The vocational educators are regularly challenged to prepare their students for the dynamic and uncertain future in the workplace. Some, however, worry that many educators are simply teaching the skills and principles appropriate for today's environment, even though they may be far less relevant tomorrow. But when tomorrow is uncertain, what are educators supposed to teach today?
Several distinguished educators believe that the highest priority for today's college educators should be making their students effective "lifelong learners." That will provide their students with the ability to readily acquire new skills as they become necessary. This paper discusses an exploratory study of tools and techniques available to adult career and vocational educators that can make their students better learners today and in the future.
The business environment is often describe as unstable and unpredictable (Lewis, 1993). But there is some question about whether or not educators are adequately preparing their students for this complex and dynamic future (Cho, Schmelzer, & McMahon, 2002). Goodman and Sprague (1991) believed that career and vocational educators focus too much on preparing their students for the needs of the prevailing job market, and not enough for the future. Educators in a variety of fields agree. In 1989 Haywood observed that the specific knowledge and skills acquired through formal education are becoming less important than a willingness and ability to seek new knowledge and understanding. And Malcolm Knowles, the late guru of adult learning said, "In a world in which the half-life of many facts (and skills) may be ten years or less, half of what a person has acquired at the age of twenty may be obsolete by the time that person is thirty. Thus, the main purpose of education must now be to develop the skills of inquiry" (1975, p. 15). Management philosopher Peter Drucker agrees, noting, "A knowledge worker needs one thing only: to learn how to learn," (Rubin, 1998, p. 67).
The challenge for adult career and vocation educators is, therefore, to help their students learn how to learn (Pickworth, Shaw & Barth, 1997). Increasingly, it is felt that successful graduates will be those who are prepared to be lifelong learners. That is, throughout their career, they will be prepared to acquire the skills they need to succeed in a rapidly changing environment. To do this, the students (and their instructors) need to know how well they learn today. In that way, they can build on their learning strengths and neutralize their weaknesses.
Measuring the learning characteristics of college students
The two most widely used and rigorously tested instruments to measure learning characteristics are the Learning and Study Strategies Inventory (LASSI) and the Learning Styles Inventory (LSI). Over a million copies of each inventory have been purchased by colleges, trade schools, and other organizations. The LASSI is a 10-scale, 80-item assessment of the skill, will, and self-regulation components of learning. (A self-scoring print version takes about 30 minutes to complete. A web-administered version takes about half that time.) The 12-item LSI measures four basic modes of learning. "Although an individual may have a preferred learning mode, it is necessary to develop the other modes in order to enhance the overall learning process," (Pickworth, Shaw, & Barth, 1997, p. 36). Hence, LSI measures the strengths and weaknesses of each mode. A self-scoring version of LSI takes about 15 minutes to complete. (Samples and descriptions of each instrument are available from their respective publishers.)
Literature suggests that the two approaches are related. Learning strategies are behaviors that influence how the learner processes information (Mayer, 1988). When a learner shows a bias for a particular strategy, it indicates the presence of a learning style. …