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Three Reasons for Assessing Lifelong Learning in Higher Ed

Three Reasons for Assessing Lifelong Learning in Higher Ed

Lifelong learning
As an institution, APUS embraces and supports lifelong learning for its students, staff, and faculty

In 1982, my parents and I visited Marietta College, where I hoped to enroll later that fall as a freshman. Seated across the desk from then Director of Admissions, Mr. Dan Jones, my father candidly expressed his immigrant sensibilities about my employability upon graduation. Mr. Jones looked my father directly in the eye and said, “Dr. Diaz, regardless of his first job upon graduation, your son will likely change his career five times throughout his life.” A conscientious educator, Mr. Jones felt my commitment to lifelong learning was more important than the particular major I chose.

As higher education policymakers demand sensible assurances that graduates will be employable; they must also be careful to assess and incentivize students’ appreciation for lifelong learning. We need to develop and utilize reliable, valid measures regarding the lifelong-learning-propensity of postsecondary students for the following reasons:

  1. Ask anyone who graduated from college at least five years ago, and they’ll tell you that getting that first job was just the beginning of a lifelong challenge to keeping their skills up-to-date and competitive.
  2. We’re currently transitioning from the industrial society to the knowledge society. As the majority of our students become what Peter Drucker referred to as knowledge workers, they need to understand that the purpose of university is not to teach them everything they’ll ever need to know, but instead to help them develop lifelong learning skills.
  3. As educators, we’re trying to prepare our students to be competitive leaders for many future careers that don’t yet exist. Though we’re unable to speculate on the specific job descriptions for those careers, it’s clear that they’ll require candidates to demonstrate a commitment to lifelong learning.

While the short-term employability of our university graduates is certainly a valid concern, we also need to directly address their long-term, professional viability in the knowledge society. The late educator Benjamin Bloom reminded us that while much of education focuses on the cognitive domain (i.e., knowledge), holistic education demands that we’re also attentive to the other two domains—affective and psychomotor learning. Affectively, our students need to develop attitudes that are consistent with the demands of the knowledge society and embrace the inevitability of change. From a psychomotor perspective, they need to develop skills consistent with knowledge society demands, such as using multimedia tools for communicating their ideas.

We academicians need to convert these ideas into action. That means identifying, refining, and utilizing measures that assess a student’s orientation to lifelong learning. Based on these measures, we then need to revise our curricula to foster a commitment to lifelong learning. Finally, we need to assess, both individually and programmatically, our success in helping students to develop the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to pursue lifelong learning. Most importantly, while we will certainly work hard to help ensure their employability upon graduation, we will also continue to foster in our students a profound understanding of Mr. Jones’ caution to my father—that we will all spend the rest of our lives preparing for our careers.

Sebastián Díaz, Ph.D., J.D., serves as Associate VP for Marketing Analytics at American Public University System. You can follow him on Twitter @SebastianRDiaz.





Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In September 2019, Dr. Boston retired as CEO of APEI and retired as APUS President in August 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. For four years from 2009 through 2012, APEI was ranked in Forbes' Top 10 list of America's Best Small Public Companies. During his tenure as president, APUS grew to over 85,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 100,000 alumni. While serving as APEI CEO and APUS President, Dr. Boston was a board member of APEI, APUS, Hondros College of Nursing, and Fidelis, Inc. Dr. Boston continues to serve as a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), a member of the Board of Overseers of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, and as a member of the board of New Horizons Worldwide. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. In August 2020, the Board of Trustees of APUS appointed him Trustee Emeritus. In November 2020, the Board of Trustees announced that the APUS School of Business would be renamed the Dr. Wallace E Boston School of Business in recognition of Dr. Boston's service to the university. Dr. Boston lives with his family in Austin, Texas.


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