Speaking of Education

Twenty-two psychology organizations plus numerous APA groups were represented at this year’s Education Leadership Conference on Lifelong Learning and Psychology. In reading over participants’ comments, it is clear that the theme of increased attention to systematic training for a career of learning resonated with conferees. They want tools to facilitate accurate self-assessment and the development of models for workplace and point-of-service learning.

The discussion of using technology to facilitate lifelong learning thrilled many and confused others. Participants readily acknowledged that there is a generational difference in technology use and called for intergenerational workshops to promote cross-generational learning. They also want to see a more thorough examination of ethical issues and reputation management in the use of social networking tools. I continued to reflect on the role that our educational programs and professional societies should play in addressing these issues.

When it comes to continuing education for practitioners, many participants supported moving away from consumer satisfaction indexes as major outcome assessments. Participants also voiced concerns about developing a continuing-education system for psychology that is independent from programming based solely on topic popularity or profits/revenues generation. Many participants noted that continued preparation in a professional specialty promotes both lifelong learning and documentation of advanced competence.

Advocacy to address national needs

An especially important feature of the conference was the 189 visits to members of Congress and their staff in support of the Graduate Psychology Education program, the federal program devoted to the training of health service psychologists to work with other professions.

This year, we emphasized the need for training to address psychological issues faced by the nation’s unemployed and by veterans and their families. Dr. Nadya Fouad reported that nearly one in 10 Americans is unemployed, while nearly one in five is underemployed — rates that are not expected to change in the near future. Distress increases significantly during recessions, and a recent meta-analysis of more than 300 cross-sectional and longitudinal studies links unemployment to depression, anxiety and other health problems. Although we spend more time at work than in other activities, psychologists often do not have systematic training in assessing or addressing work issues. We need to build more education and training opportunities in this area. Veterans’ problems are also of national concern.

Dr. David Riggs, director of the Department of Defense Center for Deployment Psychology (a unit initiated through APA advocacy) reported that more than 2 million service members have deployed in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, affecting 4 million parents, 2 million children and 1 million spouses.

Dr. David Rudd noted that 20 percent of returning veterans have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or depression; another signature injury is traumatic brain injury. Our psychology work force must be prepared to meet these important national needs if we are to be relevant to society.

Lifelong learning for all

The advocacy component of our conference was not unrelated to its theme, as to keep current with both research and practice in areas of societal need, psychologists must be skilled in lifelong learning. In fact, our graduate education must prepare our future researchers and practitioners to be more than competent — we must be capable “to adapt to change, generate new knowledge and continuously improve performance” (Fraser & Greenhalgh, 2001).

Moreover, as our entire society has shifted from a manufacturing economy to a knowledge economy, lifelong learning is essential for all our citizens. Not only are we all learners, but psychological science with its roots in learning informs education throughout the lifespan.

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