Interdisciplinary problem-based learning in gerontology: A plan of action

  • Majeski R
  • Stover M
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Issues of older adults are often ill-structured and complex, requiring the application of insights from different disciplines to be adequately addressed. Gerontology has often used a multidisciplinary rather than an integrated interdisciplinary approach. Interdisciplinary and problem-based learning (PBL) provide pedagogical tools which teach geron-tology students skills for understanding and resolving gerontological issues. The paper presents the concepts of interdisciplinarity and prob-lem-based learning, the types of interdisciplinarity (interdisciplinarity at micro and macro levels of analysis, interdisciplinarity with different attributes of the same unit of analysis), learning outcomes of inter-disciplinarity and problem-based learning, the incorporation of inter-disciplinary problem-based learning in academic programs, steps of interdisciplinary problem-based study of a gerontological issue, and directions for the future study of this approach. Stresses of caregivers of frail older adults, age discrimination, cardio-vascular disease in later life: how do we understand and formulate possible effective ways of resolving these issues? The complexity of these issues can seem overwhelming. None of these issues can be adequately understood through the lens of a singular academic discipline. Concepts from different disciplines need to be brought together to understand and pose possible solutions to problems often faced by older adults. Higher education often has not adequately equipped its graduates with the skills needed to effectively learn about and address complex problems. Often college curricula do not encourage the development of interdisciplinary, complex thinking (Eaker, 2001). Most gerontology education programs in the US have a multidis-ciplinary, rather than a more integrated interdisciplinary, focus (Bass & Ferraro, 2000). Yet, problems confronted by those working with older adults are often ill-structured, requiring insights from different disciplines. In a discussion on the improvement of undergraduate education, the Wingspread Conference constructed a list of abilities needed by undergraduate students to be able to successfully perform in professional environments. Included in this list was the ability to construct informed judgments and the ability to address specific, real world, complicated problems (Duch, Groh, & Allen, 2001). Interdisciplinary and problem-based learning (PBL) can be an excellent way for gerontology students to address and resolve com-plex problems in gerontology. Problem-based learning encourages students to identify important learning needs, identify disciplines that provide information needed to understand and resolve the problem, and formulate an integrated understanding of—and poss-ible solutions to—a problem using different disciplinary perspectives. Problem-based learning can help give structure to problems in a way that helps with their resolution. This paper synthesizes and applies insights from the literature on interdisciplinarity and problem based learning, illustrates the relationship of interdisciplinarity and PBL to cognitive development in adulthood, and provides a framework for using an integrative, interdisciplinary, problem-based approach to teaching gerontology. WHAT IS PROBLEM-BASED LEARNING(PBL)?

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  • Robin Majeski

  • Merrily Stover

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