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Erosion of theory and practice in adult education?

Anja Heikkinen

The legacy of analytical philosophy is not popular in any social or human sciences. However, conceptual clarity is not one of the assets in discourses of adult education. Concerning the topic “a theory of practice”, one may wonder, whether there in fact is any theory, or any practice, which is distinctive for adult education (or learning!) discourses. Could it be that as a consequence of a long-standing affection to constructivist psychology and sociology, and of ambition to gain recognition as a serious academic discipline, adult educationalists have willingly given up reflections about distinctiveness of their field? My assumption is that what adult education theories and researchers like to call theories are in fact normative constructions, which support certain programmes or agendas in academic, professional or political practice.As an example we might discuss “theories” on adult educators. There are studies about their tasks, job profiles, and careers etc., mainly based on accounts of experiences from selected groups of informants. It seems obligatory for any study to make informants to evaluate their position and activity: what are the challenges, what would be the ideals. Researchers may develop ideal-typical constructs from their findings, but almost with no exception these build on implicit, underlying normative assumptions about what an adult educator should be. When such “theories” are “applied in practice”, in fact they are used as normative criteria for example to train adult educators, to manipulate their professional identities, and to make self-judgements. Similarly, “theoretical” discourses on communities of learning, “learning as a practice” etc. may build on some qualitative accounts from informants. Their main function seems, however, to provide agendas for organizing appropriate “learning” or “learning environments”.The purpose of my talk is to question, whether empirical methodologies and findings building on analytical and realist philosophies would be worth taking into account in attempts to make sense of theory-practice-relations in adult education research. A few cases are used as examples for discussion.

The programme has changed: this presentation was moved her on feb 27th:

Cogenerative Learning and Research – Heterogeneity and Reflective Leadership

Robert Skaresund & Jan-Erik Perneman

The purpose of this presentation is to describe and reflect on some of the complexity and its inherent challenges for community based research and cogenerative learning (Elden & Levin, 1991). Following theories of adult learning (i.e. Freire, 1996; Bateson, 1999; Schön, 1995;  Engeström, 2001; Ellström, 2005), which places great emphasis on reflection as an important prerequisite for the balance between adaptation and development-oriented behavior, the dynamic processes of reflection are not fully satisfied in relation to the labor market´s constant pursuit of cost-effective and innovative problem-solving activities (Senge, 1994). The complexity of learning, and especially regarding the process of reflection, tends to be trivialized by giving emphasis to simple and generalizable skill development efforts.Researchers from University West in Trollhättan, Sweden, are currently participating in an ESF-funded project on work-integrated learning and reflective leadership. The project, Learning in Working Life (Swedish acronym LiA), includes 10 local municipalities and involve over 600 managers and 10 000 employees. LiA aims to support the development of reflective teams and learning organizations, where the employees have the possibility to influence their own learning process. The focus on learning is participatory- and reflective group processes within and between activities in the workplace, and the methodology is based on the notion that work-integrated learning is enabled in an environment where different perspectives and experiences can meet.University West’s role includes developing a Research Centre with a focus on learning in the workplace as well as the organization of follow-up research during the project. The research questions being studied are:

– How are durable learning structures being established?

– How is participation and co-creation encouraged (empowerment)?

– How is leadership shaped and developed?

A goal is to develop an interactive research- and learning process in which empowerment and reflective meetings are prerequisites for cogenerative learning. In a learning environment, we consider it important that all employees are involved in their own and in their organizational development


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