Adult Education, Its Objectives and Approaches

Subject: Education
Pages: 5
Words: 1208
Reading time:
5 min
Study level: Master

Position on Piaget’s Quote

Adult learning focuses on improving the professional practices of learners (Usher & Bryant, 2014). For example, training of employees aims at improving their professional skills. Therefore, adult learning allows professionals to do new things, as suggested by Jean Piaget. Notably, adult learning in professional settings is part of the organizational change process. Also, adult learning allows organizations to fill the need for highly skilled and innovative workers (Taylor & Hamdy, 2013). Furthermore, adult learning promotes the development of new leaders, which contributes positively to global change (Sandlin, Wright, & Clark, 2013). Usher & Bryant (2014) assert that adult learning can be viewed as a product of creating new workers who can adapt to changing work environments and emerging technologies. According to Clapper (2010), the new things adult learners can do after participating in training programs represent the product of their learning. Therefore, effective adult learning programs should have noticeable results. Positive change in professional behavior is an example of the product of training adult learners (Taylor & Hamdy, 2013).

Adult learning is a process of changing the perception, information processing, decision making, and insights of learners. The change that is achieved through adult education is necessary as it provides for the creation of people who can perform better than previous generations in specific work activities (Taylor & Hamdy, 2013). Therefore, adult learning allows professionals to fulfill their potential. Usher & Bryant (2014) indicate that the locus of adult learning is the structuring of cognitive functions. This means that adult learning provides an opportunity for developing individuals who are better than previous generations in problem-solving. Clapper (2010) explains that the purpose of adult learning is to develop competent people.

Debate on Program Objectives

There is an ongoing debate on learning objectives in adult education programs. Clapper (2010) demonstrates that theorists in adult learning provide divergent views on the characteristics of effective learning or program outcomes. Behaviorists argue that adult learning objectives should be observable, precise, and measurable because the product of an effective adult learning program should be noticeable (Knowles, Holton, & Swanson, 2011). According to Usher & Bryant (2014), the debate surrounding adult education is related to the fact that learning outcomes for a group and individuals often vary. Besides, individual adult learners have different learning needs, which challenge the development of a uniform framework for measuring learning outcomes. Lack of consistency in adult learning outcomes among tutors also contributes to the ongoing debate on adult learning objectives (Taylor & Hamdy, 2013). Sandlin et al. (2013) reveal that tutors often face the challenge of collating unintended program outcomes in adult learning. Notably, unintended learning outcomes may not be measured by specific or uniform criteria, which necessitate the ongoing debate in adult education.

Usher & Bryant (2014) assert that there are varied models and frameworks of assessment in adult education. Assessment is often based on the objectives of an adult education program. Therefore, the lack of consensus on the assessment of adult learning contributes to the controversy on program objectives. Clapper (2010) asserts that some program outcomes in adult education, such as a change in perceptions and behavior are often not immediately apparent. This means that tutors may face the challenge of ensuring that all program outcomes are precise and measurable, as suggested by behaviorists (Knowles et al., 2011). Lack of a standardized approach in developing learning objectives also contributes to the debate in adult education. Usher & Bryant (2014) explain that tutors use different approaches in developing learning outcomes depending on the divergent needs of adult learners.

Teaching Through Inquiry and Modeling

Adult learners have different extrinsic and intrinsic motivations for participating or engaging actively in learning activities. Clapper (2010) explains that social and personal factors may act as barriers to effective learning in adult education. Sandlin et al. (2013) demonstrate that facilitator plays an important role in encouraging participation in learning processes. Usher & Bryant (2014) demonstrate that teaching through inquiry is an effective strategy of motivating participation in adult education. It entails seeking knowledge through questioning (Taylor & Hamdy, 2013). Usher & Bryant (2014) recommend that facilitators should apply inquiry-based learning to promote the generation of applicable or useful knowledge in adult education. Therefore, teaching through inquiry is appropriate for practical-oriented adult learners. Clapper (2010) demonstrates that teaching through inquiry is useful in adult education as it enables learners to effectively construct knowledge in a natural learning environment. Usher & Bryant (2014) suggest that facilitators should encourage inquiring habits and attitudes among adult learners to motivate participation in learning processes. Clapper (2010) illustrates that knowledge is changing and expanding. This makes inquiry-based teaching the most effective way of promoting the acquisition of new knowledge by adult learners.

Clapper (2010) reveals that teaching through modeling involves the use of demonstrations and promoting learning through observation. Therefore, modeling enables adult learners to gain knowledge by observing the behaviors of others. Usher & Bryant (2014) assert that learning becomes more memorable and meaningful when it is based on modeling. Also, practical-oriented learners gain knowledge and skills more effectively when they are presented with real-life examples (Knowles et al., 2011). Notably, modeling enables tutors to illustrate learning material using practical examples, which enhances knowledge and skill acquisition by adult learners. Clapper (2010) indicates that teaching through modeling is useful in adult education as it allows tutors to illustrate learning material using videos and presentations. Therefore, modeling is aligned with the principles of andragogy, such as presenting adult learners with illustrations and presentations that are immediately relevant to their personal or professional lives (Knowles et al., 2011). Usher & Bryant (2014) illustrate that teaching through modeling promotes task-oriented learning, which is better than the memorization of educational content.

My Educational Philosophy

My educational philosophy in the context of adult learning is mainly influenced by Knowles’ theory of andragogy. I believe that an effective adult learning program should be based on an understanding of the main characteristics of adult learners. This is because the unique attributes of adult learners influence their learning needs (Sandlin et al., 2013). The motivation of adult learners to participate actively in learning is also influenced by the extent to which learning strategies are relevant and practical (Taylor & Hamdy, 2013). Therefore, I appreciate adult teaching that focuses on improving the practical knowledge and skills of learners and enabling them to do things better than previous generations. I am specifically in favor of participative adult learning. I believe that adult learners should be involved in the planning of learning strategies and activities. It is through participation that adult learners are empowered to develop learning strategies and activities that are most relevant to their learning needs and professional practices (Sandlin et al., 2013).

I value problem-centered adult learning because it enables adult learners to develop effective problem-solving skills and the ability to apply learned knowledge in their areas of practice. Therefore, I am convinced that adult teaching should be focused less on content and more on solving real-life problems. I also value diversity in adult learning. I believe that effective adult teaching should be based on an understanding of the unique backgrounds of learners. Usher & Bryant (2014) recommend that learning activities and materials should be specifically aligned with the divergent needs of adult learners.


Clapper, T. C. (2010). Beyond Knowles: What those conducting simulation need to know about adult learning theory. Clinical Simulation in Nursing, 6(1), e7-e14.

Knowles, M. S., Holton, E. F., & Swanson, R. A. (2011). The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development. Elsevier/Taylor & Francis.

Sandlin, J. A., Wright, R. R., & Clark, C. (2013). Reexamining theories of adult learning and adult development through the lenses of public pedagogy. Adult Education Quarterly, 63(1), 3-23.

Taylor, D. C., & Hamdy, H. (2013). Adult learning theories: Implications for learning and teaching in medical education: AMEE Guide No. 83. Medical Teacher, 35(11), e1561-e1572.

Usher, R., & Bryant, I. (2014). Adult education as theory, practice and research: The captive triangle. Routledge.