Featured image: Fruit bowl © Nick Hood 2020

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