propositions in search of professionalism - part three

Cloud created by:

Bill Law
20 October 2011

this is part three of a five-part keynote presentation to the 2011 annual conference of the ICG
the series starts at

a pdf version of the entire five-part text...

3.  enlarging the role - integrating learning for integrated lives?

The proposition is that careers-worker professionals know more than they are in a position to use.  Enlarged career studies means that careers workers are constantly becoming more able to help.  That’s good; what is not good is that time- and target-constraints give them little opportunity and freedom to the put that ability to good use.

learning space for useful action:  Career studies is applied learning - what is learned is intended to be used in people’s lives.  It requires transfer-of-learning - acquired in one setting, used in another.  And that means that people’s learning reminds them of their lives, so that their lives remind them of their learning.

But it does not come easily.  It needs learning space for useful action - big-enough that learning can be probed, tried out, adapted and embedded.  Applied learning is not like academic learning - useful transfer-of-learning needs more than acquisition, record-making and assessment.  And it will not fit into the marginal slots that an academic curriculum reluctantly concedes to ‘careers education and guidance’.

finding meaning and purpose:  As a species we look for meaning: long ago, when the leaves rustled, we wondered ‘what’s that - predator or prey?... mate or competitor?... us or them?’.  It ascribes meaning, and an ascribed meaning is a basis for purpose.  We wonder ‘... so, what shall I do - move or be still?... run or hide?... approach or avoid?’.  There have always been versions of this in career-management: what-to-do? and why-bother? - a purpose, and an underlying meaning, giving the purpose its point.  Learning-for-living is finding meaning and purpose,  

And what people informally find may not be misleading - even gossip can offer useful and authentic exchanges of experience.  But not all of informal learning is like that - some borders on superstition.  There is nothing that professionals can do - or should do - to displace such experience-based learning.  But they can help in two ways.  They can expand the experience to make more comparisons possible.  That means making new contacts - we could call that thinking ‘community-interaction theory’.  And they can enable the probing, scrutinising and interrogation of what people find.  That means engaging people in critical thinking - we could call that thinking ‘career-learning theory’.  Those two activities - widening the perspectives on meaning, and enabling the interrogation of purpose - are what careers workers do best.

employability a by-product:  Both activities are process driven - not so much about what people learn, more about how they learn it.  But there is no process without content.  And keeping up with content is becoming a serious problem: the understanding of facts and factors influencing career has expanded beyond our reach.  We need, more than ever, to turn elsewhere for reliable and up-to-date content.  And there is no part of any curriculum which is incapable of finding that content and applying it to life.  There are educators who know more than we can know - ranging from the dynamics of encounter to the reliability of probabilities.  It needs teachers - for example in drama or maths - who are ready to start a scheme with ‘this will be useful in your life when...’, and to wind up with ‘...let’s go over life situations where you can use this learning’.  Transfer-of-learning needs that kind of embedding.  And, so embedded, it is a life-wide and life-long gain.

It is integrated learning for integrated lives.  It is not cross-curriculum infusion: it does not seek a lot of, often half-hearted, curriculum links.  Instead it looks for a few able partners - maybe in drama, and - if not welcome there - maybe in maths.  What we most need is not comprehensive coverage, which is unattainable anyway.  We need to find genuine expertise and experience which can deal with any question, from whatever direction it comes, and who can fire up curiosity - developing the habit of seeing learning as a map, not a hurdle.  We need those people to understand the importance of enabling ready-for-anything flexibility.  To enable learning in these terms makes employability a by-product.  An able educator, helping students to find meaning and purpose in life, does not need to see this in any other way.  The best of educators do not care to see themselves as setting in motion a procedure to be completed by recruitment and selection.  Education is intrinsically valuable - it is not an agent for other people’s interests.

Practical questions include...

‘is a what-to-do gain all that is asked for - or needed?’
‘how do we best help with seeking meaning and purpose?’
‘what can we do about negotiating an integrated curriculum?

part four of the presentation is at

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