Exploring career theories

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I spend a lot of last week teaching career theory in Lillehammer with my colleague Sikin Jynge. As anyone who has ever taught a career theory course will know, it can be a challenging thing to teach.

Career theory is supposed to help people to make the complexity of career simpler. Careers are endlessly complex and yet we have to make sense of them every day. Theory tells us that there are some rules behind this mess of experience and that we can use these rules to help us to make sense of it and more importantly to build actions that will help us to influence the way that our careers and the careers of those that we are helping turn out.

Sadly, career theory is often experienced by students as incredibly complex and often highly divorced from practice. The more I’ve thought about the more that I feel that the way in which we usually teach it is at least partially to blame. In a lot of career theory courses, the different theories are presented essentially chronologically as a series of mini-intellectual universes which students have to wrap their heads around. As soon as they’ve got to grips with one, the whirligig moves on and another one pops up. So, you understand the basics of developmental psychology that’s all very well, but here is structuralist sociology, chaos theory or behavioural economics… hold onto your seats!

So, we’ve been playing with another way to think about and teach theory. This was mainly Sikin’s idea, but we’ve been developing and exploring it together. In this version of career theory we’ve been viewing theory as a series of different issues or concerns that are held in tension and relation to one another. We’ve been using the learning model of Knud Illeris to do this.

This model gives us a meta-theoretical framework around which we can organise other theories and consider some of the dilemmas which they try to resolve. This is not just a case of mapping the theories onto a chart, but rather about highlighting what they say and do not say and where they offer different ideas about how these central concepts and tensions operate.

We are still thinking this through, but it seems like a promising direction. Has anyone else worked with Illeris in careers yet?

I’m sharing the slides from some of my lectures last week. They are all in my bad Norwegian I’m afraid, but they might be of interest to show you how I tried to work with some of these concepts in the course.

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