The Real Professional is a Learning Professional – Robert-Jan Simons & Manon Ruijters (2014)

‘Professions’ were called “learned professions in ancient times.” Since then professions and professionals have played a continuing, but constantly changing role, in our organizations and society.

Despite the amount of vagueness and ambiguities, the concept of ‘professional’ remains popular. It has been used as a standard, a demand, a defense and as an attack. It is also a concept with many definitions and many connotations and denotations formed by history and social contexts. Many authors have even suggested abandoning the notion of professional as a conceptual tool.

We think that it is time to give this concept new clarity, use, and interpretation, fitting better within our time and, most of all, providing value to our work systems. In the chapter The real professional is a learning professional (2014), part of the International Handbook of Research in Professional and Practice-based Learning, we harvested what history has taught us in order to find a different mindset, to further define and contemplate the professional. Our main tenet is that professionalism is a self-chosen characteristic that is closely related to learning.

From the literature, we derived eight characteristics of professionals and connected these to learning. The question of who is and is not a professional has fundamentally changed, going from learned professions to learning professionals. Finally, we present a model of different ways of learning that learning professionals need, both individually and collectively. The chapter ends with implications for theory, research and practice.