Skip to main content


Importance of discipline-specific cognitive structures

Research Achievements

Importance of discipline-specific cognitive structures

Educational research analyses of interviews and observations of PhD students engaged in interdisciplinary learning have revealed the importance of discipline-specific cognitive structures, particularly epistemological beliefs and assumptions. These analyses have also suggested potential pathways through which these domain-specific structures have affected learning. Learner beliefs about the role of certainty were found to be highly discipline-specific. These differences hindered the difficult process of conceptual change, and even the relatively easy process of knowledge acquisition. Potential conceptual difficulties in learners approach to the nitrogen cycle and to public policy were also identified, including: maintaining awareness of the differences in nitrogen dynamics at different scales; linking atmospheric, aquatic and terrestrial processes; and categorizing types of governmental processes in order to scale appropriate generalizations; among others.