Learning in Adulthood
eBook - ePub

Learning in Adulthood

A Comprehensive Guide

Sharan B. Merriam, Lisa M. Baumgartner

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eBook - ePub

Learning in Adulthood

A Comprehensive Guide

Sharan B. Merriam, Lisa M. Baumgartner

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The new edition of the authoritative book in the field of adult education — fully revised to reflect the latest research and practice implications.

For nearly three decades, Learning in Adulthood has been the definitive guide in the field of adult education. Now in its fourth edition, this comprehensive volume is fully revised to reflect the latest developments in theory, research, and practice. The authors integrate foundational research and current knowledge to present fresh, original perspectives on teaching and learning in adulthood. Written by internationally-recognized experts, this market-leading guide draws from work in sociology, philosophy, critical social theory, psychology, and education to provide an inclusive overview of adult learning.

Designed primarily for educators of adults, this book is accessible for readers new to adult education, yet suitably rigorous for those more familiar with the subject. Content is organized into four practical parts, covering topics such as the social context of adult learning, self-directed and transformational learning, postmodern and feminist perspectives, cognitive development in adulthood, and more. Offering the most comprehensive single-volume treatment of adult learning available, this landmark text:

  • Offers a wide-ranging perspective on adult learning
  • Synthesizes the latest thinking and work in the field
  • Includes coverage of the sociocultural perspectives of adult learning
  • Explores the broader social implications of adult education

Learning in Adulthood: A Comprehensive Guide, 4 th Edition is an indispensable resource for educators and administrators involved in teaching adults, as well as faculty and students in graduate programs in adult education.

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Part I
Adult Learning in Contemporary Society

It is very much the perspective of this book that learning is a personal process—but a process that is shaped by the context of adult life and the society in which one lives. Compare how industrialization of the early years of the twentieth century affected what an adult needed and wanted to learn with the knowledge economy of the early twenty-first century. This learning in turn affects the social context. For example, as we become more technologically savvy, businesses respond by developing more sophisticated systems and gadgets that then require us to keep learning. It is indeed an interactive process between the learner and the social context. The four chapters in Part I explore the current sociocultural context, the range of learning opportunities available to adults in this context, and who takes advantage of these opportunities and why.
Chapter 1 describes three factors characteristic of American society today that affect what adults want to learn. First, dramatic changes are occurring in the demographic base of our society. Adults outnumber those under 18 years old for the first time ever. Moreover, the percentage of the population over age 65 continues to grow, commanding the attention of policymakers, businesspeople, and educators alike. Our population as a whole is also better educated than ever before, and there is more cultural and ethnic diversity. Therefore, there are simply more adults seeking learning opportunities, as well as more groups of adults with particular learning needs.
The second and third factors shaping the learning enterprise are globalization and technology. These are very much interrelated, of course; technology has had an enormous impact on the economy. Robotics and automation displace production workers but create other jobs; technology has fostered whole new work structures, such as job sharing and telecommuting. The effect of the global economy and technological advances on the nature of adult learning is staggering. Adults find that they must continue their learning past formal schooling in order to function at work, at home, and in their communities. The need for new knowledge, for updating old information, for retraining, has resulted in a multibillion-dollar educational enterprise.
Because of its ever-increasing presence in our lives, we have added a new chapter on technology and adult learning. From online courses offered by educational institutions and corporations to the myriad of online sites on the World-Wide Web to technological innovations that are pervading our everyday world, technology is both creating learning demands and facilitating learning in adult life. Chapter 2 is thus devoted to broadly examining the role of technology in the context of adult learning today. Some of the topics include the history of distance education, online learning theories, and the role of technology in informal and nonformal learning.
Some of this learning takes place in formal settings sponsored by countless institutions and agencies. As might be expected, business and industry and educational institutions offer many adult learning opportunities, but so do the military, cooperative extensions, churches, hospitals, and other institutions. Chapter 3 explores how the context of formal institutional settings influences the learner and the learning process. Also reviewed are learning opportunities that are nonformal, such as those offered by community-based agencies such as museums, libraries, hospitals, and so on, and informal, incidental, and self-directed opportunities, as might happen in the course of the workday or by looking up something on the Internet. In addition, we briefly discuss online learning, a fourth environment for learning that overlays formal, nonformal, and informal modes of learning. In the second half of this chapter, we explore the interrelated concepts, first, of organizational learning and the learning organization, and second, of lifelong learning and the learning society.
Chapter 4 profiles who participates in adult learning, why adults participate, and what an adult chooses to learn. Most of this information on participation and motivation is in reference to formal learning, such as that provided by educational institutions and employers. Estimates of the percentage of the adult population that participates in learning have steadily risen over the past 50 years, with the most current study suggesting that approximately 44% of all adult Americans participate in learning. Studies of self-directed learning and other nonformal types of education reveal the percentage of participation to be even higher. Clearly, learning is an important activity for today's adults. What motivates adults to participate and what deters participation is important information, especially for program developers. This chapter also reviews motivational studies.
The final section of Chapter 4 “problematizes” the concept of participation. By examining the assumptions that underlie participation we squarely confront the issues of access and opportunity in adult education. The gap between the better educated who seek out continuing education and those who do not continues to widen. Adult learning seems to have become a vehicle for solidifying a socioeconomic structure that limits access and opportunity, contrary to the stated goal of equal access to education in our society. We examine the rhetoric, which espouses one set of values, and the reality, which demonstrates another, in the provision of adult learning opportunities.

Chapter 1
The Social Context of Adult Learning

Learning, even self-directed learning, rarely occurs “in splendid isolation from the world in which the learner lives; … it is intimately related to that world and affected by it” (Jarvis, 2012, p. 11). What one wants to learn, what is offered, and the ways in which one learns are determined to a large extent by the nature of the society at any time. Contrast the young male apprentice of colonial times learning to be a blacksmith with today's middle-aged woman learning a new smartphone app, or the preparation needed to become a medical doctor at the turn of the twentieth century—less than a high school diploma—with today's long and specialized training.
It can also be argued that the nature of society at any point in time determines the relative emphasis placed on adult learning. In preindustrial societies, the rate of change was such that what a person needed to know to function as an adult could be learned in childhood. In societies hurrying to catch up, however, and in our own society with its accelerated rate of change, the urgency of dealing with social realities is felt by adults. In this global, increasingly technologically interconnected world, “the context for adult learning is growing more complex” (Nicolaides & Marsick, 2016, p. 9). The challenge for learners and adult educators is to understand the learning context whether it be “simple, complicated, complex [or] chaotic” and to adapt our learning and teaching (p. 10). Further, social issues such as immigration and climate change and individual concerns such as those related to health or family or finances often result in individuals attending courses or learning informally about these issues.
Although adult education is responsive to the context in which it takes place, it affects that same context. Take, for example, enormous changes in our society brought on by advances in technology. Advances in telemedicine mean doctors can diagnose patients who live at a distance using increasingly sophisticated web-based communication and patients can use smartphone apps to monitor their health. Auto mechanics must now be trained to diagnose engine problems using computers; auto manufacturers tout self-driving cars; a smartphone can be turned into a 3D printer; misplaced items such as keys, wallets, and backpacks can be located via smartphone. Adult education has responded to these technological advances by offering courses to learn this technology so that we can better function in our digital environment.
Although the preceding examples of learning are particularly contemporary, historically there has always been an interlocking of adult learning needs with the social context in which they occur. The skills needed in colonial America reflected the agrarian context; further, since early settlers were fleeing religious persecution in Europe, there was a moral and religious imperative in learning to read so that one could study the Bible. After the Revolutionary War, the newly independent nation needed leaders and informed citizens to build the democratic society. In this new world, civic education, which included learning about philosophy, science, and politics, eclipsed religious education and became paramount in the education of adults.
With the Industrial Revolution of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, industry-based skills training became a necessity. Also, because of the massive influx of immigrants to the United States at this time, “Americanization” and citizenship programs became a prominent form of adult education. It was felt that these immigrants needed to learn the ways of the...

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