Speaking of Education

The annual APA 2010 Education Leadership Conference — set for Sept. 11–15 in Washington — offers an important opportunity to advocate for psychology with members of Congress. Another purpose of the conference is to provide a forum to discuss issues relevant to all levels of psychology education and training, from K–12 through professional development.

The conference participants are selected by the numerous psychology education and training organizations outside of APA, as well as by governance groups and divisions within APA. This year, the topic is “Lifelong Learning and Psychology” — a theme relevant to all psychologists as well as to professional development in other fields.

Psychological science plays a fundamental role in enhancing lifelong learning through the application of its knowledge to adult learning, instructional design, consumer behavior, competency development and more. In fact, psychologists already play instrumental roles in centers for teaching and learning, medical education, corporate training, media messaging and the design of instructional materials. Our discipline has much to offer in addressing society’s need for lifelong learning for all citizens.

Within psychology, the need for lifelong learning is highlighted in our Ethics Code: “Psychologists undertake ongoing efforts to develop and maintain their competence.” Moreover, a criterion for the accreditation of programs in professional psychology requires a “curriculum plan whereby all students can acquire competence in attitudes essential for lifelong learning, scholarly inquiry, and professional problem-solving as psychologists in the context of an evolving body of scientific and professional knowledge.” Interestingly, this criterion focuses on attitudes; I would like to highlight that skills in lifelong learning are equally important.

Graduate education in psychology is heavily focused on “learning how to learn,” sometimes to the dismay of those who prefer a more technical or vocational approach to education and training. But given our ethical principles, the expansion of knowledge and developments in technology, skills in lifelong learning are fundamental for all psychologists. Organized psychology has paid less attention to the teaching and assessment of lifelong learning skills in graduate education and needs to examine its approach to providing support for professional development. In general, lifelong learning has been a voluntary, self-directed process dependent upon accurate self-assessment. Yet we know from research that self-assessment can be very flawed. What kind of training can maximize accurate self-assessment? In some areas, such as health-care services, there are ever-increasing demands for accountability in the maintenance of competence that are not wholly dependent upon self-assessment. Seat time in CE courses is not likely to be viewed as sufficient. What will this mean for psychology?

The period of one’s career spent in continuous learning far exceeds time in formal preparatory education and training. ELC participants will address issues of lifelong learning for research, teaching and practice in psychology. How can we facilitate the lifelong learning of our scientists in new methods, interprofessional collaboration, human subject issues and participation in “big science” initiatives? How might the scientist-educator model promulgated at APA’s National Conference on Undergraduate Education in Psychology facilitate the professional development of our teachers of psychology? And how might we rethink psychology’s continuing education system in the context of health reform and the Institute of Medicine report Redesigning Continuing Education in the Health Professions (IOM, 2010)? How is psychology utilizing problem-based learning, practice-based learning, and workplace learning to promote professional development?

Should our education and training programs in psychology become centers for lifelong learning in our discipline? What role should our networks of scientists, teaching faculty and practitioners play? What role should APA and our national organizations play?

If you have thoughts about these questions or other issues related to our topic, please e-mail me and I will ensure your comments are available to conference participants.

Note from APA: The appearance of advertisements for educational programs on this site does not constitute endorsement by APA. Programs that describe themselves as accredited may be accredited by another body, but are not accredited by APA unless so stated.