The role of theory in research on the education and learning of adults

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Anreas Fejes' Keynote speach at the Fifth Nordic Conference on Adult Learning in Reykjavík 5-6. March 2013

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The role of theory in research on the education and learning of adults

  1. 1. THE ROLE OF THEORY IN RESEARCH ON THEEDUCATION AND LEARNING OF ADULTS ANDREAS FEJES, PROFESSOR AND CHAIR OF ADULT EDUCATION RESEARCH, LINKÖPING UNIVERSITY
  2. 2. THE EPISTEMOLOGICAL DEBATE
  3. 3. SOME HISTORICAL NOTES• Professorships in adult education -Nottingham 1923• In the 1960s a conceptual separation of the adult learner from the child• Andragogy• Alexander Kapp in 1883• Lindeman in 1926• Knowles in the 1970s and 1980s• At least two different meanings of andragogy • Andragogy in the US –signifying adult education as a field of practice based on normative grounds • Andragogy in Europe –signifying empirical and theoretical research on adult education
  4. 4. FORMS AND FIELDS OF KNOWLEDGE (HIRST, 1974)• Forms of knowledge such as physical science or human science• Fields of knowledge made up of composites of forms of knowledge • Theoretical – e.g. geography (the study of man in relation to his/her surrounding) • Practical – e.g. education or engineering • Moral knowledge – elements of how things should be done in practical affairs could be included in fields of knowledge, e.g. education• There is an „epistemological vandalism‟ that ignore „the nature of its own activity and content‟ (Bright, 1989, p. 34) within adult education - Adult education research has traditionally seen itself as a theoretical field of knowledge, but researchers in the field are not true to the source disciplines.• Instead, Bright argues, adult education should rather be seen as a practical field of knowledge that base itself on, and with a reflexive engagement with, source disciplines.
  5. 5. SOCIO-PRACTICAL FIELD (USHER, 1989)• Adult education as a socio-practical field with a necessary concern with purposeful action.• The starting point for adult education as a socio- practical field is then a „“necessary concern” with purposeful action‟ (p. 67), no restrictions to theory as theory should help solve problems (pragmatic view), and the use of knowledge aimed at solving problems is always related to a context.
  6. 6. CONCLUSION????• The epistemological debate was mainly going on in the 1980s and into the 1990s, but has since then almost disappeared.• Adult education research draws inspiration from a range of disciplines and fields of knowledge such as cultural and gender studies, policy studies, working life research, psychology, etc.• Maybe, it could then be possible to draw the conclusion that adult education is a practical field of knowledge that borrows from a range of disciplines, producing inter-disciplinary knowledge!(for purposeful action)?
  7. 7. STRUCTURAL CONDITIONS- LIMITING AND MAKING POSSIBLE THEORETICAL SOUND RESEARCH?
  8. 8. FUNDING FOR RESEARCH• Faculty/basic research funding • Differs across Europe (sparse in south and eastern Europe) • Chairs in adult education – decreasing (Germany), non-existing (Portugal, Spain) • Provides basis for development of theory (theorising)• External research grants • Competition (14% success rate in Sweden 2011) • Might provide opportunities for development of theory (theorising)• Commissioned research • Commissioned by governments, study associations, the EU (Grundtvig) etc. • Research for policy or research related activities for development of best practice • Does (often) not provide any wide space for development of theory (theorising) • A common way to fund research related activities for researchers within the field of adult education research across many European countries
  9. 9. TROUBLED RELATIONSHIPS• „On the other hand, research on adult education is still troubled by its problematic relation with the fields of practice and policy. Much applied research remains predominantly a-theoretical in its approach, while many research and development activities in support of policy measures are problematic in that they do not necessarily contribute to the long-term development of empirical data, the body of knowledge and theoretical work‟ (Hake, 1999, 145)• Basic/faculty funding is important in order to create opportunities to develop theory (theorisations) in relation to adult education practices!
  10. 10. A RESEARCH COMMUNITY• Indicators of a strong research community: • Researchers communicate in the same spaces (e.g. Journals and conferences) • Contributions in these spaces have good geographical distribution • Researchers in the community cite each other
  11. 11. SOME CHARACTERISTICS OF THE COMMUNITY OF ADULT EDUCATION RESEARCHERS• Researchers publish across a range of different journals• Anglophone dominance• The Americans cite the Americans, British researchers cite the Americans and each other, as do the Australians• Low level of citations between different adult education journals (Larsson, 2010)
  12. 12. A RESEARCH COMMUNITY• National organisations for research on adult education e.g. in the UK, US, Finland, Canada, Germany etc. mostly gathers researchers from the national arena (and to some extent beyond for the Anglophone based organisations).• ESREA, the European society for research on the education of adults gathers researchers across Europe and beyond. However, as English is the official language, some language regions are excluded from participation.• Is then the adult education research community strong or weak?
  13. 13. ONE POSSIBLE STORY OF THE PRESENT ANALYSING FOUR JOURNALS
  14. 14. ANALYSING FOUR JOURNALS• Analysis of the 2011 issue of four journals • Adult education quarterly (US): 19 • Studies in continuing education (Australia): 21 • Studies in the education of adults (UK): 15 • European journal for research on the education and learning of adults (Europe): 12• Biased in several ways as the analysis is limited to a few journals. What about other journals, books, conference papers etc?• Does however provide some indication of how the field looks like today.
  15. 15. THEORIES/THEORISATIONS• Critical pedagogy: 15 (AEQ: 3; SEA: 11; RELA: 1)• Post-structural theorisations: 12 (AEQ: 4; SCE: 4; SEA: 1; RELA: 3)• Socio-cultural and situated perspectives on learning: 10 (AEQ: 2; SCA: 6; SEA: 1; RELA: 1)• Quantitative studies: 5 (AEQ: 2; SCE: 3)• Transformative learning: 3 (AEQ: 3)• Biographical learning: 2 (RELA: 2)
  16. 16. CRITICAL PEDAGOGY• Critical pedagogy „regards specific claims…as parts of systems of belief and action that have aggregate effects within power structures of society. It asks first about these systems of belief and action, who benefits? The primary preoccupation of critical pedagogy is with social injustice and how to transform inequitable, undemocratic, or oppressive institutions and social relations‟ (Burbules and Berk, 1999, p. 47).• „How well organizations are able to make use of this [ICT] technology to further their goals of promoting social movement learning and activism‟ (Irving and English 2011)• „Elaborate what I consider to be the major challenges which new forms of social movement organising pose for adult education research interested in advancing social justice‟ (Holst, 2011).• Zielinska, Kowzan and Prusinowska (2011) focus on describing a social movement that started at a university in Poland aiming at „democratising the university and implementing various changes concerning space management and decision-making processes both within the academia and in terms of future education in general‟.
  17. 17. POST-STRUCTURAL THEORISATIONS• Although also possible to speak about as critical theorisations, poststructural theorisations are anti-essentialist and non-dualist.• How are students, within a basic adult education program in social and health care, „positioned and position themselves in relation to the discourses mobilised in the programme‟ (Winther Jensen, 2011, p. 107)• How are workers in elderly care mobilised through a technology of activation and technique of invitation (Fejes and Nicoll, 2011).• Michelson (2011) directs post-structural critique towards autobiographical writing used within adult education• Mulcahy (2011) draw on actor-network theory in order to critique fixed ideas about relationships between learning and work
  18. 18. SOCIOCULTURAL PERSPECTIVES• Sociocultural perspectives focus on how culture and society shape cognition.• Baker and Pifer (2011) draw on a sociocultural perspective on learning in combination with developmental network theory when studying the relationships in identity development processes of doctoral students in the US. The interdisciplinary framework, they argue, „allowed us to explore whether and how students‟ relationships within and outside of the academic community influence the development of their professional identities‟ (p. 7).• Schecter and Lynch (2011) draw on a social-cognitive perspective in order to analyse how health learning and teaching would look like if adult literacy classrooms would become communities of practice.• Bound (2011) analyse the „tensions between espoused and current pedagogical practices in a team of trade teachers as they adopt information communication technologies (ICT) tools‟ drawing on social theories on learning that puts a focus on contextual factors at work (e.g. Billett and Engeström).
  19. 19. TRANSFORMATIVE LEARNING• Transformative learning has an interest directed at how individuals can transform their worldview through so called perspective transformation, with three dimensions: psychological (changes in understanding of the self), convictional (revision of belief systems), and behavioural (changes in lifestyle). An important part is for people to change their frames of references by critically reflecting on their assumptions and beliefs.• For Moon (2011), transformative learning theory was used in order to understanding „older adults‟ (elders) transformative learning through bereavement in late life‟.• Ntseane (2011) discuss how Mezirows theory could be more useful if it was applied in a more cultural sensitive way.• Swartz and Triscari (2011) wish to deepen the understanding of transformative learning for the researchers themselves by analysing their own collaborate research.
  20. 20. BIOGRAPHICAL LEARNING• Although including a wide range of different branches, generally speaking, the focus of biographical research is the individual learner and the “importance of engaging with the everyday and small scale in building understanding of how the world works, based on social interactionism perspectives” (West et al., 2007, p. 46).• Maier-Gutheil and Hof (2011), p. 75) “compare individuals‟ [adult educators] narratives of their professional work at different times in their biographies” in order to understand “the differences in professional learning through the life course and the influence of institutional and social context in the development of professionalism”.• Gualda et al (2011) analyse how identity is built in a cross- border area drawing on group interviews and biographical interviews.
  21. 21. SOME REFLECTIONS• A need to strengthen the research community in order to create possibilities for different and sound theory trajectories • A stronger focus on theorising adult education practices • Cite each other • Greater geographical distribution of authors • Conferences and organisations where people from many locations meet• At the same time encourage inter-disciplinary knowledge production and dialogue• Create a greater basis of basic funding
  22. 22. EUROPEAN JOURNAL FOR RESEARCHON THE EDUCATION AND LEARNING OF ADULTS• Aim to debate issues at stake for adult education in Europe• Linguistically open access, ambition to broaden the current Anglophone dominated debate• Open access, free of charge• Same quality standards as traditional journals with a double blind peer review process and the aim to be included in the major key databases/indexes• Available at www.rela.ep.liu.se• Each issue have a specific theme, but thematic papers as well as non-thematic papers are invited for submission• Next issue, April, theme: Approaches to research on the education and learning of adults: Papers drawing on sociomaterial perspectives, transformative learning, biographical learning, critical pedagogy and sociology of education (Bernstein).
  23. 23. POPULAR EDUCATION, POWER ANDDEMOCRACY – SWEDISH EXPERIENCES AND CONTRIBUTIONS• Ann-Marie Laginder, Henrik Nordvall & Jim Crowther, (eds.) Leicester: Niace• Contributors: Kjell Rubenson, Bernt Gustavsson, Kerstin Rydbeck, Staffan Larsson, Eva Andersson, Ali Osman, Berit Larsson, Sylvia S. Bagley, Val D. Rust, Alan Rogers, Yukiko Sawano• Chapters focus on aspects such as the democratic idea of Bildung, Folk high schools as Avant-gardes in Sweden, Popular education and empowerment of women, Popular education and integration, Popular education meets the global social movement, a radical dimension of popular education, Translations of the Folk high school tradition in the US, Tanzania and Japan.
  24. 24. Book in honour ofprofessor StaffanLarsson inconnection to hisretirement in June2012.
  25. 25. LÄRANDETS MÅNGFALD: OM VUXENPEDAGOGIK OCH FOLKBILDNING• Andreas Fejes (red.) Lund: Studentlitteratur.• Chapters by Liselott Aarsand, Song-ee Ahn, Robert Aman, Eva Andersson, Per Andersson, Madeleine Abrandt Dahlgren, Bernt Gustavsson, Eva-Marie Harlin, Bosse Jonsson, Susanne Köpsén, Ann-Marie Laginder, Martin Lundberg, Louise Malmström, Henrik Nordvall, Erik Nylander, Sofia Nyström, Kerstin Rydbeck, Fredrik Sandberg, Jorun M. Stenøien, Per-Olof Thång, Sigvart Tøsse och Gun-Britt Wärvik• Chapters about e.g. The emergence of Muslim study associations, the history of reading circles, why the use of literature in adult education, the value of Folk high schools, Educational paths for social democratic politicians, pedagogy (didaktik) for adults, RPL and lifelong learning, identity formation of vocational teachers, sociomaterial perspectives in adult education research.

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