An educational process, especially an engineering educational process, should teach students to learn, think, create, and innovate. The most important aspect of education is not the imparting of specific technical knowledge, but rather the learning of how to find knowledge when it is needed, how to assimilate that knowledge, how to integrate that knowledge, and how to synthesize new ideas and solve problems. Education and research activities are necessarily ever evolving, and it is imperative that educators and researchers continually update their methods, curricula, and processes to incorporate developing technology and new ideas. Otherwise they cannot produce the best research or prepare the best scientists and engineers for tomorrow’s challenges.

Traditionally, education has been divided into particular areas of study called disciplines. These disciplines have unified tools, techniques, and methods and a well-developed jargon, and they inevitably develop into self–contained hard shells which tend to minimize interaction with outside entities or other disciplines. The longer a discipline evolves, the harder its shell becomes. Practitioners of these disciplines develop an effective level of intradisciplinary communication due to their well–developed disciplinary jargon. Equally, the rigid disciplinary shell and the precision of the disciplinary jargon tend to minimize interdisciplinary communication.

In the middle of the 20th century, after World War II, the development of technology began to change direction and to increase in speed. There was an expansion of interest in consumer products and in time and work saving technology. Many new and better products were being designed and produced. At that time, technology development and much product development were accomplished by academia. The emphasis on more complex products and higher quality demanded an intradisciplinary team approach to design and production. Product complexity was manageable within disciplines, and communication and project management were relatively easy for intradisciplinary teams.

Product complexity continued to increase, and design and production requirements began to cross-disciplinary boundaries. With technology as the driving factor, many products were now integrated systems. The development and production of cross- disciplinary integrated systems required multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary design teams. Such teams demanded much more effort to manage because of the difficult cross-discipline communication.

As technology continued to develop at a more and more rapid pace, product quality and the time to develop new products became the driving forces. It became necessary to conceive, design, develop, produce, and market quality products much faster in order to be competitive and to remain current with the rapidly changing technology. These needs required the interdisciplinary teams to include not only members from the science and engineering disciplines, but also disciplines from other areas such as business, the social sciences, medicine, and so forth. The teams required to provide knowledge from many disciplines and to integrate the complex systems being developed could now be described as cross college teams. These cross-college teams provided even greater challenges for management and communication.

As the 21st century approached, problems and products became even more complex, and the cross-college teams within one university or one organization were no longer capable of handling these large, complex development processes. It became necessary to assemble the best experts and to utilize the best resources available to develop the complex, integrated products required by society. These teams could be dubbed cross- university or cross-organizational teams. During the cross-college and cross-university periods, many of the research and development activities changed hands and moved for the most part to industry. Industry became the driving force in developing new technology and high-tech products, since universities are in general very conservative and reluctant to move in the direction that industry has charted from technology development.

The next phase in technology development will be called cross- continent. Mankind is becoming more aware of global issues and the interdependence of the world’s people. The rapid advances in technology and communications have made the collaborative solution of complex global problems feasible. Problem solution and product development are driven by the need to increase speed for the development processes and to best utilize resources. Cross-continent teams of experts using the best resources available are required to produce quality products in the minimum time. A team whose members are spread around the globe can effectively work twenty-four hours a day seven days a week. However, there are difficulties associated with this cross-continent approach for problem solving and product development. The problems to be considered are very complex and involve the consideration not only of technical issues, but also of financial, environmental, social, cultural, political, and other issues. Further, the integration of knowledge and skills from all disciplines into complex systems is required. Cross continent teams face difficulties in communicating across disciplines and languages and in developing stable and positive relationships across disciplinary, social, and ethnic cultures.

The transdisciplinary model for education and research transcends the artificial boundaries imposed by traditional academic organizational structures and directly addresses the problems enumerated above which are related to the solution of large and complex problems by teams consisting of many people from diverse backgrounds. The essence of transdisciplinary education, research, and development processes lies in the common ground built on the foundation of design fundamentals and process development and management. A transdisciplinary education program is built around a core of design, process, systems integration, and metrics. The core is then surrounded by knowledge and skill “tools” selected from various disciplines. These tools can be updated as needed to keep pace with developing technology. The learning environment offers instructor facilitated team projects and discussions rather than the traditional classroom lecture. Transdisciplinary educational and research processes are technology driven, project-oriented processes ones. The transdisciplinary concept can be used to develop curricula and educational programs around any combination of topics; however, of immediate application here are engineering, and science-based graduate-level programs.

The development of transdisciplinary educational and research programs in today’s universities will be difficult, but well worth the effort. The transdisciplinary model is radically different from traditional educational and research patterns. The very concept of transcending the traditional disciplines stands in stark contradiction to the classical university organization around disciplinary colleges and departments. Although it is not necessary to completely reorganize the entire university according to the transdisciplinary model, it will be necessary to create a transdisciplinary structure in which these programs can exist and from which collaboration with the existing structure of disciplines can be effected. Further, the transdisciplinary model is a new concept; the supporting philosophy, the fundamentals of the core (design, process, system integration, and metrics), and the transdisciplinary culture must be fleshed out to create the transdiscipline.

The goals of the Academy of Transdisciplinary Learning & Advanced Studies (TheATLAS) are to create an environment for global collaborative efforts in transdisciplinary education, research and training and to facilitate the development of transdisciplinary programs and processes. The Academy will take the lead in developing the transdisciplinary philosophy, fundamentals, and culture and will integrate the efforts of universities and research organizations endeavoring to create transdisciplinary programs. The development and implementation of transdisciplinary programs must be a truly global undertaking. The most significant characteristic of transdisciplinary education and training is the crossing of barriers to effective communication. These barriers or shells include not only technical issues, but also language, ethnic, and cultural issues. True transdisciplinary education must involve individuals from many countries, ethnic groups, cultures, and so forth. The Academy will provide a global structure and global interaction from which this development can proceed.