What is the Difference Between Interdisciplinary Studies and Liberal Arts?

While every educational institution will define their degrees according to their preferences, there is a standard difference between interdisciplinary studies and liberal arts. Interdisciplinary studies degree programs allow students to select a few related fields of interest and take the majority of their classes related to these topics. A liberal arts degree is simply a general degree that covers a broad array of academic topics.

The Advantages of Interdisciplinary Studies

This unique program allows students to learn by making conceptual connections between ideas and facts that are spread across different disciplines. These students are able to simultaneously apply the knowledge gained in one discipline to another in order to enhance their learning experience. The most favored interdisciplinary study programs empower students to build their own academic pathway by choosing courses that personally make sense to them. For instance, it will be easy for a student to discover commonly shared themes in art, history, and literature, or science and applied mathematics. Studying topics by themes is an excellent way to integrate ideas and create engaging learning experiences.

However, one of the biggest challenges of achieving an interdisciplinary environment is facilitating collaboration between departments and educators. Interdisciplinary learning is maximized when faculty from different disciplines work together to help students make the meaningful connections between different subject areas. Making cognitive connections between different concepts is very beneficial. For example, students are very motivated because they are passionate about the topics. This makes the learning experience purposeful and broadens the students' perspective.

The Advantages of Liberal Arts

These programs cover many unrelated topics and concepts, so students may lack depth, but they gain a varied perspective. This helps students develop and apply critical thinking skills as they look past traditional disciplinary boundaries to consider other viewpoints and compare and contrast concepts between subject areas. As a result, students will learn how to consolidate knowledge by synthesizing ideas from many angles. Exploring new and exciting topics will motivate students to pursue new knowledge in these subject areas.

A liberal arts program will teach students how to learn during school and develop the skills required to become lifelong learners. This is especially beneficial for students who want to enter fast paced industries that require employees to continually absorb new ideas and information. These transferable skills of critical thinking and lifelong learning will help students in their personal lives. As they enter their careers, they will have an advanced worldview that is crucial to certain professionals, such as education, business, management, human resources and the arts.

Who Will Benefit?

Certain people will benefit from either of these degree choices. For example, people who have accumulated a considerable amount of credits will be able to consolidate them into a flexible program. This is ideal for members of the military and those who constantly travel or move often. Certain states prefer elementary school teachers with an undergraduate liberal arts major because this allows them to teach more academic areas. This is ideal for working adults who have already earned a degree and simply want to learn at their leisure without being restricted to one major or specific coursework.

The ultimate difference between interdisciplinary studies and liberal arts is that the former is actually comprised of a few majors and the latter is a broad, unfocused degree program.

Related Resource: The 10 Most Affordable Online Interdisciplinary Studies Degree Programs (Bachelor's)