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GRETA project aims at solving the puzzle of deskilling of professional positions in the adult education sector.

Learning & teaching

Who is qualified to be an adult educator?

Authors: Michael Sommer Published:

GRETA project aims at solving the puzzle of deskilling of professional positions in the adult education sector.

While teaching primary school children requires a qualification, in many countries virtually anyone can declare themselves to be an adult educator. The GRETA project in Germany is trying to find structure in a field suffering from systemic deskilling.

“I’m calming down, my breathing is even. Now I’m tensing the muscles in my right arm as best I can … ”

A Jacobson Progressive Muscle Relaxation Trainer watches over her small group who have gathered to take part in a class in burnout prevention for managers. The trainer has completed a 40-hour “university-certified” training course on “Progressive Muscle Relaxation PMR” at a private institute in Germany, which cost her €309.

The trainer, a mother-of-two, is actually a nurse but a return to the exhausting job seemed to her too stressful after bringing up her children. Managing PMR courses in adult education seemed a better option, even if the new job is very poorly paid.

Now, the trainer just described is actually a product of the imagination, a fictional character invented to highlight an important question that surely interests many working within the field of adult education.

That question is: is the trainer qualified? What do you have to do to become an adult educator? Can anyone just declare themselves to be one?

This question is currently being discussed intensively in the adult education community in Germany. The answer – like many things in federal Germany – is complex.

Deprofessionalisation through poor pay and no need for a specific qualification

In order to understand the background to the concern, a look into the reality of German adult education is necessary.

Since the 1970s in particular, there has been a significant boost to the professionalisation of teachers in adult education. This applies above all to higher education: for example, the training of teachers and other educational staff has been integrated into university education. In adult education, 15 master’s programmes are currently on offer at German universities.

Of the 530,000 people who work in adult education in Germany, slightly under half, 45%, have a university degree. Only 16%, however, one in every six, have a degree in adult education and an almost equal number of people, 17%, have no degree whatsoever.

70% of employees are women (1). Most newcomers are people transiting from other occupations.

“There are no standards, no prerequisites or other regulations that require a certain qualification in order to be an adult educator.”

One-half work full-time in adult education, only one-third in the field of public, non-formal adult education, while others often work in precarious, low-paid jobs (2).

Critics point out that this growing trend in Germany, is leading to deprofessionalisation, the systematic deskilling of professional positions in the adult education sector.

No regulated training and further education paths

Deprofessionalisation is a tricky word, but we only need to see what it means in practice to get a proper image.

Firstly, in Germany there is no regulated access to continuing and adult education institutes. Unlike in formal education institutes, they are free to choose whom to hire. There are no standards, no prerequisites or other regulations that require a certain qualification in order to be an adult educator.

Secondly, there are no established ways to acquire further qualifications, except for industry-specific functions, such as in the craft trades or in ‘German as a foreign language’ courses. A validation body, as in some other European countries, is not provided in Germany.

This accessibility has its roots in the diversity and flexibility of the sector. In church contexts, for example, a large proportion of volunteer lecturers work in villages, communities or social hotspots to which full-time workers have little or no access.

German research project GRETA to solve the issues

To answer these challenges, a national research project called GRETA – Principles for Developing a Cross-Curricular Recognition Procedure for Competences of Adult Educators has developed a model that has compiled and presented various competences.

According to the criticism, the model does not distinguish between full-time and part-time employees.

Based on this model, practical tools will be developed in the next three years, such as self-reflection modules or tools for the validation of competences.

To develop a widely accepted system of recognition, GRETA closely cooperates with eight federal and umbrella associations from all essential fields of adult and continuing education in Germany.

GRETA aims at elaborating tools and procedures for the recognition of educators’ competences on an academic basis and in cooperation with teachers in adult and continuing education, providers and project partners.

This is done with a multi-methodological approach consisting of material and literature analyses, group discussions, and expert and subject interviews. The findings are evaluated and presented to practitioners.

The planned tools will include holistic competences which are not only directly related to the methodological and content-related design of seminars, but also embody features like “the Concept of Humankind” or “Professional Identity”. People who are ambitious and have an idea about the values and aims of their professional work can also record these personal competences.

It therefore forms a horizon that goes beyond the pure “skills” concept.

GRETA tools in practice

To understand all this in practice, let’s go back to our imaginary Muscle Relaxation Trainer mentioned at the start. Three years from now, when the development of the GRETA tools is complete, she could use them to determine where her skills and abilities lie.

As a nurse, she is likely to get many points in the fields of “Respect of Professional Values and Beliefs” and in her good motivation and critical self-reflection in “Professional Self-Monitoring”, while her competences relating to adult education methods are scarcely developed.

The results of such an analysis should then be included in her portfolio, as well as proof of further education, practical work or other competences.

Although she does not have a “proper” degree, she now has not only an instrument for self-monitoring, but also a way to validate her skills in the least informal way.



1) Martin, A.; Langemeyer, I. (2014): Demografie, sozioökonomischer Status und Stand der Professionalisierung – das Personal in der Weiterbildung im Vergleich. In: DIE (Hg.): Trends der Weiterbildung. DIE-Trendanalyse. Bielefeld., S. 43–67.

2) Elias, A (2016): Erwerbstätigkeit. In: Autorengruppe wb-personalmonitor: Das Personal in der Weiterbildung. Arbeits- und Beschäftigungsbedingungen, Qualifikationen, Einstellungen zu Arbeit und Beruf. Bielefeld, S. 69–97.

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Michael Sommer (PhD) is an ELM magazine editorial board member. He was the editor of the German magazine "Erwachsenenbildung" (until 2021) and works as a project developer for the Akademie Klausenhof. Email: sommer(at) Show all articles by Michael Sommer
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