Changing Configurations in Adult Education in Transitional Times

International Perspectives in Different Countries

by Bernd Käpplinger (Volume editor) Steffi Robak (Volume editor)
©2014 Edited Collection 244 Pages


Change and transition are prominent buzzwords in the discourse upon adult education. International conferences like the European ESREA triennial research conference 2013 in Berlin focused on these terms. But is to deal with change and transitions really something new for adult education? What is new? What has changed? Which kind of transitions do we experience and how can we systematically observe and analyse them as researchers nowadays? This anthology wants to stimulate an exchange beyond buzzwords and European perspectives and investigate what these terms could mean for research in terms of institutionalisation and professionalization in adult education in different national contexts. Therefore, distinguished scholars were invited to contribute to this anthology.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • The International Quest for Changing Configurations in Transitional Times
  • Bernd Käpplinger & Steffi Robak
  • Chapter I: Systems and Institutions of Adult Education
  • Changing Configurations of Adult Education Research: Exploring a Fragmented Map
  • Kjell Rubenson & Maren Elfert
  • Adult Education in the Danish Modernization Process
  • Henning Salling Olesen
  • Strategies of Modernization and their Effects on Configurations of Adult Education – Theoretical Assumptions and Empirical Findings
  • Josef Schrader
  • “Configurations” of (Adult) Education: Reflections on Concepts How to Compare Complex Cultural Settings
  • Peter Alheit
  • From German Adult Education Centres (Volkshochschulen) to Moroccan Universities for Lifelong Learning and Univers-Cités Ouvertes
  • Henner Hildebrand & Esther Hirsch
  • Transition Times in Adult Education in Argentina: A Historical-Institutional Perspective
  • José Alberto Yuni & Claudio Ariel Urbano
  • Reflections on the Development of a Lifelong Learning Society in Taiwan
  • Ming-Lieh Wu & Angel Hsi-I Chen
  • Chapter II: Adult Educators as Actors and Professionals in Adult Education
  • The Present and Future Situation of Adult Educators in the United Kingdom
  • William Jones
  • Adult and Continuing Education: Results in the Context of Research on Programs and Professionality
  • Wiltrud Gieseke
  • Exploring the Professionalisation System of Adult Educators in China: How can the Actors Contribute?
  • Chen Huiying & Huang Jian
  • Education and Training for Adult Education Profession in Slovenia Before and After Transition Period
  • Vida A. Mohorčič Špolar
  • Continuing Professional Education in the United States: A Strategic Analysis of Current and Future Directions
  • Arthur L. Wilson & Ronald M. Cervero
  • Adult Educators and ‘Really Useful Knowledge’: Navigating Democratic Politics in Mobile and Transitional Times
  • Niranjan Casinader & Graham Parr & Cynthia Joseph & Terri Seddon
  • Contributors

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The International Quest for Changing Configurations in Transitional Times

Bernd Käpplinger & Steffi Robak

1. An introduction or the paradox of observing constantly fundamental change

There seems to be a paradox existing in adult education. Adult educators and researchers in the different fields of adult education are constantly occupied with change, transformations and transitions. But if change and transition are constantly reported, does this mean that the field is by its very nature constantly changing and the notions “change” and “transition” are somehow an odd rehearsal of the same song? Are the changes really every time as new as reported and as fundamental as proclaimed or do we sometimes just put “new wine into old skins”? The diverse fields of practice seem to demand new innovations constantly. The academic community claims paradigm shifts (in German “Wenden”) and new approaches in rapid succession, which makes oneself rather dizzy. Plecas/Sork (1986, p. 50) described almost 30 years ago “the ills of an undisciplined discipline” as “defnimania … the tendency to re-define what has already been defined” and “lexicophilia … an irrational desire to embrace new terminology”.

While reading many articles or books in adult education it is easy to observe an implicit convention to address fundamental societal changes and huge present challenges at the beginning of the publication. This concern with the topic of change and transitions in adult education has certainly a variety of reasons. First, a reason might be the constantly high interest of policy-makers that adult education and lifelong learning should support present policies. Political rhetorics refer very often to innovations and thus many educational scientists and practitioners are implicitly or explicitly forced to describe their work in terms of innovation to correspond to present challenges in society. This is especially valid since project-based financing asks for singing the tunes wanted by the spender. Second, a reason might be in the fundamental character of adult education itself. Adult education is unlike other educational sectors less asked to educate pupils for the future. It is much more asked to react to the immediate needs for adult’s learning in workplaces, in local communities, milieus or families. It is often less the question which educated persons do we need tomorrow, but rather a question how shall we educate and train people now in order that they can cope with urgent and immediate challenges. Thus, adult education is ← 7 | 8 → very often an imminent means of support in transitional times, although stressing that every kind of education and learning needs a certain relief from time pressures and from a simple utilization. Dealing with change and transitions is certainly a core element of adult education. This is somehow one solution of the paradox, why adult education is so occupied with change and transitions.

Nonetheless, we have to observe and perceive change and transitions in society carefully. We should acknowledge shifts of fundamental societal conditions and be sensitive to slow processes as to rapid processes of transition. When regarding some present descriptions of changes, transitions and approaches in tackling it, one can state - with respect to historical awareness – that some statements in adult education publications might be over-exaggerating. From the point of view of historical research on developments in society, we require more distance in time in order to come to solid analysis. Many real fundamental changes and transitions can only be observed and understood with some delay in time, while contemporary thoughts and impressions vanish over time and might become difficult to understand later on or seem even ridiculous after some years. For example, the discussions and euphorical prophecies concerning e-learning in the 1990’s generated a popular image of the need for radical change in teaching and learning environments of adults. It was even assumed that in some years the vast majority of all adult learning would take place via an individual and independent e-learning environment and thus learning would be totally excluded from learning institutions. After many frustrations and disillusions in implementing e-learning the debate on e-learning has become more moderate and has now moved towards more modest concepts of blended learning. Summing up, in a historical retrospective the impact of changes and transitions and the reactions towards these changes and transitions can be observed more carefully and studied more in detail.

Overall, change and transitions are in a sense a natural and logical accompanying factor of adult education. Perhaps we even need the proclamations of fundamental changes or fundamental transitions sometimes as wake-up calls in order to seek for the present day contributions of adult education for societies and for individual learners? From the perspective of adult educational science it is very important to observe and conceive changes and transitions and be able to reflect these changes with reference to solid theoretical frameworks and using empirical research to analyse criteria-based upcoming developments and trends. The articles in this anthology will refer to different insights and various approaches and frameworks how to analyse change and transitions.

At the beginning of the 21st century the challenges which require change and transitions in the field of adult education are manifold. Presently, the problems of the global economy, demography, migration and the protection of the eco-system ← 8 | 9 → are some major challenges, but also resources for improving societies and their sustainability in many respects. Politicians and the electorate or enterprises are often too narrowly focused on short term challenges and solutions. The end of the cold war did not lead to the “end of history” as Fukuyama’s prophecy in the beginning of the 1990’s indicated. We rather experienced new fundamental challenges like mentioned by the problematic notion of a “clash of cultures” as Huntington coined it. The market for prognosis and future scenarios is still flourishing. Within the pre-occupation with the near future, we tend to forget that with the past exists an additional resource for contextualizing change and transitions more sensitively. Thus, we could to come to more lasting and sustainable answers. Perhaps we could even observe developments of a “longe durée” (Braudel 1977, see also Elias 1994). This would also require data and observations with longitudinal perspectives. But such approaches and data are often rather rare in adult education research.

Today’s world seems to have become more diverse and more complex, although capitalism is still the main driving force for many global economical and political developments:

“All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilised nations, (…) national one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature.”

“Capitalism […] is by nature a form or method of economic change and not only never is but never can be stationary. […] The fundamental impulse that sets and keeps the capitalist engine in motion comes from the new consumers’ goods, the new methods of production or transportation, the new markets, the new forms of industrial organization that capitalist enterprise creates.”

Both quotes describe the changing developments in globalized economies and a world of globalized knowledge production. But again, the origins of these quotes remind us that we have to be very careful in analyzing and not over-exaggerating our present day developments. We should not consider them too rapidly as being extraordinary and unique, because the first quote is very old and it is from Marx & Engels and originates from the Communist Manifesto in 1848, while the second quote is from Josef Schumpeter who made the term innovation scientifically prominent in the first half of the 20th century. Of course, history does not repeat itself and there are no inevitable automatisms in historical development. For this reason we need close and in-depth studies of present developments with a certain historical awareness and preferably a longitudinal scope. This would allow us better to distinguish between substantial and fundamental changes and ← 9 | 10 → limited changes with no big effect of present day life. Analytically, adult education research should be focused and differentiating, but also consider the wider picture of societal developments and simplifying rhetoric should be neglected.

When turning to the field of practice of adult education and its present day changes and transitions, systems, institutions and adult educators are crucial elements. We understand by configurations “different combinations of systems, institutions, organizations and actors with a variety of interests, rules and objectives”. The context varies in adult education a lot, partly because of its lifewide and its lifelong dimensions. Adult education can be located in community centers, in enterprises, in state agencies, in cultural associations or in commercial training institutes – just to name some locations. These and much more locations of adult education are in a dynamic interplay with different contexts which makes adult education so multi-faceted, complex and complicated to describe analytically. Thus, the literature of adult education uses geographical and biological terms as “landscape”, “fields” or “rhizomes” in order to name the diversification of its research subject. Such terms are partly used within the articles of this anthology.

The whole idea for this anthology was born out of the preparation of the 7th Triennial European Research Conference of the European Society for Research on the Education of Adults (ESREA) which took place at the Humboldt- University Berlin from the 4th to 7th September 2013. This anthology is not based on selected papers of this conference, which assembled more than 240 scholars from mostly European countries (see Käpplinger et all 2014). Our intention was to take the chance of using the conference theme as an impulse for reflections and contributions from distinguished scholars from even more areas of the world. Unfortunately, we could not recruit scholars from all parts of the world and some areas are over-represented. Nonetheless, we hope to stimulate an exchange across different national and cultural boundaries in the professional field of adult education research. Since the conference took place in Berlin, Germany inevitably and intentionally many German authors have been contributing to this anthology. We used the destination of this ESREA-Conference as a landmark for outlining some essential contributions and present developments in Germany for a wider international audience. Although the German discipline of adult education has also to struggle with fundamental challenges and pressures, it is a relatively large and stable scientific community in comparison to other national scientific communities in Europe with approximately 70 professors in universities and institutions of higher education (c. Faulstich/Graeßner 2003, p. 18). The advantage of such a relatively large community is that it can function self- referential within its own circles. The disadvantage of such a relatively large ← 10 | 11 → community is that the transnational and transcultural scope is partly rather limited. It is our dearest interest to contribute to a widening of this scope by this anthology. We want to continue the work of scholars as Franz Pöggeler, Peter Alheit, Joachim Knoll, Klaus Künzel or Jost Reischmann in naming some internationally engaged German scholars. As these scholars did, we invite all scholars working on adult education issues worldwide to contact us to submit manuscripts and to publish within our book series.

2. The contributions of the authors of this anthology

We approached the different authors by asking them to write an article in relation to the conference theme “Changing Configurations of Adult Education in Transitional Times” either by referring to the subtheme “institutions and organisations” or by referring to the subtheme of “adult educators and professionals in adult education”. Thus, we intend to have a double focus within the anthology on both institutions/organisations and the personnel which teaches. Although the focus is limited since a subtheme on the learner is not included. Additional focuses could be added. The anthology is structured into two main chapters which refer to the starting questions of the authors.

The first main chapter is entitled as “Systems and institutions of adult education”. The chapter starts with an article by Kjell Rubenson & Maren Elfert from the University of British Columbia at Vancouver/Canada. Kjell Rubenson has been engaged for more than 30 years in mapping the field of adult education research. He used the notions of “map” and “field” in singular for a long time, while at the end of the article with Maren Elfert they discuss “speculations” about the future of the map(s). There might be increasingly a development towards more visible, but fragmented maps and fields in the future. They conclude with an engaged plea “for more long-term research programs, integration of empirical studies and theory development, and a willingness and capability to attack ‘real problems’ in order to research on change and transitions”.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (March)
Weiterbildung transition in adult education adult educators
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 244 pp., 12 tables, 26 graphs

Biographical notes

Bernd Käpplinger (Volume editor) Steffi Robak (Volume editor)

Bernd Käpplinger studied Adult Education and Social Sciences at Mainz (Germany), Nijmegen (Netherlands), Cork (Ireland) and Berlin. He is Junior Professor at Humboldt-University Berlin. Steffi Robak studied Adult Education and Modern Sinology at Berlin, Beijing and Nijmegen (Netherlands). Currently she is a Professor at Leibniz University Hannover.


Title: Changing Configurations in Adult Education in Transitional Times
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