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Learning for Life

Continuing education is a crucial component in advancing the design profession.

By Sari Graven, ASID

Continuing education is a crucial component in advancing the design profession.

Education in the design profession

I am a big believer in learning as a strategy for personal and organizational success. It is through learning that, as The Fifth Discipline author Peter Senge put it, "people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire and where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured."

On a broader level, Edger Schein, another national leader in cultural and organizational development and Senge’s colleague at MIT, suggests it is through learning that we nurture cultures that are open, flexible and adaptable to the complex, fast-paced and culturally-diverse business environments of today.

Schein notes that "we basically do not know what the world of tomorrow will really be like except that it will be different, more complex, more fast paced and more culturally diverse. This means organizations and their leaders [members] will have to become perpetual learners."

As an emerging learning organization, ASID is striving to support learning on both organizational and individual levels. Part of our responsibility as a professional society is to advance the profession and its value. Toward that end, we support a variety of organizations—including the Interior Design Educators Council (IDEC), the Council for Interior Design Accreditation, and the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (AAFCS)—that promote learning through educational accreditation, curriculum development and research. We also maintain a full-time Education and Training Advisory Council and develop a myriad of educational opportunities through Continuing Education Units (CEUs).

In creating opportunities for individuals to learn and enhance their professional lives through CEUs, our goal is to give members access to as many relevant, compelling and convenient learning opportunities as possible. At the same time, ASID provides a learning community—that is, a place where people can connect with each other and become part of something generative. These experiences are valuable to participants both personally and professionally. Learning with others confers insight that rarely occurs in solitary learning environments and gives people a chance to be part of something bigger than themselves. Participation in ASID events at NeoCon (our national conference), CONNEX (our members-only social networking platform) discussion forums, and a growing variety of educational Webinars creates communities of practice that shape the future of our profession as well as share new ideas, perspectives and resources.

As designers, and as human beings, we know intuitively that the built environment has the power to change how people feel, live and act. We see it everyday, in both positive and negative ways. But intuition is not enough. We cannot advance our profession—that is, we cannot expand or even communicate the importance of interior design as a tool for enhancing the psychological, economic and physical quality of people’s lives—unless ASID, and indeed the entire interior design profession, is able to acquire and deliver information that keeps interior design relevant and valuable.

I agree with Schein: Our future depends on a creating a culture of learning in our profession. We’re off to a great start, but we have a long way to go. Even as ASID explores ways to foster design awareness at the K-12 level and invests in research that reveals quantifiable connections between built space and human well-being, our profession suffers from a severe lack of design educators and reluctance among some practitioners to embrace the goal of lifelong learning. And yet, ongoing education lies at the core of professionalism. Indeed the creation of new knowledge—whether through personal insight, practice or original research—is a defining feature of professional life.

We’re not there yet. If we were, we would have enough excellent educators to go around. We’d have practitioners clamoring for more opportunities to learn, and we’d experience consistently high-turnout at education events. We’d see more firms making meaningful investments in professional development for their staff, and both the private sector and academia devoting their intelligence and dollars to research that is focused on proving our value in the marketplace. That is what a future that embraces education looks like— and I for one can’t wait to get there.

ASID president Sari Graven is the director of planning and resource development at Seattle University’s Facilities Services. ASID can be reached at (202) 546-3480 or, and on the Web at