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Papers from the 28th Annual SCUTREA Conference
Research, Teaching and Learning: making connections in the education of adults

Professional development, teaching, and lifelong learning: Is there a connection?

Gill Nicholls, School of Educational Studies, University of Surrey, Guildford, UK.


Lifelong learning is a phrase that continually appears in the literature from a variety of areas including the government, academics, and the media. The concept and provision of lifelong learning is by its very nature highly complex and multifaceted. I will be arguing that professional development is one aspect of lifelong learning, and that teaching is a significant component within the context of learning. The main focus for the discussion will be the researcher/teacher in Higher Education (HE).

Increasingly teaching is the word at the centre of debates about learning, with the premise that good teaching leads to effective learning. This has recently been reflected within Higher Education by the creation of the Institute of Teaching and Learning. But surely all of us involved in Higher Education have always dealt with the teaching and learning situation, our knowledge both academic and pedagogic has developed. Have we not been involved in lifelong learning or has this been professional development? If it has been development, what is the connection (if any) to lifelong learning?

There are three areas I will be addressing. First, I will clarify the meaning of professional development, explain how it will be used in the discussion, and place it firmly within the context of lifelong learning. The second issue considers the role teaching and learning has for the researcher/teacher in HE. (I use the term teacher specifically, as lecturer infers only one way to give out information). I put forward the notion that teaching has a significant role to play in learning and that within Higher Education the responsibility rests with the researcher/teacher. Finally, I argue that the time is now right within Higher Education to think in terms of the "scholarship of teaching."

Professional development in the context of lifelong learning.

It is important to this discussion to clarify some of the meanings of the various terms associated with professional development, as they have come to mean a variety of things to those associated in education. Watkins and Drury (1994) suggest that there are four groups of strategies for the development of professionals over the next decade:

Here, it is useful to examine the term "professional" when applied to teachers. Garnett (1977) suggests three key dimensions:

If we have key dimensions to what a professional is, and four strategies by which they develop, what role does professional development play?

Within this paper professional development is taken as meaning development for individuals or groups with like needs identified by them or the institution, is career orientated or personal and is long term. It is a generic term, and similar to O'Neil (1994, p 287) will be used in that context.

Although these parameters set the scene for discussion, it does not make explicit the connection between professional development, teaching and the role of lifelong learning. A significant amount of research has discussed the role of professional development and the professional, but the role of teacher's learning has not always been made explored and explained. These include Bolam, 1987; Brown and Earley, 1990; Madden and Mitchell 1993, Dean 1996.

I am suggesting that professional development in Higher Education is a way to improve the quality of learning and teaching of the researcher/teacher, and develop a culture for lifelong learning. This can be achieved through the recognition of the importance of teaching, the teacher, and attributing the status needed to gain that recognition. Opportunities for individuals to extend their knowledge base, skills and teaching activities must be provided for. (This in itself is a very contentious area, and needs to be acknowledged here, but will not be discussed within this paper). Hargreaves and Fullan (1992, p 2) suggest that "teacher development as knowledge and skill development" is key to successful long term learning, both of the teacher and their students.

This leaves lifelong learning and its role within professional development to be discussed. Lifelong learning has to do with the development of a range of interactions between educational institutions and their host communities, in this case researchers/teachers, students and Higher Education establishments. All are, or should be, concerned to develop a learning community, where learning is valued, both for the teacher and the student. This must include professional development of those who help to provide learning at all levels. At the level of the individual teacher, systems/authorities should offer opportunities for teachers to participate in professional development work in preparation for lifelong learning if they are to transform the concept of teaching in the way that will enhance learning, and therefore, develop the concept of lifelong learning.

The premise here is that the provision of lifelong learning is heavily dependent on the skills, knowledge and professional competency of the teaching profession. The challenge will be to extend and broaden the frameworks of teaching and learning activities in Higher Education. This must incorporate teachers and teacher educators, as they will be at the "coal face" of change. By change, I mean a changing community of learners. Hargreaves and Fullan (1992) have showed how teacher development is enhanced when the importance of the working environment is considered. Garnett (1997) also states that the development cannot be alienated from the context of practice. The context may vary across institutions and within Schools or Faculties, all of which are influenced by structures and strategies, that are both formal and informal, internally or externally imposed.

The development of professionals can therefore be taken as a long term process. One which is progressive and goes over the working lifetime of a professional. It is planned, and prioritised, but often such priorities may be in conflict, i.e. that of the individual needs, and those of the institution. However, lifelong learning goes beyond the working life of a professional. I am therefore suggesting, that professional development is orientated towards the working lifetime of a professional (in this case the researcher/teacher) and that professional development is one element of lifelong learning. If such a premise is to be accepted, there is a need to consider the role of learning for the professional, and how this may affect the role of teaching in Higher Education.

The role of teaching and learning for the researcher/teacher in HE

Practice, in this case teaching, does not happen in a vacuum. It depends on a variety of social, political, and ideological contexts. The practice of teaching in Higher Education and the role of learning for the professional researcher/teacher is equally dependent on the whole educational context, particularly at this point in time, when Universities are facing periods of rapid change. Government statements and documents such as the DfEE ,"Induction of new teachers" (1998), and the proposed white paper on the Institute of Teaching and Learning, highlighting the present contexts. Any attempt by HEs to change teaching and learning activities, of both students and teachers cannot ignore these documents and proposed changes. Yet consideration must be given to the learning environment of the professional, in preparation of the imposed change. For Higher Education, this means considering how teaching is going to affect the role of learning for the researcher in the pursuit of truth, and the teacher (who is often the same person) applying their theoretical knowledge to a teaching situation. As a member of a university, individuals are not only expected to practise an art or science, but also act as a 'professor' of knowledge (Garnett, 1995, p 49). If this is the case, are the learning needs the same, and can one be classified as "learning" and the other as "development of skills", or is one aspect connected implicitly to the other?

The implication of such questions rests on how we perceive the need to change the researcher/teacher, and what the perceived changes entail in terms of professional development and learning. The present climate in Higher Education suggests that all new teachers (lecturers) will have to obtain some form of formal teaching qualification. The nature of this qualification is open to interpretation and discussion. This presents us with a dilemma, for, if researchers have to be "professionally developed" as teachers, are we applying a `deficit' model of professional development. By that I mean are we suggesting that something is lacking in the new researcher/teacher and therefore needs to be corrected, in this case teaching skills, and their application to learning situations. Do these have to be corrected or improved before researcher/teachers can deliver quality teaching and subsequent learning outcomes? As Huberman (1995 p 271) points out "these deficits are determined by others, notably by administrators" In this context teachers are seen as objects, rather than subjects, of their professional growth. Yet surely what we should be striving for, if teaching standards in HE are to improve and change, is to understand how researcher/teachers learn and change and the role teaching plays in that change. The interesting concept here for HE with respect to the proposed initiatives, is that these changes in the first instance will be taking place in the workplace. Evidence relating to teacher professional learning and development within the workplace is frequently absent from the literature. What we need to understand is the relationship between specific dimensions of the HE workplace environments and researcher/teacher learning within the framework of lifelong learning.

Teaching as Scholarship

Possible ways forward can be found by considering theories related to adult learning and change in organisations. These theories suggest relationships between specific dimensions of workplace and learning. The theories most relevant to this discussion view learning and environment as multidimensional concepts. This in turn allows us to consider the types of environment that allows the researcher/teacher to learn, and the conditions under which learning can be promoted

An analysis of these literature, suggests that there are 5 distinct themes relating to adult learners. (Brookfield, 1991; Merriam & Caffarelle,1991, Jarvis, 1996)

If adults are capable of learning in this way, consideration must be given to the type of learning that should be promoted to researcher/teacher. Rice (1992, p.73) suggests that teaching should be re-established as a valued form of scholarship. "The scholarship of teaching has a distinctive synoptic capacity, that is the ability to draw the strands of a field together in a way that provides both coherence and meaning, to place what is known in context and open the way for connections to be made between knower and the known". In this way the researcher/teacher draws on data, ideas or theories taken from the research project and presents them in a coherent and meaningful way to both themselves and their students. Such a view has been substantiated by Glew (1992) who showed that research can transform the teaching/learning experience, reflecting the contribution research can make to teaching and learning. But what of the contribution teaching has to make to research and learning? The literature suggests that there is a symbiotic relationship between research and teaching, (Garnett, 1995, Elton, 1995), in that it creates an environment in which the researcher has to plan the presentation of the research in a simple and coherent way for the purpose of teaching. The literature also suggests that this helps expose weakness in the research through the delivery of the material, and therefore requires the researcher/teacher to modify their presentation. This is good practice if the researcher understands the process of teaching and learning that s/he has been involved in. Improved teaching and learning will only occur if the researcher has the knowledge and skills to reflect on those processes and change accordingly. Then the quality of the teaching will truly improve.

If teaching is to be valued in this way, there needs to be a relationship between professional development, learning and the scholarship of teaching, or as Boyatzis, (1995) suggest the scholarship of learning. However, there is a problem here, in that assessment has centred around the quality of learning, with no prescriptive model of good teaching being offered to ensure quality of learning. Teaching in this context has been taken to cover a range of activities that involve the learner either passively or actively in some form activity, on the assumption that learning will be associated with that activity. The connection between the 'teaching' and the learner is often not understood by the researcher/teacher. What is required is for academics to understand the teaching and learning process. Is this the connection between professional development and learning? After all, researcher/teachers, through the university process aim to help students learn by changing the way they think. Is it not then reasonable to expect the researcher/teacher to be well versed in the same process, i.e. changing the way they think about the teaching/learning process. I would argue that development of this kind, is a powerful route to professional learning.

Concluding comments

This paper has attempted to make connections between professional development, lifelong learning and the position of the professional within it, in this case the researcher/teacher within higher education. The connections that have been made are used o as a means of demonstrating how the development of the teacher and teaching skills rely on professional development, but cannot occur without learning and understanding. That is the understanding of both pedagogic and knowledge based issues. The argument concentrated on the assumption "that improving individual teachers will improve higher education, and thereby student's learning". The paper has argued that this assumption needs to be reconsidered and reconceptualised within the context of adult education, lifelong learning and teaching. Increasingly adult learners are being taught at a distance or through methodologies that are not always within the teaching strategies of practising researchers, therefore as teachers they have to learn too. As such, a clear but pragmatic distinction and connection between professional development and lifelong learning has been suggested .

With the growing significance and importance of the inter-relationship between teaching, learning and research, it is necessary for those involved in teaching in higher education to start thinking about teaching and research as being complementary forms of scholarship. For this to occur, I have argued that professional development has a strong part to play. It should enable researcher/teachers to learn about the teaching process as well as develop their own strategies for teaching, based on understanding related to the scholarship of teaching. This then places the role of professional development firmly in the framework of lifelong learning, but at the same time draws a distinction between them. In the realms of higher education the status of teaching, both as a professional activity and as a sphere of research, must be raised. This will then highlight and facilitate discussions related to the relationship between teaching, learning and research. One of the most crucial questions needing to be addressed now is "How can teaching help develop research and improve the quality of learning?" Elton's (1977, 2) statement after the twelfth annual conference of the Society for Research into Higher Education on the topic of professional development is still valid and possibly even more pertinent today: 'One is left with the impression that staff development in higher education is many faceted and that it is still looking for a sense of direction'. With the prospect of teacher training being introduced into higher education, now is the time to explore the relationship between teaching, learning, research, professional development and the notion of lifelong learning.


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This document was added to the Education-line database 03 July 1998