Teaching and Learning Forum 99 [ Contents ]

Investigating views of stakeholders on lifelong learning in higher education: Medical imaging case study

Jenny Sim, Department of Medical Imaging, School of Physical Sciences
Marjan Zadnik, Department of Applied Physics, School of Physical Sciences
Alex Radloff, Centre for Educational Advancement
Tony Knights, Department of Medical Imaging, School of Physical Sciences
Curtin University of Technology
One of the main goals of higher education in Australia is the development of lifelong learners (West et al. 1998). The role of universities in the implementation of lifelong learning policies and practices has been identified as crucial to the success of preparing graduates for lifelong learning.

This paper describes a project which investigates lifelong learning in the Medical Imaging profession, and the implications of these findings for the design of undergraduate Medical Imaging programs in Australia. The research is divided into 3 phases:

  1. Development of a profile of an ideal graduate as defined by the Medical Imaging Profession.
  2. Establishment of current attributes of Medical Imaging graduates.
  3. Based on the analysis of 1) and 2), recommendation for strategies for an undergraduate Medical Imaging program that can prepare students to be successful lifelong learners.
Stakeholders such as employers, students and academics hold differing views as to what should constitute an appropriately balanced undergraduate program. Given the various expectations of stakeholders, one may well ask: what are the major criteria of a high quality undergraduate program? Is it sufficient to simply prepare our graduates with just adequate knowledge to cope with the first few years after graduation? Some may argue that, as educators, we need to cast our vision further and focus on equipping graduates with lifelong learning skills. The focus of discussion will be centred on these questions.

Lifelong learning and higher education in Australia

In 1993, the Higher Education Council invited submissions to conduct a study on the 'enabling characteristics of undergraduate education' for lifelong learning capabilities (Candy, Crebert and O'Leary, 1994:5). The main aim of the study was to define the concept of lifelong learning, as well as to determine the characteristics of undergraduate education that would help produce graduates with lifelong learning capabilities (Candy, Crebert and O'Leary, 1994). This resulted in the Candy Report, Developing Lifelong Learners through Undergraduate Education. The significance of this report is that it placed the issue of lifelong learning back into the higher education agenda.

This was followed by the West Committee Report, Learning for Life, which proclaimed lifelong learning as an entitlement of all Australians (West et al. 1998).

Characteristics of lifelong learners

Candy et al (1994:43) defines a lifelong learner as one who shows the following attributes: Aside from the above literacy and learning skills, a lifelong learner must also be motivated and willing to learn (Knapper and Cropley, 1991, Laver et al. 1996). Thus, we are not only looking at equipping students with the necessary learning skills, but also providing an environment that is conducive to learning, that would result in the attainment of such attitudes. As suggested by Longworth, lifelong learning is about the "development of individual human potential" (1996:4). This involves putting into place strategies that would assist in both the development and enhancement of lifelong learning skills.

Candy et al (1994) found that despite rhetoric to the contrary, few Australian undergraduate programs appeared to provide a learning environment and educational experiences which fostered the development of lifelong learning. In fact, many curricular, instructional and assessment methods currently in use, actually worked against the development of lifelong learning.

Research project

This research project is therefore timely as Medical Imaging (MI) is one such area where lifelong learning is not actively encouraged. Thus, the project aims to address this need - development of lifelong learning - in relation to MI programs.

The research project is divided into 3 phases:

One of the expected outcomes of the research will be the recommendation for strategies towards an improved model of the MI undergraduate program. The ultimate aim is to integrate the development of lifelong learning skills and attitudes into the graduates, who are able and willing to be lifelong learners.

Definition of key terms

So who are the stakeholders? Chubb et al (1992:69) defines stakeholders as groups that have an interest in the "processes, inputs and outputs of higher education". According to the Australian Vice-Chancellor Committee, this will include students and employers of graduates, professional associations, universities and society (Chubb et al. 1992).

How does one define quality in higher education? The focal point for all stakeholders is the common objective that higher education should be of the highest quality attainable. Universities pride themselves as high calibre institutions. Students would like to see themselves graduating from a good quality institution. Employers are interested in hiring the "best" graduates, while professional bodies are keen to continuously raise the standard of their professions; a goal achievable only if graduates receive a quality education.

However, this is where agreement between stakeholders ends, as the precise definition of quality is highly dependent on the perspective and values of the person making the judgment (Chubb et al. 1992). Quality in higher education is a subjective notion. As a result, The Higher Education Council has intentionally moved away from defining quality, choosing instead to focus on the outcome of the process ie. the attributes of graduates upon graduation (Chubb et al. 1992).

Hence the outcome of the data collection will play an important role in the development of the MI program. It is anticipated that the information gathered will assist in defining the attributes of MI graduates. This will serve as a starting point towards developing strategies that would enable students to attain lifelong learning skills during their undergraduate studies.

Views of stakeholders

The first author is currently in the process of conducting a trial run of the survey with stakeholders, seeking their views on MI graduates.

Initial feedback from MI employers suggests that the ability to work as a member of the team, independent decision making and initiative, are the major criteria used to select prospective employees. This sentiment is also supported by a recent report, which looked into the satisfaction of employers with graduate skills, commissioned by DEETYA (DEETYA, 1998). Communication with clients and co-workers is also commonly listed as an essential criterion.

Many students, on the other hand, have the expectations that they must "know all" when they graduate. Although they often complained of the massive amount of materials they need to "master", they felt the major determinating factor in gaining employment is the amount of knowledge they possessed.

Most of the academics Candy and his associates (1994) interviewed felt that the greatest challenge confronting undergraduate curriculum is overloading. With the rapid change in technology, the MI program, as in any professional discipline, is confronted with the temptation to include more and more content in the syllabus. This phenomenon was nicknamed the "jam-jar model", whereby an increasing amount of "jam" (knowledge) is being crammed into the "jar" (student). (Candy, Crebert and O'Leary, 1994:97). However, it is not uncommon for many lecturers to suffer from the "letting-go syndrome" ie. the difficulty in releasing their grip on content. This is not surprising since most academics define themselves in terms of their discipline knowledge and see their task as "transmitting" that knowledge to students.

Discussion for session participants

How do we reconcile the different views of stakeholders in planning an MI program which facilitates the development of lifelong learning? What are the curricular and instructional principles which should guide our planning? What should be the distinguishing features of an MI program which leads to graduates who are lifelong learners and equipped to contribute to their professions? What therefore constitutes a balanced undergraduate program? This same question is also relevant in many professional programs in higher education.

References

Candy, P. C, Crebert, G. and O'Leary J. (1994). Developing Lifelong Learners Through Undergraduate Education. Commissioned Report No. 28. National Board of Employment, Education and training. AGPS, Canberra.

Chubb, I. W. et al. (1992). The Quality of Higher Education - Discussion Papers. National Board of Employment, Education and Training. AGPS, Canberra.

DEETYA (1998). News on Higher Education, 1(1, June). AGPS, Canberra.

Knapper, C.K. and Cropley, A. J. (1991). Lifelong Learning and Higher Education. 2nd ed. Kogan Page, London.

Laver, P. et al. (1996). Lifelong Learning - Key Issues. National Board of Employment, Education and Training. AGPS, Canberra.

Longworth, N. and Davies, W.K. (1996). Lifelong Learning. Kogan Page, London.

West, R. et al. (1998). Learning for Life. Review of Higher Education, Financing and Policy (West Committee Report). Department of Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs. AGPS, Canberra.

Please cite as: Sim, J., Zadnik, M., Radloff, A. and Knights, T. (1999). Investigating views of stakeholders on lifelong learning in higher education: Medical imaging case study. In K. Martin, N. Stanley and N. Davison (Eds), Teaching in the Disciplines/ Learning in Context, 383-386. Proceedings of the 8th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, The University of Western Australia, February 1999. Perth: UWA. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1999/sim.html


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