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Positive Findings in Literature

Hummingbird's picture

There are two strains of literature that look at innovative and cross-informing pedagogical structures: interdisciplinary learning and learning communities. The first is defined as learning in which two or more disciplines are brought together with the goal of impacting each other’s perspectives[1]. The second is defined as an approach that links courses – sometimes around a particular theme – enrolling a common group of students[2]. The literatures on these two approaches have each developed independently. However, we can see the ways these literatures are co-informing each other in the 360º program at Bryn Mawr College, a program that centers on interdisciplinary learning within a cohort structure.

Research on learning communities has found them to be associated with higher retention rates, higher student engagement, and heightened student degree progress (Cheseboro, Green, Mino, Snider, & Venable, 1999 from Stassen, 2003). Research on interdisciplinary learning has found it to be associated with higher-level thinking amongst students. As students associate their previously held knowledge with new information and experience, “they create increasingly complex connections between declarative facts that may ultimately predict the retrievability of knowledge,” (Acton, Johnson, & Goldsmith, 1994 from Ivanitskaya, Clark, Montgomery, & Primeau, 2002) Interdisciplinary work allows for more academic connection-making and leads students to feel more personally invested in their learning. The community aspect of 360ºs allows students to feel connection to their peers and faculty, making space for more vulnerable-making in the classroom. 

Ultimately, the two learning models are about making connection – one on an interpersonal level, and one on an academic level. I argue this making connection between the academic and personal is integral to promoting student learning.



[1] (Rowntree, 1982 from Ivanitskaya, Clark, Montgomery, & Primeau, 2002).


[2] (MacGregor, Smith, Matthews, & Gabelnick, 2002).