Foundations of Adult and Continuing Education
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Foundations of Adult and Continuing Education

Jovita M. Ross-Gordon, Amy D. Rose, Carol E. Kasworm

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eBook - ePub

Foundations of Adult and Continuing Education

Jovita M. Ross-Gordon, Amy D. Rose, Carol E. Kasworm

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A research-based foundational overview of contemporary adult education

Foundations of Adult and Continuing Education distills decades of scholarship in the field to provide students and practitioners with an up-to-date practical resource. Grounded in research and focused on the unique needs of adult learners, this book provides a foundational overview of adult education, and an introduction to the organizations and practices developed to support adult learning in a variety of contexts. The discussion also includes select understandings of international adult education, policy, and methods alongside theoretical frameworks, contemporary and historical contexts, and the guiding principles of adult education today. Coverage of emerging issues includes the aging society, social justice, and more, with expert insight from leading authorities in the field.

Many adult educators begin practice through the context of their own experiences in the field. This book provides the broader research, theory, and practice needed for a deeper understanding of adult education and its place in society.

  • Learn the key philosophical and theoretical frameworks of adult education
  • Survey the landscape of the field through contemporary and historical foundations
  • Examine key guiding understandings and practices targeted to adult learners
  • Delve into newer concerns including technology, globalization, and more

Foundations of Adult and Continuing Education provides an expertly-led overview of the field, and an essential introduction to real-world practice.

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Chapter 1

In all likelihood you come to this text with certain notions of adult education, informed by your own experience as a learner and perhaps as a professional, as well as what you have heard about adult education from relatives, friends, associates, and the media. If you have previously enrolled in a course on adult education, you are among the relatively few adult educators for whom this is true. In this chapter we share definitions of adult education as they have evolved over time, as well as other terms that have been used to refer to adult education activities. You are likely to encounter conceptions of adult education that do not correspond to your current understandings of the field; they may even challenge your conceptions of the field. If you are reading and discussing this text with others, you may not all arrive at exactly the same place. But we hope your understanding of the field will be affected by the information shared here.

Early Use of the Term Adult Education

Certainly forms of adult education have existed since the beginning of time in all societies and cultures. As authors of this survey text serving the professional field, our interest is in sharing the evolution of the concept of adult education as the field of study evolved. Our primary emphasis is on that evolution as it occurred in North America, although parallel developments elsewhere will in some cases be noted. Stubblefield and Rachal (1992) described this evolution in their article titled “On the Origins of the Term and Meanings of Adult Education in the US.” They maintained that though the origin of the term adult education to describe the field of practice is frequently traced to the 1919 Report by the British Ministry of Reconstruction and said not to have come into usage in the United States until 1924 with the birth of the American Association for Adult Education, the term was used by at least five Americans prior to this time. They credited its original usage to Joseph Henry of the Smithsonian in 1875, when he used the term to describe how local scientific societies could carry on the tradition of amateur scientists. Herbert Baxter Adams is said to have used the term next in 1891, in an article referring to the university extension movement. Henry Marcus Leipziger is reported to have used the term at least twice in 1898, first in addressing a conference of librarians and later in addressing the American Social Science Association. Finally, Bradford Knapp is reported as using the term in 1916 to refer to the work of his father, Seaman Knapp, as a farm demonstrator. Thus, Stubblefield and Rachal (1992) concluded, “By the 1900s several people had used the phrase to describe particular activities, and a few were beginning to see the emerging term as a broader rubric for different types of education for adults” (p. 112). The diverse mix of activities referred to as adult education by this point in time can be seen as indicative of the state of the field to this day.
It is important to note, however, that the term adult education was not immediately adopted as the best term to describe the range of activities we now think of as adult education. Stubblefield and Rachal (1992) discussed three other terms that vied for acceptance: home education, popular education, and educational extension. They also noted that Melvil Dewey (of library cataloguing fame) introduced the term home education at a conference to refer to the education of adults outside of schools and colleges, and Herbert Baxter Adams, who also referred to popular education, wrote a monograph in 1901 about educational extension. They noted that by 1904 the term extension acquired such acceptance that it was used as a label for one of three sections of the History of Education in the United States written by Edwin Grant Dexter. Yet, they contended that the growing prominence of the term adult education during the second decade of the twentieth century was apparent when an entire section, consisting of fifteen articles, was devoted to “The Extension of Opportunities for Adult Education” in the prestigious Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences.

Defining Adult Education

Defining the expansive field of adult education had already become a challenge by the time the first professional organization in the United States focusing broadly on adult education, the American Association for Adult Education (AAAE), was established in 1926. There is still not a universally accepted definition today. Nonetheless, certain trends can be observed in how the term has been defined over time, with common themes influenced by developments in society as well as within the field itself.
Eduard Lindeman, writing at the time that AAAE was founded (Lindeman, 1926), painted a vision of adult education with a broad stroke, noting “The whole of life is learning, therefore education can have no endings. This new venture is called adult education—not because it is confined to adults but because adulthood, maturity, defines its limits” (p. 6). In contrast to the prominence of work‐related adult education in many contexts today, he added:
Secondly, education conceived as a process coterminous with life revolves about non‐vocational ideals. In this world of specialists every one will of necessity learn to do his work, and if education of any variety can assist in this and in the further end of helping the worker to see the meaning of his labour, it will be education of a high order. But adult education more accurately defined begins where vocational education leaves off. Its purpose is to put meaning into the whole of life. (p. 7)
Equally broad in scope, but in seeming contrast to Lindeman's notion of adult education as embedded throughout all aspects of life, Bryson (1936), as cited by Hallenbeck (Hallenbeck et al., 1955), suggested that “adult education includes all the activities with an educational purpose that are carried out by people outside the ordinary business of life” (p. 3). Hallenbeck embraced Bryson's broad definition, and added the interpretation that adult education encompassed three key elements: (1) it is purposeful and orderly, (2) participation is voluntary, and (3) participation in adult education is supplementary to adults' main responsibilities. In the same article, Sheats (Hallenbeck et al., 1955) stressed that adult education includes at least three elements: purpose, planned study, and organization. These definitions share a common emphasis on orderliness that was to become even more apparent as the field became increasingly professionalized. Furthering this trend, a frequently cited definition offered by Verner (1964) preserved the emphasis on planning reflected in the definitions of Sheats and Hallenbeck, adding that adult education is supplementary to the main business of adult lives as articulated by Hallenbeck, but also stressing the role of an educational agent as the person responsible for organizing adult education. He defined adult education as
a relationship between an educational agent and a learner in which the agent selects, arranges, and continuously directs a sequence of progressive tasks that provide systematic experiences to achieve learning for people who participation in such activities is subsidiary and supplemental to a primary productive role in society. (p. 32)
Yet, it should not be assumed that the increasing emphasis on planning and organization found in definitions offered during the period of heightened professionalism during the 1950s and 1960s was universal among spokespersons of the field. For instance, in the compendium of nine invited brief essays on adult education in a 1955 issue of Adult Education, the journal of the Adult Education Association of the U.S.A. (AEA/USA), which featured the definitions offered by Hallenbeck and Sheats, not all the perspectives shared emphasized orderliness as a common feature of adult education, or even the unique “adultness” of adult education. R. J. Blakely's essay took the position that “since growth is t...


  1. Cover
  2. Title Page
  3. Copyright
  4. Table of Contents
  5. Preface
  6. About the Authors
  7. Chapter 1: What Counts as Adult Education?
  8. Chapter 2: Who Participates in Adult and Continuing Education?: Mapping the Adult Learning Landscape
  9. Chapter 3: Who Are Adult Educators, and What Do They Do?
  10. Chapter 4: Adult and Continuing Education as an Evolving Profession
  11. Chapter 5: Philosophy
  12. Chapter 6: Historical Perspectives: Contexts or Contours
  13. Chapter 7: The Adult Learner
  14. Chapter 8: Policy and Politics
  15. Chapter 9: Technology and Adult Learning
  16. Chapter 10: The Landscape of Adult Education: Prominent Organizational Contexts of Adult Education
  17. Chapter 11: The Landscape of Adult Education: Community-Based and Community Action Contexts of Adult Education
  18. Chapter 12: Changing Boundaries of Adult and Continuing Education
  19. Index
  20. End User License Agreement
Estilos de citas para Foundations of Adult and Continuing Education

APA 6 Citation

Ross-Gordon, J., Rose, A., & Kasworm, C. (2016). Foundations of Adult and Continuing Education (1st ed.). Wiley. Retrieved from (Original work published 2016)

Chicago Citation

Ross-Gordon, Jovita, Amy Rose, and Carol Kasworm. (2016) 2016. Foundations of Adult and Continuing Education. 1st ed. Wiley.

Harvard Citation

Ross-Gordon, J., Rose, A. and Kasworm, C. (2016) Foundations of Adult and Continuing Education. 1st edn. Wiley. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

Ross-Gordon, Jovita, Amy Rose, and Carol Kasworm. Foundations of Adult and Continuing Education. 1st ed. Wiley, 2016. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.