Fostering Integrative Learning
Training in science, engineering and mathematics content and skills is necessary, but not sufficient to prepare future leaders in STEM fields. Students must also gain experience in applying the knowledge and skills to complex, real world challenges. The role of integrative learning is to increase students' ability to transfer, apply and synthesize their classroom learning into a coherent and usable body of knowledge. Developing the ability to integrate can occur either across courses and programs or within a single course (for example interdisciplinary or capstone models) for the students. These different pathways to integrated learning for students require institutional structures and programs to build a culture in which integrative learning is valued and expected. In the sections below, as well as in the book "Connected Science: Strategies for Integrative Learning in College", examples of different learning pathways and the institutional structures needed to support integrative learning are shared.
The pathway through integrative learning can vary greatly. Vertical integration through a sequence of courses within a major can help a student build the basic skills and knowledge, progressively challenging the student to integrate prior experiences into more complex content. In other cases, a single experience can encourage integration, for example, interdisciplinary courses, research internships, and capstone courses. The types of pathways available at any institution depends upon institutional context. Institutional culture often defines the pathways that are most easily implemented.
Institutional culture may define the pathway that is most easily adopted, however, deliberate efforts can be made to transform institutional cultures. Institutional structures and processes must be in place to foster integrative learning. Programs to support communication and integration between departments and programs is vital. Building integrative institutions will involve supporting faculty and staff as well as resources and capacity-building activities for students.