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Background

The 21st century is witnessing a rapid increase in the pace of knowledge creation in the sciences and engineering. Competing in this global economy requires a science and engineering workforce that is consistently at the technological forefront. Dr. Charles Vest, President of the National Academy of Engineering, in a speech at the University of Michigan on October 15, 2007, put it simply: prospering in the knowledge age requires people with knowledge. The purpose of the Lifelong Learning Imperative Workshop was to consider learning opportunities for the engineering professional. The participants in the workshop addressed the necessity of lifelong learning, the history of continuing education1, possible delivery systems, systems used by other professions, and the current state of learning when viewed in the light of the rapid rate of technological change.


Two decades ago, the U.S. National Research Council Panel on Continuing Education in its report, Continuing Education of Engineers, recommended a collaborative effort among industry, university, and government to “establish the spectrum of values and objectives of continuing education for individual engineers in industry, and academia and to describe how continuing education could or should operate in the engineering world of tomorrow.” Since then many continuing education programs have been developed and are offered by professional societies and universities. However, due to the emergence of new and rapidly changing technologies a re-examination of the current framework for lifelong learning and its underlying assumptions is necessary.


More recently, the National Academy’s report, The Engineer of 2020, reiterates the importance of lifelong learning for the engineering professional. It calls for engineers to expand their learning over a lifetime because their career trajectories will take on more directions, many new, due to the rapidly changing technologies. The broader implications of lifelong learning for national competitiveness were also considered in the 2006 Spellings Commission report on the future of higher education, which calls for the “development of a national framework for lifelong

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The terms “continuing education” and “lifelong learning” were used interchangeably at times during the workshop. In order to be consistent, after the Introduction where “continuing education” is used as a historic term, we will use “lifelong learning” throughout this report.



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