Personal Philosophy of Adult Education

Dr. Guy M. Nehrenz

The philosophy of adult education is a subject that confounds even the greatest educators of our time. This philosophy does not equip a person with knowledge regarding what to teach, how to teach, or how to organize a program. It is more concerned with the why of education and with the logical analysis of the various elements of the adult education process. Most educational philosophers can not come to agreement on what adult education encompasses. And most do not agree on generation gaps within classrooms.

Should we describe adult education as the education of individuals 18 or over, or second career adults searching for a better way to earn a living, or perhaps the adult in search of a way to maintain their status in an ever-changing economy? Should we concern ourselves with the self-directed model? Should outcomes assessments be the guiding force in our assessment? There is a staggering amount of information on the philosophy of educating adults, but it appears that no two philosophers agree in whole on the rules of the game. In the next few paragraphs, an attempt will be made to do what other philosophers have disagreed on for years, and that is to pinpoint the philosophy of adult education.

Adult learners tend to be individuals with the drive to return to the classroom for the purpose of changing careers, improving financial security for family, self-improvement, goal attainment, creative fulfillment, or as an outlet for reasons as individual as the learner themselves. The importance in all of this is to provide a creative, motivational atmosphere of collaboration and two-way exchanges in the context of a learning environment. One must ask, why am I teaching? Am I a facilitator, an instructor, a mentor, or a lecturer? Why are my student's here? What do they want out of this experience, and what do I want them to take away from this interaction? Also, just as important, what do I want to personally take away from this process?

It is well known that interactive learning is a method that touches more strings in the adult learner. Simply spewing information in the hopes that the learner will obtain knowledge is a one-way method of instruction, and should be discouraged. Interactive learning is a two-way learning cycle. A learning community, online and in-person.

As a facilitator of adult education, I have found that I learn by using the experiences of the students in the classroom (online or in-class) to assist in the instruction of the course. When teaching Health Care Administration, I have students who are administrators in healthcare, and are in the program of study to assure their future in the healthcare market. Their experience, in many cases, causes a greater challenge for the instructor and enriches the experience for the other members of the program. Saying "I don't know" is sometimes as important as knowing the answer to student questions. In many cases, a student in your class will have the answer. Staying a "step ahead" should not be the goal of the instructor as it is in the pedagogical model. Reinforcement and debate of the ideas of the student is a method of "buy-in" from the student and impresses upon the individual that learning does not occur solely in the classroom and that their experience and ideas have value. This also rings true when dealing with the young adult learner. Self-esteem and feelings of worth are nurtured by allowing the leaner to present ideas that make sense to them. It is the role of the professor to encourage the thoughtful existence of the student in the academic environment. It is the guidance of the instructor that makes the difference.

To the professors kind enough to read this page, don't be a talking head in the front of the classroom. If you spend all of your time staring at your slides and reading aloud, you might as well leave the classroom. The students can read your slides without your assistance. But, if you use slides to spark debate and add color to the discussion, now we have something.

To summarize, it is in the adult education environment that instructors or facilitators should capitalize on the thought processes of their students, and use these individuals as student instructors. Adults, and many youthful student learners, tend to be self-directed and require an educational environment that acknowledges the differences among students. Many need a push at times to get them through, though this is no different than the proverbial kick-in-the-pants that all of us need from time to time to move forward. It is not only in failure that we learn, or in success that we celebrate our knowledge and accomplishments. We learn from each other and it is the job of the instructor to assure the greatest chance for success. Our students should be owners, not victims.