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Course Content - London Interdisciplinary School

For those in other parts of the world, some translation may be needed here in order to understand what is novel about the London Interdisciplinary School (LIS): a course in the UK is equivalent to a program in North America, and a module is equivalent to a North American course (or unit, if you are Australian, or paper, if you are from NZ). The UK does also sometimes have programmes, though these are mostly administrative umbrellas to make course management easier, rather than things you can enrol on as a student. I will use the UK terms in this post.

The LIS is the first new ratified degree-awarding institution in the UK since the 60s, though more are coming soon. It has one and only one course. The modules for this course are problem-based, centred around real world issues, and they focus on connecting rather than separating subjects and disciplines, so students can take a very diverse range of paths through them, hooking them into workplace practice. There are plenty more conventional (mostly optional) modules that provide specific training, such as for research methods, web design, and so on, but they seem to be treated as optional supports for the journey, rather than the journey's destination, in a similar way to that used on many PhDs, where students choose what they need from module offerings for their particular research program.

Strongly interdisciplinary and flexible courses are not new, even in the UK - Keele, for instance, has encouraged pretty much any mix of modules for more than half a century, and many institutions provide a modular structure that gives a fair bit of flexibility (though too rarely between, say, arts and sciences).  What differentiates the LIS approach is that it explicitly gets rid of subjects and disciplines altogether, rightly recognizing no distinct boundaries between them. I like this. The tribes and territories of academia are ridiculous inventions that emerge from place-based constraints, bureaucratic management concerns, and long, long path dependencies, not from any plausible rationale related to learning or intellectual coherence.

The college is partially funded by government but operates as a private institution. I look forward to seeing where they go next.




  • Hi Jon,


    If I am understanding your post and the LIS website correctly, the format being used would be an approach more like "The problom I wish to solve would be the constraints of bio-engineering in todays technical limits", and upon that build out a degree program that includes the areas of study needed to work in that specific field, whereas instead with current institutions one would say have to study for a degree in biology, and then a degree in engineering, and maybe even a third in computer science?


    If so, how do they award degrees? Is it a customized title based on your criteria? Or more generic?

    Nicolosus November 9, 2020 - 3:13pm

  • I'm not sure, Nicolosus. Certainly there would be no need to study for multiple degrees, and the various disciplinary perspectives would be far more integrated than in most programs/courses. There are quite a few degrees that work in the way you suggest, such as the MSc/MA by Learning Outcomes at the University of Brighton, UK, in which a goal is decided upon, then outcomes are negotiated at the start between student, institution, and employer and modules are chosen to match, but I suspect this is not quite like that.

    If I were designing this then I would most likely identify some fairly broad course (=program) outcomes, addressing things like problem-solving, synthesis, values, and application, then map the specific module (=course) outcomes to those, allowing students to adapt their goals as they learn (unlike the 'by outcomes' approach), but I don't know if that's what LIS are doing here.

    It would be interesting to find out!

    Jon Dron November 11, 2020 - 9:13pm

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