Tom Sork has demonstrated a lifetime commitment of leadership to the field of adult continuing education with scholarly work focusing on program planning and ethical practice. He has national and international stature for this work and has uniquely contributed to the evolution of the field. Sork earned a doctorate in adult education from Florida State University, and bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Colorado State University.
Currently a professor of adult education and Associate Dean of External Programs and Learning Technologies in the Faculty of Education at the University of British Columbia, Sork co-developed the online Master of Education in Adult Learning and Global Change involving four universities in Canada, Sweden, South Africa and Australia. This global master’s degree program received the Curriculum Innovation Award from the Commission of Professors in 2005. In recognition of his contributions to the development of this program, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Linköping University in Sweden in 2005.
He has provided extensive leadership at the state/provincial and national levels, serving as chair of the Commission of Professors of the American Association for Adult and Continuing Education, president of the Adult and Continuing Education Association of Nebraska, on the board of the Pacific Association for Continuing Education, co-leader of the Steering Committee of the Adult Education Research Conference, on the board of the Canadian Association for the Study of Adult and Education, and as editor-in-chief of the Canadian Journal for the Study of Adult Education. His contributions extend to significant mentorship of international students, colleagues and practitioners, including teaching and consulting in Asia, the United Kingdom and Africa.
His work has influenced the direction of scholarship and contributed towards a deeper understanding of what it means to be a skilled, reflective practitioner in a complex, globalizing world. Sork has challenged conventional notions of program planning by questioning the role of such widely accepted concepts as needs assessment and objectives. His scholarship has helped shape new ways of thinking about program planning that balance technical skills with political astuteness and ethical sensitivity. More recently, his writing with others about planning international, multi-institutional, collaborative online programs has extended our understanding of the complex dynamics involved in planning across cultural, political, technological and economic boundaries.
In addition, Sork’s research and writing on professional ethics in adult and continuing education has sparked continuing dialogue and debate in the literature. His collaborative scholarly leadership in this area has provided a lead role in raising and sustaining the profile of ethical practice in the field.
During a study leave in 2000-01, Sork traveled the world interviewing more than 100 colleagues who taught in adult education graduate programs seeking insights into the moral imperatives – the reasons why adult education should exist – and ethical frameworks – beliefs about what morally responsible practice involves – implicitly or explicitly embedded in their curricula.
What he learned during these interviews he then translated into a proposal for a global core curriculum in adult education that he discussed with colleagues, students and practitioners during a subsequent study leave in 2005-06. During this second leave he visited eight countries, presented this curriculum during public seminars at 13 universities, and incorporated suggestions.
This effort to encourage a more cohesive, broad-based curriculum internationally while taking into account cultural, contextual and ideological differences was intended to promote greater solidarity in the field. The process of engaging several hundred colleagues and students in dialogue about what it means to prepare adult educators in countries as divergent as India, Germany, New Zealand and Botswana was in itself a success in enhancing the visibility of the field and demonstrating the value of global collaboration.
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