Life Long Learning at Work and at Home…and at the 19th Annual APS Convention

Learning does not end when we receive our high school or college diplomas. It continues throughout our lives at home, at work, and in informal settings in our communities. But once we leave the school environment, there is no curriculum that structures our learning experiences. So how do we learn throughout our adulthood? Are we good at it? Do we know what, when, and how to learn? Or have we essentially flunked adult learning?

This year under an initiative, Life Long Learning at Work and at Home, a task force of more than 30 members will explore ways to help people stretch learning beyond K-12 and college. The mission of the task force, which is led by the authors of this article, is to create, evaluate, and disseminate high quality research that identifies and promotes life long (LL ) learning and thinking skills, such as knowing when and how to learn, thinking critically, and identifying and solving problems. The task force also will examine best practices for durable learning across time, place, and domains of knowledge. Psychologists have already accumulated substantial scientific knowledge about learning mechanisms that can be applied to LL learning and the task force welcomes your ideas for meeting the challenges of LL learning, particularly when they are based on solid research in the learning sciences. For more information on the task force, please visit the LL Learning Web site at http://psyc.memphis.edu/learning.

Life Long Learning at the APS Convention
The APS 19th Annual Convention will feature four symposia on Life Long Learning at Work and at Home:

  • APS Fellow and Charter Member Valerie Reyna will chair a session on “Learning Principles — What We Know About Learning,” which will identify factors that influence the learning process and different social contexts of learning. Panelist Roger Azevedo will present research on self-regulated learning with computer systems, followed by APS Fellow and Charter Member Nora Newcombe presenting on spatial learning, and then Charter Member Susan Goldman on learning from text.
  • The second symposium will describe the practical implications of interdisciplinary research when there are serious attempts to develop learning principles,
    guidelines, and strategies for optimizing instruction. APS Fellow and Charter Member J. Kevin Ford will chair a breakout session on “Applications of Principles That Promote Performance;” Bruce Torff will present on critical thinking; Valerie Shute will discuss formative feedback; and Eduardo Salas will cover the process of designing learning systems.
  • Diane Halpern will chair “Learning With Technologies of the Future,” in which Art Graesser will describe some learning technologies with animated conversational agents (talking heads) that hold conversations with learners in natural language; Milt Hakel will describe systems that maintain electronic portfolios of learners and that promote collaborations among peers; and James Gee will present a game-based theory of learning and various methods of incorporating the engaging principles of games into learning.
  • Keith Millis will chair “Learning at Different Developmental Stages,” which will address learning across the lifespan in schools, work, and retirement. Ken Koedinger will describe how Cognitive Tutor software has helped students in schools learn mathematical skills in over 2,000 schools throughout the country; Dexter Fletcher will describe advanced technologies for working adults to learn relevant knowledge and skills at any time and any place — all tailored to their prior knowledge, interests, and goals; and APS Fellow and Charter Member Denise Park will describe how an active mind with engaging tasks can have a positive impact on the cognitive functioning of older adults.

The Future of Life Long Learning
The importance of learning cannot be overemphasized in a world with revolutionary changes in technology, medicine, travel, economics, culture, fashion, and warfare. We would like to think that the United States is prepared for all of these challenges, but our children and adults are falling behind. The United States no longer has the world’s highest college graduation rates and high school drop-out rates exceed 50 percent in some large urban areas. Demand for production workers is being replaced by demand for knowledge workers. However, the U.S. workforce has a serious shortage of workers with expertise in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, so we have turned to other countries to fill this gap. Rapid changes in the nature of work have increased the need for workers to know how to learn and think about new types of information. This requires more sophistication in the knowledge, strategies, and skills to be learned. Corporations can no longer expect these to be ingrained in new hires, so better facilities for on-the-job training and retraining are needed.

Our emphasis in this task force is on learning that adults experience in their everyday lives. There are dozens of questions to explore about the ecology of everyday learning, including: How do adults know when they need to learn something? Where can learners get the best or most recent knowledge about a topic? When is learning self-regulated versus directed from social pressures? How do learners determine whether they know something well enough? What cognitive or social tasks scale up to real-world activities? Answers to such questions have not yet been investigated sufficiently or at all, so we hope they inspire new areas of psychological research. It is time to take stock of what psychologists know about learning so we can share our scientific knowledge with the rest of the world.

Observer Vol.20, No.3 March, 2007

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