The European Commission launched a renewed agenda for adult learning with the objective of ensuring access to high-quality educational opportunities to adult learners for the promotion of their personal and professional development. Thus, European researchers in this field are paying attention to lifelong learning actions in order to address this challenge. Studies in this area are exploring how adult education can strengthen adults’ skills, in particular those required in the current knowledge society (information and communication technologies, problem solving, foreign languages, etc.). Simultaneously, some investigations focus in depth on the role that adult education can play in overcoming social exclusion for the most underserved groups. This paper describes the contributions of these investigations as well as the steps carried out by programs and theories that have contributed the most to adult learning. Lastly, future developments and challenges on this field are explained.
Theories exist in number that concern how adults learn. Despite surface differences, these theories also contain common themes relevant to adult learning. They include self-direction, problem- or need-based motivation to learn, the ability to anchor past experiences to make meaning from current learning, and the skills to self-assess one’s learning experience. Given the prevalence of technology in virtually all areas of personal and professional life, a solid understanding of how to use technology effectively is essential for 21st-century adults. At the same time, these adults are often hampered by anxiety and past negative experiences related to technology use, especially in the learning process itself. How can instructors leverage the best practices of adult learning theory to create meaningful learning experiences for adult learners? In order to address this question, it is important to understand the unique characteristics of adult learners as a first step. Instructors should also self-reflect and consider how their own attitudes and experiences can shape how they use technology with adult learners. With learning theories in mind, designing meaningful learning experiences with technology for adult learners can optimize learning experiences.
Adult learning is described as learning undertaken by adults in natural educational settings as opposed to the experimental settings often undertaken in psychological research on learning. As such, the theory and research on adult learning referred to in this article primarily draws on applied educational research reported in adult education journals. Much of this research is informed by psychological and social research and theory, and this is acknowledged in each of six adult learning themes outlined in this article. These themes are self-directed learning, experience and learning, learning styles, the development of identity in the adult years, intellectual and cognitive development, and transformative learning. While these themes focus on adult learning in a general sense, our understanding of adult learning also needs to be seen in relation to the context in question; contexts such as health, the third age, indigenous knowledge, literacy and numeracy, the environment, disability, community education, gender equity, race, and migrant and refugee education. The literature on adult learning offers very few prescriptive bridges linking research, theory, and practice. This is partly because there are competing theories posing different questions and offering opposing interpretations of research findings, but it is also because the purpose and function of education and learning is a contested field. In these circumstances the best approach for practitioners is to interrogate and improve their practice through engaging with research findings, competing models, and competing theories. In this way they are aware of the variables at play and can formulate practices that are consistent with their educational aims and purposes. The link between research, theory and practice is conceptual rather than prescriptive, with practitioners interrogating and improving their practice by engaging with the issues and the competing claims of theory and research.
Jim Crowther, Aileen Ackland, Margaret Petrie, and David Wallace
Historically, the relationship between adult education and democracy has been one of mutual synergy with education providing the context for thoughtful reflection and democratic action. The social purpose of adult education was precisely in its contribution to making the world a more socially just and more democratic place. However, this relationship has been eroded over the years as adult education and democratic life have become increasingly distanced from each other. Can this be repaired? This is the central theme of this entry, which is explored through trends relating to adult education, community, and democracy, and articulated through the particular experiences of the Scottish context we are familiar with. This article argues that adult education can enrich democratic culture and practice and that in turn democratic issues and debates can energize and stimulate adult education. While the Scottish lens is distinctive, our argument has a broader reference point, as the neoliberal economic forces and subjectivities shaping adult education are global and pervasive, busily percolating in, down and across all sectors and levels of education. Our claim is that adult education can still play a critical role in nurturing democratic life. Rather than abandon democracy, the task of education is to deepen it at all levels and ensure politics is educative. From this view, adult education for democracy can reinvigorate the culture and institutions of democracy and, in the process, help to reclaim the lodestone—or soul—of adult education. For some readers, this may seem a nebulous idea; however, for others it will mean that which animates what is worthwhile in adult education. A profession without a soul is a dead one. This article is a collaborative effort that draws from different university institutions involved in the training and formation of community educators. Together these institutions represent a spectrum of the Scottish university sector involved in this work and bring to this analysis considerable experience. Although different interests and distinctive emphases are represented in the perspectives here, this entry focuses on common ideas and values. We start therefore by situating ourselves in terms of professional, political, ideological, and theoretical orientations.