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FYS 100 Libguide: Integrative Thinking

Developed as a part of the Credo Reference Learning Community.

Why it matters...

When can we use Integrative Thinking?

A student argues with a classmate at recess; back in class, she asks that classmate to sit down to help her understand just why they disagreed. A teacher, struggling to refresh her practice after decades in the classroom, stops thinking about her classroom as place to teach and starts to think about her classroom as a think tank. Finally, a principal, working with her team in a brand new way, helps her teachers move past the age-old scheduling challenge between rotary and single-subject timetabling.

Each of these outcomes was unexpected, yet unsurprising.

That student, teacher and principal found themselves in similar situations, in conflict, stuck between opposing views of the world. Integrative Thinking gave each one a new way to think about their situation and a pathway to a better answer.

Integrative Thinking is at once a mindset, a methodology and a pedagogy for problem solving. Fundamental to the practice is the ability to see our ideas for what they are — our own interpretation and simplification of the world around us — and only one piece of a much larger puzzle. In recognizing that our ideas only tell a part of the story, Integrative Thinking forces us to consider how other people interpret the same situations — especially when those other people have a different and opposing point of view. Like the student, teacher and principal above, a capacity for such consideration empowers Integrative Thinkers to uncover the unexpected and to create new worlds.


From I-Think - Rotman School of Management @


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Integrative Thinking

Integrative Thinking: Students will make connections and transfer skills and learning among varied disciplines, domains of thinking, experiences, and situations.


Trait 1: Connections among Disciplines: Connect examples, facts, or theories from more than one discipline.

Trait 2: Relation among Domains of Thinking: Connect examples, facts, or theories from more than one of Marshall’s Domains of Thinking.

Trait 3: Transfer: Adapt and apply skills, abilities, theories, or methodologies gained in one situation and/or discipline to other situations and/or other disciplines.

Trait 4: Connections to Experience: Connect relevant experience and academic knowledge.

Information Literacy

If I'm a biology major, why do I have to take an English course?

Good question. So try thinking about a college degree like this Swiss Army knife: 

swiss army knifeWhatever major you choose, whatever career you pursue after graduation, you'll need more than one tool to solve the problems you've been hired to solve. Want to work as a nurse in a hospital? Yes, you'll need to know anatomy and physiology as well as many practical skills. But you'll also need to know how to write (yup, English), how to relate to patients unlike yourself (sociology), how to cooperate effectively with a medical team (communications), and how to ease a patient's anxiety (psychology). 

And if you want to start your own business, your marketing and accounting courses will obviously help, but you'll still need to know how to appeal to a customer's sense of beauty (art class, anyone?), or how to compete in a market that balances economic interests with environmental ones (biology, geology, or geography). 

So yes, it's important to take courses outside your major. No modern-day job depends upon just one way of thinking, just one field of study. (Click here for more information on the courses that are required outside your major.) 

Solving a problem by taking into account more than one field or discipline is called "integrative thinking." In other words, we "integrate" one field with another--one way of thinking with another--in order to see the bigger picture. 

Integrative Thinking Resources

Integrative thinking. By: Ungvarsky, Janine, Salem Press Encyclopedia, 2019 - Encyclopedia entry about integrative thinking.

Integrative Thinking: MU Learning Outcomes Supporting Documentation - Gives precise information about traits and performance levels expected of students learning to master this learning outcome.


TED Talk

Are you confused about Integrative Thinking?  Check out TED, an organization which has recognized accomplished individuals since 1984 in fields such as TechnologyEntertainment, and Design. The interests of TED have expanded to include science, business, the arts, and global issues as well as the original fields. All of this is Integrative Thinking at its best.

Here are just a few of the many intriguing interviews. Explore--and remember that there is no limit to what you can do.