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Creative and innovative competence as a task for adult education

Authors: Palle Rasmussen Published:

This article was originally published in Elm's predecessor media, LLinE. Innovation is recognized as a key factor in economic competitiveness. Adult education is confronted with demands that it should foster creativity. But can these skills be developed through education? The knowledge about this is limited because the field has been dominated by easy conceptualisations and

This article was originally published in Elm’s predecessor media, LLinE.

Innovation is recognized as a key factor in economic competitiveness. Adult education is confronted with demands that it should foster creativity. But can these skills be developed through education? The knowledge about this is limited because the field has been dominated by easy conceptualisations and formulas. Conceptualizing and defining innovative competence more clearly makes it possible to investigate the distribution of this competence in a given population. However, creative and innovative competence at the individual level must be contextualised in the broader organizational and societal contexts where innovative processes occur.

Innovation is generally recognized as a key factor in economic competitiveness and persons who can contribute to and participate in workplace innovations are often called for. Consequently, adult education and other parts of educational systems are confronted with demands that their learning environments and teaching practices should foster creativity, innovative skills and entrepreneurship. But what is the nature of such skills, and how can they be developed through education? The knowledge about these matters is, in fact, quite limited, partly because the field is complex but also because it has been dominated by (too) easy conceptualisations and formulas.

In this article, I will present and discuss a way of approaching these questions. I focus on the concept of creative and innovative competence, seen as the capacity of individuals to engage in and effect visible innovation in a domain of knowledge and practise. Conceptualizing and defining creative and innovative competence more clearly potentially makes it possible to investigate the distribution of this competence in a given population, and its association with background factors and other types of competence. However, creative and innovative competence at the individual level must be contextualised in the broader organizational and societal contexts where innovative processes occur.

The first section of the article situates the question of competence for innovation in the context of social science innovation theory, especially the tradition of studies in the learning economy. Then, a concept of creative and innovative competence at the individual level is developed, and patterns of resources and participation associated with this type of competence are highlighted, drawing especially on a Danish survey on the distribution of different types of competence in the population. Finally, the potential contribution of work-related general adult education to innovative competence and through this to processes of innovation is illustrated through a case study of a cooperation and communication course in a metal works factory.

Innovation in the learning economy

In today’s globalized economy, the process of managing knowledge flows in learning configurations has become of principal strategic importance for firms. The combination of globalization and information technology leads to more and more rapid transformation and change, in which knowledge gets obsolete with an increasing speed (Lundvall & Nielsen, 1999). Processes of learning, through relating tacit and experience based knowledge to explicit codified knowledge and combining the various types of knowledge, has become a central and crucial management function. This is the rationale for the concept of the learning economy (Lundvall, 2002).

In this conception a distinction is made between two modes of innovation. One is based on formalized and explicit knowledge established through the methods practiced in research and development. This mode has been named “STI” (Science-Technology-Innovation); it is associated with the technical-rational model of organization and it depends on formal knowledge production either inside the firm (R&D-department) or in cooperation with knowledge generating institutions such as universities. It is a linear approach to innovation performance where new knowledge provided by scientific methods will result in prototypes, which in turn are developed to new articles or services introduced on the market.The other mode proposed by Lundvall is based on experiences and tacit knowledge developed in operational interaction between users and producers. This has been named “DUI” (Doing –Using-Interacting). It depends on knowledge produced in problem-oriented communications amongst different functional groups and levels inside the firm as well as external relations to customers and subcontractors (Jensen et al. 2007). This approach is associated with a socio-cultural model of organization. It emphasizes the role of users and employees who interact through networks and draw on their experiences and problem solving ideas to build up less formal, but nevertheless useful knowledge, and apply this knowledge in continuous improvements of articles and services.

The distinction between the STI and DUI modes highlights the fact that although the promotion of innovation is often seen as linked to science and technology, the development of new articles or services is in many cases accomplished without specialized innovation departments. Instead, it is achieved by practitioners with strong knowledge of the specific trade and its markets or users. Innovation policies should include instruments to support not only STI mode, but also DUI mode innovation, preferably in combination. Both modes have their strengths and limitations, but theories and strategies of innovation have often overlooked the second form, partly perhaps because of the higher status of scientific knowledge.

The types and levels of innovation occurring in a given society reflect the structures, institutions and cultures of that society (cf. Storz & Schaefer, 2011). Thus, it may be possible to identify different national systems of innovation. Within such a national system distinct centres of innovation may exist, but firms may well be the most important type. The innovative activity of a firm takes place within an external as well as an internal context. The external context of a firm is constituted by institutions and organizations such as other private firms, educational institutions, government agencies and financial institutions. The internal context is defined by the firm’s organizational sub-structures and elements that are important for learning and promoting product and process innovation.

One particular element of a national innovation system is vocational and adult education. While most nation-states have developed general systems of primary and secondary education, there are great differences in the level of public provision for vocational and adult education, in the types of education provided and in the level of government funding for the programmes. A key dimension here is to what degree and how educational programmes combine the contributions of learning in school settings with practical application and development in work settings.

In addition, innovation in articles and services is often linked to organisational change in the innovating units. Some results from the DISKO surveys (a series of surveys of the Danish national innovation system, cf. Lundvall, 2002) may serve to illustrate this factor. Among other findings the surveys showed how organisational change gives rise to new demands for qualifications. In firms that have pursued organisational change there are markedly growing demands for independence in the work situation, co-operation with external partners, especially customers, and for co-operation with management and colleagues, while these demands are much weaker in firms that have not changed their organisation. There are correspondingly large differences between the two types of organisation in the rate of occurrence of a reduction in routine work (Lundvall, Rasmussen & Lorenz, 2008).

In work following up on the DISKO surveys, Nielsen (2006) has further elaborated relationships between innovation, education and organisational learning in the Danish context. He identified firms that had been active in product development either on the national or the international level. He then compared patterns of job turnover, employee educational levels and the use of learning organisation procedure for innovative and non-innovative firms. Some important findings were the following:

  • The most innovative firms had the lowest job turnover. There was a positive relationship between innovation and personnel policies of keeping knowledge resources and learning competences
  • Firms with learning organization features, such as cross occupational work groups and planned job rotation, had much higher chance of being involved in product innovation
  • Firms with learning organization features hired the largest proportion of higher educated persons
  • Firms where a large share of the employees had vocational training also gave high priority to competence development. There was thus a positive relation between vocational education and engagement in types of on-the-job training.
  • The flows of unskilled employees in and out of the organisation was lowest in the firms with high extensity of training, where the unskilled were often included in the training activities.

Nielsen emphasizes that although company engagement in learning organization practices often benefit employees with vocational and higher education qualifications, unskilled employees may also benefit to some degree. He argues that the knowledge and competences of skilled and unskilled employees are complementary to those of employees with higher education, and the firm may choose to develop a learning culture on this foundation.

In this way the tacit knowledge is preserved and the core competences are developed continuously by internal means (Nielsen 2006, p. 8).

In sum, the DISKO studies as well as other research indicates strong links between firm competitiveness, product innovation, recruitment of employees with higher education, learning organisation procedures and low job turnover.

One important aspect is the need for communication skills. Present-day firms, especially those that engage in organisational change, seem to require not only employees with high levels of specialized knowledge, but also employees who can communicate and collaborate internally and externally. Thus, it might follow that educational programmes and institutions should increase their efforts to prepare students for communication and co-operation across the specialized knowledge areas.

Conceptualising creative and innovative competence

The growing importance of innovation for the competitiveness of firms and societies raises the question of how innovative skills may be characterised and identified at the individual level. One attempt to do this was the Danish national “competence audit”. Between 2001 and 2005, several Danish ministries undertook to map the competences of the population. Drawing on work initiated in the OECD (the DeSeCo project, cf. Rychen and Salganik, 2001) the Danish project conceptualised ten key competences (Danish Ministry of Education, 2005a) and commissioned a major survey on the distribution of these in a representative sample of Danish citizens (Danish Ministry of Education 2005b). In the Danish study one key competence was added to the OECD list. This was “creative and innovative competence”.

Creativity has often been conceived as an individual characteristic. In the research literature, different skills of creative persons are indicated, like the ability to formulate new problems, the ability to transfer knowledge across contexts and the ability to focus attention strongly on specific goals. Yet, more recent research emphasizes that creativity is not located solely in the individual, no matter how brilliant or extraordinary the person may be. Creativity is instead seen as an interaction, a dynamic relationship involving the individual (with his or her specific capacities, needs and dispositions), the domain of knowledge and skills within which the person works and the social field (with institutionalized norms, criteria and rewards) associated with this domain (Gardner, 1994; Csikszentmihalyi, 1997). Creativity is only realized when a person does new work in a domain and the field values this novelty.

In contrast to creativity, the concept of innovation originates in the development of technologies and articles in companies and other organizations. The conceptual framework for analyzing innovation is mainly taken from economics or business studies, and innovation is viewed as an organizational activity rather than an individual quality.

The concepts of creativity and innovation both indicate that something new is brought about; articles, plans, knowledge that clearly distinguishes themselves from what already exists. This novelty may take different shapes. It can be a new kind of product that opens up new markets, a new theory that reorganizes existing knowledge within a certain domain, a political strategy that has the ability to guide collective action and at the same time signal crucial values, or it can be a work of art that distinguishes itself in a certain genre through its optimal use and combination of existing ideas or techniques.

Given this background, creative and innovative competence can be defined in the following way (Rasmussen 2002, p 195-196):

Creative and innovative competence is the capacity of a person, given the resources and the situation allows it, to effect visible innovation in a domain of knowledge and practise. The competence includes three components:

1.transfer and combination skills;
2.balanced autonomy
3.focusing ability and discipline.

An example of the first component is the concept of “bisociation”, which Koestler (1964) uses to characterize the basic structure of the creative moment. The bisociation establishes an association between two contexts that are normally perceived as separate. This causes a sudden shift in the flow of consciousness from one frame to another. This structure, which creativity shares with humor, is a type of transfer.

The second component, “balanced autonomy”, means that the creative or innovative person should not be too eager to please or to accept influence from his or her surroundings. Selzer and Bentley (1999) emphasize that the creative person formulates problems instead of letting others define the problems. Autonomy and confidence are necessary, also to endure the risks often involved in testing out new and controversial practices. However, autonomy must be balanced by knowledge about and experience in the domains and fields of the innovative activity.

As to the third element, there is much evidence for the fact that successful creative activity demands a high degree of “discipline”. The creative individuals studied by Gardner (1994) often dedicated themselves to their work and ideas in ways that might be described as being ruthless. Such single-mindedness is probably neither necessary nor widespread, but still the ability to focus sustained effort appears crucial to creative and innovative competence.

In conceptualizing and studying creative and innovative competence, it is important to distinguish between an individual level, where the human competencies can be identified, and an organizational level, where settings fostering creative and innovative competencies can be described. At the individual level, some key characteristics of creative and innovative competence are the capability to transfer and combine knowledge, social and mental autonomy, the ability to focus efforts and a thorough understanding of the knowledge domain in question. At the organizational level, some key qualities of innovation-rich settings are trust and support, freedom to exercise self-control, variety in learning contexts, a balance between challenges and capabilities and ample access to feedback. This is the level, where systems and modes of innovation, such as those discussed above, operate.

The distribution of creative and innovative competence

In the Danish competence audit survey, an attempt was made to map the distribution of creative and innovative competence in the Danish population and, especially, among employees in Danish workplaces. This particular competence was mapped through a series of questions about the respondents’ activities, their perception of contexts for creativity and their knowledge about how to develop new ideas. It is, of course, extremely difficult to measure this kind of phenomena with survey methods, and some of the questions asked clearly did not work. Still, the survey did produce relevant knowledge, and I shall highlight some key findings. (cf. Danish Ministry of Education, 2005, p. 86-101). In the report the results are mainly presented through diagrams. Some of the exact percentage figures quoted below are not to be found in the report, but in background material.

Looking at participation in innovative activity, the level of education emerges as an important factor. In the survey, 69 % of the persons with no more than basic school education indicated that they had not been involved in product innovation at all, while the corresponding figure for persons with higher education was no more than 33 percent. This finding does not, however, mean that higher education in itself provides creative and innovative competence.

The survey results in the related area of “learning competence” indicated that age may be a handicap in that area of competence. Yet, in the area of creative and innovative competence older employees do not seem to lag behind. Among persons of 60 years or more 16 % were among the most active in innovation, which is not much less than the average of 21 percent. Also, a considerable share of the older employees answered that their ability to develop new ideas was the basis for them holding their present job. Young people between 20 and 25 seem to be the age group making least contribution to innovative activity. In this group, only 11% reported that they contributed to innovation of articles or services, while 60% claimed that they did not contribute at all. This finding probably reflects the fact that participation in innovative activity presupposes a level of practical experience and a recognized position in the firm, both of which are only established after some years of working. This indicates the need to develop a domain of knowledge of a particular field of work before being able to innovate within it.

Another aspect of creative and innovative work activity is participation in the development and the testing of new ways and methods of working. Here again, the survey showed a positive correlation between innovation and level of education. One third of the persons with a higher education indicated that they had participated in developing new methods to a high or a very high degree, while only 18 % of persons with no more than basic education indicated this. Still it seems that far from all highly educated employees are active in innovation. One third of employees with higher education answered that they had not participated in developing new articles or services.

In the area of testing new work methods, the survey showed clear differences between occupational positions.  Persons who had not participated in testing new work methods were found far more frequently among skilled and unskilled employees than among salaried employees.

A further aspect is the interaction of work and leisure activity. The respondents were asked whether they think about ideas to be used in work in their spare time. Among self-employed persons 65% reported that they did this to a high or very high degree. It is worth noticing, however, that this behaviour was almost as strong amongst management staff. The survey participants were also asked in what area of everyday life they mostly put their creative abilities to use. Here clear differences were found between occupational groups and between levels of education. Self-employed persons and managing staff primarily used their creative ability in work, while unskilled employees primarily used it outside work. Also, highly educated people with long weekly working hours used their creative ability very much in work settings. Interestingly, this finding was one of the few aspects of creative and innovative activity with a clear gender difference, men reporting using their creativity in the workplace to a higher degree than women.

A number of questions were asked about the context for creativity and innovation in work organisations. One aspect here was the degree to which workplaces demand innovative thinking from their employees. Here again, the employee level of education is an important factor. High demands on innovative thinking seem to be directed mainly at persons with higher education and persons employed as managing officials (two groups that overlap much). About half the persons with a higher education qualification indicated that innovative thinking was expected from them to a high or a very high degree, and only 7% of the managing staff reported that innovative thinking was not needed in their work.

Another aspect of the context for creativity was how much support for innovative thinking employees got from their immediate superior. In fact, more than half got such support; about 15% of respondents indicated that they were supported to a very high degree and about 40% that they were supported to a high degree. Only 5% reported getting no support at all for innovative thinking. Even without available data for cross-national comparison it seems that the creative and innovative activities of Danish employees get fair support from management.

An important aspect targeted in the survey was the degree to which persons had acquired creative and innovative competence through education and continuing education. As could be expected the level of education again emerged as an important factor. A much higher share of the highly educated workers indicated that they had learned to develop new ideas through education or through continuing education. There is little doubt that longer study programmes will provide better possibilities for developing creative abilities than short programmes, because students will have time to experiment and develop their personal style in innovation work. However, it should not be overlooked that persons with a higher education will also be more aware of the value of education and thus tend to respond more positively to such survey questions.

The most important finding about the role of education for innovation is that a very small proportion, in average no more than 8 % of the respondents regarded education as a very important source for creative and innovative competence. One possible interpretation of this is that workers’ original education-based skills gradually come to play a lesser role as they acquire work experience and develops their competence in the job. It would then be logical to expect that employees with for instance ten or more years of work experience would rather link improvements in their innovative abilities with continuing education or in-service training. However, this does not seem to be the case. Very few of the survey respondents with long work experience indicated that continuing education had had a significant impact on their ability to engage in innovative thinking. In fact, a major part of the persons in the survey, irrespective of various background factors, did not at all connect their participation in continuing education with creativity and innovation.

To sum up, some main results from the survey of creative and innovative competence were:

  • In general the highly educated are more creative and innovative than persons with lower levels of education
  • The highly educated employees with long working hours and management responsibility appear to be Denmark’s most creative and innovative group
  • Most Danes think that they work in innovative workplaces, but their own jobs do not to the same extent demand innovative thinking. This applies especially to unskilled workers
  • Skills and tools for innovations are only to a very limited degree acquired through education and in-service training.

These findings could indicate that many companies that are perceived as (and perceive themselves as) innovative face a major challenge in not only mobilising the creative abilities of the highly educated, but integrating creativity and innovation as a natural part of work at all levels and for all groups of employees. And there seems to be a pressing need for types of continuing education and in-service training that can develop and strengthen the creative and innovative competences of employees. Developing such types of education is no easy task; there are many open questions as regards delivery, educational principles, learning spaces and teaching staff. But it should be possible to improve significantly on the situation uncovered in the competence survey.

Innovative learning in adult education

So what kind of principles and practises should be pursued in educational institutions and programmes if students in all age groups are to acquire and maintain a higher level of creative and innovative competence, a competence that can support innovation in firms and societies? At a general level many authors do in fact agree about the types of educational environment, teaching and learning required. Here is an example:

The term “creativity” is used here to refer to teaching and learning processes based on recognizing problems and discrepancies in accepted content, looking at things in a different way, making unexpected links among apparently discrepant elements of information, developing your own solutions to problems and similar processes, rather than simply memorising prescribed content and accurately regurgitating it upon demand or mastering and constantly reapplying standard methods. Teachers interested in the first kind of approach place a high value on novelty, ingenuity, boldness and the like, not just on speed, formal correctness or accuracy (Cropley & Cropley 2008, p. 355).

Another example is a set of principles for a curriculum based on the need for creative application of knowledge formulated in a report from the Demos think tank (Selzer & Bentley 1999, pp. 81-82).

  • Learning would be structured mainly through projects. Some projects would be individual, while many would be group-based
  • Students would repeatedly practice identifying and solving problems
  • Learning would take place in a range of contexts and use a range of methods
  • Knowledge and learning gains would be assessed from different perspectives – including that of the learner
  • Thinking and self-assessment would be embedded across the curriculum
  • Skills would be revisited and practiced over time, so that knowledge gained earlier in an educational career could be applied creatively to new problems
  • Students would gain depth of understanding in a number of disciplines, or domains of knowledge, including traditional academic subjects.

How such principles can be practised in adult education depends on the specific setting and many other factors. The framework for and the content of the educational programme, the background and situation of participants, social and cultural context, the economic conditions and many other things will all play parts. In the final part of the article, I present and discuss an empirical case where innovative practices were introduced in one part of the Danish adult education system.

A cooperation and communication course in a metal works factory

In the development project from which this case is drawn, centres for general adult education established work related courses in cooperation with private and public enterprises. The project lasted 2½ years and included courses in three regions of Western Denmark. Sixty six courses were completed with varying numbers of participants (from 7 to 150). Many courses were short (40-60 hours). The most frequently taught subjects were Danish at basic preparatory level and IT and Cooperation and Communication at general level (Hviid et al 2008). The case study of the metals works factory was done by Hanne Dauer Keller and is documented more fully in a research report (Keller, 2005).

The participants of the courses were employees, mainly low skilled. Before the courses actually commenced, the conditions and curriculum were negotiated and jointly decided by the company and the education centre. Certain guidelines within legislation on general adult education had to be followed, but the law is fairly open to tailoring the courses and subjects in the direction of the company wishes.

The metal works factory employed some 70 production workers, the majority between 40 and 60 years old. About two thirds were unskilled. It was a male-dominated workplace, and the few women in production did assembly work. The company had started to outsource parts of the production to a new factory in the Ukraine. In the future, the Danish part of the company was to expand its flexibility in delivering smaller series. The employees described their work as varied and sufficiently challenging. Periods of time leading to production deadline could be very stressful.

The teacher prepared a course in Cooperation and Communication after conducting focus group interviews with the three levels in the company: management, foremen and employees. Based on the interviews, she adapted the content of the course to the company’s current needs. The course was primarily tailored to the production workers, but there was also a special part for administrative staff and foremen. It proved positive for the employees’ attitude that the course was mandatory for everybody and that also foremen participated.

The employees were divided into 8 groups of 8 to 9 persons across job functions at the factory. The course ran for 40 hours over 2 + 3 days. There was a break of about 8 weeks between the first two and the final three course days. The course took place at the local centre for general adult education.

A key element in the instruction was that it constantly related theory and the participants’ everyday lives through examples and dialogue. Dialogue and confrontation provoked the participants to voice their opinions, which the teacher then discussed with them. This process challenged and perhaps shaped the participants’ attitudes. The teacher maintained a high energy level in the groups and made the instruction entertaining. The teacher’s primary goal was to develop the participants as persons, and not primarily towards a certain work identity.

The course was evaluated in the presence of the company’s director and foremen. The evaluation consisted of three parts: (1) theoretic reflections on a constructed case; (2) exposing outcomes for the participants; (3) presentation of three goals for the company formulated independently by the participants and discussed as part of the course. The participants also completed an individual test. The course was followed up by further classes at the company oriented towards the goals formulated by the participants (e.g. more information, more education and better environment).

A unique feature in this type of company-adapted course in Cooperation and Communication is that the teacher takes on a special consultant role with emphasis on facilitating the company’s change processes. The teacher transcends the traditional boundaries between educational institution and work life by examining the participants’ needs (here through interviews), incorporating issues from the company in the course; and offering consulting services after the course in connection with a follow-up.

The study made of this course showed that employees benefited especially from the transaction analysis approach to communication, which was taught in the course. It resulted in increased focus on “talking things through”, which could potentially help decrease the level of conflict among employees and between management and employees. The employees realized that to exploit this potential, it was important to work on communication and cooperation. But this is not always easy to achieve. One informant pointed out that production demands take priority and then the employees do not have the time required to practice effective communication.

It was also evident that some participants arrived at personal insights. The teacher observed (in an interview) that the participants had achieved greater self-awareness, and she thought this would express itself in the personalities and have an effect in cooperation.

An important outcome of such a course is that the participants learn about their workplace from other perspectives, both in the formal learning space and during breaks. Through these perspectives and the course material that concerns the workplace, the participants reportedly increased their knowledge of the company, work assignments and personnel issues across the organization. Because of the production work and a strict division of labor employees often have knowledge only about the specific part of the organization and the tasks for which they are responsible. Talking with colleagues in other functions was found to give them a different perspective on their own department’s practice or a greater overview of the workplace as a whole.

Not only the employees learned something by attending courses; management could also benefit in special ways. In one case, the management was present at the closing of a course and witnessed the participants’ presentations. One informant (a manager) said that he gained a new and more positive impression of the employees’ resources by watching the presentations, which turned out to be much more thorough than he had expected.

This case, and the development project in which it was part, indicate that general adult education can successfully be related to work life. In this way, the courses can be made more relevant and more accessible to adults who need competence development, and for those who do not actively seek out education at adult education centre. With the tailoring of courses to workplaces and the introduction of subjects like “Cooperation and communication” some vocational aspects are introduced and merged with the academic curriculum of general education. The logic of work is mixed with the logic of education, and a practise-based curriculum is partly introduced.

Such transgressions of existing boundaries may be central to the development of creative and innovative competence, as described above. In defining creative and innovative competence “transfer and combination skills” are also regarded as one of the key components. The investigation of the empirical case did not include a later assessment of the competence acquired by the participating employees, so we have no way of knowing if a growth in creative and innovative competence did in fact take place. But the case still illustrates the kind of adult education practises that point towards this goal.


The argument in this article has been developed around the concept of creative and innovative competence. As stated, I understand this competence as the capacity of individuals to effect visible innovation in a domain of knowledge and practise, and I identify three main components in it: (1) transfer and combination skills, (2) balanced autonomy (3) focusing ability and discipline. Findings from the Danish competence audit, which have been discussed in the article, indicate clear social inequalities in the distribution of creative and innovative competence. The highly educated employees with long working hours and management responsibility appear to be distinctly more creative and innovative than other parts of the population.

Research discussed in the first part of the article indicates strong links between firm competitiveness, product innovation, recruitment of employees with higher education, learning organisation procedures and low job turnover. New articles or services on the market can be seen as manifestations of the firm’s collective and dynamic ability to learn and generate knowledge. The distinction between the STI (Science-Technology-Innovation) and DUI (Doing-Using-Interacting) modes of innovation highlights the fact that although the promotion of innovation is often linked to science and technology, development of new articles or services is often accomplished without specialized innovation departments, by employees with strong knowledge of the specific trade and its markets or users. Educational initiatives to promote creativity and innovation should support not only STI mode, but also DUI mode innovation, preferably in combination.

The usefulness of the concept of competence in this context can of course be questioned. It can be misleading in some respects. For instance, it can convey the image of competence as a parcel, in which all the knowledge and skills of a person are neatly packed for the person to bring to a given work context, where it can then be unpacked and put to use. Such an image clearly misses the flexible and unfinished character of competence and the interrelationship between development and use of competence in different contexts. This situation is especially problematic in the case of adult education which often takes place in close contact with work and other areas of everyday life. Nevertheless we need to have categories to describe the outcomes of learning processes, and I find the concept of competence more relevant than more traditional concepts of education and learning research, like skill, knowledge and curriculum.

Even though the highly educated workers are reported as being more creative and innovative than persons with lower levels of education, they do not think that this competence has been acquired through education or in-service training. This finding indicates that there is much room for improvement through reform of learning environments, educational principles and curricula. Principles like organising learning through projects, identifying and solving problems, including a range of contexts and a range of methods, practising reflection and self-assessment, promoting understanding in several domains of knowledge and including a great deal of group-based work are useful guidelines for this, but the specific conditions and resources of different national and institutional contexts should be taken into account.



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Palle Rasmussen Palle Rasmussen is professor of education in the Department of Learning and Philosophy, Aalborg University, Denmark. His research areas include educational policy, sociological theories of education and learning; educational evaluation; lifelong learning in education and work contexts. He has had much experience with evaluation and development projects in collaboration with partners in business and public services. He has participated in several international research networks and has published extensively in his research fields. Show all articles by Palle Rasmussen
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