Understanding and Understanding How do people learn

THE magazine for adult education

New understanding of "learning"

Requirements and questions

Johannes F. HartkemeyerJohannes
F. Hartkemeyer is the director of the Osnabrück Adult Education Center.

What understanding of learning is required today? What kind of quality of our adult education institutions do we want? - Johannes F. Hartkemeyer questions new requirements for course leaders and new competence profiles from the perspective of learners and adult education institutions.

Course instructors are the "calling cards" of all adult education institutions. They decide in the specific educational process about the performance of the institution. And in the long term, the "customer satisfaction" determines the further training behavior of the potential participants and thus the economic success of the institution. That may sound banal. But if in recent years the keywords "program quality" and "implementation quality" have become the focus of the discussion about "standards" and "dimensions" of organized learning processes, the role and involvement of part-time workers is of crucial importance.

"Semi-professionalism" and flexibility

The deployment, further training and supervision of course instructors is the main area of ​​responsibility of the full-time pedagogical staff (HPM). In this function, they stand for the ability to innovate and compliance with the quality standards of the facility. This "half professionalization" of the facilities is both an opportunity and a problem for quality and identity at the same time.

In terms of content, the fact that course leaders bring in their knowledge and experience from their different biographies and different practice-related, social fields of activity, i.e. generally not having a schooled "pedagogical career" behind them, is a great opportunity for liveliness and practical relevance start a corresponding pedagogical process in the direction of participant orientation.

The downside of the situation of course leaders is their lack of social security. As a result of the development of public finances, the numbers of the HPM as a whole have declined and efforts to provide all forms of simple social security for part-time workers have failed. Time for class preparation and follow-up or participation in conferences are usually not paid for. If courses do not take place, there are seldom cancellation fees. Taxes and insurance are also part of the job. To describe this group as "new self-employed", as it seems to be fashionable today, is already very problematic for this reason.

However, the group of course leaders / lecturers is not homogeneous. Well-paid university lecturers and other people with a secure background are among them, but also artists, retirees, students without a degree, medical professionals, lawyers with their own practice - a variety of around 30 to 120 people who want to be looked after by an HPM.

In addition, this diversity and the fact that some of these "new self-employed" and "experts" do not have a specific carrier connection, but are in a reciprocal relationship with the departments of the respective educational institution, cause identity problems.

If no social security can be promised, then the course leaders often don't care who they work for. They do not develop an institutional identity, but rather advertise themselves as "trademarks."

In this context, the efforts of the advanced training officers of the VHS regional associations and the German Institute for Adult Education to bring an "adult pedagogical basic qualification of course instructors" into a framework concept are of importance.

In addition to methodological, didactic and institutional / social skills, the development of personal skills is of central importance.

Life - learning

Reflecting on one's own learning history is important insofar as it makes one's own motivational traces and structures clear. Instead of abstract learning theories, the intensive encounter with one's own learning impulses, learning strategies, patterns, shadow issues, the disclosure of one's own reactivity is of decisive importance for the encounter with other learning stories.

Dealing with one's own biography now seems to be of particular importance in our culture. It is possible that in times of general disorientation, people are looking for another way of anchoring their lives. Perhaps the search for new perspectives on meaning leads to a new reflection on one's own life course.

Really "knowing" and recognizing that 20 different learning biographies with acutely different learning impulses are present in the course or seminar, and cultivating this quality of time optimally for a learning experience, is part of the art of teaching on the basis of a humanistic view of man At least in education with adults, the trend has gone from "referents" to "litigators".

A new perspective for the function of teachers has also emerged from the establishment of a decidedly "anti-educational" attitude through "constructivism".

Away from the "teaching didactics"

By turning away from the traditional "teaching didactics", "a normative pedagogy that decides and postulates correct action" for others "is deprived of its epistemological basis" (Siebert 1996). It is at least discussed that the "traditional teaching didactics" is losing ground. The relationship between teachers and learners in an equal process, based on the dialogical principle of Martin Buber or the popular educator Paulo Freire, is becoming a topical issue.

It is not only a decisive question for civic education whether adult education is about the "insights" or "views" that educators or learning goal givers have translated into curricula on others through learning processes. We have to rethink and rethink all areas of social activity if we want to develop a future-oriented perspective.

So it's not about repackaging or reorganizing what has been “thought”. We need a “creative tension” that calls into question all “things that are taken for granted”. We need a new understanding of the role of the course instructor as “learning companion”, and that means one changed pedagogical skills.

What's new"?

Adult education has always been a child of its time. Eduard Weitsch already spoke in "Drei 30", one of the birthplaces of German adult education, of the "school without a catheter".

In contrast, some "media educators" today, from my point of view, speak of people with a "catheter connection" to the information society. "Man is ... switching moment in the media network," says media scientist Norbert Bolz. According to the motto: "In the beginning there was the word ... in the end there is the picture", from my point of view it is neither correctly diagnosed nor advised in a meaningful way, but encourages a social and spiritual relapse into "adaptation didactics". What we need is not less, but more social, communicative competence and systemic perspectives. We will not achieve this if we adapt people to electronic systems. The opposite is more likely true.

In my opinion, the current discussion about "self-learning" should also be viewed critically. One could almost assume a short-circuit reaction of an unholy alliance of savings commissioners and hardware and software manufacturers. Of course, the public coffers are getting emptier - even if never so much in Germany It was deserved as it is today. The promise, however, of using multimedia conveniently and nevertheless effectively, "interactive" - ​​not to say: "hyperactive" - ​​with possibly better, predictable quality and of course "cheaper" because learning without a course instructor is one thing understandable market strategy of the media groups.

But is there any connection between money and education? And which?

The metacognition

It seems that we are very capable of changing our strategies but less able to change our mental models. I understand the mental models, i.e. the deeply anchored assumptions, as generalizations, the images and stories that shape our understanding of the world and influence how we act.

The short-circuit answer: In order to do good educational work, we need money. But what connections are there between money and education under our or under other cultural conditions? Which ones are there specifically for us and our image of learning?

Where are we standing?

We know that our participants have become more critical. Both the content and the methodological-didactic procedure are questioned more clearly. And we are in broad competition not only with other providers, but with the growing possibilities of technical intermediaries.

But there is also an opportunity here. With us as a public institution, you can acquire orientation knowledge that is not characterized by ostensibly interest-related exploitation orientation. This also means that an active confrontation with upcoming problems is part of the process. If a change can be seen, then it is one of the subject systematics, the networking horizon. That also changes terms. The crucial thing rarely happens “according to the curriculum”. The “work plan” has disappeared in favor of a “program” or even “magazine”. The "master plan" of an administrative reform also fails if it remains a "foil reform" and does not become a living "process".

This can be seen most clearly in the decline of the conventional form of so-called problem-oriented political education. Ultimately, this approach is derived from the classic school understanding and clearly shows its limits. In adult education, survived forms tend to be problematical, since here, unlike in barracked "schooling", "voting with the feet" takes place. We are on the right track not when education wants something from people, but when people want something from education. And because many problems in our society are so new and bring about such profound changes, no teacher or curriculum knows the answers. This is true in more and more areas. Simplifications go astray, exploratory dialogical attitudes are necessary.

Information - knowledge - wisdom?

If one can believe central sayings of politics, education should become the "mega-topic" (Roman Herzog) of society. Education is the "greatest good" (Bill Clinton) of the future, and an "educational revolution" (Tony Blair) is imminent before.

But what is meant? Is the "transition from an educated to a learning society" imminent, or should "information giants" and "knowledge gnomes" be bred?

Learning culture

A crucial question is: what kind of quality of our institutions do we want?

What kind of qualifications do we need for a new way of dealing with people? How can a new reflection on the "learning culture" of adult education look like, where the "interpersonal relationships open up the otherwise untapped" (Martin Buber)? Is the path to objectivity wrong because it can neither approximate nor guide the person in their respective situation, as Edmund Kösel claims? Do we need subjective didactics? Or is the prevailing concept of science wrong, as Wilhelm Mader quotes the English sociologist Stanislav Andreski: “The assumption is therefore not so far-fetched that the loss of quality in education may have anything to do with the expansion of social science, of course not because of a logical one Necessity, but according to the character that these subjects have assumed. "

Could it be that in such a social science the mainspring is man's flight from himself? Or is this too provocative for it to lead to deeper questions? According to H.-G. Gadamer, understanding everything is an application of what has been understood to ourselves. And this lively thinking is always also a breaking through of rule templates. Where do we direct our energy to? What consciousness do we have? Can and will we afford to ask ourselves these deeper questions of meaning? Or will we surf the surface of simple-minded answers?

From my point of view, what we need is a new "questioning culture" and "enabling didactics" in our educational institutions. Because: "The method is in reality the outer side of the consciousness, which is expressed in actions" (Paulo Freire).


Hartkemeyer, Johannes F .: The key to success for the 21st century. In: Süddeutsche Zeitung from 4./5. Nov 1995

Hartkemeyer, Johannes F .: The search for contemporary learning spaces. In: Süddeutsche Zeitung from 22./23. Oct 1994

Hartkemeyer, Johannes: Questions arise from what remains. In: Information on further training in NRW 6/1995, p. 21 ff.

Hartkemeyer, Martina: The rediscovery of slowness. In: Manfred Zimmer (Ed.): On the art of planning and acting in an environmentally friendly manner. (International Erich Fromm Society) Osnabrück 1997

Kösel, Edmund: The modeling of learning worlds. A manual of subjective didactics. Elztal-Dallau 1993

Senge, Peter: The fifth discipline. Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. Stuttgart 1996

Siebert, Horst: Didactic action in adult education, didactics from a constructivist point of view. Neuwied 1996