Foundations of Adult Education and Training: 7 Definitions
When does adult education really begin? In our 20’s? 40’s? 60’s? Or is the foundation for adult education and training built earlier in our life, possibly as early as our grammar school days?
In the study of pedagogy (theories of teaching and learning) and andragogy (theory of teaching adults) in education and industry, there is much debate as to what constitutes adult learning. The truth is that from the day we are born until the day we die, we are always learning. Merriam and Brockett (2007) suggest that the definition of an adult learner depends on who you are teaching, where you are teaching and the general context of what you are teaching.
In the study of adult learning, we could go as far back as Confucius, Aristotle and Plato who were teaching adults using a process of mental inquiry and facilitation of cognitive development within the student’s mind (Knowles, Holton, Swanson, 2011). In 1926, Lindeman wrote about the teacher as a guide to the adult student’s learning process. And modern theorists and even neurological scientists continue to study the way in which adults learn and how this is similar and different to the way a child might learn.
The following seven definitions of adult learning clearly demonstrate the continuing evolution and interest in the field.
Lindeman (1926): “If we are to make the most effective use of whatever quantity of intelligence is available, we shall need to grant the right of each personality to rise to its own level. This means that increased inventiveness will be required to discover the kind of education which will most effectively meet the needs of varying capacities. Formal educational discipline cannot be accepted as the criterion for ability to learn.”
Bryson (1936): “Adult education consists of ‘all the activities with an educational purpose that are carried on by people, engaged in the ordinary business of life’” (as cited by Merriam & Brockett, 2007).
Knowles (1980): Adult education is “the process of adults learning” (as cited by Merriam & Brockett, 2007).
Houle (1972): Adult education is “a process involving planning by individuals or agencies by which adults ‘alone, in groups, or in institutional settings…improve themselves or their society’” (as cited by Merriam & Brockett, 2007).
Courtney (1989): Adult education is “for practitioners…those preparing to enter the profession, and…curious others who have connections with the field” (as cited by Merriam & Brockett, 2007).
Merriam & Brockett (2007): “Activities intentionally designed for the purpose of bringing about learning among those who age, social roles, or self-perception define them as adults.”
Merriam, Caffarella & Baumgartner (2007): “Adult education is a large and amorphous field of practice, with no neat boundaries such as age, as in the case of elementary and secondary education, or mission, as in higher education. Adult education with its myriad content areas, delivery systems, goals, and learners defies simple categorization.”
Knowles, M.S., Holton, E.F., & Swanson, R.A. (2011). The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development. (7th ed.). New York: Routledge.
Lindeman, E. (1926). The meaning of adult education. (1989 edition). Norman, OK: Harvest House, Ltd.
Merriam, S. & Brockett, R. (2007). The profession and practice of adult education: An introduction. (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Merriam, S., Caffarella, R., & Baumgartner, L. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide. (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.