N. Encourage evidence-based guidance to support career-spanning learning


Disciplinary communities should provide guidance for learning for learners across all stages of their career.

Self-directed learning is increasingly important for upskilling and post-formal-education training. As highly valued as it is, self-directed learning requires support at varying levels. In addition to learning how to use the evidence base to self-direct as a learner, self-directed learners may also need explicit guidance about what new knowledge, skills, and abilities they need. Disciplinary communities (primarily scientific professional societies, but also research groups/institutes, etc.) are positioned to understand the type and level of knowledge, skills, and abilities that are required to perform at the highest level of professional practice 1. Professional societies can be encouraged to develop guidance that supports self-directed learning across the career span.

How might this work:🚲

Professional societies, and other disciplinary communities, can have a role in professional development. While these efforts are often focused primarily on students and early-career faculty, resources could be aimed to encourage self-directed, career-spanning learning. This would emphasize preparing learners with recommendations for skill building, especially as new methods appear or to counter persistent skill gaps. This also involves helping learners of all career stages, and possibly from other disciplines who seek to join new disciplinary communities, become self-directed learners within the discipline and beyond. For mid- and late-career stages, support could be directed to popularize and inform on new practices (e.g., open science, FAIR data principles 2), scientific innovations, etc. Support for formalized continuing professional development is common in many disciplines (e.g., engineering, law, and medicine); these professions require that practitioners remain current. Learners could be assisted in sifting through numerous learning opportunities to focus on what is most likely to be applicable to the problems they are working to solve.

Given the role of professional organizations in the professionalization of the disciplines they represent, enabling and encouraging that currency among disciplinary practitioners is feasible and sensible.

Benefits to the learners:🚲

  1. Learners are provided with clear recommendations on skills required for specific tasks, and tools to recognize what learning opportunities are most relevant to their objectives.
  2. Mid- and late-stage career learners are provided tools and opportunities for skill-building which helps them fulfill their roles as decision-makers (e.g., group leaders, advisors, reviewers) within the discipline.
  3. Learners from a wider range of backgrounds may feel empowered to complete courses recommended by the disciplinary community.
  4. Cultivating an expectation of continued professional development may open new paths for skill-building and updating throughout a career.
  5. Learners can competently participate in a new discipline. This can further diversify the pool of practitioners across scientific domains.

Incentives to implementers:🚲

For Instructors and Instructional Designers

  1. Instructors and instructional designers could design curriculum knowing what the priority topics are and needs of specific groups within a disciplinary community (e.g., early-career faculty, established investigators, peer reviewers). This would save the time and effort of doing their own needs analysis.

For Funders and Organizations

  1. Professional societies and organizations offer SFT to promote knowledge exchange and to increase the level of professional competence. Promoting self-directed career-spanning learning will enhance these objectives.
  2. When SFT cannot be provided to fill a skill gap, or clear recommendations can help learners satisfy unmet needs.
  3. Vetted learning opportunities and/or guidance may increase the value and credibility of a professional society and earn the loyalty of members.
  4. As organizations monitor changes in a discipline’s required skills, published guidelines for career-spanning learning can help the organization communicate priorities that organization intends to support.

Barriers to implementation:🚲

  1. This guidance will take significant resources to create and maintain. Existing work to support self-direction can be leveraged. Organizations could benefit from charging for courses (which they often do) and assuring that their offerings are consistent with their own guidelines can help broaden the pool of contributors to training.
  2. Given the large number of SFT courses, the organization/community will likely have time/resources to vet only a subset. The community needs to recognize that this is a vetting process, and that process should be reproducible so it can be repeatedly and reliably applied whenever new courses become available.
  3. The community may not be willing to risk its social capital on courses that “others” have developed, while not being able or willing to dedicate the resources to creating vettable courses that do meet their objectives.
  4. Similarly, the community may already have courses that wouldn’t meet the criteria of a formal vetting process. This realization can dampen enthusiasm for this kind of initiative.

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  1. Quinlan, K.M., Buelens, H., Clement, M., Horn, J., Rump, C.Ø. (2017). Educational Enhancement in the Disciplines: Models, Lessons and Challenges from Three Research-Intensive Universities. In: Stensaker, B., Bilbow, G., Breslow, L., van der Vaart, R. (eds) Strengthening Teaching and Learning in Research Universities. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-56499-9_3

  2. Wilkinson, M., Dumontier, M., Aalbersberg, I. et al. The FAIR Guiding Principles for scientific data management and stewardship. Sci Data 3, 160018 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/sdata.2016.18