Trans-disciplinary understandings can be thought of as fundamental ‘building blocks’ around which learning can be constructed. These ‘building blocks’ can be brought into action by means of a small number of focus questions. These questions need to be continually asked, in one way or another, throughout life. They include-
How is it changing? Change is the process of movement from one state to another. It is universal and inevitable. The key word is change.
What is our responsibility? People are not passive observers. They must make choices and in so doing can make a difference. The key word is responsibility.
What is it like? Everything has form with recognisable features which can be observed, identified, described and categorised. The key word is form.
How does it work? Everything has a purpose, a role or a way of behaving which can be investigated. The key word is function.
Why is it like it is? Things do not just happen. There are causal relationships at work and actions have consequences. The key word is causation.
How is it connected to other things? We live in a world of interacting systems in which the actions of any individual element affect others. The key word is connection.
Students can construct the understandings they generate from their experience around the key words implicit in these focus questions. In this way the key words provide a framework of ‘building blocks’ around which students can make connections and network their experience. The whole process is dynamic with the connections being continually reshaped, redesigned and refined throughout life. The understandings students develop by this means are broad in scope and application – they are trans-disciplinary.
Specific understandings are more closely tied to particular disciplines. Some have become established within a discipline or a cluster of disciplines: for example, the idea of ‘energy’ in scientifically orientated disciplines, the idea of ‘identity’ in socially orientated disciplines, the idea of ‘ecosystem’ in environmentally orientated disciplines, the idea of ‘self-image’ in health related disciplines, and the idea of ‘aesthetic’ in arts disciplines.
While understandings like these, and host of others that could have been listed, may have roots in particular disciplines their reach extends beyond their origins. Indeed, concepts of ‘energy, ‘identity’, ‘ecosystem’, ‘self-image’ and ‘aesthetic’ have meaning and application across many fields of learning. In this sense they are multi-disciplinary in significance and application, yet they have special import within particular disciplines.
As well, people develop their own understandings of experience which are peculiar to them and not necessarily widely accepted. These understandings are no less important and represent the way individual people have patterned their experience. Indeed, if two people have identical experiences they will make their own individual connections and patterns of thought from it. Even if they arrive at similar conclusions they will, almost certainly, have got there by different routes.
Understandings of any kind are more than ‘knowing’. ‘Real’ understandings can be used and applied. They can be performed in real life situations and contexts in response to particular needs and purposes. This is much more than merely talking or writing about the knowledge that underpins any given understanding. Indeed, the capacity to use understandings imaginatively and resourcefully is an essential part of living and working in the twenty first century.