Professional Education

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Professional education is a formalized approach to specialized training in a professional school through which participants acquire content knowledge and learn to apply techniques. Although content is what the participant is expected to learn by attending professional school, such an education also helps the participant acquire the competencies needed for proper practice and behavior. Some common goals of professional education include incorporating the knowledge and values basic to a professional discipline; understanding the central concepts, principles, and techniques applied in practice; attaining a level of competence necessary for responsible entry into professional practice; and accepting responsibility for the continued development of competence. It is designed to produce responsible professionals and then to ensure their continuing competence in the profession by helping them recognize and understand the significance of advancing professional knowledge and improving standards of practice. It involves the translation of learning to practice and is intended to prevent occupations and professionals from becoming obsolete.


The essence of professionalism is the delivery of a service in response to a social need. Professional education is a response to society's demands for expert help provided by competent people. The growth and development of a profession is a function of specific needs, and the role of the professional changes because of changes in society. Professional education both responds to changing demands and provides impetus to changing the field itself, balancing a forward look with the realities of the present. Professional education is thus both reactive and initiating. Most problem solving on the job is reactive because decisions need to be made and little time is available for research or consultation with peers.

Special knowledge and skills were once passed on from one professional to others through apprenticeships, were experiential, and came from nonacademic sources. This method became inadequate for preparing competent professionals. Schools were established with the purpose of supplying financial resources and human resources beneficial to society and training the next generation of people. The curriculum attempts to develop discipline and self-awareness in the professional. These schools are charged with planning and delivering a full range of educational services that allow knowledge-based learning through the integration of instruction, research, and technology.


Professional education determines the quality of services provided. As changes in both practice and theory occur, knowledge increases and beginning levels of competence become insufficient for effective practice. It is not enough merely to collaborate or work closely with peers to find ways to develop new practices and new talents. One way to improve practices and talents is through formal learning opportunities that allow reflection about what is learned with peers. No profession can effectively deal with the pressing changes of standards and ethics surrounding practice without discussing changes and modifying tasks. Pursuing additional education to satisfy the need for additional information is called lifelong learning.

Lifelong learning is a continuous, seamless effort of training for professionals. Learning occurs through efforts on the part of workers in conjunction with professional schools. It builds on one's current knowledge and understanding and is tailored to reflect interests and goals. Continuing development results in strengthening practices and the development of professionals who assume responsibility for maintaining high standards. Many professionals are self-motivated to learn new competencies required on the job because it enables them to acquire higher degrees of skill and commitment. Training and development creates confident, expert professionals who are motivated to learn and committed to fostering personal growth.


Society has witnessed an explosion in knowledge and technological ability. Changes in job responsibilities and new technologies require specialization in both the profession and the technology. The Internet has changed the nature of professional education by offering an alternative to traditional classroom instruction that delivers the same services as a regular classroom environment.

The Internet is an asset to professional development because of the diversity of resources and ideas it has to offer. In addition, it is readily accessible to most people and user-friendly. The Internet offers a variety of Web-based instructional options, including e-mail, listservs, mailing lists, newsgroups, Web pages, and course management systems.

E-mail is an easy-to-use communication tool used for delivering letters and memos. It usually involves only text and is a fast way to facilitate class interaction and discussion. It allows information such as assignments and announcements to be sent back and forth between instructor and student. Listservs, mailing lists, and newsgroups are simple, convenient, and flexible to use. A list-serv is a special-interest discussion group that distributes messages to many users on a mailing list. Users post messages and the listserv software sends the messages to the members. Mailing lists are discussions that allow users to send messages to groups of people as easily as to a single person. Newsgroups are discussion groups organized by topic. Messages are not sent to an e-mail account but are posted to a central location on a network. When users are ready, they select the topics they are interested in and the messages they want to read. Web pages are also an effective tool for exchanging ideas on the Internet. They allow participants to progress through instructional materials to achieve learning outcomes and to participate in electronic discussions during times that are convenient for them, at their own pace, at any time, and from any location. Course management systems are commercially developed software that are designed for classroom management, instructional management, and performance assessment. They allow on-line access, either directly or through Web page links, to course content. These systems monitor participant progress by managing files of participants as they navigate through course content.

Professional development courses on the Internet offer new challenges and new opportunities for professional education. The Internet addresses most professional development needs of the twenty-first century. Other innovative opportunities continue to develop that will offer more services to help with research and keep us informed about topics of special interest. By making use of this technology, instruction is extended beyond the physical limitations of traditional classrooms. Internet technology offers an unlimited database of new knowledge that is available at little or no cost. Attention is directed to professional development at all levels. This new vision of professional development requires a new vision of preparation that includes the ability to relate technology to particular professions and to related fields. It is essential that programs access and integrate technology to facilitate participant learning. This type of cooperation continues to build a new educational system that is based on the traditional concept of lifelong learning.


Professional education educates the new generation of professionals, expanding the frontiers of knowledge and reaching out in service to society. Professional education is increasingly being called upon to play a significant role in the administration of new programs within continuing and new structures. The rapidly changing society in which professionals exist demands that they attempt to maximize work performance. There is no single model that serves as a prototype program. There are many programs that serve the diverse needs of professionals who are assuming different roles and greater responsibilities. Professional education is a lifelong process and continues to improve, tailoring programs to help shape competent workers for the twenty-first century.

see also Corporate Education ; Online Education ; Training and Development


Abdal-Haqq, Ismat (1998). Professional Development Schools: Weighing the Evidence. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Evers, Frederick T., Rush, James Cameron, and Berdrow, Iris (1998). The Bases of Competence: Skills for Lifelong Learning and Employability. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Guskey, Thomas R., and Huberman, A. M. (1995). Professional Development in Education: New Paradigms and Practices. New York: Teachers College Press.

Maehl, William H. (2000). Lifelong Learning at Its Best: Innovative Practices in Adult Credit Programs. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Connie Anderson

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Professional Education

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Professional Education