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Adult Education and Work Contexts: International Perspectives and Challenges

Comparative Perspectives from the 2017 Würzburg Winter School


Edited By Regina Egetenmeyer and Monica Fedeli

Adult education has deep connections with employment contexts. This volume discusses interrelations within transnational contexts studied during the Würzburg Winter School on Comparative Studies in Adult Education and Lifelong Learning (COMPALL). The book shows that adult education and work contexts are influenced by international and transnational developments. The findings are presented in three chapters: Lifelong Learning Policies Targeting Employment Contexts; Transnational Perspectives on Lifelong Learning Policies; Employment Perspectives and Professionalisation in Adult Education.

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Between educating and teaching: The professional identity of adult educators. A transnational comparison between Portugal, India, and Germany (Christin Cieslak / Rute Ricardo / Jenny Fehrenbacher / Bharti Praveen / Kira Nierobisch)

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Christin Cieslak, Rute Ricardo, Jenny Fehrenbacher, Bharti Praveen & Kira Nierobisch

Between educating and teaching: The professional identity of adult educators. A transnational comparison between Portugal, India, and Germany

Abstract: Concepts of professional identity define the socialisation of adult educators, if only implicitly. This article presents a comparative, transnational discussion of the main theories and concepts of academic professionalisation and the emergence of a professional identity, as an individual or as a profession.


Questions regarding personal professional identity are essential in the context of academic professionalisation. In andragogical settings, these are framed by different conditions and demands: by the curricular foundation, the institutional requirements, the expectations on the part of participants, and by how the role of an adult educator itself is understood. The understanding of learning and teaching plays a central role. Adult educators see themselves – according to their own transcultural and learning experiences and academic socialisation – as teachers, learning guides, consultants, or role models. These forms of identity correspond to each individual view of the profession and what it includes. This understanding of identities and roles, paired with different concepts of learning and teaching, biographic experiences, and theoretical discourses, also influences the identity development of students in adult education.

The article starts by providing an overview of the concepts and theories of professional identity, followed by a comparison of these concepts in India, Germany, and Portugal. We will show that adult education in India is dominated by an endeavour to foster literacy and numeracy, whereas in Germany, it is professional development in an academic context that takes precedence. Portugal, however, accentuates adult education in association with political-emancipatory aspirations, which will be presented through a current study. This is followed by a transnational comparison of the different concepts and development of professional identity in the three countries. In conclusion, we will present the core ← 143 | 144 → dimensions of professional identity in adult education and point out potential issues to be addressed.

Professional identity

The concept of professional identity includes beliefs, behaviours, values, and motives through which a person defines himself or herself in a professional role. Bierema (2011) defines professional identity as a result of professional socialisation:

Professional socialisation involves building specialised knowledge and skills, incorporating a sense of occupational identity, internalising the norms of the profession, and adapting the values and norms into individual behaviour and self concept. (Bierema, 2011, p. 29)

Cooper and Olson (1996) point out that professional identity is multifaceted. Historical, sociological, psychological, and cultural factors may all influence the professional self-concept of adult educators. Professional identity in adult education takes two forms (Bierema, 2011, p. 30). The first is how one conceives individual professional identity as an adult educator. This includes individual identification with an adaptation to the field and the culture of adult education:

Since there are many types of adult education, you might be more inclined to identify yourself as a literacy teacher or health educator or human rights activist or human resource developer or instructional designer, rather than as an adult educator. (p. 30)

The second form of professional identity in adult education according to Bierema is how the field itself creates, maintains, and changes its professional identity. In other words, there is a public face with a relatively agreed upon discourse, research, and practice that has been established (p. 30). According to Cruess, Cruess, and Steinert (2016), professional identity includes five different dimensions: knowledge, competences, performance, action, and identity. Performance in particular demonstrates the behaviours expected of adult educators, and their identity consistently demonstrates the attitudes, values, and behaviours like a ‘biographical mind set’ (p. 181). Professional identity itself is always a combination of personal and social identity; it is a subjective effort of lifelong learning and identification in which individuals, with their life history, their gender, and so on, become able to perform an already existing task to some extent by acquiring already existing knowledge and using it to create their own practice and identity (Salling Olesen, 2001a, 2001b). From this perspective, professional identity can be described as the combined effort of learning processes and the ongoing struggle with the demands of a task – integrated into one’s own general life experience. (Salling Olesen, 2006, p. 5). Professional identity, furthermore, may consist of many sub-identities that ← 144 | 145 → might conflict or align with each other (Mishler, 1999). According to Mishler, it is therefore better to recognise that a plurality of ‘subidentities’ exists in the definition of identity.

It has thus been shown that there are different dimensions, including socialisation, biography, knowledge, (inter)action, competences, and theoretical discourses, each of which influences the development of professional identity. Therefore, the developmental process is part of the professionalisation of adult educators and adult education itself.

Within the German discourse on professionalisation, three different terms are commonly used: Professionalität, Profession, and Professionalisierung. They are equivalent to the English terms professionalism, profession, and professionalisation. Against this background, profession is generally understood as an academic occupation, including successful completion of a university education. The term profession also includes dealing with a central social problem and the necessity to implement required knowledge systematically (Nittel, 2000, pp. 15–17). According to Schwendenwein, there are seven structural features of a profession: existence of professionally relevant research, a corresponding legal base, consideration and observation of job-specific key objectives, existence of a professional codex, existence of an intrinsic representation of professional interest, participation in continuing education by active members, and unrivalled exercise (Schwendenwein, 1990, p. 360). Further characteristics of a profession are to act within an occupation usually including a certain degree of autonomy. The term professionalisation (Professionalisierung), however, refers to the processes of occupationalisation, individual formation, and continuing education within a job. Furthermore, we can distinguish between collective professionalisation and individual professionalisation. Collective professionalisation includes interrelated process levels, such as the institutional expansion of continuing education or the academisation of adult education. Within the individual process, the focus is on the educational process as a personal change and maturing process. Professionalism (Professionalität) is understood as skilful occupational aspiration and as an indicator of high-quality work. This is the base for professional action: to use specific knowledge and competence to interpret and deal with unstructured situations. It means making situation-based and personalised use of knowledge and competence. Professionalism further includes the professional self with his or her values, goals, knowledge, and so forth. Furthermore, the term includes a wide pedagogical repertoire of actions to ensure the successful handling of work assignments (Nittel, 2000, pp. 15–17). ← 145 | 146 →

In summary, all three terms include aspects of ‘professional identity’. Profession refers to a professional code and the personal interest in further education. Within individual professionalisation, personal change and maturing processes are important issues. Professionalism includes the professional self and the connection between knowledge and skills (Schütz, 2009, pp. 81–92). Personal interest, the maturing process, personal development, and the professional self are in the focus of the discourse. This means that by thinking about professional identity in adult education, the discourse on professionalism seems to be an important starting point for further analysis and consideration.

Adult education: Influential concepts and practices. Examples from Germany, India, and Portugal

This following section adopts a qualitative research methodology based on the comparison of three case studies regarding professional identity in India, Germany, and Portugal. Besides the common main concept, each country adopted a ‘way of work’ and presented a different example within their case.

In the case of India, the country report took a historical and descriptive approach. In the case of Germany, after contextualisation and with the specific aim to analyse how professionalisation and especially professional identity is implemented in academic study programmes of adult education, three different module manuals were analysed. For Portugal, several basic concepts related to the professional identity of adult educators, functions, and competences were defined on the basis of an empirical study. These different approaches, concepts, and practices have an immense influence and impact on the core aspects of the professional identity of an adult educator. This difference between the three approaches is related to the qualitative methodology used; it is further related to the historical context and the development of each country. In the following, we present different aspects of adult education in India, Germany, and Portugal and shed light on the similarities and differences between the three countries.


In India, teachers, instructors, labour educators, human resource developers, and the like are considered adult educators. ‘The scope of adult education is daunting in its many forms and contexts, making this work challenging’ (Bierema, 2011, p. 22). Lifelong learning has been an integral part of Indian culture; however, India has yet to develop a comprehensive framework for lifelong learning (Shah, 2017). ← 146 | 147 →

In ancient history, Indians seeking an education went to ‘ashrams’ – institutions roughly comparable to colleges. There, a guru functioning as teacher provided religious knowledge as well as ethical and moral values. However, adult education in modern India has been reformed. During the 1960s, reformers contributed to social change and brought down barriers for women and the poor to participate in education (Shah, 2017). Nowadays, India is still a country with strong beliefs in a religious approach to education, and the Indian majority therefore accepts sweeping change justified by religious reasoning. Grassroots projects and basic education are prevalent, aimed at enhancing the percentage of literate and numerate adults in India and resulting in efforts to educate a vast number of people and to support people-teach-people approaches. As Shah (2010, p. 56) points out, India is the second most populous country in the world with a population of 1,028 million, but the gross enrolment in higher education is only 10 per cent. The demographic data show that 68.9 per cent of the Indian population is below the age of 35 (Shah, 2010). Mainly because of these factors,

the focus of India’s adult and lifelong learning programmes continues to be on adult basic literacy and continuing education for the younger age group. However, the scope of adult education policy and programmes in India is not limited to imparting basic literacy and post literacy to learners, but includes skills training, inculcation of civic values of national integration, environmental conservation, women’s equality, and observance of the small family norm. (Shah, 2010, p. 81)

In spite of having the third-largest education system in the world with 358 universities, 153 research institutions, and 2,019 teacher-training colleges, and an increase in literacy rates from 52.11 per cent to 64.84 per cent during the decade from 1991 to 2001, there is a massive backlog of 304.11 million neol-iterates in the country, comprising nearly 30 per cent of global neo-literates (Shah, 2010). Moreover, it is estimated that there are 110 million neo-literates in the country:

Although the importance of lifelong learning was never overlooked in Indian education policy documents, and the policy statement on the National Adult Education Programme (1978) considered continuing education as an indispensable aspect of the strategy of human resource development and of the goal of creation of a learning society, there has been practically no shift from the exclusive emphasis on adult literacy. (Shah, 2010, p. 57)

Despite the changing concept of adult education from basic literacy to civic literacy, functional literacy and developmental literacy and various short-term programmes undertaken during the second half of the twentieth century, the thrust of the adult education programmes in India continues to be on the eradication of illiteracy among adults, Shah (2017) emphasises. ← 147 | 148 →

As Shah (2010, p. 60) further points out, the prevalent tendency in adult and lifelong learning in India has been to design the different programmes as short-term projects. It is assumed that such short programmes can be implemented with professionally trained staff, regular pay, and allowances. Hence, there has been hardly any serious thinking on the professionalisation of adult education. Indian adult educators have not yet carved a niche for themselves among the important professions. The majority of practitioners of adult education do not have a homogeneous professional background. There are no qualifying examinations to become an adult educator. ‘Due to the voluntary nature of programmes, adult education as a profession is neither well-established nor well understood.’ (Shah, 2010, p. 56) Therefore, Shah developed four categories of functionaries in adult education (Shah, 2010, pp. 60–61): Firstly, the teachers/instructors employed in university departments of adult education, academic staff at colleges, community colleges, and polytechnics or industrial training institutes. Secondly, trainers who were designated as programme coordinators and employed in state resource centres and NGOs. Thirdly, programme managers who are employed in governmental and non-governmental organisations, and, lastly, the ‘grassroots-level functionaries’ working in continuing education centres. Hence, professional socialisation in India is also a developmental process of adult socialisation. This not only involves the recognition of an assumed identity by the outside world, it is also recognition of the identity within themselves and the non-deliberate projection of themselves in its terms referred to as internalisation and depicts the success of past socialisation, causing a new identity to emerge, much of which is formed through academic training (Bierema, 2010, p. 138).


The field and context of adult education in Germany is wide and diverse. Because of this heterogeneity, the discourse about professionalisation is intensive and long-lasting. Different research approaches are followed with regards to professionalisation in adult education, for example, evaluating the curricula of adult education graduation programmes and interviewing graduates of adult education programmes. (Egetenmeyer & Schüßler, 2012, p. 7) A review of the most recent publications and the current discourse in adult education reveals research and discussions on professionalism, including professional identity and professional self. In the discussion on professionalisation, different approaches are pursued to define a competence-based framework for adult educators. Based on discussions during the 1990s, this framework includes personal competences, social competences, didactical competences, methodical expertise, as well as social ← 148 | 149 → and institutional competences (Bechtel 2008, p. 37), adapted or complemented (Rapold, 2006, p. 7).

In Germany, the economic sector in particular is strongly represented in the adult education field of practice. Especially within the last forty years, professional continuing education in Germany has been extensively discussed and thus gained importance. Demands on companies and opportunities in this sector have been growing. One reason for the increasing interest in professional continuing education is related to the motivation of the economy and employers, but it is also a highly discussed topic in politics (Bundesinstitut für berufliche Bildung, 2014, pp. 12–13). Adult educators in Germany are professionally active in a variety of fields. Various institutions such as the Volkshochschule (schools for adults providing continuing non-credit education) offer employment opportunities for adult educators in teaching, administration, and counselling positions. In addition, the consulting and services field for training and human resources has been developing and growing over the last decade. This is due to increased political interest in professional continuing education in the economic sector. Volkshochschulen were the starting point of a discourse on professionalisation in adult education. Nowadays, adult educators can work in various fields, as the profession is neither a clearly defined homogeneous social unit nor a standardised career model (Nittel, 2011, p. 487).

To find out how professionalisation and especially professional identity is implemented in academic study programmes of adult education, different module manuals were analysed. Three universities published their master’s module manuals on their homepage. All three of the programmes analysed offer a four-semester master’s programme with the same title, ‘adult and continuing education’. The universities are public, and the programmes are research oriented. Different terms were identified in the manuals, including ‘pedagogic professionalism’, ‘professional pedagogical competence development’, ‘professional pedagogical activity’, and ‘professional action competence’. However, the term ‘identity’ was not mentioned in any of the manuals. The following categories were found: professional codex and interest in further education, personal change and maturing process, professional self (professional knowledge, values, goals, techniques, professional languages, and professional responsibilities) and skills. This further shows that each university has its own thematic priority in its manual, such as values and ethics featuring strongly in seminar content, seminars and practical work on education research, or an emphasis on how to handle media content. All of the evaluated universities offered opportunities for optional internships. It was understood as an opportunity for students to gain practical experience, for instance through project ← 149 | 150 → work or by participating in research. The universities further emphasise self-study and independent, individual learning as part of their programmes, presumably to encourage and support students to follow their personal interests and motivations. This could be an important influential factor, enabling students to be more confident and certain of their chosen profession and to develop a professional identity.


In Portugal, the fields of teaching and learning are understood in a broad sense. They include not only formal and non-formal education, meaning to learn within a structured and organised learning environment, but also the processes of development and learning in the context of work. In this sense, the phenomenon of adult education follows two principal approaches. Firstly, the approach defined by UNESCO (2009), characterised by the diversity and complexity of practices, participants, and organisations, and a second approach that is more visible in academic contexts.

Rothes (2003) points out that ‘the expression ‘educator (or trainer) of adults’ […] refers to a multitude of functions and new professional activities” (p. 56). Guimarães (2016) presents a variety of tasks and activities carried out by adult educators, which can be divided into two main dimensions. On the one hand, the technical-pedagogical and educational dimension involves monitoring, guidance and advice, the recognition and validation of skills, as well as support for the construction of the autobiography of adults (Guimarães, 2016). On the other hand, there is the dimension of organisation and procedural management. It includes primarily administrative activities (Guimarães, 2016). Because of the complexity and diversity of this profession, it is not yet possible to identify a strong professional identity (Carvalho & Baptista, 2004).

To elaborate on the aforementioned points, the study Realities of Adult Educators in the South of Portugal (Ricardo & Fragoso 2014) will be contextualized. One university in southern Portugal is following models of practice inspired by adult education principles. In this sense, content related to adult education makes a significant appearance in the curricular structure of this degree scheme (Educaçao Social). Critical educators such as Paulo Freire (1997), however, represent transversal references and an inspiration to social educators’ training. By taking critical education or humanism as foundational paradigms for this programme of studies, the intentions are that professionals go beyond the old paradigms of social work (Ricardo & Fragoso, 2014). Consequently, the study’s main aim was to understand the professional situation of adult educators working in southern Portugal (Algarve), taking into consideration the perceptions of these professionals (graduated ← 150 | 151 → between 1998 and 2012). To that end, the study used a mixed method – a combination of an online survey (Ghiglione & Matalon, 1997), 21 semi-structured interviews (Bogdan & Biklen, 1994), and a focus group discussion. The different methods used in the research convey an idea of the main elements and categories that are related to the identity of the profession. The majority of the research participants were female (91%) and young (56% were between 25 and 30 years old). They had comparatively low salaries. 45 per cent earned between €500 and €1000; 11 per cent earned less than €500 per month, which they commented on by saying ‘pockets empty, hearts full’. Generally, the educators surveyed claimed to be satisfied with their profession (even recognising that low salaries are an everyday problem). The main activities they performed were social diagnosis, designing and implementing processes, developing and guiding activities specifically designed for vulnerable groups, and psychosocial counselling. The educators surveyed indicated that they feel valuable to their institutions because of the characteristics of their global professional profile. Characteristics mentioned were the ability to work in multidisciplinary teams, to act as mediators, and to contribute to solving conflicts and to have a horizontal relationship with people (both individuals and communities), thus facilitating processes that aim to be empowering. It is important to stress that educators seem to try and do more in their work beyond providing simple assistance. Generally, they indicated that it is their professional duty to promote community participation through education and training and to help people to recognise their importance and abilities.

To perform their professional identity, educators needed to have several capacities and characteristics, both professional and personal. According to the survey and the interview analysis, the main personal characteristics of the adult educators were creativity (85%), autonomy (73%), ability to plan (86%), humility (72%), dynamic (93%), and being a well-rounded person (74%). The educators also indicated that some professional capabilities are empathy, the ability to listen, vocation, the ability to work with others in a team, good adaptability, problem-solving ability, and the ability to mediate.

Comparison of the countries

The following reflection will provide an insight into the developmental process of four core aspects affecting the identity of adult educators. These include the societal roots of adult education, the aim of adult education training and degrees, the different connotations of the terms educator and teacher, and the main fields of practice for adult educators. The objective of this activity was to work out potentially influential aspects that substantiate the identity of adult educators. The ← 151 | 152 → developed aspects were considered comprehensively in order to avoid limiting the discussion purely to the skills and competences of adult educators. They are intended to ensure a comprehensive view of adult educators’ identity as well as the comparability of different countries.

During the first developmental phase, a preparatory report on each country was provided. The reports assured a general overview of the field of adult education professionals in each country. They gave a basic understanding of the cultural, structural, and functional differences in the field between Germany, India, and Portugal. The second developmental phase was conducted during a face-to-face working period in Würzburg, Germany. A subsequent in-depth reflection on the terminology used in the field of adult education professionals was carried out to further deepen the understanding of terminological nuances and to develop a comparative strategy. The analysis of the terminology used in Germany, India, and Portugal regarding adult education, adult learners, and adult educators, indicated profound differences in how the specific terms are understood and used in each country. Terms addressing or describing adult educators were used ambiguously and inconsistently. However, during the work session in Würzburg, it also became apparent that overlaps could be identified and further developed. This is the reason for the multitude of common terms examined. The examination based on the country reports provided an analysis of different publications on adult education and adult educators and a critical discourse within the consortium. Grouping together these terms showed how the used terminology not only failed to differentiate the affected professionals (e.g. learners, educators, politicians) but also the different levels of action (e.g. individual level, school level, national level). This indicated the necessity of incorporating a distinction between macro, meso, and micro levels and the assignment of terms to the respective levels. At the macro level, politics and policies were identified, as they provide the legal and financial basis of education and reach a level of generality in the field that other levels might not. Institutions and work contexts were determined to represent the meso level. They provide a certain compulsory frame for the individual involved, but follow the macro level regulations and standards. The micro level, therefore, stands for the individuals who are active in adult education, both inside and outside of organisations and institutions, since they represent the smallest unit in the field and are directly governed by the macro and meso levels. However, these levels should be understood as communicative and interactive, insofar as feedback is exchanged between them through means such as communiqués, surveys, and protests. In the final step, the developed generic terms were abstracted into components of a reference frame, providing a categorical model of comparison. ← 152 | 153 →

By analysing the process and the results of the first and the second phase of the intensive workshops, four core aspects were identified. Parameters for the identification of these aspects were, amongst other things, the weighting and the impact in the countries compared. The four comparative core aspects are the societal roots of adult education, the aim of adult education training and degrees, the different connotations of the terms educator and teacher, and the main fields of practice for adult educators. After examining the roots and the position of adult education in Germany, India, and Portugal in each society, the view of adult education in each country became clearer, so that including this aspect into the analytical model was essential. In the process of analysing and discussing the terminology, it became evident that ‘educator’ and ‘teacher’ were transnationally the most frequently mentioned terms in the professional discourse and papers published on adult education. This indicated the necessity of clarifying the connotations of the terms ‘educator’ and ‘teacher’ in order to gain a comprehensive and comparable understanding of the adult education profession in Germany, India, and Portugal. Consequently, the aim of adult education training and degrees was seen as crucial to embedding the training of adult education professionals into its academic context in order to examine its identity-building potential. The main fields of practice for adult educators were included into the analytical model, as they provide some of the main indicators regarding the requirements in the adult education profession and, therefore, the professional identities potentially associated with them.

The following table summarises the application of the four comparative core aspects in keywords.

Table 1: Comparative model by categories and by country.


← 153 | 154 →


Source: Authors’ own

Based on the four core aspects, a comparison of Germany, India, and Portugal was conducted. A subsequent in-depth reflection on the terminology used in the field of adult education professionals was carried out with respect to the core aspects. The aim was to further deepen the understanding of terminological nuances and identify similarities and differences.

Adult education in India was found to have comparatively strong roots in religion, which mirrors Indian adult education. It is strongly driven by changes justified through religious morals and values. In Germany, the roots of adult education are highly influenced by a humanistic approach and the term Bildung. Although it is frequently translated as ‘education’, Bildung follows a more comprehensive approach, including aspects of an open mind and creativity. Adult education in Germany is defined by a wide variety of factors, such as the re-education programme after the Second World War. Compared to India, basic education in Germany is less prominent. Portugal is characterised by a humanistic approach as well. Marked by the dictatorship regime from 1926 to 1974, Portugal tried to rebuild itself with the support of associations and programmes like LEADER ← 154 | 155 → and EQUAL. These programmes, financed by the European Union, created some opportunities and projects that focused on participative methodologies, such as popular education, bottom-up approach, local development, and social intervention (Fragoso & Guimarães, 2010).

Regarding the main goal of academic degrees in adult education, India strives to enable individuals to work in adult education and social work. As Indian adult educators primarily fight illiteracy and innumeracy, the fields of practice are mainly found in literacy education and subsequent vocational training. Academic degrees in adult education in Germany, however, are less narrow. Master’s degree programmes include elective courses and internships, giving students more opportunities for individualisation and prioritisation. The possible fields of practice for adult educators are extensive, ranging from public institutions such as community colleges to corporate environments. Adult education graduates in Germany work as teachers, trainers, and in similar roles. In Portugal, adult education training generally provides the tools to develop and implement different projects, research and intervention. In this case, the framework of adult education intersects with community involvement, cultural animation, adult literacy, training of trainers, the recognition of acquired experience, and the management, organisation, and financing of training. Consequently, the goal of academic degrees in adult education in Portugal is more versatile than in India. Portugal supports a practice-oriented approach similar to that in Germany, enabling adult education graduates to individualise and prioritise through their studies. In Portugal, there are four main fields of practice: literacy (or second chance education), vocational training, local development, and socio-cultural animation (Canário, 1999). The fields are independent but can fit together, and interaction between them is possible.

The terms ‘educator’ and ‘teacher’ were identified as the most commonly used terms to name and address adult educators in the three countries. Although there is some overlap in the meanings of the terms, they refer to different characteristics and functions. In India, an educator is a person providing instructions at a basic level in a formal setting. In Portugal, an educator is primarily a professional whose work is related to humanistic pedagogy (Azevedo, 2011). In this sense, an educator would for the most part be engaged in non-formal education. In Germany, however, educators are mainly found working with children or adolescents supporting the development of their personality. In India, the term ‘teacher’ primarily refers to a person who teaches in a formal learning environment, such as a school. Although the same is applicable to the understanding of teacher in Germany, the term has a broader meaning and can be expanded to include any person spreading knowledge in a didactical setting. In Portugal, ‘teacher’ has a ← 155 | 156 → similar meaning, referring to a person who teaches something specific, such as a certain topic, in a specific context, such as a school. Looking at these distinctions between the meanings of educator and teacher, India is the country that shows the least differentiation between the two terms. This could also be understood in regards of illiteracy and innumeracy in this country and the need for strong literacy education, as the need for professionals prepared to work in basic literacy is mostly embedded in formal learning environments.

Conclusions and outlook

This study revealed a lack of systematisation regarding the characteristics and functions associated with adult educators in three countries, confirming that the application of ‘competence profiles and standards for adult learning staff […] differs considerably between institutional and regional levels’ (Buiskool, Broek, van Lakerveld, Zarifis, & Osborne, 2010). The description of skill sets and characteristics that were found differed with regards to the prevailing circumstances in each country and regarding the tasks and challenges in each chosen field of action. Accordingly, the study identified standardised terminology in adult education, used exclusively within the borders of one specific profession or regarding a particular target group, such as India’s orientation towards basic literate and numerical education, the dual education system in Germany, and the socio-cultural orientation of the Portuguese education system.

It is indicated that a trans-sectorally consistent usage of terminology, primarily regarding education and training, knowledge, competences, and the characteristics of adult educators (Cruess, Cruess, & Steinert, 2016) is required. In order to facilitate a fruitful dialogue that will provide the background for professional identity-building, further discussion on the lack of shared definitions and the establishment of a consistent and defined adult education terminology is necessary. This is specifically true for India, as its discourse on adult education professionals takes place on a comparatively small scale. However, for all three countries it is suggested to consider existing orientation frameworks and implement these in future publications more frequently, specifically those definitions provided at the supranational level (Buiskool et al., 2010).

The study did not find direct indicators that an institutionally initiated examination or reflection on identity-building was conducted during the education and training of adult education professionals. The evaluated sources did not provide concrete terminological guidance, no active support for identity formation for adult educators, nor an impulse for reflection on identity, missing out on the ‘most meaningful source of knowledge that professionals acquire’ (Hansman, ← 156 | 157 → 2016, p. 35). Identity formation and self-reflection in adult education professionals during their education and training can support adult educators in establishing a reflective self-image and professional identity so that they more actively choose and shape their individual career paths. Therefore, it is further suggested to raise awareness regarding the multifariousness of adult education, encourage reflection on professional identity, and facilitate the development of professional identity. In this way, adult educators can be encouraged to form and improve the field of adult education in a ‘Biermian sense’.


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