Adult Education

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Adult Education

The federal government has been providing adult education for more than 200 years in the United States of America but the highlight of the government involvement in adult education was the establishment of the board of adult and vocational education in 1911 and the creation of the Department of adult education in 1924 (Stubblefield,1988). Adult education moved into military in 1942 when the armed forces institute was established at Madison, Wisconsin. It is the Government of Kennedy in the early sixties that established an adults education grants that led to full development of adult education programs in the USA. Between 1966 and 1976 various activities geared towards the promotion of adult education were undertaken. These include 1966 and 1970 adult education acts, the 1969 galaxy conference about adult education and the adult education think tank project of 1972-1974 (Stubblefield, 1988). These activities enhanced the development of adult education over the years and when the workforce investment act was passed in 1988 the adult education act passed into posterity.

Plato suggested one of the philosophies of adult education. It is known as idealism and postulates that meaning is found in the ideals of life while reality is composed of truths that are absolute (Elias &Merriman, 1995). However, truth is relative meaning that in education, inductive reasoning and lecturing approaches should be used. Another philosophy of adult education proposed by Chisholm and Whitehead is called realism that postulates that meaning comes out of facts that are empirically proven while reality is made of laws and facts that are natural. This calls for scientific reasoning in the field of adult education. The third philosophy is called progressivism that was proposed by John Dewey. In this philosophy, Dewey argues that meaning arises out of facts and reality is made up of theory that is grounded on truth. This means that the correct educational instructional techniques are problem solving and experimentation. The proponent of the next philosophy called liberalism was Aristotle who argues that human beings have inherent reasoning capacity and freedom can only come to minds that have been liberated. In education, this means that learners are taught the basics and their minds will develop from there because the past and the current problems may not necessarily relate. B.F skinner proposed another philosophy called the behaviorism that postulated that human behavior is under the control of outside forces. This means that learning can be a bit complex to manipulate certain behaviours. In teaching, this means that teaching methods should encompass drill, feedback and conditioning of behavior. The penultimate philosophy is called humanism and was proposed by Abraham Maslow. This means that what differentiates human beings from animals is intellect as they have inherent goodness (Elias &Merriman, 1995).  In education, there should facilitation and encouragement of personal direction. The last philosophy is called radicalism, which argues that the people themselves create meaning, and knowledge can lead to comprehension of reality thus change. This means that teachers should adopt dialogue and problem solving in their reaching methodologies. Paulo Freire proposed the philosophy. 

Adult Learning Theory and Principles

An adult educator should be able to know how an adult learns best. The theory of adult learning is called Andragogy. It has a set of values on how adults acquire their education. Its approach includes collaborative, problem based systems, and it largely avoids didactics. In this theory the equality of the teacher and the adult learner is usually emphasized.  The main proponent of this theory was Malcolm Knowles who termed Andragogy as both a science and an art of assisting the grown ups in education. There are at least six principles of adult learning. The first principle states that adults are intrinsically motivated and have a self-sense of direction.  This means that education should not be imposed on them because they will resist if they feel that some one is trying to use force. This means that the teacher is only a facilitator because the learners are more responsible. Educators should create programs that are less structured and that are not overloading the students. There should also be a rapport between the educator and the students to maximize on the delivery and the educator should encourage open communication.

The educator should also set tasks that are in tandem with the interests of the students and adapt to the learning styles of different students because it may be difficult to mould the character of adults round your own style. The other principle of adult education is that the adults transfer their real life occurrences and experiences into the educational set up. This means that an educator can build upon the experiences and the interests of the student by finding more about their past to create a form of leaning that is reflexive, examining the current biases, habits, beliefs and other experiences to create a new understanding of educational information. The other principle states that adults are always oriented towards a certain goal and they know what they want meaning that they do not have to be pushed. They are always ready to learn because they have a certain goal in mind and the educators should therefore create goal bound learning experiences, using real case studies and involve in teaching activities that drive towards reflection. Another principle states that adults are always oriented towards relevancy meaning that educators should provide choices so that the students can manage to choose what is relevant to what they want and leave out all the unnecessary baggage that may be irrelevant to their chosen course. The principle that adults are practical in nature is also true meaning that there should be clinical reasoning when dealing with them and the educators should be explicit and focus on what is applicable to the learning situation. The educators should avoid a lot of practice and assessment opportunities to adult learners. Moreover, adults are more often than not respectable figures who should be acknowledged and shown interest by the educators. To the adult, the educator is more of a colleague and should treat them as equals and not as subjects to be controlled or manipulated.

Leaning Process among Different Generations

There are differences in the learning process of different generations. First, the adults possess a lot of prior experience since they have been exposed to various facets of life meaning that the experience may help them in easier understanding but for a young learner, the experience is minimal so the teaching approaches will also vary. Due to experience that the adults have a large sense of self identity that the young learners lack; this means that the young learners may be more open to new learning than the adults (Knowles, 1980). The motivation levels of both groups are also different. The young learners are usually motivated by curiosity and may therefore be more eager to learn very irrelevant things that may not be helpful while neglecting the most important one, while the adults have set goals that usually motivate them. The other difference that needs to be accounted for is the level of maturity and development. This will translate into the learning process where the difference will be noted in the prioritization by the different sets of learners where adults are motivated by long term needs while the children focus on the short term ones (Scott &Thomas ,1998).

The Global Nature of Adult: Cultural View Knowing and Learning

Across the globe, adult education is increasingly becoming popular as older people are flooding back to school. The introduction of free education in some African countries has led to people as old as seventy-five to seek education that they missed when they were young. The rigidness of different cultures in their view of adult education is thawing away. Gone are the days when adult learners used to learn secretly, fearing scorn from the members of the societies because of the conventional cultural views, nowadays people of any age acquire any level of education without the fear of public scorn. Learning and knowing are two interrelated concepts because when you learn, you gain knowledge. Various cultures value the processes of learning that leads to the acquisition of knowledge. Learning is very essential for the survival of a human being and it is a lifetime process. Thus, education is a response that is collective towards inherent capacity of a person to learn (Scott &Thomas, 1998).

Transformative Learning

Transformative Learning tries to propose ways in which adults can derive meaning for life (Knowles, 1980). It focuses on learning that is deep and the correct mechanisms that the adults can use to check evaluate and assess information and transform their beliefs and worldview by shaping the new information into their perspective. This kind of learning is very effective because it works on the already established perspectives of the adult learner and uses it to pass new knowledge. Educators can use this method to create change in their adult students by making sure that the learning experiences are shaped around the interests and the background of the learner meaning that it will be easy to change the learner from a personal dimension. This will create transformation from within instead of a forced transformation that ensures that the learners remain in control of their own direction as they go through the desired transformation in life. Empowering the adult learners to have self-direction as they undergo transformation is one of the basic tenets of adult education and the educators should make sure that this theory is adopted in all adult learning practices.


Elias, J.  Merriman, S. (1995), Philosophical Foundations of Adult Education (2nd ed.). Malabar: Krieger Publishing Co.

Knowles, M. (1980).The Modern Practice of Education: From Pedagogy to Andragogy.

Chicago: Follet Publishing. 

Scott, S. Thomas, E. (1998). Philosophies in Action. In Learning for Life. Toronto: Thompson Educational Publishing.

Stubblefield, H. (1988). Towards a history of adult education in America. London: Croom-Helm.









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