Skip to content. Skip to navigation

Faculty Development

You are here: Home / Interprofessional Education / Definitions


Most healthcare education (particularly in the pre-registration university or classroom setting) is uni-professional, in which students learn together as a single group, e.g. nurses, doctors, dentists, midwives, allied health professionals or social workers, and do not learn with or alongside other professional groups. While the uni-professional context is an important arena in which learners develop knowledge, skills and behaviours relating to their own and other professional groups, it does not achieve the additional outcomes of interprofessional education.

Interprofessional education and interprofessional learning

The literature uses a number of terms interchangeably and sometimes inconsistently, which can be somewhat unhelpful. Much of the original literature referred to interprofessional education (IPE), and certainly CAIPE (the UK Centre for the Advancement of Interprofessional Education), which was highly influential in highlighting, researching into and taking forward the IPE agenda, prefers the term IPE. In this module, we will use interprofessional education (IPE) and interprofessional learning (IPL) interchangeably according to the definitions below. We use both terms here to emphasise the informal as well as formal nature of much IPL activity, particularly in the clinical context. Keep in mind that when using the terms, you may need to clarify specifically what is being discussed. 

CAIPE’s definition of IPE is the most widely used:

‘IPE occurs when two or more professions learn with, from and about each other to improve collaboration and the quality of care… and includes all such learning in academic and work-based settings before and after qualification, adopting an inclusive view of “professional”.’ (2006)

As Freeth (2007, p. 2) notes, IPE is primarily concerned with students or professionals actively learning together. The learning is based on an exchange of knowledge, understanding, attitudes or skills with an explicit aim of improving collaboration and healthcare outcomes. 

IPL links closely to the concept and practices of the interprofessional delivery of health and social care where there is interaction among professionals that goes beyond having members of different professions sharing an environment together (Headrick et al., 1998), and interdisciplinary health and social care where professionals work collaboratively to improve health outcomes (World Health Organization, 1988). This helps to support the delivery of effective integrated care across primary, secondary and tertiary services involving a range of client groups, implying shared assessments, clinical records, care and client goal setting with patient/client, community and family at the centre (Boyd and Horne, 2008, p. 5). 

Multiprofessional education (MPE) – sometimes called shared learning or common learning – is where one or more students or professionals learn alongside one another. The learning may be around acquisition of a clinical skill or knowledge, learners may occupy the same physical space and use the same learning materials, but the difference between MPE and IPL is that MPE does not have an overt agenda and activities are not aimed at sharing practice and improving patient/client care, although this might happen serendipitously.  

Boyd and Horne note that multidisciplinary healthcare is provided by ‘a collection of health professionals who independently contribute their particular expertise in parallel to each other, with minimal interdisciplinary communication’ (2008, p. 5).

Teamworking  can be defined as ‘a considered action carried out by two or more individuals jointly, concurrently or sequentially. It implies common agreed goals, clear awareness of and respect for others’ roles and functions’ (Boyd and Horne, 2008, p. 5).

CAIPE note that effective implementation of the principles of IPE ‘calls for collaboration amongst government departments, employing authorities, statutory and regulatory bodies, universities and colleges, professional associations and users and carers’ (2006).

Collaboration is ‘an interprofessional process of communication and decision-making that enables the separate and shared knowledge and skills of healthcare providers to synergistically influence the ways client/patient care and broader community health services are provided’ (Way et al., 2002, p. 3).

Print module to PDF

Save a PDF of this module, so you can print it and read it in your own time.

Email your comments

Let us know what you think about this module or give us your feedback.

Further information

More information about this module, further reading and a complete list of glossary terms.

Learning activities

Read about the recommended learning activities for this module.