"Approaches towards Professionalisation in Adult Education: Interpretivist versus competency approach"

Wednesday, 13 February, 2013 - 13:30
University of Glasgow
St Andrew's Building
11 Eldon Street
United Kingdom

The question of professionalisation of adult education in Germany was first raised in the years immediately after the Second World War when the Volkshochschulen (adult education centres) were being reopened and developed. By the 1970s and 1980s a Volkshochschule system was growing,becoming the fourth sector of the German educational system, and the need for qualified adult educators was raised.

The first stage in the professionalisation of adult education was the production of self-study materials and weekly courses for practitioners. At the same time, academic programmes at German universities were also being designed to give their young students a fundamental and broad qualification in adult education. In the 1980s, in the Pädagogische Arbeitsstelle des Volkshochschulverbands (Pedagogical Institute of German Adult Education Association), theoretical and empirical research on the question of professionalization was started. Tietgens and Giesecke(1988) worked on an interpretitive approach which they argued should form the core of professionalism in adult education.

This was supported by further research in the late 1990s. The core of professionalism is, according to Tietgens (1988, p. 38), a ‘situative competence’ which means ‘the ability to use broad, scientifically deepened and diverse abstract knowledge adequate in concrete situations’. Or contrariwise:‘to acknowledge in just these situations which parts of the knowledge could be relevant.’ Gieseke (2010) defines professionalism as ‘differentiated handling with research results of the discipline, together with interdisciplinary knowledge for the interpretation of an actor’s situations in a specific practical field.’ This approach can be supported by the argument that adult educators have to deal with paradoxical and contradictory situations (Dewe, 1988; Nittel, 2000). They have to act professionally in situations where no concrete, applicable professional knowledge is available.

In contrast, there is currently developing a pan-European competence-oriented approach towards professionalism in adult education, as represented by the Key competence study for adult learning professionals (Research voor Beleid 2010). This approach focuses on naming lists of competences for students to acquire. At the same time, several validation instruments for application in the pan-European context (e.g. VALIDPAC) are being developed so that adult educators’ competences can be validated one at a time but confined to their own institutional context. The competence approach conflicts with the interdependent, holistic and hermeneutic elements which are central to the German interpretative approach to adult professionalism, which is based on the skills of the individual as distinct from the needs of the institution. The principle behind this is that professionalism in adult education has to encompass the ability to adapt to different learning settings. The presentation will outline the differences between these two approaches and explores the possibility of a bridge between them.

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