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Issue 10, March 1999  

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Bringing the challenge of life-long learning to our students
Sharynne McLeod, School of Communication Science and Disorders

As lecturers and clinical educators in the higher education context we accept that our role encompasses the need to be life-long learners. We acknowledge that in this role we must be willing to explore new ideas and address the most current literature within our teaching and clinical practice. In a traditional model of pedagogy we are experts who have a comprehensive knowledge base while our students learn from and through us. An example of this view comes from the clinical education literature. Rassi and McElroy (1992) suggest that a clinical educator should be an expert or master clinician in order to effectively model, demonstrate and instruct students in the process of clinical practice. They suggest that clinical educators should be familiar with the latest research and theoretical frameworks so that students are not confused by discrepancies between what they are taught in lectures and what is practiced in the clinical setting.

However, with the burgeoning knowledge base across all disciplines, is it possible for us to be experts in every area we teach and encounter?

Concurrently, expectations of our graduates have changed. No longer are they told that they have "made it" at the end of their university degree. Instead, our new graduates are told they are "beginning practitioners" who expected to become "critical consumers of information and life-long learners who maintain competence in their discipline, expand and test their own knowledge and skills, and contribute to the expansion of knowledge in the field" (McAllister, 1997, p. 13). The goals of vocationally-based education have changed from focusing on training and instruction to include an emphasis on the development of generic attributes essential to professional competence, and life-long learning. These goals were presented in the context of medical education by Engel (1995). He proposed that the first goal was to help students acquire discipline specific knowledge and competencies while the second goal was to focus on generally applicable competences which included the ability to adapt to change and participate in change, to communicate for a range of purposes (e.g., obtain and give information, negotiate, consult and counsel), to collaborate in groups or teams, and to be self-directed life-long learners who can apply critical reasoning and a scientific approach to decision making in unfamiliar situations.

The ability to be a life-long learner is a valued attribute in our students. Candy (1994) discussed the development of life-long learning through undergraduate education. He profiled the attributes of life-long learning in five key areas:

(1) An inquiring mind which encompasses a love of learning, a sense of curiosity, an ability to ask questions, a critical spirit, self-evaluation.

(2) Helicopter vision which encompasses a sense of the interrelationship between knowledge bases, an awareness of how knowledge is created, and an understanding of methodological limitations.

(3) Information literacy which is exemplified by developing a knowledge of current resources; framing researchable questions; locating, evaluating, managing and using information in a range of contexts; retrieving information using a variety of media; decoding information in a variety of written and graphical forms; and critically evaluating information.

(4) A sense of personal agency which encompasses the development of a concept of oneself as capable and autonomous and the development of self-organisation skills.

(5) A repertoire of learning skills which encompasses knowledge of one's own strengths, weaknesses and preferred learning style; development of a range of strategies for learning in whatever context one finds oneself and an understanding of the differences between surface and deep learning.

In response to the need for our students to become life-long learners we need to model how to be life-long learners. Problem-based teaching and learning is one paradigm which allows such modelling to occur. By framing the role of lecturer or clinical educator as a life-long learner, it legitimises the value of searching for solutions together with students. One way we can model how to be life-long learners is by being open to learning from our students. To enhance learning in our own classes our students can be asked to present alternative information that they may have learnt in other units of study and during self-study. Learning from our students encourages development of the notion of interdependence on one another and validates the knowledge that students bring to the learning situation. Learning from each other is after all, one of the key principles of adult learning.

Modelling life-long learning may necessitate a shift in us as lecturers from the role of expert to the role of co-learner. In doing so, both we and our students can journey together in our learning. We all will benefit from the process. Our students' future employers will value the attribute of life-long learning and the changing nature of professional practice demands it.


Portions of this paper were adapted from McAllister, L., Lincoln, M., McLeod, S. & Maloney D. (Eds.) Facilitating learning in clinical settings. Cheltenham: Stanley Thornes.


Candy, P. (1994). Developing lifelong learners through undergraduate education. Commissioned Report No. 28. National Board of Employment, Education and Training. Canberra: Australian Government Printing Service.

Engel, C. E. (1995). Medical education in the 21st century: The need for a capability approach. Capability, 1, 4, 23-30.

McAllister, L. (1997). Towards a philosophy for clinical education. In L. McAllister, M. Lincoln, S. McLeod & D. Maloney (Eds.). Facilitating learning in clinical settings. Cheltenham: Stanley Thornes.

Rassi, J. A. & McElroy, M. D. (1992). Education in the clinic. In J. A. Rassi, & M. D. McElroy, (Eds.). The education of audiologists and speech-language pathologists (pp. 175-196). Timonium, MD: York Press.

Sharynne McLeod lectures in speech pathology and was recently awarded an Excellence in Teaching Award.

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