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In the 21st century knowledge economy we are witnessing an ever increasing pace of knowledge creation in the sciences and engineering. Competing in this global economy requires a science and engineering workforce that is continually at the technological forefront. Dr Charles Vest, President of NAE, in a speech (University of Michigan, October 15, 2007) put it simply: prospering in the knowledge age requires people with knowledge.
Two decades ago, the U.S. National Research Council Panel on Continuing Education in its report, Continuing Education of Engineers, recommended a collaborative effort between industry, university and government to “establish the spectrum of values and objectives of continuing education for individual engineers, industry, and academia and to describe how continuing education could or should operate in the engineering world of tomorrow.” While many continuing education programs are offered by professional societies and universities, a reexamination of the underlying assumptions is necessary due to the emergence of new technologies brought about by rapidly advancing fields such as bio, nano and info.
The importance of lifelong learning for engineering professional has been reiterated in the National Academies report, The Engineer of 2020. It calls for engineers to be lifelong learners because their career trajectories will take on many more directions due to rapidly changing technologies. The broader implication of lifelong learning to national competitiveness was considered in the 2006 Spellings Commission report (on the future of higher education) which calls for the “development of a national framework for lifelong learning designed to keep our citizens and our nation at the forefront of the knowledge revolution”.
The Lifelong Learning Imperative (LLI) project was initiated by the National Academy of Engineering (supported by the National Science Foundation via grant DGE-0829412) to assess current practices in lifelong learning for engineering professionals, reexamine the underlying assumptions and outline strategies for addressing unmet needs. Some issues that need to considered include who provides the learning opportunities; in what format and where; who certifies it; who pays for it; what are appropriate roles for private sector, government and academia; etc. The LLI project synthesized, organized and disseminated information on lifelong learning needs and opportunities for engineering professionals.
A workshop was organized in June 2009 to frame the LLI project. This workshop laid the foundation and identified critical issues to be pursued in the project which will commence very soon. By bringing together all stakeholders including policy makers, the LLI workshop helped initiate a national discussion on lifelong learning in the sciences and engineering necessary for sustaining a cutting edge workforce in this knowledge age.
Building on the 2009 workshop, the current study is designed to pursue issues identified in the workshop and synthesize, organize, and disseminate information on continual learning for engineers. Engineering professionals and other stakeholders will be surveyed to develop viable strategies for sustaining workforce competencies necessary for continuing our nation's preeminence in the 21st century knowledge economy. The study will conclude with a workshop in early fall of 2011 to release the findings.