What are some ethical issues in society

Moral Problems and Ethical Questions of Adult and Continuing Education Teachers - A Model for Research on Adult Educational Area Ethics


The competence to act ethically and morally is shown as an important learning field within the framework of competence catalogs for teachers in adult and continuing education. However, so far there is no research that sheds light on the teacher's perspective on professional ethics for adult and continuing education. The subject of the article is a qualitative interview study, which investigates questions about ethically relevant action situations, concrete ethical questions, pedagogical-ethical convictions and ethical orientations of teachers in adult and further education. In order to open up the research field, a four-dimensional model of moral problems is being developed on the basis of the study results.


The ability to act according to an ethical and moral perspective is identified as an important area of ​​learning within competence frameworks for teachers in adult education. However, so far there is a lack of research that sheds light on teachers ’perspectives on professional ethics for adult educators. The article reports on a qualitative interview study, which investigates questions of ethically relevant action situations, specific ethical questions, pedagogical-ethical beliefs and ethical orientations of adult educators. Based on the findings, a four-dimensional model of moral problems is being developed in order to provide a basis for further research on the topic.


Even if we have known since Luhmann's (1993) Warning of Morality at the latest that moral communication is fraught with risks, it seems to be inevitable to understand adult and continuing education as a moral practice (Fuhr 2011; Schrader 2018), accompanied by research can be further developed discursively. The GRETA competency model, which in future is to serve as the basis for a cross-agency recognition procedure for competencies of teachers in adult and further education, shows ethics - here under the designation "professional values ​​and convictions" - in addition to "subject and field-specific knowledge", the "practical professional knowledge and ability" and the "professional self-control" as one of the essential learning fields for the development of professional competence in the context of teaching in adult and further education (cf. Lencer and Strauch 2016, p. 7).

Although adult and continuing education are continuously positioned ethicallyFootnote 1 and conducts extensive research and theory formation on its social mission, there is currently no area-specific research context in which the moral positions of the profession are reflected and discussed with the aim of developing a well-founded professional ethic. Above all, the specific questions of teaching-learning interaction, which are usually dealt with in the context of professional ethics, have not yet been dealt with in an ethical way. While professional ethics is a collection of normative statements to which the members of a profession or professionals should feel obliged, similar to medical ethics, area ethics depicts the respective research context that applies to a specific social area such as the Medicine or education, tries to grasp ethical questions theoretically and to justify and critically reflect on professional ethics. In contrast to traditional professions, there is no uniform training in adult and continuing education and there is also no associated licensing. There are good reasons for this, given the multitude of subjects and contexts in which adult and continuing education take place. However, the lack of an area ethic also creates problems.

For teachers in adult education, this deficit means that they hardly receive any orientation and support if they are confronted with moral problems in their everyday activities and feel challenged with ethical questionsFootnote 2 having to deal with the z. For example, dealing with confidentiality, avoiding conflicts of interest or dealing with minorities in a non-discriminatory manner (cf. Schrader and Spang 2019). The neglect of the topic of professional ethics has serious consequences for the professionalization efforts in adult and further education. There are narrow limits to the professionalization of adult and further education if the sector does not agree on national and international professional ethical standards (cf. Martin and Langemeyer 2014, p. 56 f.).

Against this background, it is becoming increasingly important that adult and continuing education develop a field-ethical research context in which professional ethical questions are dealt with by teachers (Bernhardsson and Fuhr 2014, p. 4 ff .; p. 29 ff .; Arnold et al. 2017 , P. 196 ff.). How these are then anchored in the profession, e.g. B. in training and further education, would be another question that cannot be dealt with here.

The aim of the article is to lay the foundations for the establishment of an ethical research discourse on ethical issues for teachers in adult and continuing education. To this end, I essentially pursue two goals: On the one hand, I turn to an empirical approach to the everyday morality of teachers in adult and further education. In my opinion, this is necessary because we do not yet know in which situations moral problems arise, which issues they are associated with and which specific ethical questions teachers are confronted with. As part of a qualitative interview study, I ask about ethically relevant action situations and concrete ethical questions, about pedagogical-ethical convictions and ethical orientations that play a central role both in the emergence of ethical questions and in dealing with them. In addition, my intention is to conceptually develop the subject of moral problems and ethical questions from teachers of adult and further education as a field of research on the basis of the empirical study. Based on the results of my studies, I present a model that contains the essential aspects of moral problems for teachers in adult and further education. Using the model, I show how complex the research topic is and what research desiderata arise.

State of research and theoretical foundations

In the following, I will first outline the status of the development of professional ethics, then the status of research on the area of ​​ethics in adult and continuing education. A few years ago, Bernhardsson and Fuhr (2014) recorded the status of developments in professional ethical standards in associations for adult and continuing education in the German-speaking area. They argue that the diversity of the field in particular stands in the way of the development of a professional association that would successfully organize all teachers in the field, which is why adult and continuing education as a whole is still far from professional ethics. While national agencies, organizations and associations of general adult education have so far hardly devoted themselves to the topic, associations that organize trainers in in-company further training have been able to develop initial approaches to professional ethics. The Forum Value Orientation in Continuing Education e. V. (with the support of the umbrella association of further training organizations - DVWO) and the professional association for trainers, consultants and coaches (BDVT) have developed professional codes that contain important provisions such as the obligation for further training for trainers. The Value Orientation Forum aggressively promotes professional ethics, awards a seal and has a complaints office and complaints procedure. However, the provisions of the codes remain largely unspecific; Interpretation aids are provided and the BDVT has integrated professional ethics into its training, but critical discussions involving the association members are not initiated. In addition, the professional ethical standards were developed more centrally, for example by specially set up working groups, without empirically ascertaining which moral problems teachers and trainers actually have to deal with in their everyday work. There is no reliable knowledge of what specific moral questions actually arise in teaching-learning contexts in adult and further education, how professional practitioners reflect on them and how they deal with them. In addition, it is not known what fears and hopes the various actors associate with tendencies to develop professional ethics.

With regard to area ethics, adult and continuing education show similar deficits as with regard to professional ethics (cf. Bernhardsson-Laros 2016, p. 29). Mainly due to the diversity of its field, "adult and continuing education [...] has so far neither developed a professional ethics that would be expressed in a well-known, generally accepted and institutionalized professional code, nor has it developed a field-ethical research context" (cf. Bernhardsson and Fuhr 2014, p. 41). On the part of the adult education section of the German Society for Educational Science there have been corresponding efforts to initiate field-ethical theories (cf.Gieseke et al. 1991; Hof 2010), but so far these have not been sufficient to stimulate a broad discussion and research on adult educational professional ethics. There is still a lack of studies that ask both about the “individual and social conditions of ethical challenges in adult pedagogical practice” (Schrader 2014, p. 25) as well as about “dealing [...] with them” (ibid.). Instead, the ethical theories remain intertwined with the general theories on adult and continuing education (cf. Fuhr 2011, p. 508 ff), which means that people often refrain from naming and reflecting on ethical topics and questions as such. Only in the international debate are there isolated studies of ethical questions (cf. Gordon and Sork 2001; Brockett and Hiemstra 2004). Introductions to adult and continuing education are currently drawing attention to this gap in the adult educational discourse (see Fuhr 2011; Arnold et al. 2017; Schrader 2018). They identify the topic of ethics in adult and continuing education as a separate content area and emphasize the need for research on the topic.

Research questions

The questions in the study presented below are based on the typical structure of codes of professional ethics (cf. Bernhardsson and Fuhr 2014, p. 46 ff). Traditionally, codes of ethics are divided into two parts and are also related to application. The first part the code contains ideals to which the profession should orient itself. These are fundamental values ​​or principles such as: B. human dignity, the pursuit of truth, the pursuit of excellence or the maintenance of democratic principles. In one second part the specific standards that are not to be violated are defined. These can be obligations towards the learner, the client or the profession. Ideally, have codes of ethics third an application reference. The members of a profession know how the values, principles and standards are interpreted, who is to be included in the interpretation processes and how conflicts between provisions and differences in interpretation are to be dealt with. Another aspect of the application is that the written principles, values ​​and standards are used as elements for the ethical development of the respective profession. Codified professional ethics are supported by field ethical theories and a corresponding infrastructure at conferences, magazines and textbooks. These should help to further develop the ethical principles and argumentation methods in the respective field.

In accordance with these assumptions about the ideal-typical structure of codified professional ethics, I have determined a total of five research questions. The first two research questions on ethically relevant situations and concrete ethical questions relate to the application references (part 3 of the codes), the third question on pedagogical-ethical convictions was formulated with a view to the concrete ethical standards (part 2 of the codes). The fourth research question relates to ideals (Part 1 of the Codes). And the fifth question is also intended to determine what hopes and fears teachers of adult and continuing education are expressing with regard to a possible codification of professional ethics.

Ethically relevant situations

In which situations do teachers have ethical problems?

The aim is to find out in which application relationships a possible professional ethics for teachers of adult and further education can be. To this end, it should be determined in which professional situations teachers see themselves required to reflect on their actions from an ethical point of view.

A teacher in continuing education for nurses reports z. For example, how individual participants begin to interfere with a new ventilator use exercise by deliberately misusing the equipment. What is interesting about this example is that the teacher identifies the situation as ethically relevant: instead of seeing the disturbances as a purely methodological problem, which must be asked empirically to determine how disturbances can best be avoided, he sees it as well a moral problem.

Specific ethical questions

What specific ethical questions and problems do teachers of adult and continuing education deal with?

This research question is about finding out which concrete ethical questions arise from the ethically relevant situations.

The teacher in our example reports that he mostly tends to demonstrate his superiority in the event of disruptions by, according to his own statement, bypassing them "smugly", which corresponds to a purely methodical handling of disruptions. Lately, however, he has been asking himself more often whether his way of ignoring disturbances is demonstrating to learners that he is not taking them seriously because he is showing them that he is not interested in the reasons for the disturbance at all . In this way, the teacher begins to reflect on how to deal with disturbances as an ethical question, which is about respect for those who disturb them. For him, the concrete ethical question arises as to whether it is generally important to address disruptions because one takes the learners seriously, or whether one can also ignore them and then run the risk of disregarding them.

Educational-ethical convictions

Which pedagogical-ethical convictions guide the teachers' actions?

I ask about the pedagogical and ethical convictions on which the teachers base their actions. The beliefs express themselves z. B. in obligations towards learners, clients, employers or society. It examines the beliefs teachers use to try to answer their ethical questions. Only if there are situational conflicts between different convictions does ethical reflection arise.

The teacher in our example is unsure whether his practice of overcoming disturbances by demonstrating superiority, which corresponds to his self-image of himself as a teacher, is compatible with the demands that the profession places on dealing with such situations. So there are two conflicting convictions that result from obligations towards different actors.

Ethical orientations

How do teachers orientate themselves when dealing with ethical questions and problems?

The term “ethical orientations” is chosen for the question of the ideals by which the profession should orient itself. This terminology should help to be able to grasp as differentiated as possible a large number of possible sources of justification (e.g. principles, values, implicit models, specialist cultures, standards of associations, etc.) that teachers use to deal with ethical questions.

The teacher in our example started training a few years ago as a career changer. Since then, he has been acquiring the pedagogical skills required for teaching in the context of further training, which, according to his own statement, has steadily increased his identification with the adult pedagogical specialist culture. His ethical orientation towards the specialist culture now leads him to ethically question his usual way of dealing with disorders.

Codified Professional Ethics - Hopes and Fears

What hopes and fears do teachers express with regard to codified professional ethics?

In addition to the possible content and application of a possible professional ethics, it should also be explored how teachers of adult and further education generally stand for a possible codification of professional ethics. For this purpose, the question is asked with what hopes and fears they look forward to a possible codification.

The teacher from our example situation would welcome professional ethics because of their orientation function for the teachers. So far, he has not given any thought to any other advantages or disadvantages.

methodic procedure

It should be recorded in which situations teachers of adult and further education raise ethical questions, with which convictions they confront them and which ethical orientations they use. It was therefore necessary to find interview partners who could report in as much detail as possible on as many such problems as possible. The interview partners were selected according to the principle of theoretical sampling known from Grounded Theory (Corbin and Strauss 2008) (Strübing 2008):

  • People I knew in the field of adult and continuing education made contact with people who they believed could contribute a lot to the topic.

  • Other gatekeepers were students in the adult education master’s course at the Freiburg University of Education. They established contact with relevant people in their practical fields in which they are active as part of their studies.

  • In addition, individual interview partners established contact with other lecturers.

  • Former participants in the advanced training course “Contact Studies in Adult Education” (Academy for Scientific Continuing Education Freiburg & University of Education Freiburg) were contacted.

  • Professional associations from the trainer sector, which have already developed codes of ethics, put in contact with teachers who were involved in the development of the respective code of ethics.

On the basis of these field approaches, a total of 19 guideline-based interviews were conducted with teachers from different areas of adult and further education. 14 of the 19 interviews were included in the evaluation.

According to Bergmann and Luckmann (cf. 1999, p. 17 f.), If morality is to be the subject of interviews, it should be noted that morality is implicit knowledge that is not directly available to the interviewee in the conversation. Because morality "is essentially lived morality, which exists in actions and decisions, precisely in [...] communicative acts" (ibid., P. 18). On the basis of this assumption, it must be ensured that interview partners who reflexively address the moral aspects of their actions and decisions provide communicative construction services. These construction services can be supported by the interviewees if they encourage their interview partners to tell stories and descriptions in which morality is implemented in a communicative way. Accordingly, the teachers in the present study could not be asked to speak directly about ethical questions and problems. Instead, they were asked to share situations that led them to reflect on their actions. The question was z. B. after situations in which they felt unsafe or in which conflicts arose. In this early phase of the interviews, care was taken to ensure that formulations were chosen that did not include the terms ethics and morals. In this way, it should be avoided that the interview partners start too hastily to argue with regard to their own ethical and moral standpoints, which would be an obstacle to a communicative realization of their morality in the context of narratives and descriptions. In accordance with these methodological assumptions, the interview guidelines were continuously supplemented with question strategies on ethically relevant situations as the research process progressed. With regard to the research questions, the cases in which the interview partners have several years of professional experience in the field of adult and further education proved to be particularly productive. This mostly went hand in hand with a greater sensitivity and ability to reflect on ethical issues.

The interviews were carried out and evaluated successively in a circular process until the first signs of theoretical saturation (Strübing 2008) with regard to the content and structure of ethical questions and problems arose. The data evaluation was carried out according to the specifications of the structuring content analysis (Kuckartz 2012). It is a process in which theoretically obtained categories are empirically differentiated through the formation of inductive subcategories. The present study showed that the theoretically assumed main categories also had to be reformulated in this process.


In the course of the data evaluation, a code system with 620 entries was created. The code system is arranged according to these five main topics: (Sect. 5.1) "Ethically relevant situations" and "Ethical questions", (Sect. 5.2) "Educational-ethical convictions", (Sect. 5.3) "Ethical orientations", (Sect 5.4) “Professional ethics” and (Section 5.5) “Developing your own ethics”. The main topics reflect the research questions, with the exception of the topic “Developing your own ethics”. To give an insight into the code system, I will present the five main topics one after the other using examples. In addition, I introduce two ethically relevant situations in more detail. I use the example situations described in detail to explain the five main topics and to show how they are related to each other.

Ethically relevant situations and ethical questions

The data confirm that specific ethical questions arise from specific action situations, which evoke a reflective examination of the moral aspects of their professional activities and decisions in the interviewees. For this reason, ethically relevant situations and ethical questions were coded together (see Tab. 1). Using the main code "interaction contexts", I record whether the respective ethically relevant situations and the associated ethical questions arose in the interaction with participants or in the interaction with sponsors, employers or facility managers. The main code “points in time” is used to distinguish whether the problems occurred during order acquisition, order execution or order completion. For each of these three points in time, Table 1 shows ethically relevant situations and ethical questions that may arise for the respondents - this in each case for the interaction with participants and for the interaction with providers, employers and facility managers.

It turns out that morality is relevant in two ways in ethically relevant situations. First, teachers identify issues of mutual recognition and respect. Second, they ask questions of demarcation. They distinguish themselves from expectations that are experienced as "relevant and unrelated to the subject" and that are brought to them from outside. In the code system, however, I did not take this distinction, which is quite relevant, into account, since the ethically relevant situations could not be systematically differentiated according to the two thematization forms of morality. When dealing with questions of demarcation, questions of respect and recognition are usually also negotiated and vice versa (cf. Krohn 1999, p. 6).

The two following example situations give a deeper insight into the connection between ethically relevant situations and ethical questions. While the first example deals primarily with questions of respect and recognition, the second example focuses on questions of demarcation.

Example 1: "You have a Nazi in there".

Mr. R. is a communication trainer in the private sector. In the course of conducting a communication training course lasting several days for a company, the manager of the work area from which his course participants came informed him that a participant whom Mr. R. had previously found very pleasant was a staunch “Nazi”. In the interview, Mr. R. reflects on the fact that in this situation two obligations came into conflict with one another. On the one hand, he is obliged to be neutral towards the participant and cannot treat the participant in a discriminatory manner on the basis of hearsay. On the other hand, he is committed to society. A high moral value for him is democracy, and he does not want to impart communication skills to anyone who can be expected to use them to undermine democracy. Mr R. is aware that he is in a moral dilemma: He cannot meet both obligations at the same time. The question arises to what extent the convinced “Nazi” deserves respect and recognition.

Example 2: "He thinks he can tell me which topics are allowed and which are not"

Mr. S. is a pastoral consultant who is also active in adult education as part of his professional activity. He reports that he discovered the field of adult education for himself and that he has been increasingly involved in this area for several years. His increasing identification with the profession - which Mr. S. et al. traced back to the attendance of extra-occupational advanced training courses for adult and advanced training - according to his description, goes hand in hand with an increasing unease with regard to the conditions for conducting adult education under denominational sponsorship. A representative of the church tried again and again to have a say in the topics of his events because he did not see the church's moral teaching properly represented in the events of Mr. S. In order to position himself against these interventions - which he perceived as alien to the subject - he refers to his educational mandate, which also consists of addressing as many people as possible, also with more liberal views. One problem for him, however, is that he no longer offers conservative parishioners a place to go. Mr S. sees in this an insoluble dilemma of denominational adult education, which makes him think about looking for a job as an adult educator under another sponsorship. For Mr. S. the question of how to differentiate adult education from theology is in the foreground.

Educational-ethical convictions

As becomes clear in the two examples, conflicts or contradictions between pedagogical and ethical convictions play an important role in the narratives and descriptions of ethically relevant action situations. While in the first example (communication trainer) the obligation to the participants and the obligation to society conflict with each other, in the second example (pastoral consultant) several pedagogical and ethical convictions conflict. In the situation of having to defend himself against "foreign" interventions from outside, the pastoral consultant seems to be in a conflict area between the responsibilities towards the employer, the learner, society, the profession and with regard to his own - newly developing - self-image as an adult educator to find again.

In the interviews, pedagogical and ethical convictions with regard to one's own responsibilities and duties, self-image, the participants and teachers in adult and further education were named (see also Table 2).

Ethical orientations

For the emergence and specific processing of ethical questions, in addition to the pedagogical-ethical convictions, the ethical orientations are also relevant. Examples of ethical orientations that were recorded in the code system are “Basic Law”, “Democracy”, “Human Rights”, “My Secret Mission” and “Specialized Cultures”.

The first example mentioned by the communication trainer Mr. R. shows how an ethical orientation is involved both in the development and in the processing of an ethical question. Democracy represents a high moral value for Mr. R. When he was informed that a "Nazi" was taking part in his course, he first thought about acting in accordance with his orientation towards democracy. He does not want to impart communication skills to the "wrong people" who could later abuse them to undermine democracy. The consequence would have been to treat the participant differently from other participants or even to exclude them from the course. However, Mr. R. states that this draft action violates the Basic Law, which is another important ethical orientation for him, from which he derives his principles of action. In this regard, he refers to Article 3, according to which no one may be disadvantaged or preferred because of their sex, their origin, their race, their language, their homeland and origin, their beliefs, their religious or political views. In the situation it seemed to Mr R. impossible to do justice to the pedagogical-ethical conviction, to work for the preservation of democracy, as well as to correspond to the pedagogical-ethical conviction not to discriminate course participants. He works on the dilemma by checking the value-related draft of action (defense of democracy), which is initially obvious to him, to see whether it is also compatible with universally valid norms of action (the Basic Law). In conclusion, Mr R. stated that his approach to defending democracy would have violated a fundamental principle of democracy.

In the second example of the pastoral officer, at least two concrete ethical questions arise. On the one hand, Mr. S. deals with the question of how he can avert “unrelated” interventions in his area of ​​activity and position himself in relation to these. On the other hand, the question arises for him to what extent he can justify the fact that his liberal and inclusive approach discourages conservative people - a core clientele of the sponsor - from participating in its events. Against the background of these questions, it seems difficult for him to reconcile his pedagogical and ethical convictions - responsibilities towards the employer, the learner, society, the profession, as well as with regard to his own self-image as an adult educator. For Mr S., the ethical orientation “professional cultures” seems to be of major relevance for dealing with the questions. He reports that, on the one hand, with increasing orientation towards the adult educational specialist culture, he succeeds better and better in asserting himself against attempts at intervention from outside, but on the other hand he increasingly encounters incompatibilities between his adult educational activities and the church's moral teaching. Taken as a whole, this and other cases from the sample indicate that increasing identification with adult educational specialist culture and growing professional engagement can give rise to specific ethical questions that teachers of adult and continuing education have to deal with.

Hopes and fears regarding a codified professional ethic

The answers given by the interview partners to the question of the hopes or fears with which they would view professional ethics reveal an ambivalent picture. In general, they find the topic of professional ethics important and are of the opinion that it should be discussed more intensely than before, both in the subject and in the profession. With regard to codified professional ethics, however, the answers are ambivalent. For example, they said that there was no need for such ethics (as there was already an unspoken consensus among teachers), that codified professional ethics would benefit collegial exchange, that professional ethics could only have a symbolic character and that codified professional ethics would also have to make the client or employer responsible Overall, it shows that the respondents generally welcome the orientation on ethical questions that would be associated with a codified professional ethic, but are rather critical of a commitment to a single professional ethic.

Develop your own ethics

The main code "Developing your own ethics" is a cross-cutting issue that I was able to identify in the interview data. Similar to the main code “ethical orientations”, there are also indications here that a commitment to the adult pedagogical profession seems to go hand in hand with ethical sensitivity and the ability to reflect. Above all, the interviewees, who have been teaching in the field of adult and continuing education for more than ten years, use development topics to describe how their personal professional ethics developed and how their pedagogical and ethical convictions have changed and developed. So they are now z. B.Convinced that it is better to face ethical problems than to avoid them; or they now know very clearly which assignments they accept and which they do not; or it is much clearer to them today than at the beginning of their professional career what kind of teacher they want to be. This seems to go hand in hand with the fact that they are now more willing to pursue their own ideals, such as B. a “secret mission” (e.g. dealing with issues that are socially critical). In addition, the cross-cutting issue indicates that teachers only begin to view their actions as ethically relevant and to reflect on them as they have gained professional experience.

Development of a research model on moral problems

The study shows that ethically relevant situations and ethical questions can arise in all contexts of teaching-learning interaction in adult and continuing education. During the acquisition of the order, the execution of the order and the completion of the order, you can adjust to discussions with teachers, employers and sponsors. Viewed as a whole, the content-analytical study - and here in particular the inductive category formation - indicates that there are mutual relationships between ethically-relevant situations, ethical questions, pedagogical-ethical convictions and ethical orientations (Fig. 1).

There are two indications that the four dimensions of the model are interrelated:

  • Conflicts between pedagogical-ethical convictions seem to be decisive for whether an action situation is experienced as ethically relevant and whether concrete ethical questions can later be derived from it. Ethical questions only seem to arise when there are conflicts between educational and ethical convictions.

  • The interviews showed that the respondents refer to ethical orientations when they have to specify their pedagogical-ethical convictions. As a result, concrete ethical questions are apparently not only derived from contradictions between different pedagogical-ethical convictions, but they are, it seems, only formed when ethical orientations are also applied.

According to the model outlined, moral problems are composed of four dimensions. If we follow the model, adult educational action cannot be justified if one limits oneself to one of these dimensions. It is not enough for adult educators to have only pedagogical and ethical convictions; they must also be able to bring them into concrete ethical questions. Furthermore, it can be problematic if a person has pedagogical-ethical convictions but does not even notice that he is violating them. It would also be important that she observes herself to see whether her pedagogical-ethical convictions and her ethical orientations match. As the above example of dealing with the alleged “Nazi” shows, it is necessary for the interviewed person to realize that it does not fit together on the one hand to be for human rights and on the other hand to want to exclude someone from the learning process. Another problem could be that a person justifies his handling of a concrete ethical situation “from the gut”, without recourse to a pedagogical-ethical conviction.

Considered against this background, I see it as an essential development task for adult educators to develop further in all four dimensions of moral problems, to reflect on connections between situations, questions, convictions and orientations, to perceive and deal with conflicts between convictions, a Developing sensitivity for moral problems, communicating your ethical analyzes with all relevant actors (other members of the profession, participants, sponsors, clients, political actors) and acting according to your convictions. Above all, it would be falling short if adult educators would only be concerned with developing their beliefs without applying them to situations. Instead, it is necessary to be able to account for all four dimensions of moral problems in conjunction with one another. Only when this task is fulfilled can one speak of a complete moral argument.

This makes it clear in which direction field ethical research on moral problems of teachers in adult and continuing education should go. It must not be the sole aim to theoretically reflect on relevant pedagogical-ethical convictions and ethical orientations, as has mainly been done so far. Rather, the point must be to further empirically research the outlined connection or the connections between the four dimensions of moral problems. This is the only way to avoid adult educators from being confronted by academics and adult education associations with beliefs and orientations that do not relate to specific situations and the conflicts between beliefs that exist in them and therefore are not used by those involved concrete action can be translated into concrete situations. If moral problems are not researched in their complex structure, there is a risk that inconsistent and incoherent (professional ethical) expectations or requirements are formulated for adult pedagogical teachers.

In view of the model, which I understand as an attempt to depict the complexity of moral problems in the context of teaching in adult and continuing education, it is necessary to specifically research individual dimensions and individual connections between the dimensions. In the following, I will limit myself to two possible research perspectives. Since my study has shown that ethically-relevant situations can occur in all contexts of teaching-learning interaction in adult and further education, it would be enriching if studies were carried out that specifically research a context, for example ethically relevant situations in order acquisition Employers or carriers. It would also be desirable to research what ethically relevant situations teachers experience with little professional experience. As Schwendemann (2018) has shown, teachers may lack the conceptual tools to reflect on concrete moral problems. It is also difficult to recognize contradictions between one's own thinking and acting. My experience with the present study also confirms this challenge. This is because it is precisely those who are just starting out in their careers who do not necessarily have the conceptual tools to reflect on concrete moral problems. In addition, "there is a clear lack of qualification and counseling offers that prepare inexperienced and non-pedagogically trained teachers in particular to recognize moral conflicts and, if necessary, to deal with them preventively [...]" (Schrader and Spang 2019, p. 54).

One way to meet this challenge would be to use the ethically relevant situations and ethical questions that I was able to identify in the course of my study as a basis for developing case studies that are discussed in group discussions. These group discussions could both be scientifically evaluated in order to analyze moral problems and be used for further training to develop professional ethical reflection (see Schwendemann 2018).

Adult education should develop a field ethical research discourse that relates to specific professional ethical questions and takes an ethically justified position, just as other field ethics do. As the example of the pastoral consultant suggests, who wants to protect his adult education activities from too much theological influence, such research and positioning could help teachers to reflect on their own professional ethics, to exchange ideas with others and to position themselves ethically. An approach that would be theoretically as well as methodologically suitable for reconstructing how adult and continuing education are differentiated from political or economic expectations. B. through concepts such as lifelong learning or Employability be brought up to them (see Bernhardsson-Laros 2018) - ethically positioned, e.g. B. the sociological convention analysis (Alke 2019). By analyzing the adult pedagogical discourses with regard to the conventions contained therein, the “specific values ​​and principles of rationality” (ibid., P. 465) with which adult and continuing education are ethically positioned and stabilized in contrast to other functional areas of society, become visible be made.


In the context of a qualitative interview study, the theoretical assumption was further differentiated that moral problems of teachers in adult and continuing education are constituted in ethically relevant situations, pedagogical-ethical convictions, concrete ethical questions and ethical orientations that are mutually related. The study gives an initial insight into how complex moral problems are in the context of teaching in adult and continuing education. She points out that some research is still needed to formulate the foundations for research-based professional ethics for adult and continuing education teachers. In addition, it becomes clear that the teachers surveyed consistently want support and guidance in dealing with moral problems and that they have mostly not yet formed a clear opinion on a possible codified professional ethics.

Considered against this background, it would be important that the adult pedagogical discourse develops in the direction of professional and area ethics. In the context of professionalization activities, the first course has already been set within the framework of the GRETA competence model. In view of the weakness of the professional associations, it would be welcomed if the topic of professional ethics could be institutionalized within the framework of this or similar newly emerging organizational forms that are dedicated to the development of adult educational skills. In this way a place would be created for the thematization and area-ethical research of professional ethical questions.


  1. 1.

    This is currently evident, for example. B. at the criticism of the "National Continuing Education Strategy" (Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs & Federal Ministry of Education and Research 2019), which z. B. is expressed in blog entries (e.g. see Käpplinger 2019; Kilian 2019). It is criticized that the strategy is based on too narrow an idea of ​​further training and that this is primarily geared towards economic issues. Instead, the aim must be to “make the needs of people and the continuing education landscape in all its diversity more publicly visible” (Käpplinger 2019) and to avoid “promoting a monoculture and particular interests” (ibid.). The blog entries show how adult and further education, by referring to their responsibility or their mandate for adult learning (cf. Nittel 2000), marks border crossings with regard to their own function-specific area of ​​responsibility and thus positions themselves ethically.

  2. 2.

    In my contribution I do not systematically differentiate between the terms “morality” and “ethics”. What I mean by this is one and the same state of affairs, for which different terms are used depending on what is being discussed. While the term “ethics” is used more in theoretical contexts in which reflection is at stake and is mostly abstracted from specific individual cases, the term “morality” has more of a concrete reference to everyday life. “Morality” is usually used when reference is made to specific situations and people. For example, sociology, which focuses on the everyday coexistence of people, speaks of “moral communication” instead of using the term “ethics” (cf. Bergmann and Luckmann 1999).


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