Adult Learning and Education in International Contexts: Future Challenges for its Professionalization

Comparative Perspectives from the 2016 Würzburg Winter School

by Regina Egetenmeyer (Author) Sabine Schmidt-Lauff (Author) Vanna Boffo (Author)
©2017 Edited Collection 216 Pages


This volume analyses adult education and lifelong learning as international phenomena, which have a strong influence on professionals working in this field. Based on the 2016 Würzburg Winter School, the book identifies influences on policy at local, national and international levels. It examines the internationalization of adult education and emphasizes the emergence of different dimensions of professionalism in adult education.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Preface (Bernd Käpplinger, series editor)
  • Internationalization and Professionalization in Adult Education: An Introduction (Regina Egetenmeyer, Sabine Schmidt-Lauff & Vanna Boffo)
  • Adult Learning in the Context of International Policies
  • Initiatives to Support Employability of Young Adults: Comparative Policy Analysis of China, Portugal and the Republic of Korea (Ge Wei, Eunyoung Choi & Catarina Doutor)
  • Capacities for Cooperation: Potentials for and Barriers to Adult-Learning Professionals in Learning City-Region Formations (Julia Di Campo, Thomas Barany, Georg Henning & Balázs Németh)
  • Policy and Governance for the Professionalization of Adult Education (Shalini Singh & Philipp Assinger)
  • Adult Educators in Portugal: From the European Guidelines to a National Public Policy of Lifelong Learning Technicians (Paula Guimarães & Natália Alves)
  • Work Opportunities for Adult Educators in Italy: A Challenge for Professionalization (Carlo Terzaroli)
  • Frames of Professionalization in Adult Education
  • The Higher Education Curriculum for the Professionalization of Adult Education (Clara Kuhlen, Shalini Singh & Nicoletta Tomei)
  • Employability and Phd Curricula. The Case Studies of Italy, Malaysia and Portugal (Gaia Gioli & Rute Ricardo)
  • Adult Education in Serbia and Brazil – Towards Professionalization (Kristina Pekeč, Dubravka Milhajlovič & Janiery Da Silva Castro)
  • Work Transitions in Adulthood: An Analytical Tool for Comparative Studies (Fanny Hösel & Carlo Terzaroli)
  • Dimensions of Adult Education Professionalism
  • The Modern Phenomenon of Adult Learning and Professional Time-Sensitivity – a Temporal, Comparative Approach Contrasting Italy and Germany (Sabine Schmidt-Lauff & Roberta Bergamini)
  • Subjective Didactics – Effects of Individual Pedagogical Professional Action (Kira Nierobisch, Hakan Ergin, Concetta Tino & Ingeborg Schüßler)
  • Core Competencies of Malaysian Science Centre Facilitators: A Delphi Study (Lilia Halim, Kamisah Osman & Wan Nor Fadzilah Wan Husin)
  • An Exploration of Indigenous Adult Teaching Methods in Southwestern Nigeria and South Africa for Comparative Consideration (Bolanle Clara Simeon-Fayomi)
  • Professionalization in Adult Education: Curriculum Globale – The Global Curriculum for Teacher Training in Adult Learning and Education (Maja Avramovska & Tania Czerwinski)
  • Authors
  • Reviewers
  • Series Index

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Bernd Käpplinger, series editor


The professionalization of adult educators is an ongoing project. Managing, planning, counselling and teaching are among the core tasks of adult educators, but there are some who take the view that professionalization is not really needed, or that the practitioners’ intuition or experience are enough. In the Canadian discussion, for example, Selman and Selman disputed with Nesbit and Hall as to whether Canadian adult education is still progressing at all – that is, whether it can still be seen as a movement. In this Canadian controversy, some opponents discuss professionalization and scientific education rather as an obstacle than a support for learners. Teachers or trainers should be produced by movements, not academic training. The German discourse on this topic, as exemplified in Nittel’s book published in 2000, maintains that adult education has, in many respects, changed from wanting to be a mission to wanting to create a profession. If professionalization is defined as a process, this term implies that there is still a long way to go and includes backlashes such as precarious working conditions. Voluntary engagement can also mean exploitation, especially when it is systematically used in lieu of good payment for good work. There are certainly similar discussions and struggles going on in other countries.

There are many advantages to having professionally trained staff. Professional staff are able to plan courses and events in such a way that many mistakes are at least less likely or can even be avoided from the outset before any teaching and learning take place. Unfortunately, programme planning is often rather neglected and not researched extensively enough by adult education research, which is sometimes too preoccupied with the analysis of political discourses. Professional staff should shield teachers and learners from unnecessary formalities and organizational pressures brought about by short-sighted administrators, intrusive financiers and biased advocates of various educational movements and trends. Professional staff are able to deal with complex learning situations, avoid painful learning experiences or be aware of poor group dynamics. Good intentions and activism are not enough. In 1968, the renowned Ivan Illic – who was certainly not an advocate of formal learning – stated in a famous speech to volunteers that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. People have to know and to reflect what they are doing in a professional way. Adult educators can also advise and guide learners in their educational decisions in private and vocational contexts. Learners ← 7 | 8 → and clients are now often burdened with information overload and thus increasingly need support to orient themselves; however, that support should not make decisions on their behalf or preach certainties. There is an ocean of knowledge and know-how that can be tapped into to configure good adult education. Approaches that are solely based on experience are subject to the accidental limitations of individual experience and frequently take place in an unbalanced organizational context shaped by unquestioned routines and rituals.

Nonetheless, professionalization should not be idealized, and it is important to take stock of the achievements, shortcomings and circuitous routes taken in the many different fields of adult education – nationally, internationally and transnationally. In this respect, this volume makes an extremely interesting contribution and has its inception in the innovative, international Würzburg Winter School. The introduction by its principal contributors Regina Egetenmeyer, Sabine Schmidt-Lauff and Vanna Boffo deals with these aspects in much greater detail.

This volume has three main chapters. The first is concerned with policy, since professionalization is often linked to political decisions. Unfortunately, recent political developments in North America have caused many adult educators to see the state as an opponent rather than a potential source of support for adult education that should be coaxed into playing a more active and supportive role. The second chapter discusses professionalization frameworks, which are an important source of orientation in a larger context. It is increasingly important to compare developments in different countries and perhaps even look for shared frames. The third and final chapter deals with the various different dimensions of professionalization in adult education.

I am delighted to have been given the opportunity to recommend this volume and the international Würzburg Winter School from whose work it has arisen, and I am certain that we will hear a lot more about both the school and its participants in the future.


Nesbitt, T. & Hall, B. T. (2011): Canadian Adult Education: Still Moving. Conference Proceedings of the Adult Research Conference at OISE Toronto, pp. 489–495.

Nittel, D. (2000): Von der Mission zur Profession? Bielefeld.

Selman, G., & Selman, M. (2009): The life and death of the Canadian adult education movement. Canadian Journal of University Continuing Education, 35(2), pp. 13–28.

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Regina Egetenmeyer, Sabine Schmidt-Lauff & Vanna Boffo

Internationalization and Professionalization in Adult Education: An Introduction

Abstract: Adult education and lifelong learning are becoming international phenomena, which have a strong influence on its professionals. The 2016 Würzburg Winter School ‘Comparative Studies in Adult Education and Lifelong Learning’ analyzed this and identified influences on policy at local, national and international levels. It further analyzed the internationalization of adult education and identified the emergence of different dimensions of professionalism in adult education.


Over the last two decades, adult learning and lifelong education have become international phenomena. They represent an on-going process of globalization in education, which decades ago was mainly a national issue. This can be seen at the educational policy level of international organizations, such as UNESCO, the European Union, the OECD and the World Bank. International education policies have a strong effect on national education policies, extending to areas that are not formally connected, as can be shown by the impact of EU policies in South and Southeast Asia (Egetenmeyer 2016).

Beyond the policy level, these processes of internationalization can also be observed at the meso- and micro-level of adult, continuing and lifelong education. At the meso-level, adult and lifelong education organizations are working increasingly in transnational and international contexts. In Germany, for instance, vocational and continuing education will be promoted as an “export product”, especially towards Asian countries (cf. BiBB 2015). This means that the structures, offerings and contexts of providers in adult and lifelong education are progressively becoming more international. At the micro-level, students are now expected to deal with international learning requirements, which concern not only language skills but also the rising number of students who have migrated to European countries seeking refuge from war, terrorism, climate change and economic and social turmoil. This trend can also be seen in India and China, where there are strong migration tendencies, especially intra-country migration and rural-urban migration (Schulze Plastring 2015; BPB 2012). Handling rising migration has been promoted within the European Union from early on in the context of labour mobility as well as in the context ← 9 | 10 → of the development of a European identity. It was most recently promoted with a special focus on young, highly-qualified people. This means that professionals in adult learning and education need to be able to interact with people who have migrated to Europe from various countries. This will allow these professionals to work in politically internationalized contexts and contexts that affect adult and lifelong education through global phenomena, such as temporal perspectives, individualization and globalization. The ability to reflect on global systems and to take intra-cultural and trans-cultural competencies into account can be described as inherent needs of professionalization in adult and continuing education. Adult learning and education in one’s own context is far more understandable when viewed within the context of global developments, changes and continuities.

This book identifies these international developments and addresses the question of what these changes mean for professionalization in adult education. In this context, the editors foresee unique challenges for professionalization in adult education, which in the past was largely a national practice. The volume sheds light on the diverse range of European and international professional contexts in cultivating adult learning and education. This includes not only micro-level teaching and guidance of adult learning but also the development of a wide range of non-formal and informal learning in different contexts and institutions, as well as on the policy levels that deal with adult education and learning. It is therefore essential to reflect on the mega-, macro-, meso- and micro-levels and their correlations and interdependencies (Lima & Guimarães 2011).

The volume poses the following questions: How do current developments in society influence institutions, actors and the professionalization of adult educators? Which cross-national issues, (e.g., employability, acceleration and globalization), frames and dimensions offer the possibility for a joint understanding of professionalism?


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2017 (April)
Lifelong Learning internationalization of adult education international policies Intercultural Education University Pedagogy
Frankfurt am Main, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2017. 216 pp., 7 ill., 6 tables

Biographical notes

Regina Egetenmeyer (Author) Sabine Schmidt-Lauff (Author) Vanna Boffo (Author)

Regina Egetenmeyer is professor of adult and continuing education at the University of Würzburg, Germany. Her research focuses on cross national comparative adult education, professionalization in adult education, lifelong learning, and mobility for learning purposes. Sabine Schmidt-Lauff is professor for continuing education and lifelong learning at the University of Hamburg, Germany. Her research focuses on professionalization and professionalism in adult education, time and temporalities in adult learning, and (vocational related) lifelong and lifewide learning. Vanna Boffo is professor of general pedagogy at the department of education and psychology at University of Florence, Italy. Her current research focuses on the pedagogy of work, educational strategies in higher education, professionalization in adult education.


Title: Adult Learning and Education in International Contexts: Future Challenges for its Professionalization
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222 pages