Interprofessional and Interdisciplinary Learning: An Exploration of Similarities and Differences

Interprofessional and Interdisciplinary Learning: An Exploration of Similarities and Differences

Steve Smith (The Centre for Interprofessional e-learning (CIPeL), Coventry University, UK) and Lynn Clouder (The Centre for Interprofessional e-learning (CIPeL), Coventry University, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-889-0.ch001


This chapter begins by considering the words used to discuss collaborative education. Although it can be argued that “practice” separates “a profession” from “a discipline”, the merit in separating theory from practice is highly questionable. The literature suggests that the challenges to interprofessional and interdisciplinary learning are very similar, for example, the “silo” mentality causes problems within both. In addition, it is evident that the reasons behind advocacy of interprofessional and interdisciplinary learning are also similar. The chapter demonstrates that successful interprofessional and interdisciplinary learning requires fundamental changes to both the curriculum and the organisation delivering it. The authors conclude that while subtle differences might exist between interprofessional and interdisciplinary learning their promotion is based on a similar rationale, which is to ensure that students are prepared for the real world in which collaboration, boundary crossing, adopting multiple perspectives and working with others to achieve optimal outcomes, is paramount.
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Advocates of interprofessional learning frequently claim that it is distinct from interdisciplinary learning. D’Amour, Ferrada-Videla, San Martin Rodriguez and Beaulieu (2005) argue that the two concepts are rarely clearly defined and are used rather loosely, causing conceptual confusion, which is well recognized. Gilbert (2005) is resolute that interdisciplinary is not synonymous with interprofessional learning. Notwithstanding inherent concerns for those who wish to promote interprofessional education and claim that such ambiguity is not helpful, we critically examine the arguments in the context of the functioning and development of the Centre for Interprofessional e-learning (CIPeL). The CIPeL is a Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) in the United Kingdom. Although its remit has been to enhance interprofessional learning amongst health and social care professionals in the first instance, there is a sound rationale for dissemination across other disciplines. Extending the Centre’s work into areas such as geography, environmental management, business management and engineering brings into sharp relief the contextual, conditional and contested nature of collaborative learning and teaching across boundaries.

An equally pressing concern stemming from inquiry into wider disciplinary areas as well as the interprofessional literature has been for the coherence of this book. We have worried about, “Should we provide a glossary?” “Should we attempt to standardize the labels used?” “Would we expose ourselves to the risk of widespread criticism if we allowed authors to use their own chosen terms and stayed true to the author’s usage?”. Clearly we needed to gain a greater depth of understanding of the issues and concerns before making an informed choice as to our strategy.

This chapter provides a firm rationale for variance in the use of terminology and therefore a major signpost for the chapters to follow. Readers will notice that authors use various labels, to describe initiatives that bring students together to ‘learn with, from and about each other’ (CAIPE, 1997). They will also recognize a great variation in the extent to which interprofessional or interdisciplinary learning is embedded in curricula and in the ways in which e-learning is used as a medium. To set the scene for chapters to follow, this chapter begins by discussing a variety of definitions in common usage. We conclude that in fact, interprofessional and interdisciplinary learning, both of which endeavour to promote collaborative and integrative learning and despite subtle differences, meet with comparable challenges with regard to implementation. By exploring both interprofessional and interdisciplinary learning across a wide range of contexts we conclude by providing insight into the antecedents of successful initiatives, elements of which will recur in the chapters to follow.

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