Platform for Change
Continuum of Learning
Biomedical librarians will function over the next decade in ways shaped by a number of significant factors: changing elements and structure of medical knowledge; rapid introduction of new technologies and techniques for information processing and dissemination; altered patterns of institutional organization, management, and governance; and the drive to maintain excellence. Education for medical librarianship is uniquely challenged both because the gap it attempts to bridge is inherently unstable and defies efforts to span its expanse and because it cannot be limited to any phase of a professional's life. Furthermore, responsibility for its effective application in practice belongs to the individual professional rather than to any institutional provider of educational programs and services.
Continuing education and continuing learning are conditions of professional practice. Education comes into focus as the more formal, episodic, and visible expression of the drive for learning that pervades professional life. In graduate and continuing education, professionals are directed by others toward explicit sets of closely related learning goals.
Continuing learning, however, is not so reliant on the structured interventions that convey, refresh, and update baseline knowledge or bring in new knowledge, skills, and techniques. In continuing learning, professionals assume greater responsibility for directing themselves, usually informally, and often pursue several unrelated learning strategies simultaneously, to increase competence and improve professional performance. Such learning often takes place through an active network of individuals mentoring one another in the context of their work and often through the very activity of that work.
Structured education, then, is but one of the tactical options open to the professional. A larger frame of reference-a continuum of learning-is needed in order to influence professional performance for the twenty-first century.
In the continuum of learning, the single most important variable is the individual professional: his or her motivation, prior experience, sense of what is required by changing circumstances or conditions of employment, and quality of judgment in choosing learning experiences. The continuum moves from the didactic toward the self-directed, from a narrow band of specialized knowledge and skill toward a broader environment of cognitive and social complexity. Learning moves along a continuum from stable and consistent conditions toward those that confront learners with changing and less-structured but learner-important problems, close to actual work situations.
The continuum of learning has significance for all who hold a stake in the professional performance of health sciences librarians. As providers of educational programs and services use the continuum as a model for professional learning, new streams of programs may emerge, combining more complex, self-directed strategies with ongoing update and refresher activities. Answers to questions of quality, accessibility, and significance are tailored to individuals and groups with shared needs, goals, and arenas of practice. Roles of graduate schools, professional societies, commercial vendors of programs, and others are clarified. For employers, discovering, advancing, and tending learning relationships within and outside the organization is a key task. For professionals, learning plotted on the continuum can become intentional, undertaken with personal-professional, and institutional outcomes in view and mixing self-managed learning experiences with provider- or employer-directed programs.
Collaboration in developing a common learning and development agenda is a reasonable next step for universities, graduate colleges of library and information studies, MLA and other professional societies, commercial vendors and publishers, employers, and consumer-professionals. All who take a comprehensive approach to education and learning in health sciences librarianship must endorse fundamental career planning, knowledge and skills development, and collaboration. Competence assessment, professional mentoring, and the recognition of excellence in performance can serve the profession best through a combined effort.
Medical Library Association
Last Updated: 2007 July 05