Breaking Down Dualisms in Adult Education
The study of adult education, as is common in many fields, has often been characterized by sharp dualisms: theory vs. practice; individual vs. society; teaching vs. learning, etc. It's important to realize that these dualisms are artificial; real life is not nearly so clear-cut.
The traditional division between theory and practice is especially problematic. Learning "pure" theory and then applying it in a specific context obscures the dynamic interaction between explanations of how things work (theory) and how they actually work when we implement them (practice). The concept of "informal theory," or theory grounded in lived experience, is becoming a useful addition to more traditional thinking about theory and practice.
Much of adult education at the "ground level" has moved in this direction, including US Army training programs (many still in development) and various training programs at large urban police departments. I highlight the Army and police programs not to suggest these are the only or even best examples, but to point out how deeply this way thinking about and doing adult education has influenced the larger field.
In "Adult Learners" (Ch. 1 in the Handbook of Adult and Continuing Education), Hansman and Mott discuss the complexities inherent in the concept "adult," review prominent theories of adulthood (what is an adult?), and briefly introduce several theories of adult learning (how and why do adults learn?). Boucouvalas and Lawrence, in "Adult Learning" (Ch. 3 in the Handbook), continue the examination of adult learning theories, going into greater detail in explaining particular theories that have been prominent historically, as well as those both currently emphasized and potentially important in the future. These authors introduce concepts that will be revisited in greater depth later in the course and in subsequent courses.
Finally, Foley discusses how good teaching must go beyond technical proficiency to include a passionate commitment to a "bigger picture" based on deeply held values.
One concept that is mentioned in both Handbook chapters--and that you will encounter periodically in your readings for other courses in the program--is andragogy. For many years, this concept dominated the scholarly writing and professional practice in the field, and continues to have an impact in some contexts, particularly workplace training and development. As noted in these chapters, however, more recently adult education scholars have debated the limitations of andragogy--and indeed any single approach--as a unifying principle for the field. For anyone interested in finding out more about andragogy and the debates surrounding it, I've provided information about several relevant optional readings in the Your Tasks section of this week's lesson.
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