Professionalisation of Adult Educators

International and Comparative Perspectives

by Susanne Lattke (Volume editor) Wolfgang Jütte (Volume editor)
©2015 Edited Collection 217 Pages


In many regions of the world, professionalisation in adult and continuing education is brought into the focus of educational policy and research. Various fields of practice are looking for scientifical and political support in raising the level of professionalism. While there are no simple lessons to be learned from other countries, a closer analysis of international experience may reveal common and diverging interests. It may also provide worthwhile insights into opportunities and risks surrounding professionalisation. This edited volume is intended to further stimulate international exchange, cross-country approaches and comparative research in this field. It includes contributions to the theoretical debate and to the development of (comparative) research as well as reports on research findings and development activities concerning the professionalisation of adult educators.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • International and comparative perspectives in the field of professionalisation
  • Structures and Concepts
  • The professionalisation of adult education in Ireland. An exploration of the current discourse, debate and policy developments
  • Professionalisation: Issues, meanings and ways in the French context
  • Insights from Germany: Theoretical models of professional knowledge and their relevance for empirical research
  • Professional cultures and a new conceptualisation of profession. Theoretical contributions to professionalisation of adult education
  • Professional Studies and Training
  • Academic professionalisation in Master’s programmes in adult and continuing education. Towards an internationally comparative research design
  • From professional studies to learning experiences – creating learning possibilities for adult educators
  • An international core curriculum for the training of adult educators: Curriculum globALE. Professionalisation between convergence and diversity
  • Competencies and Profiles
  • Identification of key comparable professional competences for adult educators in the European context. A proposed model framework
  • Adult education teachers’ pedagogical-psychological knowledge. Potential elements and test development
  • Making program planning more visible: what to do when they don’t know what they don’t know
  • What creates and regulates access to the adult education profession? A research project on recruiting practices
  • Contributors

← 6 | 7 → Wolfgang Jütte, Susanne Lattke

International and comparative perspectives in the field of professionalisation


In many regions of the world, professionalisation in adult and continuing education is brought into the focus of educational policy. Teachers of adults (“teachers” in a very broad sense) are widely recognised to be a critical factor for the quality of adult learning processes. This is not to deny the importance of informal or self-organised learning processes which are also receiving growing (policy) attention, especially in the context of debates on validation. However, these informal learning processes will never completely replace more organised forms of adult learning that take place under the guidance and/or with the support of a “teacher” (or “trainer”, “instructor”, “facilitator”, “guide”, “docent”, “tutor”, “coach”, “animator”, etc.). Moreover, even the growing importance of informal learning and its social recognition goes hand in hand with the emergence of new professional roles in the field of adult education, for example: Counselling and guidance staff will be increasingly needed to provide some support to adult learners in largely self-guided learning; and, secondly: professional staff will be increasingly needed for the validation of informally acquired competencies of adults. Whereas these tasks are not part of the traditional teaching role they increasingly belong to the range of professional roles and profiles that can be associated with the field of adult education and learning.

The range of professional profiles within the field of adult education is very wide and diverse – as is the whole field of adult education (for the situation in Europe, see for example Research voor Beleid 2008, p. 2010). Adult education as a field is very closely linked to the societal structures of a country or region, to its traditions and its socio-cultural, economic and political fabric (Nuissl 2005, p. 47). At the same time, adult education is much less regulated than other parts of the education system. It may therefore react more flexibly to upcoming demands and develop itself in various forms and directions. As a result, the field of adult education is extremely diversified as regards target groups, teaching content, providers, institutional arrangements, funding structures and legislation. Even the term “adult education” is not an unambiguous one – often very different names are used to refer to the more or less structured and organised learning provision for adults.

← 7 | 8 → The diversity of the field complicates ambitions to professionalise adult education. However, there seems to be broad consensus that teachers and other professionals in adult education are performing highly demanding tasks, which involve a high degree of responsibility, as well as appropriate skills and competence for their work. Policy papers on national as well as on international level quite regularly emphasise the value and the importance of a well-qualified workforce in adult education (see, for example, European Commission 2006; Council 2011; or UNESCO 2009 to mention only a few examples from supranational institutions).

As the contributions to this volume show, strategies to develop such skills and competences of adult education professionals in a systematic way have been set up in many countries throughout the world – including countries with a rather longstanding tradition of training adult educators, also at an academic level, as well as others were corresponding developments were initiated only more recently. Professional competence requirements for adult learning staff are analysed in various research and development projects. Curricula and training offers are developed and implemented by a variety of providers and stakeholders. Though quite often on an ad-hoc basis and unsystematically in some countries, others – either through top-down or through bottom-up approaches – also established national multi-level systems of qualifications for adult education staff. In many countries, adult education – or andragogy, as some prefer to call it – is taught as an academic discipline in universities.

Besides those practical attempts at designing and providing different types and levels of qualifications to adult educators, either as a pre-service or in-service offer, a more theoretical debate is also ongoing in many countries on what “professionalisation” of adult education actually means – or should mean (see in particular the contributions in the first section of this volume). This includes also a critical analysis of the discourse and of the interests of different stakeholders, which are linked to these discourses. A few years ago, an issue of the European Journal for Research on the Education and Learning of Adults (RELA) analysed professionalisation as a process of “struggle”: “Different notions of professional practice and professional development attempt different things and have material effects. Different audiences are mobilised in different discourses, including potentially groups beyond those of the profession through which the profession may then be held to be accountable and subject to scrutiny.” (Jütte et al 2011, p. 9)

All these activities are increasingly pursued also at an international level: International curricula and trainings are developed (see for example Lattke in this book); cross-country study visits and exchange of information become increasingly prominent (promoted and supported by supra-national agencies such as the European Union); international networking is growing and gaining in stability ← 8 | 9 → due to formally organised networks such as the European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA) and the European Society for Research on the Education of Adults (ESREA) in Europe, the Asian and South Pacific Bureau of Adult Education (ASPBAE) in Asia, the Consejo de Educación de Adultos de América Latina (CEAAL) in Latin America, the Lifelong Learning Research Hub of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM LLL) as a cooperation between the two continents or the International Council for Adult Education (ICAE) as a global body. These networks contribute to fostering an international community of adult education professionals. More precisely, according to their different aims and priorities, these networks contribute to fostering sub-communities of adult education professionals – focusing either more on practitioners, researchers or policy makers – however, always with considerable overlap and links between these sub-groups.

This volume is an example of cross-country networking. It represents a follow-up publication to a conference, which was held in November 2013 by the German Institute for Adult Education – Leibniz Institute for Adult Education (DIE) and Bielefeld University within the ESREA research network “Adult Educators, Trainers and their Professional Development” (ReNAdET) in cooperation with the ASEM LLL Research network on “Professionalisation of Adult Teachers and Educators in ASEM countries”. The conference’s objective was to broaden the perspective and focus on the historical development, as well as current trends in professionalisation in the various regions from an international (and possibly comparative) perspective. This book, which is not a publication of the complete conference proceedings, comprises a selection of articles that relate to key conference themes. It is intended as a further contribution to the international debate and exchange on the topic of professionalisation and related research. Such international work may not always result in immediately tangible “benefits” or “products” and, moreover, it has always a number of particular challenges connected to it (see below). However, it is our conviction that an ongoing international exchange is not only a necessity in today’s increasingly globalised societies, but also that despite all challenges there is actually much to be gained from such exchange and that these gains may take multiple forms.

International work and comparison in adult education

The value and use of international and comparative work in adult education were described by various authors. They range from intellectual, personal and networking benefits to practical tools and models ready for application in the field (cf. for example Reischmann 2008). Commonly cited benefits include:

enlarging the individual knowledge basis by learning about developments in other countries;

← 9 | 10 → gaining a deeper understanding of the functioning of adult education and its parts in a given (national) context, thus developing an understanding of contextual impact factors;

acquiring a broader reference base for assessing certain phenomena of adult education, as well as for ranking and benchmarking exercises;

developing individual intellectual capacity, cultural awareness and self-awareness by analysing and confrontation with other cultural realities;

gaining ideas and inspiration for solving practical problems by learning about successes (and failures) in other countries.

For all these benefits to materialise, some form of comparison between at least two countries is needed. However, in many cases this comparison will not even be explicit. It often takes the form of an implicit comparison (cf. Froese 1980), which, according to Reischmann (2008, p. 20), “inevitably happens” when analysing phenomena from another country. This statement even applies to a certain extent to research explicitly labelled as “comparative”: “It is generally accepted that most of what is included under the rubric of comparative studies in adult education… does not include comparison in the strict sense” (Titmus 1999, p. 36).

Looking at international research from the last decades relating to professionalisation in adult education, this statement can only be confirmed. There are relatively few attempts at explicit comparisons, which do not only involve a simple juxtaposition of data and information but also an analysis of the reasons of the identified similarities and differences (Reischmann 2008, p. 10). A reason for this may perhaps be that even with an implicit comparison many of the benefits cited above are already within grasp to a certain extent, and in comparison, the expected added value of an explicit comparison seems too small, considering the high required effort to perform such comparison with the necessary methodological rigor.

As early as 1991, Jarvis and Chadwick set about the compilation of an impressive range of country studies on the training of adult educators in Western Europe. The concluding chapter provides an overview on the findings from 16 countries. The focus here is less on explaining similarities and differences but rather on identifying common trends and issues, as well as on outlining the range of different phenomena within Western Europe.

After that study, little can be found until the second half of the 2000s on international developments in adult education professionalisation. A mapping exercise of higher education training for adult educators in Eastern Europe was published by Hinzen in 2004. Nuissl (2005) and Schüßler, Mai (2008) provide ← 10 | 11 → first analytical pieces on European trends on the basis of literature from a smaller number of European countries. More comprehensive data collection was then promoted in the context of EU projects and studies. The project “Qualifying the Actors” (Q-Act) was a first attempt to bring together stakeholders from a broad range of European countries for an intensive exchange of information, collecting practice examples and identifying current issues and trends (Nuissl, Lattke 2008). A similar aim of mapping the situation in Europe was pursued by the study “Adult Learning Professions in Europe” (ALPINE) which had been commissioned by the EU (Research voor Beleid, Plato 2008). A follow-up study in 2010 went on to develop a European competence framework for adult educators based on the results of the previous studies and on the analyses of additional sources relating specifically to the issue of professional competences (Research voor Beleid 2010). The Leonardo da Vinci project “Qualified to Teach” (Qf2TEACH, 2010-12) involved a Delphi survey on core competencies of adult learning facilitators in eight European countries (Bernhardsson, Lattke 2012).

In 2008 two dedicated international research networks on the topic of professionalisation were launched. Within the European Society for Research on the Education of Adults (ESREA), a new network on “Adult Educators, Trainers and their Professional Development” (ReNAdET) was founded, which held its first conference in the following year in Thessaloniki (Papastamatis et al. 2009). In the same period, the Lifelong Learning Research Hub of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) launched its Research Network 3 on “Professionalisation of Adult Teachers and Educators in ASEM countries” (ASEM RN 3) which also held its inaugural conference in 2009 in Bergisch-Gladbach, Germany (Egetenmeyer, Nuissl 2010).

Both networks are dedicated to international cooperation and exchange among adult education researchers without placing particular emphasis on a comparative agenda. The aims of ReNAdET stated on the homepage do not mention comparison at all:


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (March)
Erwachsenenbildung Weiterbildung adult education Education Educational policy
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 217 pp., 22 b/w fig., 22 tables

Biographical notes

Susanne Lattke (Volume editor) Wolfgang Jütte (Volume editor)

Susanne Lattke is research associate at the German Institute for Adult Education at the Leibniz Centre for Lifelong Learning (DIE) in Bonn (Germany). Wolfgang Jütte is professor for Continuing Education at Bielefeld University (Germany).


Title: Professionalisation of Adult Educators
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