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Joint Modules and Internationalisation in Higher Education

Reflections on the Joint Module «Comparative Studies in Adult Education and Lifelong Learning»


Edited By Regina Egetenmeyer, Paula Guimaraes and Balázs Németh

This volume places the development of the Joint Module «Comparative Studies in Adult Education and Lifelong Learning» (COMPALL) in the context of international development in higher education and adult education. Based on this framework, the authors discuss the development of the joint module in terms of its institutional and didactical structure as well as participants’ motivation and diversity. The book is divided into three parts: (1) Internationalisation in Higher Education, (2) Internationalisation of Higher Education: The Case of Adult Education, and (3) Internationalisation of Higher Education: The Example of COMPALL.

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Teaching Curriculum Globale: Mission impossible or united in diversity (Katarina Popović)

Katarina Popović

Teaching Curriculum GlobALE: Mission Impossible or United in Diversity

Abstract: ‘Curriculum GlobALE – Curriculum for Global Adult Learning and Education is a transnationally compatible training programme for adult educators that was created as a joint project of DIE and DVV International. Curriculum GlobALE is meant to address a shortcoming in the global agenda, which does not recognise adult education as a specific field of practice and professional activity.

Purpose of the programme

The professionalisation of adult education in the 1970s and 1980s, during the ‘golden age of adult education, had its important moments – based on a series of research results, it was defined as an autonomous area and constituted as a scientific discipline and an academic field. UNESCO and especially UIL, OECD, World Bank, and other global policy actors recognised the importance of adult education and the role of professional staff and trained personnel in the development of the field. Even at the beginning of twenty-­first century, professionalisation was seen as a crucial factor for quality assurance and for fostering a culture of quality in adult learning, as mentioned specifically in the Belem Framework for Action (UNESCO, 2009, p. 6). With the ‘shift from adult education to the concept of lifelong learning, the professionalisation of adult education is experiencing a decline, and employees in this area started losing their professional role and identity.

The current global agenda, featured in the Sustainable Development Goals, including SDG 4 and the Education 2030 programme, gives great importance to teachers – their role, professional preparation, continuous education, and working conditions (UN, 2015). Their key role in achieving the quality of education that the global agenda seeks is very much emphasised. However, this applies mainly, or almost exclusively, to teachers in formal education and teachers involved in the education and upbringing of children. It does not recognise the need for professional preparation and professional standards in adult education. Education 2030 formulates goal 4 and target 4.c. as follows:

4.c By 2030, substantially increase the supply of qualified teachers, including through international cooperation for teacher training in developing countries, especially least developed countries and small island developing States […] [Training should be measured as:] Proportion of teachers in: (a) pre-­primary; (b) primary; (c) lower secondary;←113 | 114→ and (d) upper secondary education who have received at least the minimum organised teacher training (e.g. pedagogical training) pre-­service or in-­service required for teaching at the relevant level in a given country (Tawil, Sachs-­Israel, Le Thu, & Eck, 2016, p. 32).

The strong focus on early childhood and formal, school education has completely eliminated concern not only for staff working in adult education but also for informal education: the global agenda does not recognise trainers, facilitators, and instructors either. Only ‘educators are mentioned sporadically. The indicators for the global targets are developed only for teachers up to the level of upper secondary education, and even when non-­formal and informal learning are mentioned, the professionals in these areas are not considered at all.

It is only at the European level that we still find some efforts to improve the field through professionalisation, but even in the EU, there are cuts for programmes and initiatives of this kind. In the previous period, numerous projects were conducted with the objective to identify common ground, common values, or common competencies among adult educators. Now, there are no attempts to approach the topic more systematically and to try some more systematic solutions. Likewise, there are almost no attempts to connect some of the existing experiences at the global level, to enable an exchange of knowledge, and to achieve more impact on the professionalisation and improvement of practice.

This tendency to neglect adult educators as a group in the Education 2030 agenda may have drastic implications for the further development of adult education, which is already experiencing massive cuts in funding and a lack of recognition. As far as global policy is concerned, adult education is in a process of retrogression – in terms of discourses, concepts, strategy, and finances (including its absence from the agenda of development cooperation), which is detrimental also for the quality of staff and personnel in adult education worldwide. Therefore, additional efforts are needed to overcome the shortcomings in the global education agenda with regard to adult educators and to prevent a further decline of the field.

GlobALE: Characteristics of the programme

There are plenty of researches on the professionalisation of adult education and many programmes and projects, especially in Europe. Curriculum GlobALE – Curriculum for global adult learning and education, which will be presented in this paper, is the training programme that provides a basic qualification for adult educators. It is a transnationally compatible curriculum that was created as a joint project of the German Institute for Adult Education – Leibniz Centre for Lifelong Education (DIE) and the Institute for International Cooperation in Adult Education (DVV International).←114 | 115→

The objective of the project […] was to develop, test and disseminate a core curriculum for training adult educators outside of the university sector which, being in line with the basic principles of Adult Education, satisfies international scientific standards and is suitable for use on a transnational scale (Lattke, Popović, & Weickert, 2013, p. 5).

The benefits of this programme were seen in its potential to (1) enhance the professionalisation of adult educators by providing a common reference framework, and by specifying core competencies as a framework for the qualification of adult educators, which would help in creating standards and references in the knowledge and competencies adult educators should have; (2) support adult education providers in the design and implementation of train-­the-­trainer programmes, thus contributing to the practice of adult education provision; (3) foster knowledge exchange and mutual understanding between adult educators worldwide and to support the creation of a global adult educators learning and professional community.

The starting point of the curriculum was the idea that adult educators, trainers, and facilitators have a lot in common, despite the diversity that characterises adult education worldwide. Based on numerous projects, initiatives, and activities, a set of knowledge and competencies was identified that might be recognised as crucial for adult educators wherever they work and whatever the geographical or institutional context of their educational activities is. But it was of utmost importance to be explicit about the underlying values – as there is no neutral education, and hence, no neutral adult education. Curriculum GlobALE thus needed a clear value basis, which at on the one hand makes it universally applicable (based on the values that are common across the countries) and on the other hand creates limitations in applicability (through the limits set by cultural differences related to these values). It includes emancipatory, humanistic, and democratic values and is designed to develop participants ability to work in a democratic, open-­minded, interculturally open and sensitive manner, including a strong ability to contextualise the concrete educational work with adults and to consider framework conditions.

Curriculum GlobALE is unambiguous about the idea of the adult educator who stands at the end of the training process. It is not a neutral location, but is based on a clear value system, with roots in a human rights-­based approach. These values are mentioned several times in Curriculum GlobALE – sustainable development, peace and democracy, gender and cultural sensitivity, etc. The values are visible not only in the description of the curriculum, but also in the cross-­cutting issues and in the set of competencies, and they are expressed in the basic principles Curriculum GlobALE is based upon competency–­oriented, action–­oriented, participant–­oriented, and aimed at sustainability (Käpplinger, Popović, Shah, & Sork, 2015, p. 434).

Curriculum GlobALE is structured through one optional introductory module, five thematic core modules, and one to three optional elective modules. Core modules←115 | 116→ start with an overall introduction to the field of adult education, its main ideas and concepts, the variety and diversity of adult education, issues related to adult education in the national and global context, and adult education as a profession. The second module is mainly devoted to learning theories and the psychological understanding of adult learning that serves as the basis for didactical actions, and the motivation for and barriers to adult education. The third module develops communication competencies as well as competencies needed for group dynamics. The fourth module is the most practical one, as it offers a variety of methods for different subject areas, different groups and phases of trainings, and other educational activities. The last module brings together previous competencies and uses them for other phases of andragogic cycles – needs assessment, planning, organisation, and evaluation – and additionally deals with quality assurance in adult education.

One of the main characteristics of the curriculum is the combination of (1) core topics and competencies that should be common and universal and (2) content and competencies that are flexible, optional, and specific to the country, region, target group, or content type. It allows for an adaptation to local needs by offering 70 per cent core content, leaving 30 per cent to specifics, such as regional-­geographic aspects, target group-­specific aspects, subject-­specific aspects, management tasks, situation-­specific and regulation-­specific aspects (Lattke, Popović, & Weickert, 2013, pp. 16–17)

The whole curriculum is structured in the following way:

Figure 1: Curriculum GlobALE


Source: Lattke, Popovic, & Weickert, 2013←116 | 117→

There are also some cross-­cutting topics that may be explored in greater depth in the elective modules, but they are important for the whole curriculum und should be considered whenever possible: the human rights approach, the gender-­sensitive approach, the development of critical thinking, sustainable development and environmental protection, and the contribution of adult education to the development of peaceful and democratic societies.

Self-­reflection is among the most essential characteristics of adult educators and should be included in each module and in different phases of the training.

In practical terms, the curriculums modular and outcome-­based character enables flexible implementation, a combination with other programmes, and the recognition of previously gained competencies.

Curriculum GlobALE can also be considered to include a kind of meta competence framework for adult educators: The learning outcomes defined in the curriculum represent exactly those competences which all adult educators should possess, no matter in what geographical, institutional or domain-­specific context they work (Lattke, Popović, & Weickert, 2013, p. 6).

The defined topics, clearly formulated principles, notes on implementation, and suggestions for practical application and reflection after each module ensure that the process of implementing the curriculum also becomes important, together with the outcomes and competencies that need to be achieved.

The challenges of implementation

There is hardly a book, research, or speech that does not mention the diversity of adult education in some way. This is a common perception, a standard, and a fact that adult educators and activists are proud of. Comparative approach in particular offers a range of arguments to prove it and to illustrate how much adult education depends on the context, on the cultural, social, political, and even religious framework, on the regional, national, and local circumstances, culture and habits.

With that in mind, the idea of creating a common curriculum that presumes a common understanding of the profession (tasks, knowledge, competences, identity) may seem like a ‘mission impossible. If adult education is so diverse, multifaceted, and specific, what could be possible common features? Is the work of every adult educator and trainer so specific and different from the others? What could be the universal core and common denominator? Does the universal global approach run counter to culturally specific efforts to improve adult education – are they on the same side, or opposing each other?←117 | 118→

Cultural differences seem to be a particular obstacle. The main questions are: Which elements and dimensions of regional and national cultures should be taken into account and reflected in the common curriculum? Which are more relevant than others? Are we dealing only with the top of the ‘cultural iceberg and looking for commonalities among the visible (and thus easier-­to-­deal-­with) cultural dimensions? And the main question that each curriculum has to answer, because of its prescriptive and normative character, is: what are the values that will be respected in each individual culture, and what changes is the curriculum aiming at? What should be done in the case of a clear conflict of values, norms, and practices? Is ‘cross-­culturality still possible in the field of adult education?

Andragogic principles say that the trainers work and teaching should be flexible and adapted to learners needs, life, and work experience, to personal and institutional circumstances. Is insisting on commonalities a betrayal of scientific principles?

All these questions were not a ‘blind spot for the authors of the curriculum; they were the challenge – but a challenge of the kind that has to be accepted and worked on if any improvement of the field is wanted. The answers to these questions were not easy, but they pave the way for an approach that might make a change.

In view of the very different background conditions for Adult Education in the different countries and regions, this standard consciously refers only to the output factors – the competencies that are to be developed and are defined non-­specifically in the curriculum as regards context. With regard to the input factors, i.e. specific content and examples, when implementing a training programme, the curriculum offers enough room to incorporate local, cultural and other specific details into the conceptual design. The variable parts of the curriculum help to contribute towards this (Lattke, Popović, & Weickert, 2013, p. 12).

Some solutions for the cultural challenges are given through the formal structure of the curriculum: 30 per cent variable content, possibilities for adding further modules, the open character of the introductory module (where social, political, and economic framework conditions can be discussed with the implementing partners), and the ways of including and considering these conditions in the implementation. Furthermore, Curriculum GlobALE is flexible in terms of ‘input: competencies previously obtained in other contexts can be recognised and combined with those in the Curriculum GlobALE. Likewise, the ‘output is left to the country level: EQF level 5 is recommended, but it may be positioned very differently in other regions. So formally, ‘cross-­cultural mobility is not a possibility, but through the clearly described competencies it is enabled.←118 | 119→

The values, principles and competencies should enable worldwide application, but also the fact that Curriculum GlobALE offers, besides the common core, sufficient scope for variability, allowing for different needs to be met in individual cases, for various fields and dependent on the social, political and economic framework. The scope of design freedom within the five core modules is broad […] (Käpplinger et al., 2017, p. 435).

Next, and maybe even more importantly, the authors of the Curriculum GlobALE recommend that dealing with cultural issues in the implementation should be left to the teacher and trainers, which makes them crucial for the success of the implementation. But are they not always crucial– as proven by numerous researches and pointed out in policy documents? The methods that teachers and trainers apply in the trainings, the examples they use, the tasks they give to participants, the materials they bring, recommend, and share, and of course, the whole field of discussion, reflections, dialogues, and debates is a huge space for all specific issues, views, topics, and understandings. The trainer can very much add local ‘colour to the trainings, not only to the ‘visible parts but also to the deeper layers that influence the learning culture, communication, use of methods, group dynamics, and broader issues like setting goals and objectives and working with diverse participants and target groups. Trainers can add specific content, while at the same time developing competencies defined in the curriculum. This enables them to follow andragogic principles, to be flexible and adaptable, while keeping the focus on the main content and the core competencies.

Of course, the question of ‘clashing values remains, but Curriculum GlobALE is very clear about it. Since there cannot be a ‘neutral curriculum, this one is based on the values that are the precondition for its full implementation. They are about human rights, equality, emancipation, respect, empowerment, democracy, and the like. Some elements of the curriculum could be used in any context (such as methods or learning theories), but only a valued-­loaded implementation can claim to be a universally valid, common approach as defined in the Curriculum GlobALE. Thus, its universality is de facto limited to the cultures that would embrace these values as part of their educational agenda, or that recognise them and try to shape their development guided by these values.

The potential of implementation

The abovementioned diversity of adult education – described, pointed out, and celebrated – at the same time became ‘the sacred cow and therewith the curse of adult education. It hindered more connections, cooperation, solidarity, and joint actions among adult educators, researchers, and activist worldwide. It was←119 | 120→ also a serious obstacle to advocacy and lobby actions at the global level. The lack of some common approach, understanding, and definitions, and the insistence on differences and nationally or regionally valid concepts led to weaker argumentations and a particularisation of interest. A strong presence in the advocacy arena was impossible, and a united global voice of adult education was missing.1 Unfortunately, all efforts aiming at professionalisation were limited, and there were hardly any common global actions, researches (as in Europe), and appearances in the global advocacy arena. Individual areas of adult education made improvements, came together, and cooperated, but the general ‘body of adult education, which comprises various field and areas, was seldom seen. Professionals in the field – even less so. The idea of a common approach and common efforts towards professionalisation was rejected even by actors and representatives of the field, which, surprisingly, could even be observed in civil society – undermining the role of adult educators, only implicitly mentioning them under ‘other education workers: ‘Despite the apparent consensus around the centrality of the teaching profession to quality education, undervaluing of teachers and other education workers continues to prevail across the continents. (UNESCO, CCNGO 2017, par. 9).

Overall acceptance of and enthusiasm about the concept of lifelong learning did not improve the situation with regard to training personnel or increasing their competencies. It turned out to be the Trojan horse that resulted in the factual disappearance from the global agenda.

Supposed to be based on inclusive, emancipatory, humanistic and democratic values, lifelong learning remains a content-­empty phrase, decorative notion, an empty shell in the function of the neoliberal discourses. Such concept, emptied of the critical blade, emancipatory potential, solidarity and power for social transformation, reduces learning to an individual psychological process and responsibility (Koulazides & Popović, 2017).

Such lifelong learning became a very vague concept, more suited for rhetorical use than for identifying a specific field of practice, an ‘elastic concept tailorable to any needs (Dehmel, 2006). For professionalisation, it was a knockout – even with the best possible understanding of the concept of lifelong learning, and with the recognition of its main messages, it is impossible to imagine a professional for lifelong learning. It would be difficult to define (and to standardise) the competencies valid across all fields and target groups that ‘lifelong learning covers and to describe the job; it is even more difficult to think about a common profes←120 | 121→sional identity and to claim the rights related to the professional group. As much as ‘lifelong learning embraced the idea of ability and the right of every person to gain knowledge and competencies throughout the lifespan, it dissolved the idea of a specific field of practice and a profession. Accompanied by the broad deprioritisation of adult education in the policy sphere, this development results in the worrisome fact that adult education faces serious crises at the global level, and adult educators are confronted with the disappearance of professional understanding, concept, and recognition.

This is exactly where the biggest potential of Curriculum GlobALE comes from – it has the unifying power of a common professional identity based on a solid foundation, enabling joint actions, activities, projects, and advocacy. As much as actors in adult education stick to the idea of diversity, it is possible, without giving it up, to have a strong connecting field, a base for advocacy, for a powerful presence in global advocacy arenas. To train people through Curriculum GlobALE and to connect them in the global learning community or the advocacy network would strengthen the voice of adult education at the national, regional, and global levels – it would be the voice of a clearly defined professional group, supported by practical experiences and grassroots level actions, as well as research data and evidence.

A set of globally accepted traits and features of a professional group, recognised knowledge and competencies, and a clear profile based on certain values –all that would help to distinguish adult education as a profession, to lobby for improving its position on the global agenda, and to increase the visibility of the whole field, which is now jeopardised through the replacement of adult education by lifelong learning.

Furthermore, such a common approach has the potential to foster a transnational process of exchange and mutual learning, to enable countries and regions to benefit from experiences and developments in other countries, to cooperate and to be more independent in the context of international cooperation and fundraising. Equally important, this would enable more solidarity and cooperation among adult educators worldwide.

At the national level, it means investing in capacity development and networking, which is the most sustainable way of supporting adult education in the country. Finally, the curriculum itself is based on numerous existing programmes that were carefully consulted before it was created, and it is based on the experiences of the best implemented programmes and on scientifically proven approaches.←121 | 122→

Perspectives of Curriculum GlobALE

Still in the piloting phase, Curriculum GlobALE is a ‘work in progress. But several years of implementation proved its contribution to the improvement of national adult education and its potential for global networking.2 Some experiences and lessons learned are already available, and some possible steps of further improving it: cutting some of the topics, for the example, since it is a very ambitious programme, creating two versions of it (two levels), and – most importantly – including topics, authors, theories, and experiences from non-­European countries and regions. This was identified as one of the important tasks at the very beginning, but there was a need to create a starting point, a milestone that will help explore the next steps and pave one of the best ways of global support to adult education. Although the implementation is going on, there is a need for careful monitoring, revisions, and improvements, as well as for further support. The ambitious goal of improving adult education globally requires ambitious tools. Curriculum GlobALE has the potential to be one of those tools.


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1 The International Council for Adult Education was and still is the only representative body of comprehensive adult education at the global level.

2 See: