Most sociology scholars are drawn into this discipline because it is inherently interdisciplinary by nature. Furthermore, it is almost impossible to embark on a study of the problems that humanity faces without employing an interdisciplinary approach. The people and the challenges that they face are too diverse and they require to be addressed from all possible angles. Social scholars garner satisfaction from studying the means through which human beings seek solutions to a myriad of societal problems. On the other hand, society has to stick to certain aspects of the organization to solve social problems and achieve its goals. All these societal goals require an interdisciplinary approach that encompasses all possible means of achieving viable solutions.
One social scholar observes that it is “difficult to imagine studying historical content without examining the roles of persons (sociology), their motivations (psychology), where they lived (geography), the influences of spiritual beliefs (religion), rules that govern behavior (political science and anthropology), or how people negotiate for their needs and wants (economics)” (Lattuca, Fath, & Voigt, 2004, p. 25). Similarly, an interdisciplinary approach to social problems might involve a substantial connection to foreign languages, arts, science, and mathematics. An interdisciplinary approach to social problems is not the sole solution or methodology that is currently available to scholars. However, this approach has proved to be quite effective in assisting scholars, educators, and society to solve their problems. The main goal among educators is to assist students to gain knowledge, develop insights, achieve problem-solving skills, be self-sufficient, and eventually develop a natural thirst for learning. All these objectives can easily be achieved through an interdisciplinary approach to learning. This essay outlines the advantages of using an interdisciplinary approach to the study of social problems.
One advantage of an interdisciplinary approach is that it allows social scholars to understand their “preconceptions of ‘what is’ and the framework by which they arrived at ‘what is’” (Repko, Szostak, & Buchberger, 2013, p. 42). This awareness eliminates one of the biggest hindrances to learning, which occurs when learners enter the study process with preconceived ideas and notions. A full understanding of social problems cannot occur when other disciplines of natural learning are suppressed. For instance, cognitive science, neuroscience, human development, and social psychology are some of the forms of learning that are naturally suppressed by a ‘close-minded’ approach to learning.
An interdisciplinary approach to learning helps students to overcome the burden of having preconceived ideas so that they can understand the origin of their beliefs and understandings. When approaching a social problem, a student needs to address the issue from various perspectives that possibly challenge pre-existing notions. An interdisciplinary approach to learning solves the problem of preconceived notions by “helping students to identify insights from a range of disciplines that contribute to an understanding of the issue under consideration” (Salter & Hearn, 2007). Furthermore, learners can look at concepts and ideas from a broad perspective. Overall, giving learners the ability to adapt an open mind allows them to integrate facts through the wideness of an interdisciplinary approach to learning. On the other hand, this approach allows educators to spend more time presenting issues rather than explaining them.
Fosters Cognitive Abilities
Another benefit of an interdisciplinary approach in the study of social problems is that it employs a myriad of individual abilities. Unlike other approaches to problem-solving, an interdisciplinary approach helps learners to employ all their cognitive abilities. Through cognitive abilities, learners can use mental processes independently and come up with viable solutions to social problems. One researcher asserts that an interdisciplinary approach enhances the cognitive abilities of problem solvers (Miller, 2002). Consequently, cognitive skills allow individuals to utilize their perspective-taking skills. The ability to put things into perspective does not only help us acquire a better understanding of the problems that surround us, but it assists us in solving them. For example, all problems are understood and solved better when the individuals who are in charge can employ various ‘points of view’. Consequently, problem solvers and learners can “develop an appreciation of the differences between disciplines on how to approach a problem and their discipline-specific rules regarding viable evidence” (Salter & Hearn, 2007, p. 14).
Without a broad understanding of an issue, it is difficult to solve it efficiently. An interdisciplinary approach provides a viable environment for individuals who wish to enhance their cognitive abilities. One by-product of cognitive competence is structural knowledge. Structural knowledge accommodates both process-based information and factual information. Social problems at all levels of manifestation cannot be solved without the application of these two categories of information. During the learning process, a learner who has structural knowledge can be able to “integrate conflicting insights from alternative disciplines” (Gaff & Wilson, 2011, p. 187). For instance, various learning methodologies seek solutions to a single problem by employing different mechanisms. In the end, it does not matter which discipline was responsible for the solution because the results are acceptable to all. The ability to understand problems through sound cognitive skills and critical thinking is one of the main advantages of using an interdisciplinary approach to the study of social problems.
Applicable to Social Intolerance
One of the main hindrances when it comes to seeking solutions to social problems is intolerance. Intolerance has contributed to various social problems in the modern world including racism, religious extremism, and sectarian violence. An interdisciplinary approach to social problems “helps students understand why conflicts commonly arise over; the causes and consequences of an issue and, the ideal way for policy to address the issue of concern” (Salter & Hearn, 2007). Without an interdisciplinary approach to learning, individuals who attempt to address social problems often find that they are limited in terms of their outlook-capacity. A single-disciplinary approach in the study of social problems is limited in terms of the analytical frameworks, and it is also riddled with assumptions that cannot be substantiated. Through an interdisciplinary approach, it is possible to advance the lack of agreement when it comes to social issues (Gallagher, 2013). The notion that it is ‘okay to agree to disagree’ is well accommodated by an interdisciplinary approach to learning. Overall, an interdisciplinary approach in the study of social problems allows learners to understand the complexity of some issues.
Support of Morality
The use of an interdisciplinary approach in the study of social problems enables learners to understand the ethical dilemmas that accompany social issues. Consequently, ethical considerations are important when sorting through the quagmire of moral factors, equal justice, and social issues. Most independent disciplines of learning fail to account for moral issues either by nature or by design. For example, the issue of morality does not apply to the efforts of scientists when they are seeking answers to social problems. An interdisciplinary approach to social studies promotes the inclusion of all ideas irrespective of their popularity. Consequently, the ideas contained in the study of moral philosophy are accommodated by an interdisciplinary approach to learning.
Another advantage of utilizing an interdisciplinary approach in the study of social problems is that this method is cost-effective. Education stakeholders can achieve substantial progress through limited resources when they use an interdisciplinary approach (Repko, Szostak, & Buchberger, 2013). Also, the use of an interdisciplinary approach lessens the burden on teachers because they have various methodologies of passing knowledge to students. Instructors can also “the share of the course that is interdisciplinary, so they insert into their course the level of interdisciplinary-connection that is ideal for them given their experience with this form of teaching and the nature of the course they are leading” (Lattuca, Fath, & Voigt, 2004, p. 25). All these options reduce both time and economic costs for learners and educators thereby making an interdisciplinary approach a cost-effective study methodology.
An interdisciplinary approach to learning continues to gain prominence within academic circles. Consequently, this method has found use as a tool for studying social problems. Through the interdisciplinary method of learning, students can recognize biases in processes, employ critical thinking, tolerate ambiguity, and recognize the part played by ethics in the study of social problems. In the future, there is a possibility that the effectiveness of an interdisciplinary approach will lead to the wide acceptance of this methodology. Over time, the interdisciplinary-learning methodology has proved to be a cost-effective way of passing relevant knowledge to social scholars.
Gaff, J. G., & Wilson, R. C. (2011). Faculty cultures and interdisciplinary studies. The Journal of Higher Education, 11(3), 186-201.
Gallagher, S. A. (2013). Using problem-based learning to explore unseen academic potential. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, 7(1), 9.
Lattuca, L. R., Fath, K. Q., & Voigt, L. J. (2004). Does interdisciplinarity promote learning? Theoretical support and researchable questions. The Review of Higher Education, 28(1), 23-48.
Miller, R. C. (2002). Varieties of interdisciplinary approaches in the social sciences. Issues in Integrative Studies, 1(1), 1-37.
Repko, A. F., Szostak, R., & Buchberger, M. P. (2013). Introduction to interdisciplinary studies. New York, NY: Sage publications.
Salter, L., & Hearn, A. (2007). Outside the lines: Issues in interdisciplinary research. London: McGill-Queen’s Press.