In the 21st century knowledge economy, we are witnessing an ever increasing pace of knowledge creation in the sciences and engineering. Competing in this global economy requires a science and engineering workforce that is continually at the technological forefront. Dr Charles Vest, President of NAE, in a speech (University of Michigan, October 15, 2007) put it simply: prospering in the knowledge age requires people with (updated) knowledge. 

The Lifelong Learning Imperative (LLI) project is a joint initiative of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) to assess current practices in lifelong learning for engineering professionals, reexamine underlying assumptions behind those practices, and explore strategies for addressing unmet needs.

In 2009, an NAE workshop organizing committee chaired by Linda Katehi, then Provost at UIUC, was appointed to provide advice on the design of a project-framing workshop organized by NAE Scholar in Residence Debasish Dutta. The workshop, which resulted in a published summary, was aimed at identifying issues critical for restructuring ongoing education for engineering professionals in the 21st century knowledge-based economy.

A research team, headed by Dr. Dutta, at UIUC then conducted an assessment of the issues identified in the 2009 workshop. NAE appointed a project advisory committee chaired by James B. Porter, Jr., retired vice president, E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, to advise the work of the UIUC research team. The UIUC study included a survey of engineering professionals (targeted through professional societies, alumni associations, and corporations) and interviews with thought leaders; the questions focused on organizing and disseminating information about lifelong learning for engineers. This was followed by a workshop in the fall of 2011 to share initial findings and discuss next steps .

The result of that study and the two workshops is documented in a monograph released by the National Academies Press.