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For the Hall & Oates song, see Adult Education (song).

Adult education is a practice in which adults engage in systematic and sustained learning activities in order to gain new forms of knowledge, skills, attitudes, or values.[1] Adult education can take place through "extension" school (e.g., Harvard Extension School) or "school of continuing education" (e.g. Columbia School of Continuing Education). Adult education frequently occurs at schools, colleges and universities, libraries, and lifelong learning centers. The practice is at times referred to as andragogy to distinguish it from pedagogy.


Educating adults differs from educating children in several ways. One of the most important differences is that adults have accumulated knowledge and work experience which can add to the learning experience.[2] Another difference is that most adult education is voluntary, therefore, the participants are generally self-motivated. Adults frequently apply their knowledge in a practical fashion to learn effectively. They must have a reasonable expectation that the knowledge they gain will help them further their goals. For example, during the 1990s, many adults, including mostly office workers, enrolled in computer training courses. These courses would teach basic use of the operating system or specific application software. Due to the fact that the abstractions governing the user's interactions with a PC were so new, many people who had been working white-collar jobs for ten years or more eventually took such training courses, either at their own whim (to gain computer skills and thus earn higher pay) or at the behest of their managers.

In the United States, a more general example is when adults who dropped out of high school return to school to complete general education requirements. Most upwardly mobile positions require at the very least a high school diploma or equivalent. A working adult is unlikely to have the freedom to simply quit his or her job and go "back to school" full-time. Public school systems and community colleges usually offer evening or weekend classes for this reason. In Europe this is often referred to as "second-chance", and many schools offer tailor-made courses and learning programs for these returning learners. Furthermore, adults with poor reading skills can obtain help from volunteer literacy programs. These national organizations provide training, tutor certification, and accreditation for local volunteer programs. States often have organizations which provide field services for volunteer literacy programs.

Purposes of adult education may vary. One of its goals may be to help adult learners satisfy their personal needs and achieve their professional goals.[3] Therefore, its ultimate goal might be to achieve human fulfillment. The goal might also be to achieve an institution's needs. For example, this might include improving its operational effectiveness and productivity. A larger scale goal of adult education may be the growth of society by enabling its citizens to keep up with societal change and maintain good social order.[4]

The purpose of adult education in the form of college or university is distinct. In these institutions, the aim is typically related to personal growth and development as well as occupation and career preparedness. Another goal might be to not only sustain the democratic society, but to even challenge and improve its social structure.[5]

Another fast-growing sector of adult education is English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), also referred to as English as a Second Language (ESL) or English Language Learners (ELL).[6] These courses are key in assisting immigrants with not only the acquisition of the English language, but the acclimation process to the culture of the United States.

A common problem in adult education in the US is the lack of professional development opportunities for adult educators. Most adult educators come from other professions and are not well trained to deal with adult learning issues. Most of the positions available in this field are only part-time without any benefits or stability since they are usually funded by government grants that might last for only a couple of years.


The Canadian Literacy and Learning Network outlines the, 7 key principles of adult learning. In other words, these 7 principles distinguish adult learners from children and youth.

  • 1. Adults cannot be made to learn. They will only learn when they are internally motivated to do so.
  • 2. Adults will only learn what they feel they need to learn. In other words, they are practical.
  • 3. Adults learn by doing. Active participation is especially important to adult learners in comparison to children.
  • 4. Adult learning is problem-based and these problems must be realistic. Adult learners like finding solutions to problems.
  • 5. Adult learning is affected by the experience each adult brings.
  • 6. Adults learn best informally. Adults learn what they feel they need to know whereas children learn from a curriculum.
  • 7. Children want guidance. Adults want information that will help them improve their situation or that of their children.[7]


There are several challenges adults face when it comes to continuing their education. Adult learners are affected by the lack of time balancing career and family demands, financial situation or lack of transportation.[8] Keeping adults motivated, instilling in them confidence, reinforcing positive self-esteem allows for them to develop into lifelong learners.[9] Another obstacle is fear, shyness, ego, or stigma that prevents an adult from pursuing further education.

See also[edit]

By geographic region[edit]




  1. ^ Merriam, Sharan, B. & Brockett, Ralph, G.. The Profession and Practice of Adult Education: An Introduction. Jossey-Bass, 2007, p. 7.
  2. ^ Bohonos, Jeremy Appreciating the Experiences and Expertise of Adult Students, Journal of College Orientation and Transition 20:2
  3. ^ Bohonos, Jeremy Understanding Career Context as a Key to Recruiting, Retaining and Best Serving Adult Students. Journal of Adult Learning, 2014, p. 28-30.
  4. ^ Merriam, Sharan, B. & Brockett, Ralph, G.. The Profession and Practice of Adult Education: An Introduction. Jossey-Bass, 2007, p. 7.
  5. ^ Merriam, Sharan, B. & Brockett, Ralph, G.. The Profession and Practice of Adult Education: An Introduction. Jossey-Bass, 2007, p. 7.
  6. ^ "Adult English Language Instruction". Retrieved 11 December 2012. 
  7. ^ Canadian Literacy and Learning Network. Principles of Adult Learning. Jossey-Bass, 2013. Retrieved from: http://www.literacy.ca/professionals/professional-development-2/principles-of-adult-learning/
  8. ^ Phipps, S. T. A., Prieto, L. C., & Ndinguri, E. N. (2013). Teaching an old dog new tricks: Investigating how age, ability and self-efficacy influence intentions to learn and learning among participants in adult education. Academy of Educational Leadership Journal, 17(1), 13-25.
  9. ^ Kunga, K., & Machtmes, K. (2009). Lifelong learning: Looking at triggers for adult learning. The International Journal of Learning, 16(7), 501-511.

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adult_education — Please support Wikipedia.
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Jackson Sun
Tue, 19 Aug 2014 20:23:32 -0700

Madison County Adult Education, partnered with the Tennessee College of Applied Technology, saw 89 students complete the program and earn their degrees this year, although only 21 elected to take part in the ceremony. To program manager Rebekah ...

Big Country Homepage

Big Country Homepage
Tue, 19 Aug 2014 16:48:45 -0700

On The Way Home Ministries began when Diane Walker felt called to help feed those in need in the Jim Ned Valley, but now, she wants to take a step further and begin an adult education program to help people find jobs. There is work to be done, but ...
Marshfield Mail
Wed, 20 Aug 2014 05:00:00 -0700

Ozarks Technical Community College (OTC) is accepting enrollment for its free Adult Education and Literacy (AEL) classes held in several area communities, including Marshfield. The classes provide individualized learning programs for adults who want to ...
Tue, 19 Aug 2014 19:37:30 -0700

Adult education graduation at JSCC. By WBBJ 7 Eyewitness News Staff By news@wbbjtv.com. Story Created: Aug 19, 2014 at 9:34 PM CDT. Story Updated: Aug 19, 2014 at 11:25 PM CDT. JACKSON, Tenn.- Students ranging in age from 17 to 50 from ...
Boston Globe
Tue, 12 Aug 2014 21:07:30 -0700

More than 16,000 men and women in Massachusetts are on a wait list for adult basic education programs and English-language classes that could help them make the leap to college, a new job, or higher pay. Governor Deval Patrick's office plans to ...
Sat, 16 Aug 2014 21:18:45 -0700

The 2nd annual event hosted by the Hastings Literacy Program welcomed people and pets of all ages to Heartwell Park this morning. The Literacy Program provides adult education classes like GED prep and English as a Second Language to nearly 150 ...
Broadway World
Tue, 19 Aug 2014 12:07:30 -0700

Recognizing the powerful role music can play in a person's life at any age, the Music Institute of Chicago is offering a wide range of opportunities for adults to enhance their lives through musical instruction and performance in a fun, relaxed setting.
Fri, 15 Aug 2014 19:48:45 -0700

The mission of Beaufort County Adult Education is to provide educational opportunities to meet the academic needs of adults functioning below the post secondary level by providing quality programs that emphasize self-directed learning, collaboration ...

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