The Development of Adult Learning Programs

Executive Summary

This paper highlights different aspects of adult learning which affect the development of adult learning programs. Special emphasis is given to theories and philosophies underlying adult learning as a conceptual framework for the development of adult learning programs. Most of the facts highlighted in this study reiterate previously known beliefs about adult learners and their unique needs (compared to conventional student groups). This paper also notes that, the development of adult learning programs should focus on engaging all stakeholders of adult learning but most importantly, it should include learners’ views in the program. Instructors should therefore design adult learning programs in a way that meets the demands of the adult learners. Teachers should also have a very limited influence in the development of the adult learning programs because they should only act as a guide to the implementation of adult learning programs.

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This paper also highlights the importance of accommodating different cultural influences and views regarding learning because adult learning (in the global context) is subject to different socio-economic elements of education. Adult learning programs should therefore be holistic and participatory, but most importantly, they should be able to communicate the values and beliefs of the learners. Comprehensively, this paper notes that there is no agreement regarding the correct adult learning framework for adult learners because each adult learning program should be able to meet the needs of the specific learner group. These needs vary. However, the final stages of completing the adult learning program should include the program evaluation stage, which needs to be undertaken at the beginning, in the middle and at the late stages of the program. The evaluation stage is expected to show if the adult education program has achieved its intended objectives, or not. This paper therefore focuses on explaining the important components of developing adult education programs and through the understanding of adult education principles, more emphasis will be given to the holistic issues that make adult learning a success.


Though there are huge volumes of literature on adult learning, adult learning is a new area of study. This field of study has been characterized by the contribution of many authors and scholars. Many researchers have focused on identifying the roles of the adult learner, the adult educator, the administration, the organizational system, and the local-to-global context where the organization operates (Warren, 2011). These elements are normally used to analyze a common platform where adult learning occurs.

Many problems characterize adult learning. For instance, many adult professionals are obtained from other educational sectors and they are required to teach adults without having the requisite knowledge for doing so. Furthermore, many of such opportunities are only offered on a part-time basis and they are mainly government-funded. However, government funding does not last for a long time and therefore, adult educators leave the training programs as a result. This shortcoming compromises the quality of adult learning (Warren, 2011).

This paper seeks to integrate knowledge from adult education theories to explain how adult education programs may be improved. This process will be tailored to expose how such programs may be used to cater to different adult learner population groups. By extension, such adult education programs will be analyzed to identify how they contribute to the improvement of an organization’s integrity, effectiveness, and mission fulfillment. Different institutions are bound to gain from this study, including educational institutions that support adult education programs and volunteer literacy programs.

Comprehensively, this paper will use historical and current literature regarding adult learning to expose different methods to improve social strategies and induce social change through adult learning.

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Through the attainment of the above objectives, this paper will be useful in the attainment of several adult learning objectives. For instance, this paper will show how adult learning theories can be used to improve adult learning programs. This paper will also expose the right foundations for adult learning programs by analyzing different aspects of adult learning methodologies including adult learning program philosophy, program administration, program assessment and program evaluation. Furthermore, considering this paper analyzes adult education in a global context, the intrigues of globalization cannot be ignored. Indeed, the world has many dynamics and therefore, in a global context, it is important to accommodate these dynamics. In support of this fact, Warren (2011) explains that,

“We need to be flexible as presenters of professional development, varying our input according to needs and desired outcomes. The increasing tendency for globalization of education and training programs means that we cannot afford to ignore differing expectations and responses” (p. 3).

The analysis of adult education in a global context will be done sequentially but first, it is crucial to note the contribution of seminal theorists in the understanding of adult learning.

Seminal Theorists

Malcolm Knowles

Malcolm Knowles (a pioneer in the study of adult learning) has tried to encompass the unique attributes and behavioral traits of adult learners as opposed to contemporary learners (children and teenagers). Many seminal theorists used his concepts (in the development of adult learning theories) until the 1950s (Knowles, 1980). Before this era, various ideas regarding learning theories centered on the concept of “change” in behavior. However, after the 1950s period, the entire ideology behind adult learning theories changed after questions emerged regarding whether one needs to perform for learning to take place, or if human behavior is subject to some learning process.

Nonetheless, Knowles explained that adult learners had unique learning attributes, which differentiated them from contemporary learners. Knowles has tried to explain the unique attributes of adult learners from different perspectives. Notably, he has dived into the debate regarding if adults lose their intelligence as they age. This debate stems from the fact that adult learners are perceived to be less intelligent than conventional learners (teenagers and children) (Knowles, 1980). Most of such views favor the opinion that adult learners lose their intelligence as they age but this is not necessarily the case. Knowles (1980) explains that adult intelligent levels are normally steady as they age. This observation normally stands true until adults reach the age of about 60 to 70.

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Nonetheless, the debate regarding adult intelligence levels (viz-a-viz the intelligence levels of younger students) is shrouded by many myths and facts. If these myths and facts are true or not is debatable, but beyond doubt, these myths and facts influence the perception of adult learning.

Usually, the perception of adult learning is characterized by the assumption that adult learners are dull while younger learners are sharp. Despite the existence of these assumptions, Knowles (1980) affirms that there are certain common differences between adult learners and conventional learners. One such difference is the fact that, older learners have a longer reaction time in learning when compared to younger learners (because older students need more time to learn the same things young learners would grasp in a short time). However, adult students who have better skills of controlling their pace of learning can easily compensate for their slower comprehension speeds (Knowles, 1980).

Knowles (1980) further explains that another major distinction between adult learners and conventional learners is the decline in vision accuracy. It is proven scientifically that human vision normally declines from about the age of 18 to the age of 40. The human hearing accuracy also declines sharply after age 70 because older people tend to develop pitch, volume and response rate problems after they hit age 70. These problems can easily be compensated using a hearing aid but older learners are normally embarrassed to wear this tool, thereby affecting their confidence in learning. The loss in confidence is normally perceived by educators to be a stronger hindrance to learning when compared to the loss of hearing itself (Knowles, 1980).

Knowles also explains that the difference in memory between young and old learners is also another common area of difference between adult learners and conventional learners. There have been few evidences to suggest that there is a significant loss in short term memory for adults but there are enough evidences to suggest that adult learners have a poorer long-term memory when compared to young learners. In this regard, older learners have a difficult time acquiring and retrieving information from their long-term memories and therefore, they equally have a difficult time organizing and processing new and existing knowledge in their long-term memory (Knowles, 1980). Through this analysis, it is therefore correct to say that young learners are better at recalling information when compared to older learners. However, there is an exception to this rule when we look at recognition tests because Knowles (1980) explains that there has been little or non-existent evidence to suggest that young and old learners have a significant difference in recognition tests. The greatest problems observed with adult learning memory is seen when adult learners have to learn new knowledge that challenges known knowledge or when the learning process does not have any meaning or purpose in their lives. This problem highlights the need to understand how new knowledge characterizes adult development.

From the above differences (between adult learners and conventional learners), Knowles identifies that adult learners are more autonomous and self-directed when compared to conventional learners (teenagers and children). Through this assertion, Knowles (1980) further elaborates that the role of the instructor is mainly to facilitate the learning process and let the adult learners to take the leadership role in the learning process. Knowles also identified that adult learners were subject to immense life experiences, family responsibility and work-related knowledge, which affected their learning process (Knowles, 1980).

Knowles (1980) also identified respect as a critical component of the adult learning process and instructors were therefore encouraged to show respect to adult learners. Similarly, Knowles explained that adult learners were goal-oriented and relevancy-oriented, such that, they often took courses, which propelled them to attain a specific objective (relevant to their lives). For instance, in the 90s, there was a proliferation of computer courses, which many adult learners enrolled to do. Conversely, there was a constant surge in demand for such courses because most adult learners worked in offices that required computer knowledge. Such courses often taught the use of softwares and operating systems, which were practical ventures in education. The practicability and eventual success of such courses affirms the fact that adults are often attracted to practical courses. In addition, in the same instance adult learners enrolled for computer courses, many of the learners were motivated by the prospects of wage increment and promotions, which would have elevated their status in the workplace. These motivations are examples of different goals that motivate adult learners to pursue educational objectives.

A more general example is the (almost) stereotypical notion that high school dropouts experience many limitations in life opportunities. This stereotype is premised on the fact that most upward-mobile positions require an individual to have a higher educational qualification than high school level. Considering the fact that many adults would not give up their day jobs to pursue different educational pursuits, many educational institutions introduced evening classes to cater for the growing demand for adult learners (to pursue their educational ambitions beyond high school and subsequent levels of education). In Europe, evening classes are infamously referred as “second chance”. Such are the characteristics that define andragogy as an emerging concept of learning.

A German educationist introduced the concept of Andragogy in 1833, but it is Malcolm Knowles, who essentially turned the learning methodology into a popular adult theory (Knowles, 1980). Andragogy is an adult teaching methodology that developed from pedagology (the teaching methodology for children) (Knowles, 1980). Before the introduction of the concept (andragogy), pedagogy was the only known teaching methodology. Andragogy was developed by a group of researchers to focus more on unique adult learner needs as opposed to the conventional child learner needs. In andragogy, there is a strong emphasis on process design as opposed to pedagology, which focuses more on the content plan (Knowles, 1980). Focusing on process design, andragogy is aimed at designing and managing processes that are aimed at facilitating the acquisition of content by adult learners (but in the same manner, it also serves as a content resource for peers, supervisors and specialists).

Knowles advocated for the above views during the early years of understanding pedagogy, but, in later years, he changed his stand on the adult theory and gave conflicting statements regarding whether the teaching paradigm was designed exclusively for adults or it could be applicable to children as well. This conflict of opinion defines the controversy surrounding the use of andragogy as a unique adult teaching methodology (Knowles, 1980). Considering andragogy defines the transition from a teacher-centered to a student-centered learning style, critics note that the shift could equally be beneficial to children (as it is for adults). Nonetheless, it is important to note that such concerns are dispelled by the fact that proponents of the adult educational methodology were essentially adult teachers and they devised the theory to specifically apply to their unique student group (adults). This makes the teaching methodology uniquely applicable to adult learners.

Knowles (1980) notes that in designing adult learning programs an adult learning environment be provided to facilitate the learning process. More importantly, he recommends that college environments (where many young college goers frequent) should be avoided if adult learning curriculums are to be effectively undertaken. This is in line with Knowles’s view that andragogy is essential for adults and such students should not be subjected to an environment that seeks to compare them with another student group (young learners). To affirm his sentiments, Knowles (1980) explains that:

“If a college setting is used, and traditional students are part of the study, it is very desirable to have four groups, including an adult andragogy and an adult pedagogy group. It is not desirable to have two groups where a combined group of adults and traditional students receives an andragogical treatment and a second combined group of adults and traditional students receives a pedagogical treatment, even when the adults are separated in the analysis” (p. 284).

However, there is enough evidence to suggest that higher learning environments are quite beneficial to andragogical teaching, but it is recommended that future studies should be done in scenarios where the environment is exclusively adult-centered (Knowles, 1980). Considering there is a high emphasis on adult environments (when referring to andragogy), there has consequently been an increased need to define adult environments and adults in their essence. Knowles (1980) claims that an adult is a person who perceives himself or herself as an adult and has assumed the social and cultural responsibilities that are characteristic of adults. In the same manner, he also provides another criteria (where the above definitions lack) and defines an adult as a person who has attained a given age ceiling, say, 25 years (whichever is considered adult, considering the social definitions of an adult in a given community setting). Knowles’s (1980) definition of an adult is also congruent with the above definition because he defines adult education as “activities intentionally engaged in for the purpose of bringing about learning among those whose age, social roles, or self-perception define them as adults” (p. 215). This definition of an adult is important because andragogy is known to work best in environments that are exclusively adult-centered.

Knowles (1980) observes that adult learning is traditionally based on the teacher’s ability to identify the right (internal) motivating factors for adult learners. However, Knowles (1980) singles out professional career motivation as a form of personal motivational factor (only if it is not coercive). In other words, he identifies that; voluntary participation among learners should not be based on material rewards but rather on immaterial reward. From a comprehensive point of view, restricting voluntary participation (in the context that only legitimate benefit of andragogy would be, learning for personal benefit or self-actualization) is deemed a rather extreme limitation and it is contrary to what Knowles said when defining andragogy. Specifically Knowles (1980) asserted that:

“Although andragogy acknowledges that adults will respond to some external motivators like a better job, a salary increase, and the likes, the andragogical model predicates that the more potent motivators are internal self-esteem, recognition, better quality of life, greater self-confidence, self-actualization, and the like” (p. 281).

Concerning standardized tests as a component of adult learning programs, Knowles (1980) cautions that, “tests should be used with caution and preferably with the participants’ full participation in the decision, administration and analysis” (p. 12). Since Knowles (1980) is cautious about standardized tests, he proposes the use of tailor-made tests, but he also expresses caution about this assessment criterion too after noting that if instructors use it to compare two adult learners, it would not be in the spirit of andragogy. Unfortunately, most instructors use this assessment criterion in this manner. Here, Knowles recommends that tailor-made assessment criteria should be used for purposes of the students’ own edification (with regards to the relative gains made in the entire learning process), and if it is possible, adult learners should be allowed to come up with their own assessment criteria in group or individual contexts.

Knowles notes that the difficulty in designing successful adult learning programs is the strain in developing high quality products, which not only affect the personal lives of the students but also transfers the learned knowledge into the professional lives of the students (Knowles, 1980). Though many institutions spend a lot of money developing workable adult learning programs, the results of such processes do not usually reflect the same level of investment.

Knowles (1980) notes that talking about this issue is not enough; instead, good standards of practice should be modeled. Developing a workable adult learning program not only allows students to synchronize their learning experiences with their professional development but also assist those around them to do the same as well. Usually, professional adult learning programs are well planned and therefore, learners are able to plan their follow-up activities in the same fashion.

Developing a professional adult learning program depends on the level of original groundwork done to make the process a success. The first step involves identifying the right need for undertaking the entire process in the first place (and ensuring the process steps meet this need) (Knowles, 1980). Instructors should be able to undertake this process during their work time. In the same spirit, they should be able to see themselves as learners and not as the ultimate solution to educational problems. Motivation should also be analyzed within the context of an ongoing continuum and not as a one-off event. The development of the foundations for a professional adult learning program also depends on the emphasis on tangible products and involvement. The entire process should also be deep in breadth rather than a collection of small pieces of the adult learning program. Finally, in developing the framework for the adult learning program, the expectations of the adult learners and their reasons for engaging in the learning process should also be considered (Knowles, 1980).

Knowles (1980) observes that, the above factors are important in the development of adult learning programs because they help to motivate the instructors. Knowles (1980) also notes that developing a professional adult learning program is not a linear process but rather an interrelation of factors. The context of developing the adult learning program is also essential in the entire process because it is important to consider who is engaged in the development process since they dictate the outcome of the entire exercise. For instance, participants from urban areas develop most adult learning programs and therefore, participants from metropolitan areas exclusively develop most of the adult learning programs. These participants can therefore not see beyond their primary vicinity (metropolitan places).

In developing an interactive model of developing adult learning processes, Knowles (1980) proposes an interactive model of program planning. This interactive model consists of an interaction between the issues and unique characteristics of adult learners by devising ways of managing them. Concisely, this process is not any different from any other type of negotiation because different instructors and learners have different needs and expectations. Therefore, as mentioned in earlier sections of this study, this process is neither an event nor the beginning (or end) to a process.


“Part of being an effective instructor involves understanding how adults learn best” (Lindeman, 1926, p. 2). The above statement was made in an article written to explain how effective instructors could improve their teaching experience. Like Knowles, Lindeman’s statement shows that adult learners are different from children and teenagers because they have unique needs in learning. However, Lindeman notes that adult learning stages should be analyzed the same way conventional learning is analyzed. This provision is important because adult learners undergo the same learning stages that children go through (Lindeman, 1926, p. 23). These stages can also be classified chronologically and socially. However, adult development stages should not be confused with life-cycle phases. Life cycle phases are normally representative of the processes people undergo from birth to death and they should not be assumed to be stages that people undergo to become mature.

Lindeman (1926) explains that adults develop in three stages. The first stage is defined by Levision’s theory, which stipulates that men go through four stages of development including adolescence, early adulthood, middle adulthood and late adulthood. Levinson’s model is progressive because it ascends to a climax of the adult life, which is defined by the entry into the adult world at age 20 and settling into the adult world at age 35 (Lindeman, 1926, p. 2). Lindeman’s main contribution to the adult learning process is his appreciation for the progression of adult lives. His theory stipulates the first stage of development to be “balances”. This stage is characterized by a high sense of impulsiveness and self-centeredness. This stage also paves the way for the realization of an “others-centered” stage where interpersonal relationships and mutuality are upheld. This stage finally gives way to a new stage of self-centeredness, which is characterized by inter-individual balance where the conflict between the “self” and “others” reaches a new height (Lindeman, 1926). Here, a person is normally required to acknowledge the new sense of “self”, but at the same time, they are also required to merge the “self’ with others. Lindeman’s model therefore centers on redefining the ‘self” and how the “self” relates to others.

Lindeman’s theory also defines the adult development process by providing a continuum with nine stages. The first stages of the development process are defined by dualistic thinking but as the stages develop, they have a greater contextual relativism. Most people often operate within the confines of one spectrum but contextual thinkers sometimes operate dualistically. This analysis shows that dualistic thinkers are not capable of thinking contextually. Lindeman’s adult development theory is somewhat hierarchical and it does not vary much. Each stage of the adult development process normally depends on one another and there are no known shortcuts that can be made between the stages. However, there are situations where an adult learner may move between two stages (fast) and there are situations where the learner may stay in one position for a long time. There are also some rare occasions where an adult learner may retreat to an earlier stage (Lindeman, 1926).

However, it should be understood that some of the theories mentioned in Lindeman’s theory were developed by analyzing a small group of people. For instance, the above models were developed after analyzing white, adult, middle-class men. The focus on other genders, races, social classes and ages is therefore an emerging field of study. This perspective of study aligns with the new focus on globalization and increased sensitivity to the dynamics that exist among adult learners in the world.

Nonetheless, in explaining adult teaching methodologies, Lindeman also said that teachers and textbooks should play the second and third wheel in adult learning while students should be the primary focus of the entire learning experience (Lindeman, 1926, p. 2). Lindeman gave a lot of emphasis to the learner experience as a paramount component of learning. For instance, he often referred to the fact that if people viewed education to be life, then life should be equated to education. In addition, Lindeman viewed the volumes of experiences that adult learners accrued to be like a textbook for their learning. Based on this understanding, Lindeman said that,

“Authoritative teaching, examinations which preclude original thinking, rigid pedagogical formulae –all these have no place in adult education…Small groups of aspiring adults who desire to keep their minds fresh and vigorous; who begin to learn by confronting pertinent situations; who dig down into the reservoirs of their experience before resorting to texts and secondary facts; who are led in the discussion by teachers who are also searchers after wisdom and not oracles: this constitutes the setting for adult education, the modern quest for life’s meaning” (Lindeman, 1926, p. 2).

Through a review of Lindeman’s works, there is no contention regarding the fact that many educationists have spent more than two decades of research trying to identify the characteristics of adult learners so that they can improve their learning programs.

Lindeman notes that the interactive process in the development of adult learning programs involves several processes. They include, discerning the context of planning, building a solid base of support, conducting needs assessment and assessing ideas for programs (Lindeman, 1926). However, there are some assumptions that underpin the application of the above steps. In fact, the interactive model acknowledges that the above steps need not necessarily be applied in the same sequence. Instead, the interactive planning process acknowledges the needs for last minute changes, negotiation and application of the right steps in the right context. Program planning is therefore viewed as an art and the program planners are considered learners too.

Lindeman notes that interactive model of adult learning program development should also acknowledge the emphasis on the client as the main user of the program. Diversity and cultural differences are also carefully taken into consideration because of the global nature of the adult learning programs. Interdependence and collaboration are also carefully integrated in the program development process, coupled with personal learning modes.

The framework of the interactive learning model emanates from information, which is already known about adult learners. Most of the existing psychological theories, which are highlighted by Lindeman (1926), tend to rely on many individual elements of learning. Personal experiences and knowledge are also carefully taken into consideration. This is the same framework underlying the application of Knowles’s interactive model because it acknowledges that each learner is subject to their own motivational strategies and every person has different processing speeds and personal preferences in learning.

The purpose for learning will therefore depend on individuals and most people would reject anticipated changes to their existing body of knowledge if they deem such information extremely radical. Similarly, instructors would also reject information that contravenes what they know to be the true learning methodologies. Such instructors would rather rely on information that they have tested in the past and worked on them as opposed to information, which drastically changes their teaching methodologies. From this understanding, instructors and adult learners share the same views about new information.

Lindeman (1926) also explains that learners also have different personal goals and objectives that have to be considered in the development of the learning programs. Their physical and psychological comfort should be emphasized during this process. The learners should therefore be asked what their concerns are so that there is a strong connection developed between the learners and the learning program. In affirmation of this concept, Lindeman (1926) explains that, “Individuals will be looking for something they can add to their repertoire; something practical; something they can use over the next one, six or twelve months in their own contexts” (p. 21).

In a contextual point of view, the interactive model is more inclined to approach the development of adult learning programs from a sociological base. This view is factual because the interactive model tends to emphasize on social parameters such as gender, class, ethnicity and culture. The nature of the learners is therefore very critical in determining how the learners learn. For instance, some cultures in the world such as the American Indians and the Maoris who live in New Zealand are more collaborative than most ethnicities in the country. Instructors who come from places where an individualistic culture is upheld therefore find it difficult to cope with students who come from a collaborative culture. It is only until recently that instructors have started to integrate this dynamic into their learning practice. However, contextual and individual approaches should be used together because they are not mutually exclusive. Therefore, Lindeman (1926) implies that though we may have ten programs that contain the same issues, there may be an equal number of different emphasis and approaches.

Most professionals engaged in the development of adult learning programs rarely undertake a needs assessment exercise and if they do so, the findings of such exercises are not used. Here, Lindeman notes that teamwork should also be emphasized throughout the adult learning process and it is equally important to encourage collaborative approaches to learning as opposed to upholding individual excellence. Similarly, the process of developing adult learning programs should also include seeking the opinions of all the stakeholders in the learning process and practically seeking the opinions of the ethnic groups we normally read about.

Lindeman also notes that transfer is also another critical component in the development of adult learning programs because for transfer to happen, the professionals engaged in the development of the adult learning programs need to be aware of their contextual environment (Lindeman, 1926). It should however, be understood that, in the context of this study, ‘transfer’ refers to the ability of learners to disseminate information and use it in their own contexts. This is an important precondition for the realization of transfer.

In an analysis of the existing literature defining the development of adult learning programs, Lindeman notes that, there is a strong inclination of the writers to describe the steps to take in developing adult learning as opposed to giving credible information supporting these steps (Lindeman, 1926). In addition, from the same analysis, there is no reasonable framework to show some sense of harmony among these researchers in developing the adult learning framework. Furthermore, there is no literature that recommends one source over another, or a proper framework to show which program should be applicable in a specific context. Lindeman (1926) affirms this fact by stating that there is no clear framework to show the superiority of one program model over another. Knowles also seconds this statement and observes that most authors show different benefits of undertaking program planning and different ways of evaluating such plans (Knowles 1980). There is no doubt that program planning is a critical component in the development of adult learning programs but there is little effort among most researchers to converge this body of knowledge and show the real benefits of program planning.

The gap in the understanding of the planning process gave an opportunity to Lindeman (1926) who defines planning as

“a complex process that substantially influences and is influenced by the context in which it occurs. Planning is also a social process, so it is influenced by the same social, cultural, political and economic factors that influence other human social endeavors. Planning is fundamentally about attempting to shape and control events in the future” (Lindeman, 1926, p. 93).

Through this definition, Lindeman explains that there are several players in the planning process that should be acknowledged as important players in the entire exercise. The most important person is the planner. About 50% of the tasks in the planning process are allocated to the planner. In this context, the planner may be a person, institution, organization or a similar entity. Most of the judgments to be made in the program planning process must also be undertaken by the program planners and often, they use their intuition to do so.

Lindeman explains that during the planning process, program planners need to overcome several issues in the planning process including “personal interests, organizational expectations, facilities, budget(s), subject experts, public perceptions, societal values and beliefs, and others” (Lindeman, 1926, p. 104). This exercise is normally crucial before an understandable accounting situation is realized. Lindeman (1926) also points out that the scope of the planning process is normally unlimited. An adult learning program may therefore include one event (like an adult cardiopulmonary resuscitation class) or it may include several educational events like a wellness event, which consist of several activities, and educational events in the semester. Lindeman observes that, when a person refers to an adult education program offered in an organization, emphasis should be given to the comprehensive program. Different courses and experiences therefore define this program because these elements define the desired learning program (Lindeman, 1926).

Lindeman (1926) highlights a critical note made by Knowles (1980) by explaining that often, the project planner brings with his personal perceptions regarding how they believe the process planning exercise should proceed. Knowles (1980) refers to this inclusion of personal beliefs as credos. Knowles (1980) also propelled the belief that adult learners know what they want in life and therefore, program planners should be able to tailor their learning modules to be in line with such facts. Lindeman (1926) purports that a student-centered and humanistic approach to learning is the best framework for developing workable adult learning programs. In some situations, a lot of emphasis lies on the adult learners to learn practical knowledge such as skill training. Skill training especially has a lot of pressure on all organizational stakeholders because it establishes a behaviorally centered orientation. Proponents of the behavioral model have a defined standard of expectation and measure of performance for their subjects. Lindeman (1926) refers to this approach as classical and romantic.

The behaviorist approach emphasizes a lot on skills, instructions and information relay because the instructors who practice this learning methodology expect a lot of conformity, obedience and respect from their students. The romantic and humanistic approach to developing adult learning programs never fails to emphasize on the adult learner because it takes into account the learner’s experience, creativity, discovery and originality (which is highly expected in an adult learning program, considering the unique characteristics of adult learners discussed in earlier sections of this study). Nonetheless, there are other theories (apart from the behaviorist approach) which can act as the framework for the development of adult learning programs but the elements of behaviorism and humanism seem to be prominent in most published texts.

Despite the weight of the above analogy, Lindeman (1926) explains that adult learning programmers should be aware of the model they wish to use. It is observed that very few adult learning programs have a theoretical explanation behind them. A learning model that does not have a theoretical framework is not any different from an untested model and therefore, the likelihood that instances of failure may be experienced is high. Lindeman (1926) affirms,

“The practice of adult education is an art based on science. Effective practice as an art because it encompasses responsiveness, interpersonal relations, and values. Effective practice is based on science because it draws upon tested knowledge from various scholarly disciplines” (Lindeman, 1926, p. 43).

Lindeman (1926) also explains that the process of planning requires the planner to wade through the intrigues of the macro and micro views of planning. The concept of micro planning focuses on the context of developing one learning program and concentrating on the issues of the program. This context may also include a group setting where a planner also concentrates on one individual or a group of individuals as a target audience and tailors the learning program to meet the needs of this group.

Lindeman (1926) also exposes the intrigues behind the huge volumes of literature behind the development of adult learning programs by noting that nonlinear integrated program models are macro models while linear program models are micro models. These types of models are not exclusive to one another. In fact, Lindeman (1926) explains that the integrated linear model is a product of a higher-level integrated linear model.

The above linear models do not show more than the steps a programmer needs to follow in the preparation of the learning program. Linear models propose that a second step (in the development of the adult learning model) should not be undertaken unless the first step is completed. For instance, a linear model dictates that it would be impossible to complete a program schedule until the location, instructor and topic to be discussed have been identified (Lindeman, 1926). Critics of the linear model always fear that the simplicity and efficiency of the linear programming process could lead to the dominance of institutional objectives over the planning processes.

The classical mode of program planning is rigid because it does not account for the dynamics of the planning process. In any case, it does not resonate well with the dynamics of the global learning environment, which is characterized by many dynamics. Nonlinear models tend to differ with the above characteristic because they offer more flexibility to the planning process. The greatest flexibility is observed in the process of time and resource allocation. The non-linear model therefore emphasizes the context, which the planner intends to develop his program. For instance, the non-linear planning model includes the political intrigues of the organization and the influence posed by the learners (regarding their gender, class, age and social status influences in the learning process). However, there are several commonalities identified in the existing learning model and they are defined by Lindeman (1926) as “the needs and ideas of learners, organizations, and/or communities as central to the program planning process; the importance of context in the planning process; and identifiable components and practical tasks that are important to the planning process” (p. 30).

Lindeman (1926) proposes a common framework that has been used in the development of learning programs for a long time. Lindeman’s educational framework consists of two components. The first component involves categorizing the educational framework and observing the different steps to be undertaken in the framework. The situational categories introduced by Lindeman’s model include personal learning, group learning, and mass learning (which may include inter-institutional learning). There is no specific order where learning is to take place (within the categories) because Lindeman indicates that learning can begin at any point in the program and progress can be made to whichever category.

The main objective of Lindeman’s model was to introduce a new framework that breaks free from the linear models. Though Lindeman’s model is certainly comprehensive, critics note that it represents an instructor’s view on the creation of the learning program without including the influences of the external environment. In their view, this may not be the real depiction of the learning environment. The issues of context and power have also been voiced as possible limitations to the application of Lindeman’s model because the real learning environment is characterized by power struggles, which may be constraining or supportive to the learning environment. Power relationships therefore have a profound impact on the program planning process. After placing planning in a social context and using the critical theory as the main framework for his analysis Lindeman (1926) reports that

“By framing planning in this way, they effectively exclude other equally plausible and more complete explanations of what is happening and if there are other processes occurring beyond negotiation, then their assertions about what skills and knowledge are needed to plan responsibly are at best incomplete and at worst misleading” (p. 4).

Lindeman (1926) enforces Knowles previous view of accommodating last minute decisions and adjustments in the planning process by proposing for the inclusion of a globally integrated model of the planning process. The planning process is also viewed as a cyclic process that is characterized by sequential events at the micro level. These sequential occurrences are to be complied by all the stakeholders but the cyclic nature of the planning process defines the macro view of the planning process where nonlinear program planning occurs.

Pierre Bourdieu

Pierre Bourdieu, an American sociologist, has explained the sociology of adult education, through the advancement of the bourdieu theory. This theory is largely focused on analyzing the objective elements of education and merging it with the subjective elements of education (Bourdieu 1977). In literal aspects, the bourdieu theory is concerned with the structure and agency of the adult education system plus how it integrates with the functioning and perceptions of the society (regarding life). Pierre has therefore been able to focus the bourdieu theory on habitus elements of adult learning. Similarly, he has been able to influence the perceptions of cultural capital (viz-a-viz the adult education system) through an advancement of the fact that the education system affects the chances of individuals to succeed in society.

From the above ideology, adult education flourishes because adult learners strive to acquire new knowledge to improve their odds of succeeding in life. Many educational scholars have affirmed the evidence of this observation (such as Paul Willis who tried to explain that the reason working class children get working class jobs is through cultural capital). The understanding of this observation however rests on the principle of habitus elements, because it is evident from the analysis of Bourdieu, that socioeconomic classes are enforced in cultural capital (Bourdieu 1977). The structure of this concept is evident from the observation that the social elite create the various segments of cultural capital, and through the modification of the educational system, they are able to pass the same cultural capital down to their children (who perpetrate the same social and educational differences too). Pierre explains that:

“Upper-class parents take their children to fine art museums and teach them how to talk about Rembrandt, Monet, and Picasso; later in college, job interviews, and cocktail parties, the ability to talk about Rembrandt, Monet, and Picasso is one of the markers that people use, consciously or unconsciously, to identify people as being from their own tribe” (Bourdieu, 1977, p. 3).

It is however important to note that the museums are open to all and in this sense, institutions do not go contrary to the principles of cultural capital. However, the main issue here is not for the children to marvel at the beauty of the paintings, but to know how to speak about their characteristics. This kind of socioeconomic upper hand that the elite have, best describes habitus. In addition, since the social elite in the society hold a number of significant influential positions in the society, it becomes increasingly easy to understand that their influence in the society creates some sort of ideology and hegemony in the education system, which then becomes the dominant educational culture.

The above assertion is especially true because the elite indirectly make potential opponents to their perception of the education system (people from lower social classes) to think that their ideology is the best (or that is how it should be). It also becomes very easy for everyone else to believe this ideology because when the success of the elite is measured in the society, they stand out as the best. This situation prompts everyone to think that their ideology is the best too. If their ideology is true or not, is open to debate, but what is factual is the principle that the ideology of the affluent thereafter becomes the accepted and legitimate system of education. This analogy informs adult learning in the global context. When such legitimization occurs, the education system then becomes the structural distribution of cultural capital, in that, the cultural capital practices by the social elite becomes the dominant culture and system of education; replicated throughout all levels of education.

The biggest beneficiaries to this educational paradigm are therefore those who have inculcated the cultural capital system and familiarized themselves with the dominant culture. Pierre notes that ,most often than not, this familiarization is mainly fostered through linguistic and cultural understanding of the dominant culture, to clearly outline how the education system creates hegemony over other ideologies (Bourdieu 1977, p. 28). For the elite, this competency in dominant culture is normally fostered through family upbringing, where the children get to learn the dominant culture (almost by default) and so they believe that is the way to go. Other people or students get to learn of it through the education system. Adult learners therefore form a group that is wary of the above intrigues but still, adult learners bring unique elements of learning to the conventional education system. This statement informs the elements of a good adult learning program.


Peter Jarvis is another seminal theorist who has contributed immensely to the understanding of adult learning. His theory was mainly used in the 80s to develop adult learning programs. Jarvis main contribution is the Jarvis Learning Process and Adult Learning Theory. Jarvis’s Learning Process and Adult Learning Theory is closely similar to the experiential learning theory because they both focus on experience as a crucial component of adult learning. Experiential learning is a related theory that influences adult learning in different ways. Experiential learning defines the role of experience in the learning process but most importantly, it is applicable to adult learners who have accumulated many life experiences. The emphasis on experiences is the defining concept for the experiential learning theory and it is the basis for Jarvis’s Learning Process and Adult Learning Theory (Jarvis, 2003). Other theories do not have this emphasis. For instance, cognitive learning theories focus more on cognition over affect and behavioral learning theories tend to be obsessed with the concept of behavior over other learning concepts such as experience.

Jarvis (2003) views experiential learning from two viewpoints. The first view of experiential learning is applicable in the context of new knowledge acquisition and application in a relevant context. Usually, the relevant environment is controlled with many instructors and facilitators to help the learner grasp new knowledge. The second view of experiential learning is defined by the application of real-life events in the learning process (Jarvis, 2003, p. 53). From the above analysis, Jarvis (2003) therefore perceives learning to be applicable in the real-life setting as opposed to the formal context. Immediate and concrete experiences are normally perceived to be the frameworks that conceptualize observations and reflections. These two concepts are often used to develop models for drawing more action in adult learning. The experiential learning concept stipulates that an adult learner can enter the experiential learning process from any learning stage. Progress into an upper stage is witnessed when the learner has processed all the experiences from an initial stage.

Jarvis (2003) perceives the experience accrued by most adult learners as the main advantage they have over other types of learners (children and teenagers). Jarvis’s learning process perceives the experience accrued by adult learners as a main reference point for the application of new knowledge, and for different points of exploration and new learning. After reviewing adult learning processes, Jarvis (2003) explains that, “all learning begins with experience” (p. 23). Somewhat, these post-experience learning methodologies are cited as the turning point of learning where new experience is acquired and effective learning takes place. Jarvis’s learning model has therefore been considered a useful tool for learners and educators in enriching the adult learning experience.

Nonetheless, Jarvis’s model of learning exposes several questions in adult learning such as if the learning model represents a post-modern concept of learning where experience is considered the ultimate issue and if it is paramount to the completion of adult learning processes. If the learning model represents the above analogy, questions regarding how it enriches or narrows the learning process therefore become evident. Jarvis (2003) is of the view that adult learning occurs by gathering life experiences (throughout a person’s lifetime). He also notes that the experience accrued throughout their lifetimes also dictate how adult learners derive meaning in their studies and create appropriate frameworks for learning.

Through this analysis, adult experiences are emphasized in the functional theory of adult learning and most instructors are encouraged to respect such learning resources and apply them in their learning experience (for the realization of desired outcomes) (Jarvis, 2003, p. 53). From this point of view, it is therefore critical to ask if all forms of learning that do not include experience are not considered authentic educational undertakings. Despite the existence of the above questions (regarding Jarvis’s learning model), it is still correct to note that learning from an older and more experienced person improves ones chances of success and a person who does so, is also likely to improve his or her networks. Therefore, an older person’s failures and success can be useful in expanding one’s knowledge base. Similarly, such experiences are useful in shortening one’s learning cycle. In support of this point of view, Jarvis (2003) explains that,

“It seems that living largely out of one’s personal experiences also short-circuits meaningful, relational connections that expand one’s horizons and better equip one to succeed in this world and avoid so many of its pitfalls. Yet, it may be reasonably argued, that personal experience provides the most integral and visceral form of learning” (p. 12).

Despite the application of Jarvis’s theory, there seems to be an uncoordinated application and perception towards adult learning if Knowles and Lindeman’s concepts are considered in this analysis. Both researchers note that adult learning is multifaceted and it contains different points of views. This fact cannot be better affirmed than from an analysis of the differences in contents of adult learning theories. The differences in their points of view exhibits the fact that adult learning is individualistic and there are different approaches to adult learning as there are people engaged in the same learning process.

Considering the program evaluation process (in adult learning programs), Jarvis (2003) explains that all evaluation processes should be aimed at establishing if the entire learning process has influenced student behavior or not. Jarvis (2003) proposes that program evaluation should always occur at the beginning of the program, towards the end of the program and right after completing the program. Jarvis (2003) also warns against perceiving the evaluation program as an end or a means to an end because evaluating or determining the changes and beliefs in student performance is equally an integral process of the learning exercise. His view was developed from studies undertaken in the 70s, which note that proper program evaluation involves getting into the “skull” of the participants and observing how the learning process affects their social behaviors (the way they think, feel and do things) (Jarvis, 2003). Sometimes the right evaluation strategy is done to establish if the education program should continue or stall. However, there is a common belief that most evaluations are normally done when a program has run its full course. Usually, state or federal governments initiate program evaluations.

Jarvis (2003) elaborates that the main aim of undertaking program evaluations is to establish if the program has achieved its goals or not. This kind of evaluation is normally referred to as “summative evaluations” (Jarvis, 2003, p. 52). The other common type of evaluation is the formative evaluation, which is done when the program is still running; usually, with the aim of identifying ways of improving the program (most of the personnel in an organization carry out this type of evaluation) (Jarvis, 2003).

Jarvis (2003) explains that formative evaluations should be undertaken during the early stages of a program. A summative program is however appropriate in a situation where the learning program has matured and run its full course. If the process of integrating the evaluation process into the learning curriculum is done successfully, the participants have a better chance at gaining evidence for the purposes intended. Even after considering the above intrigues regarding program evaluation, Jarvis (2003) suggests that there is no one acceptable criterion of program evaluation. However, he recommends that program planners need to consider certain important aspects of program evaluation. The task of program evaluation can be as complicated as the entire planning process but in the same fashion, it can be as simple as a summative evaluation. As explained in earlier sections of this paper, program planners have several models to base their program plans.

Jarvis (2003) explains that the development of adult learning models has evolved from the traditional notion that adult learning was not affected by external and internal factors, to the notion that many factors affect the learner and the instructor during the learning process. The same transition also acknowledges that though all negotiations are intended to achieve a desired objective, there is also a strong probability that the same negotiations may achieve unintended objectives. In this regard, the program planning process has transitioned from being product-centered to process centered. This is the main argument informing Jarvis’s perception of adult learning programs.


Contemporary Theorists

Jean Piaget

The stage theory is mainly attributed to Piaget’s works. Piaget was concerned with the construction of the childhood process by adult learners. Through the same lens of analysis, Piaget was more focused on the virtue of growing wiser as opposed to the virtue of growing older (Burman, 2007). Through the same understanding, Piaget noted that intelligence was not a static element because it evolved, depending on the life experiences of the learner.

Piaget designed his four stages of development by basing his ideas on Knowles’s works. Knowles explained that adult learners did not have lower levels of intelligence (even though they had advanced in age). The relationship between age and intelligence levels shrouded adult learning arguments for a long time. Based on this confusion, Piaget explained that children often reach the final stage of development when they are able to undertake (comfortably) formal operations without anybody’s help (often, this stage is realized between the ages of 12 and 13) (Burman, 2007). In addition to Piaget’s four-stage development, a fifth stage of development was introduced. This stage of development emanated from the fact that formal thought was a product of two stages. Piaget proposed that the formal thought was a product of only one stage. As adults try to make sense of the world, Piaget proposes that they often undergo the pre-conventional stage, conventional stage, and the post-conventional stage. The pre-conventional stage is focused on survival; the conventional stage is focused on “fitting in” (being accepted and conforming to societal norms) and the last stage (post-conventional stage) is focused on thinking things through as opposed to surviving and conforming to the societal norms (Burman, 2007).

Piaget’s views are useful to this study because they shed more insight regarding the psychological characteristics of adult learners. His views are useful in the understanding of adult learners as a special learning group and by extension; this understanding is useful in the formulation of adult learning programs. The inclusion of Piaget’s views on adult learning therefore provides a useful springboard to the development of effective adult learning programs.

Michael Hock

Hock (2012) has greatly capitalized on the arguments advanced by seminal theorists regarding adult learning concepts. Through this framework, he established that adult learning theories encompass the virtues of “humanism, personal responsibility orientation, behaviorism, neo-behaviorism, critical perspectives, and constructivism” (Hock, 2012, p. 64). In an unrelated analysis of adult learning, Hock (2012) terms adult learning to be an interactive relationship of theory and practice.

Hock borrows adult learning concepts from Knowles (1980) by stating that adult learning is a process where adult learners study different theories and apply them (in real life). This view is supportive of Knowles argument that adult learners prefer to learn new knowledge that is specific to their daily lives. This analysis was developed from the assumption that adult learning prompts practice and more practice, thereby exposing the fact that adult learning is prone to revisions.

Hock’s theory on adult learning is relevant to this study because it shows the accepted dynamism that adult learning in a global context entails. Here, we can see that the dynamism of adult learning is exposed by the fact that different adult learners have different views on life and therefore, adult learning theories should be flexible to reflect this dynamism. Despite the lack of harmony, Hock (2012) explains that there is a common observation that adult learning theories are divided into two main components. The first component is built on the premise that adult learning is designed to develop change within the individual while the second component is designed from the premise that adult learning theories are designed to induce change within the organization (Hock, 2012).

Reginald Revans

Reginald Revans introduced the action learning theory as an adult teaching methodology. Action learning consists of different components. These components include creating action groups that are based on programmed learning, expert knowledge and field knowledge (which is accrued from real-life experiences) (Cowan, 2011). These action groups usually consist of about three to four people. After the identification of the work groups, a group leader is chosen. The project group leader and the working coach normally work in harmony with one another as group organizers. Their roles also include facilitating the achievement of organizational goals and motivating group members. Experience is often a product of action learning because group members are often required to accrue knowledge through reflection and action (within the group). For the success of action learning to be achieved, it is crucial for action groups to remain steady and active for a specified period so that they can establish themselves.

In the development of the action learning theory, Revan used different components of adult learning, which Knowles and Lindeman advanced. For instance, Revan relies on teamwork as the main basis for his theory. Lindeman cites teamwork as an important component of adult learning. To emphasize the concept of teamwork, Revan says that action learning can been used to develop people and foster collaboration among them (Cowan, 2011). Revan uses teamwork as an integral component of adult learning because small groups (or teams) are usually encouraged to come together and solve different problems in action learning. Most of such groups are also encouraged to learn from this experience. Often, action learning includes the involvement of a coach who helps the group to balance their work and educational needs.

Revans’s application of the action learning theory (in this study) can be traced to the observation he made that, while instructors are busy teaching, half of the students are normally glad to be out of their day jobs while another half is busy doing their day jobs (Cowan, 2011). In the same context, Revans perceives classroom training to be insufficient. He also explains that action learning is normally used when referring to adult learning in the business context. Some authors draw a close similarity between action learning and learning communities. However, if there is a distinction to be drawn between the two, action learning is only a small component of the learning community. In recent times, action learning has been used to solve different kinds of organizational problems.

Like other adult learning theories, action learning is undertaken in sequential steps. These steps include, setting the objectives, creating the action groups, identifying the group coach, posing the group challenge, identifying the characteristics of the problem, identifying the actions to be taken, assessing the desired actions, discussing the results, setting the plan of action and deriving a conclusion form the entire process. Comprehensively, the action plan consists of ten steps, which benefit the adult learning development program.

Émile Durkheim

Émile Durkheim introduced the structural functionalism theory to explain the socialization of adult learning. The structural functionalism theory advances the opinion that the society is usually lenient towards an equilibrium position and it advocates for a contemporary social order that perceives the society like a human body where the organs are like important instruments or tools that maintain a healthy working condition. A good social health is therefore maintained by the body organs and is perceived as the social order in the society that the adult education system seeks to maintain (Chilcott, 2008). Durkheim is therefore of the opinion that the adult education system is supposed to socialize students to be in-tune with today’s social order. This system (in practical terms) seeks to instill values, norms and knowledge that adult students need to rise through the social class ladder or become productive people in future. Although these principles exist in formal systems of education, they have a hidden curriculum, which means that students are normally taught certain “acceptable” norms and values that the society expects of them as new generation learners. These norms and values are not necessarily educational but to a far extent deal with the social aspects of life (social class order) (Chilcott, 2008).

Durkheim heavily borrows the principles advanced by Pierre bourdieu regarding the creation of social capital through education. However, this theory does not only force students to internalize the acceptable norms in the society, it sees to rank students for various vacant positions that fall in the society. Pierre Bourdieu explains that, students who have achieved high levels of success and accomplishment are trained to take up the most prestigious jobs and get the highest pay while those with the least qualifications get the lowest paying jobs and the lowest incomes. This system perpetrates social classes in the society (through educational structures) because students with high academic achievements get the highest incomes and fall into a higher social class than those with a lower sense of achievement because they get a lower income. Durkheim affirms, “to believe that ability alone decides who is rewarded is to be deceived” (Chilcott, 2008, p. 103). Bourdieu (1977) also backs up this fact by stating that “large numbers of capable students from working class backgrounds fail to achieve satisfactory standards in school and therefore fail to obtain the status they deserve” (p.12). However, Durkheim believes that “this is because the middle class cultural experiences that are provided at school may be contrary to the experiences working-class adults receive in school” (Chilcott, 2008, p. 103).

Durkheim’s views are critical to the understanding of adult learning in the global context because his theory explains the universal nature of adult learning. More importantly, his views shed light on how adult learning can be financed and how different social classes perceive adult learning. For example, Durkheim explains that, students who fall in the lower class category of the society are less likely to cope better at school than their counterparts from middle or upper classes. In this manner, they get isolated from the system, thereafter land the least desirable jobs (and keep maintaining their lower working class positions) (Chilcott, 2008). Durkheim therefore explains the role of adult learning in the society because he elaborates that adult education systems perpetrate continuity without being discriminative on social order. It is therefore not surprising to note that in educational systems where some students have been termed as “incapable” or “unsuccessful”; one part of the society (education) may have played out the whole process (Chilcott, 2008).

Jack Mezirow

The study of adult learning is marred by many theories and concepts but one notable theorist is Jack Mezirow who started studying adult learning in the 70s (Kitchenham, 2008). He identified adult learning to include several steps such as experiencing a disoriented dilemma, self-examination, critical assessment of assumptions, recognition that others have gone through a similar process, exploration of options, formulation of a plan of action, and reintegration. Jack Mezirow introduced the concept of transformational learning as an integral component of adult learning because most adult learners prefer a practical course that has a significant meaning in their personal and professional lives (Kitchenham, 2008). From the above assessment, we can establish that Mezirow developed the transformational learning theory from Knowles’s principles. Knowles explained that adult learners prefer a practical course that has a significant meaning in their personal and professional lives. However, Mezirow answered many questions regarding education, such as, if a person has acquired a degree, does it mean that the person has been transformed? Many people can answer this question differently and often, it is a hard question to answer.

However, Mezirow offers his insight into this dilemma and says that, transformational learning only occurs when a person has transformed his perspectives on learning (Kitchenham, 2008). Even though transformational learning may not necessarily take place in a face-to-face interaction, the entire experience can still make someone question certain assumptions regarding one’s view about something (thereby leading to the realization of transformational learning) (Kitchenham, 2008). Mezirow’s view about transformational learning also highlights Lindeman’s concept of program evaluation strategies because Lindeman explained that program evaluation strategies ought to have elements of critical reflection. However, Mezirow went ahead to explain that there are three types of critical reflection. The first type of reflection is the content reflection where individuals may reflect on the content or description of an issue and the second type of reflection is the process reflection, which evaluates different kinds of strategies that can be used to solve a problem as opposed to the content of the problem. Intuition is often excluded in this kind of analysis because process reflection represents an orderly and rational type of reflection. The last type of reflection is the premise reflection, which makes us review the relevance of a given problem. If such reviews are instituted, transformational learning is said to have taken place (Kitchenham, 2008).

Transformational learning is beneficial to this study because it involves the application of life concepts as opposed to mere classroom discussions. Mezirow’s theory of adult learning highlights the effectiveness of adult learning by describing when the true effect of adult learning can be realized. For instance, he explains that, through a global understanding of adult learning, when a student interacts with another adult learner from another country and says that the interactive experience has completely changed his or her opinions about the new culture, transformational learning can be said to have occurred. However, many people question Mezirow’s theory because transformational learning can happen in one instance. Other critics also say that transformational learning may occur without critical reflection. The same critics also question the focus of Mezirow’s theory on the individual by suggesting that Mezirow’s model should be focused more on the individual because the individual is part of the society (Kitchenham, 2008).

Erik Erikson

Erik Erikson introduced life stages that characterize human development. His theory explains the ambitions and psychological needs of adult learners. Erikson explained that as people advance in age, their learning ambitions never stall. The concept of lifelong learning is therefore properly represented in this theory. However, Erikson’s theory focused on distinctive and qualitative differences in thinking which had no meaningful basis on age development (Manheimer, 2007). Erikson’s views can be used to explain the problems that adult learners encounter because of their advanced ages. Erikson explains that most of the problems adult learners face is a result of their chronological age. Within the age theory literature, there is a strong affirmation that midlife crises often happen in the late thirties and early forties.

To many educationists, this point in life can be referred as the “elbow joint point of life” where many adults review and evaluate their lives depending on what they intended to achieve in life (Manheimer, 2007, p. 198). A greater sense of context and culture is emphasized in the midlife crisis period and members tend to focus on the ideals that make them part of a community. Beyond the midlife crisis period, the age related theory stipulates that adult learners start to build new structures in life, which will guide them for the rest of their lives. Often, this process occurs to adults in their late forties and early fifties. During this period, adults also give a stronger emphasis on spiritual needs, family relationships and work relationships. Erikson also notes that this period of life had a heavier bearing on the decision-making process of adult learners. In this regard, he explained that

“In effect, we grow through engaging with the world, changing, and being changed by it. We become ever more discriminating in our ability to see the world on its own terms, or as others see it, and even more able to make sense of it despite its growing complexity-able to make sense of it in ways that both retain our own sense of meaning and yet respect its diversity” (Manheimer, 2007, p. 198).

Erikson’s views on adult development encompass concepts developed by Lindeman and Knowles. For example, Erikson’s conviction that when adult learners age, they become more reflective of their lives and careers is reflective of Knowles’s views on adult learning. Knowles explained that adult learners are very sensitive of the direction their future takes. Therefore, adult learners tend to make better-informed decisions about their futures. Lindeman also explained that professional development instructors must be able to accommodate the vast experiences of adult educators. Borrowing from these concepts, Erikson explained that, adult learning programs should accommodate the reflections of the educators through discussions or journal briefings. This provision enables the educators to express themselves better in the learning process.

Considering this paper focuses on adult learning in the global context, Erikson’s views on adult development are important in the understanding of adult learning because they conceptualize the main difference between adult learners and conventional learners – age (Manheimer, 2007, p. 198). For example, Erikson highlights the ego as an important component of adult development (as adult learners strive to discover themselves). He explains that these stages are characterized by the evolution from conformity to emotional intelligence and later to a stage where the adult learner reconciles his or her inner conflicts by embracing their unique identities and deciding to live according to these unique traits.

Moral authority has also been analyzed through the same lenses and it is established that adults undergo a moral metamorphosis as they advance in age. In the same analysis, Erikson also notes that individuals grow through these stages. During the first stages of development, there is a strong inclination of participants to think more of themselves but as they advanced in age, they began to think more of other people and improve their interpersonal relationships. The above intrigues have a profound impact on the teacher development process because they influence teacher training. With the recognition that teachers can also move through several stages of development, the activities of instructors could be designed in a way that allows for stage growth (where teachers are able to better meet student needs and the requirements for technical training) (Manheimer, 2007, p. 198).

Jennifer A. Sandlin

Sandlin’s adult development theory focuses on the intelligence development of adults. Sandlin states that the cognitive theory is characterized by different levels of abstractness and interpersonal maturity and the same process has four distinct levels of development (Sandlin, 2011, p. 1). The first stage is the low conceptual level and concrete negativism; here, abstractness and high levels of selfishness often characterize it. The second stage involves a strong emphasis on categorical judgments, depending on one rule and the reliance on external judgments. The third stage acknowledges the existence of different alternatives and the sensitivity to personal feelings. The final stage is focused with the dependence on internal standards as opposed to external standards and the acknowledgement of different alternatives through working with different people in the learning environment.

Sandlin’s views on adult cognitive development highlights the flexibility underlying Knowles’s views on adult learning. Knowles explained that adult learning programs ought to be flexible to accommodate the divergent views among adult learners. Borrowing from this concept, Sandlin suggested that there are four levels of progression (in adult intelligence development). The first level was characterized by dualism where there were two ways of views things in the world (Sandlin, 2011, p. 1). Usually, these two ways were the right and wrong way. The second level of Sandlin’s assertion was the multiplicity level, which included an acceptance of diversity and uncertainty in the world. Relativism is the third stage of Sandlin’s theory and it is characterized by the acknowledgement of knowledge as relativistic and contextual. Commitment to relativism is the final stage of Sandlin’s theory and it recognizes the self and the ongoing metamorphosis of the self. The metamorphosis of the self defines the movement from having a concrete point of view on life to having an abstract view on life.

Sandlin’s view on cognitive development in adult learning processes is useful to this study because it highlights the effectiveness of learning instructors in adult learning programs. This observation also applies to instructors because veteran instructors are likely to wade off external pressures when compared to beginners and mid-level instructors. Intrinsic satisfaction is identified as a possible motivator to keep the instructors in their professions because changing standards of learning and proficiency levels could make some people lose interest in their careers. Program planners should therefore identify the varying needs of different target audiences and make the learning process more meaningful and transferable to the adult learners.


Through a review of several researches, there is no contention regarding the fact that many educationists have spent more than two decades trying to identify the characteristics of adult learners so that they can improve their learning experience. One such researcher was Gibb who said that education should be measured by its desire to make the learner grow (Snyder, 2008). The functional theory was developed from the above premises because it noted that adult learners preferred to take courses that fit into their personal and professional lives. Adult learners were therefore good at plotting their educational paths. Gibb developed the functional theory by noting that adult learning should be mainly based on problems and experiences (Snyder, 2008). Furthermore, he also pointed out that adult learners should derive meaning out of their learning experiences. Gibb also noted that adult learning was broader than previously thought because he suggested that adult learning occurred informally when adult learners adjusted to different roles and responsibilities throughout their lives (Snyder, 2008).

Gibb identified two traits among adult learners. The first trait seemed to affirm Knowles’s assertions regarding adult learning autonomy because it suggested that adult learners preferred the autonomy of self-direction while the second trait also seemed to confirm another known characteristic of adult learning (considering it noted that adult learners used experience as a learning resource). Here, Gibb highlights Lindeman’s assertions on the importance of respecting the experiences accrued by adult learners in the adult learning program. Lindeman affirmed that teachers and textbooks should play the second and third wheel in adult learning while the students should be the primary focus of the entire learning experience (Lindeman, 1926, p. 2). Lindeman gave a lot of emphasis to the learner experience as a paramount component of learning. For instance, he often referred to the fact that if people viewed education to be life, then life should be equated to education. In addition, Lindeman viewed the volumes of experiences that adult learners accrued to be like a textbook for their learning. Based on this understanding, Lindeman said that,

“Authoritative teaching, examinations which preclude original thinking, rigid pedagogical formulae –all these have no place in adult education…Small groups of aspiring adults who desire to keep their minds fresh and vigorous; who begin to learn by confronting pertinent situations; who dig down into the reservoirs of their experience before resorting to texts and secondary facts; who are led in the discussion by teachers who are also searchers after wisdom and not oracles: this constitutes the setting for adult education, the modern quest for life’s meaning” (Lindeman, 1926, p. 2).

Other findings of the functional theory also emphasize previous assertions in this study such as the fact that adult learners would be better motivated if they learned topics that were directly related to their current roles or transition period.

Gibb’s functional theory is useful in this study because it highlights the importance of voluntary participation in adult learning. Gibb states that the most effective learning experience would be realized if the participants were allowed to participate voluntarily in the learning process. This assertion was developed from the fact that adult learning included several facets of education including the fact that adult learning was: lifelong, personal, involved change, part of the human experience, and partly intuitive (Snyder, 2008). The functional theory also contends that different aspects of adult learning generated different conditions for learning and different stages of the learning process were exclusive to different roles of the learners (throughout their life cycles). From this assertion, Gibbs contributes to the understanding of adult learning programs by noting that they should be able to recognize the different styles of learning and they should be done in the most non-threatening environment.

Paulo Freire

Paulo Freire (an educationist) also contributed immensely to the understanding of adult learning methodologies by highlighting the importance of including themes that are vital to a given learning group (Roberts, 2007). This assertion stems from the fact that people would be ordinarily motivated to learn different themes that help them understand their lives. Though undertaking needs assessment is a standard procedure in learning, this process has a significant meaning in adult learning because it acts as recognition of the fact that, though many learners enroll in the same program, they have different needs and goals.

The above assertion highlights Knowles’s views on adult learning because Knowles explained that two people do not perceive the world the same way. The quantum thinking philosophy also affirms this fact. Acting on the backdrop of this assertion, people often ask the question “How would you know what expectations people have regarding learning?” (Roberts, 2007, p. 126). Freire answers that, listening to the learners is an effective way of knowing what the learners want or expect from the learning process. Listening to adults is therefore a correct of way of finding the right information to develop an adult learning program, which will be of use to the adult learners. However, it should be understood that the dialogue between the program planners and the students often starts even before the learning process commences.

This is the premise used by Lindeman in highlighting the importance of placing adult learners at the core of the adult learning programs. Nonetheless, Thomas Hutchinson from the University of Massachusetts asks three questions regarding the identification of adult learning needs. First, he asks who needs what and secondly he asks who defines what is needed (Roberts, 2007, p. 126). Lastly, he also asks who needs the identified content, mentioned above. The above questions define the politics of preparing the adult learning program. For instance, the question regarding who the real decision maker is (in the formulation of the adult learning program) is defined in this context. Some people would say it is the teachers while other people would say it is the learners. Freire explains that both perspectives (teacher and student perspectives) would be useful in this analysis (Roberts, 2007, p. 126).

Freire’s explanation of the student-teacher involvement is useful in this study because he highlights how student-teacher relationships should be. For instance, Freire explains that the responsibility of identifying the learner’s needs rests on two parties: teachers and learners (Roberts, 2007, p. 126). The learners must take the initiative of communicating their needs to the instructors and in the same fashion; the instructors must always ensure they engage the learners as often as possible. For example, adult learners can easily identify what they feel should be taught in the classroom. Instructors should also take the initiative of including such perspectives in the learning process because if they fail to do so, the learners may simply walk out of the program. There should therefore be a strong link between what the learners already know and what they want to know (Roberts, 2007, p. 126). Many experts acknowledge that the initiative to listen to the learners defines the onset of the needs assessment program. This process is often deemed a common practice of learning but it is also perceived to be an integral component of adult learning. These dynamics define Freire’s contribution to the understanding of adult learning programs in this study.

Myles Horton

In the 1930s, an educational investor named Myles Horton analyzed the dynamics of adult learning and presented its application in the police force (during the same period) (Ebert, 2007). As a teenager, the police accosted Horton for going to the miners, listened to them and teaching them what they wanted to know. This initiative led to the indictment of Horton for carrying out a needs assessment exercise. Horton’s main contribution to the understanding of adult learning rests in his emphasis of listening to the target group as the focus for developing adult learning programs.

Horton’s assertions reiterate Lindeman’s emphasis on adult learners as the focus for developing adult learning programs. Horton however builds on Lindeman’s concepts by presenting a post-modern view on how the views of adult learners can be factored in the development of adult learning programs. Since it is difficult to know the right way to engage the adult learners (especially in determining their themes and including them in the learning process so that they find the program to be of importance in their lives), Horton advocates for the use of email, faxes, telephones and traditional tools such as surveys in seeking learners’ views. For example, he explains that, carrying out a survey on about 10% of the adult learning population can give planners a rough knowledge regarding the themes that adult learners would be interested in studying (Ebert, 2007).

Horton’s contribution to the importance of engaging adult learners sums his contribution to the understanding of how adult learning can be implemented on a global context. Horton explains that there are many advantages of engaging the adult learner in discussions about their preferred themes of learning. He further explains that this process includes going to where the adult learners work and probing such an issue. Horton’s contribution to the adult learning process highlights what is meaningful to the person or group of learners as the most fundamental step of developing adult learning programs. Nonetheless, it should be understood that the needs assessment process does not form the entire process of planning the learning program because it merely informs it. From this understanding, Horton’s views explain the duty of the instructor in the adult learning program (Ebert, 2007).

Kenneth J. Chapman

Chapman introduced the importance of safety and trust as useful virtues in the development of productive relationships in adult learning programs. However, Chapman observes that many factors lead to the realization of the concept of safety in the learning environment. Trust is one such concept that allows the learners to cooperate with the teacher and the learning curriculum (Chapman, 2010, p. 39). The development of trust can be achieved by relying on previously written material or using introductory material. Chapman explains that this is the most natural way that students can be led to trust their instructors (Chapman, 2010, p. 39). Such a strategy has been known to increase the feeling of safety in the learning process where the learners relax, talk and smile often. In addition, Chapman explains that if small groups of the target population are allowed to find their voice in the learning exercise, their feelings of safety will also be improved. Instructors have often grouped learners into small groups and asked them to mention their expectations, hopes and fears about learning so that they can have a better conceptualization of the themes the learners would want incorporated in the learning curriculum (Chapman, 2010, p. 39).

The very essence of grouping the learners into small groups fulfills the sense of safety because such groups provide the learners with physical and safety satisfaction. As learners find their voices in these groups, there will be a realization of the different dynamics or voices that each individual brings to the group. Chapman shows that there is a direct relation between context and reality. For instance, a safe learning context has the ability to change laid-back learners into assertive and confident students. The principle of safety is therefore concerned with the philosophy of creating the right environment where adults can learn. The corollary principles of safety can be best represented by the concepts of sequence and reinforcements. An affirmation to the learners that their learning environment is judgmental is also likely to improve their level of safety. Furthermore, Chapman adds that, “an affirmation of every offering from every learner, as well as lavish affirmation of efforts and products of learning tasks, can create a sense of safety that invites creativity and spontaneity in dealing with new concepts, skills, and attitudes” (Chapman, 2010, p. 39).

Chapman’s ideologies are based on Knowles’s assertions that adult learners are the main decision makers in adult learning programs. Furthermore, Chapman’s conviction that the concept of safety in adult learning also communicates another principle that the design of the learning tasks, the nature of the learning materials and the atmosphere of learning in the classroom also conform to Knowles’s conviction that adult learning programs need to conform to learners’ needs. In other words, the concept of safety communicates that the context of learning will be safe to the adult learners. Some people however misunderstand the concept of safety to include the natural challenge of learning new knowledge. Based on this understanding, Chapman elaborates that safety does not take way any learned concepts of knowledge (Chapman, 2010, p. 39). Chapman affirms that learning should be done in a safe environment but through the same understanding, he explains that learning should also be designed to be challenging. In this regard, the adult learning process should be able to celebrate the opposites.

Chapman’s involvement of trust and safety (in forging mutual relationships between students and instructors) is an important addition to this study because safety guides the adult program planners through the task of developing the adult learning curriculum. From this understanding, the concept of safety allows the planners to design the adult learning course in a manner that is inviting to the adult learners. Research shows that people have a strong desire to learn new knowledge in a safe learning environment (Chapman, 2010, p. 39). Teachers therefore have the responsibility of affirming to their students the safety of the learning process. Through affirmation, instructors are able to draw the power of decision-making, which is vested in every individual. From this analysis, clearly, Chapman’s assertions elaborate that teachers are not supposed to empower their students but motivate the students to draw their inner power.

However, Chapman cautions that there are certain situations where the concept of safety may be endangered. For instance, when a learner says something in the classroom and their words are completely ignored or neglected by either the instructor or the students, the concept of safety may seize to exist. The loss of safety may not only occur for the person who said something but also for the entire classroom. The same way a person is able to witness the physical manifestations of increased safety in the learning process, the physical manifestations associated with a lack of safety or increased anxieties are also able to show physically (Chapman, 2010, p. 39). Here, it is easy to see energy drain from the learners in the course of the learning process. The shift in energy levels (for the learners) is therefore an indicator of their level of safety within the learning process. From this analysis, it is therefore correct to say that energy is another manifestation of a critical quantum concept.


Cornelius-White observes that upholding sound relationships is a critical component in adult learning because it encompasses different virtues such as respect, safety and open communication (Cornelius-White, 2007, p. 113). Through his analysis, the concept of dialogue cannot be overemphasized because it is a critical tool in quantum thinking. Since Cornelius-White establishes that it is important for instructors and students to have an initial meeting to discuss the themes of learning, the concepts of inquiry and curiosity should be experienced in the inquiry stage (Cornelius-White, 2007, p. 113). Through the needs assessment stage, where important tools of survey such as emails, focus groups and surveys are used, different personal qualities can be identified. Cornelius-White further explains that upholding a sound dialogue with the learners is a sure way of identifying what the learners want or amending important components of the learning process.

Again, Cornelius-White’s assertions build on previous views held by Lindeman by making learners to be the real decision-making power in adult learning processes. Their effectiveness however depends on how well (or poorly) they disseminate information to the program developers. In explaining this situation, Cornelius-White gives an illustration where a manager in a nonprofit organization received a call inquiring what he needed to learn in an adult education program. The manager responded by being extra grateful for being asked his views regarding the learning content (Cornelius-White, 2007, p. 113). The simple call made by his professor established a very meaningful relationship with the learner. The desire to develop mutually fulfilling relationships can therefore not be achieved unless the focus on sound relationships is upheld. Cornelius-White therefore affirms that a world of equity can therefore be established early in the learning process if an instructor opens his channels of communication by guaranteeing that the learning process would be safe for the learners. Cornelius-White says, “We do make the road by walking” (Cornelius-White, 2007, p. 113). As Lindeman explains, experience is therefore an important component of this analysis.

Cornelius-White’s analysis is useful to this study because it shows how to build mutually fulfilling relationships in adult learning programs. For example, he explains that, to realize sound relationships, the barriers of wealth and power (or personal preferences) must be overcome. Through this affirmation, Cornelius-White observes that it is very important for instructors to show utmost respect, humility and affirmation to the students. In addition, he explains that the failure to exhibit the above traits may lead to the distortion of open relationships and the development of anger or resentments among students. Getting Cornelius-White’s concepts right therefore assists in the establishment of self-growth and the expansion of knowledge and skill in adult learning programs around the world.

Amir Dezfouli

In an article explaining the habits, action sequences and reinforcement in learning, Dezfouli observes that the principles of sequence and reinforcements are important in adult learning because they propose the teaching of simple concepts through a spectrum that increases in complexity (Dezfouli, 2012). Dezfouli warns that if this sequence is not upheld in the learning process, there is likely to be increased episodes of course dropouts, increased frustration, increased anger and increased disappointment. For instance, if a group of adult learners come together to study opera music, it would be appropriate to use the most common and popular opera music such as Puccini’s, Madama Butterfly to teach the students to appreciate opera music.

This opera music would fulfill the principle of sequence because madama butterfly is a basic type of opera music. Beyond this point, Dezfouli explains that the instructor should be keen to listen to the adult learners so that he can deliver the right reinforcements (based on the readiness of the learners to study new concepts). If the learning tasks are too complicated for the learners, they should be altered to resonate with the learners’ level of comprehension. This transition of adult learning is what is commonly referred to as learning through dialogue (Dezfouli, 2012). Comprehensively, this learning methodology puts the adult learners at the center of the decision-making process. Nonetheless, there should also be a healthy relationship between the adult learners and their instructors so that they can feel free to ask questions.

Dezfouli’s views reiterate Lindeman’s focus on teamwork as an integral component of adult learning. For example, Dezfouli notes that the programming of knowledge and skills can be attributed to be the main idea behind the concept of sequence although he notes that usually, knowledge and skill should move from a group effort to a solo effort. Dezfouli also explains that it should not be difficult to establish sequence in any learning task because there are several indicators to sequence. For instance, the identification of enthusiasm or morale to meet the learning task should be an easy indicator that sequence is upheld in the learning program. In times where sequence is not observed in the learning program, confusion, frustration or disappointment may be registered in the learning process. Usually, in such situations, instructors ignore the order of sequence by failing to teach small steps (first) and reinforcing new material as the learners graduate into a new level of understanding (Dezfouli, 2012).

Dezfouli’s views are critical to the understanding of this study because his theory helps to establish if the students need reinforcements (however, learners can also take the initiative of doing their own reinforcements through private reading or undertaking practical assignments). Dezfouli adds that though adults may undertake their reinforcements, for purposes of accountability, the teaching designs should be able to have their reinforcements. It is the responsibility of the teacher to ensure the teaching methodology has adequate reinforcements regardless of the context of the adult learning environment (community setup, family setup, learning sessions for personal development or the likes).

Dezfouli bases his views on the fact that adult learning is based on a mutually accountable philosophy where the teacher and the learners are both accountable (Dezfouli, 2012). Adult learners therefore need an accountable learning design to enable them achieve their goals. It is proved that adult learners would go out of their way to study new knowledge that will enable them to know that they know (Dezfouli, 2012). Dezfouli therefore recommends that if program planners design learning programs that are simple and observe sequence, there will be a sound balance of power as opposed to preaching about political, social and economic injustice. However, since the concepts of sequence and reinforcements are technical phrases, Dezfouli observes that their application may be difficult. A lot of attention and diligence should therefore be accorded during the application of the above concepts because this exercise is the basic framework for addressing socio-political and economic inequalities.

Kathleen Cercone

Cercone notes that the respect for adults as decision-makers in the learning process is part of a larger acknowledgement that adults are decision-makers in their lives (Cercone, 2008, p. 137). She also explains that healthy adults would like to be perceived this way as opposed to objects or subjects to be used by other people. In this regard, adult learners need to understand that what transpires in the learning process should be their own creation. However, Cercone also acknowledges that the concept of quantum thinking stretches beyond the people-object analysis to highlight a universe of subjects who mutually respect one another (Cercone, 2008, p. 137). Therefore, Cercone explains that our perception of the world is our creation. There are several ways that learners can show their subjects that they are respected in the learning process.

For instance, if the topic to be studied involves a study of history, the teacher may pose an open question such as “Here are the dates of important events in the history of this nation. Which one seems the most important to you in terms of reaching independence and why did you choose that date?” (Cercone, 2008, p. 137). Furthermore, if an instructor teaches new steps of a computer program, he may ask, “Which of these steps seems like it is going to be most useful to you in your work?” (Cercone, 2008, p. 137). Lastly, if the learning process occurs in a work environment, the instructor may say, “Here is our company process for taking sick leave. Look at all the steps. Which ones would be difficult for you? How does this process differ from the process you knew in another organization you worked for?” (Cercone, 2008, p. 137). Cercone notes that asking these questions leaves no party in the learning process superior to the other. It makes the teacher and the learner to be subjects of the learning process.

From Cercone’s views, we can see that she heavily borrows from Knowles’s views on adult learning. Knowles noted that adult learners often want to be treated with respect (even if they are students). Knowles also noted that adult learners wanted to be included in the learning process as decision makers and not as subjects. Borrowing from Knowles’s views, Cercone explains that It is important to note the difference between suggestions and decisions. Suggestions are synonymous to consultative voices while decisions are synonymous to deliberative voices (Cercone, 2008, p. 137). Usually, the adult learners would make suggestions and decisions about the learning process almost at the same time and therefore, it is important for the instructors to distinguish between the two. Cercone says that treating the adult learners as subjects to the learning process is a powerful motivation in learning but the question regarding what can be done to offer the adult learners as many opportunities as possible is the main dilemma in this analysis.

Cercone’s analysis is useful to this study because it shows defines the conduct of instructors in the adult learning process. For example, Cercone recommends that instructors should refrain from doing what the adult learners can do and similarly, they should refrain from making decisions that the adult learners can make for themselves. Cercone further elaborates that there are many advantages to be enjoyed from recognizing learners as subjects. One such advantage is fewer dropout rates because the learners will feel more respected and important in the decision-making process (Cercone, 2008, p. 137). Proper use of finances and personnel can also be realized through the recognition of learners as subjects because learners will be in a better decision to make healthier choices in life. Many researchers have reported immense benefits of empowering learners. Paulo Freire is one such researcher because through his book, Cultural Action for Freedom, he equates learner empowerment to be the true essence of freedom (Cercone, 2008, p. 137). Through the above assertions, we can see that Cercone’s analysis highlight how adult learners need to be treated in the learning program.

Pardini and Priscilla

Pardini and Priscilla observe that since most adult learners are very economical with their time, they would rather use their time to do things that would add value to their lives (Pardini and Priscilla, 2007, p. 10). For instance, some adult learners prefer to drop out from their courses because they do not see the usefulness of what they learn. Therefore, Pardini and Priscila observe that, from a technical point of view, the immediacy of adult learning should not be perceived as a quick fix; it should only be perceived to be the usefulness or appropriateness of the learning content (with respect to the learner’s personal or professional lives) (Pardini and Priscilla, 2007, p. 10). The context of the learner should therefore be carefully analyzed while assessing the benefits of the learning process. The determination or the morale to continue working will therefore be determined by the usefulness of the new knowledge or skills learned. From a quantum point of view, the perception of learning is likely to have an impact on reality. Our participation levels therefore determine the way our world will be.

Pardini and Priscila’s views on immediacy reiterate Knowles’s’ views on time management for adults. Knowles explains that adult learners are time-conscious and they would only engage in activities that are beneficial to their lives. Pardini and Priscila borrow Knowles’s concepts and observe that It is often difficult to figure out how the concept of immediacy can be practiced in real life although if a situation were to be considered where an instructor designs two short courses for a time management course (instead of one long one), the concept of immediacy would have been applied.

Pardini and Priscila’s views on adult learning are crucial to the understanding of this paper because their views show what an effective adult learning program should look like. For example, Pardini and Priscila explain that an instructor may ensure that only one skill is practiced between the two courses and when one person learns this skill; his confidence level is bound to increase to take up other challenges in the learning program. In this scenario, the biggest question however arises when it is difficult to ascertain how best to use the newly acquired skills. It is at this point that Pardini and Priscila explain that learners have to decide on the use and applicability of their newly learned skills. From a holistic perspective, this scenario shows the true essence of an effective adult learning program because it expresses the starting point of an action (Pardini and Priscilla, 2007, p. 10).

Synthesis and Critical Analysis of Contemporary Theorists’ Works

Researchers who have tried to understand adult learning methodologies have heavily borrowed from the works of seminal theorists highlighted in this paper. Comprehensively, the contemporary theories highlighted in this study base their arguments on the theories advanced by the seminal theorists. Their works are important to this study because they highlight crucial components of the adult learning program. Through their recommendations, we can see that they continue to build on the works of seminal theorists. Some of the main highlights of their works are discussed below (as important aspects of adult learning programs)

Clearly Defined Roles

Pardini and Priscilla (2007) have cited the identification of clear roles between the learner and the teacher as an important component of adult learning programs. This aspect of learning is important despite the need to uphold dialogue and merge the input of both instructors and learners in the planning process. Vella (2002) reiterates that,

“a teacher can be intent upon a dialogue with an adult learner, but if the learner sees the teacher as the professor with whom there is no possibility of disagreement, no questioning, no challenge, the dialogue is dead in the water” (p. 21).

Though the concept of role may not be considered as an important component of learning, it is a crucial issue for analyzing adult learning in a global context because it is a strong cultural issue. For instance, in some Muslim countries, the roles of a woman are very important for the survival or existence of the community. Since dialogue is already highlighted as an important component of adult learning, it is important to focus on eliminating all the impediments to this dialogue. In the same manner, any issues that favor the improvement of this dialogue must be safeguarded. For instance, this paper highlights the importance of fostering dialogue in a more relaxed environment such as a party where learners will feel free to converse with the teacher about anything. Pardini and Priscilla (2007) observe that, in this kind of environment, it is easier for the learners to recreate the context of the new knowledge learned in the classroom and apply it in their personal or professional contexts. The clarification of roles and the importance of initiating dialogue are very important components of adult learning programs and by extension, they should be perceived to be the most important aspects of adult learning.


The concept of teamwork manifests Lindeman’s views on adult learning. Paulo Freire observes that the philosophy of teamwork includes the two components of learning (principles and processes) because teamwork is a principle and a process (Roberts, 2007). In the adult learning process, teamwork is important because it provides some sense of safety and shared responsibility in the learning process. Despite the cultural application of adult learning, teamwork is always welcomed. In addition, teamwork should never be taken for granted. There are many aspects of teamwork that should be taken into consideration before the development of teams. Most of these aspects can be gathered during the needs-assessment stage.

From this stage, the teacher can take advice about the collection of teams and the instructor can allow the learners to invite their friends or colleagues for the teambuilding exercise. Somewhat, a sense of safety can be upheld in this kind of setting. Freire explains that this perceived sense of safety will be helpful to the students in undertaking difficult tasks. The best environment for ensuring the maximum benefits of teamwork are enjoyed is often referred to as the optimum environment (Roberts, 2007). The optimum environment is often realized when all stakeholders in the team receive the maximum benefit for participating in the team. This environment also includes everything in the field that facilitates the achievement of team success. It is a win-win situation for everybody.

The concept of treating learners as subjects highlights Knowles’s understanding of adult learning because it allows the learners to choose their teams (in group work). Again, team building is often important when the learning tasks are often difficult or complex. For instructors, it is important to consider different aspects of team composition such as gender, age, race, color, religion and the likes. Teams represent the real world and therefore, instructors should be wary of the fact that they need to make such teams represent the dynamics of the real world (Roberts, 2007). It is difficult to think of team efforts as vicarious or contrived because this goes against the nature of teamwork. Therefore, the intrigues of teamwork are represented by everyday undertakings and adult educators should know that feelings are not simulated. For instance, if a team exercise is not properly designed and some adults feel left out of the program, such feelings are bound to be real. The adult learners are bound to act on such feelings and destabilize the learning process or absent themselves from the learning exercise. It is therefore crucial for the instructors to design the learning process in a manner that all learners feel included in the program.

Freire explains that, like other aspects of quantum thinking (which are identified in earlier sections of this study), nothing in this world develops or grows alone (Roberts, 2007). People are intertwined and we live and grow together through participation. This is the ideology behind teamwork. The influence of peers in the team should however not be overlooked in the learning process because they hold a greater power than the instructors do. Peers have a strong influence on learners because they share the same experiences with other adult learners and in the same regard, they are likely to challenge the learners in ways that the instructor cannot. Peers also create a sense of safety for other learners as they struggle to understand new knowledge and skills. Peers also provide their colleagues with serious mentoring by offering them more clarity in the learning process through tenderness and skill (Roberts, 2007).

Competition is also another element of learning which is fostered through teamwork. However, it is the duty of the instructors to ensure that a win-win situation is established in competitive environments because competition can at times be destructive if there is a win-lose situation. Constructive competition always works where there is a mutually fulfilling sense of achievement from working together as a team. However, there are situations where learners’ objectives may contravene the objectives of the team. Such situations are normally witnessed when the learners show some indifference in their team activities (Roberts, 2007). It is usually the duty of the instructor to assist such learners and engage them again in the learning process. Sometimes, it may be discovered that the learners should not be in the learning session at all. The principle of safety manifests again in this situation because this entire analogy hinges on the concepts of respect for the teachers and learners.

Praxis (Action with Reflection)

There is little contention among adult educators that the act of doing is the way most adults learners comprehend new knowledge. The concept of praxis refers to the act of doing but it also includes the concept of reflection. By extension, praxis includes deductive and inductive forms of learning. Inductive learning tends to move from specific concepts to concepts that are more general, while deductive learning moves from general concepts to concepts that are more specific. In addition, if learning occurs through deductive teaching, new content will be used in new situations. In both situations, the concept of praxis demands the examination of new content and its application to establish its usefulness. The concept of quantum thinking also surfaces in this scenario because it enables us to understand how each learner will recreate the new contents of the learning program and use it in a practical setup. In this situation, the learners may decide to realign their newly learnt skills and knowledge, as they deem fit and applicable in their practical environments.

Praxis should not be assumed to be an event because it is an ongoing process. In fact, many people use it on a daily basis through a reflection of their daily actions. In the learning situation, praxis can be used in the analysis of past cases, inviting descriptions, analysis and similar aspects of learning because if a group of adult learners are nagged in a practical exercise (and they are later invited to review their practice), the learning process moves to praxis. Therefore, the practice of new ideas, skills and knowledge and a reflection of the same move the process from a mere exercise of practice to praxis (Vella, 2002, p. 18).

Respect for Learners as Decision Makers

The respect for adults as decision-makers in the learning process is part of a larger acknowledgement that adults are decision-makers in their lives (Roberts, 2007, p. 126). Healthy adults would like to be perceived this way as opposed to objects or subjects to be used by other people. In this regard, adult learners need to understand that what transpires in the learning process should be their own creation. However, the concept of quantum thinking stretches beyond the people-object analysis to highlight a universe of subjects who mutually respect one another (Roberts, 2007, p. 126). Therefore, as subjects, our perception of the world is our creation.

There are several ways that learners can show their subjects that they are respected in the learning process. For instance, if the topic to be studied involves a study of history, the teacher may pose an open question such as “Here are the dates of important events in the history of this nation. Which one seems the most important to you in terms of reaching independence and why did you choose that date?” (Roberts, 2007, p. 126).

Furthermore, if an instructor teaches new steps of a computer program, he may ask, “Which of these steps seems like it is going to be most useful to you in your work?” (Roberts, 2007, p. 126). Lastly, if the learning process occurs in a work environment, the instructor may say, “Here is our company process for taking sick leave. Look at all the steps. Which ones would be difficult for you? How does this process differ from the process you knew in another organization you worked for?” (Roberts, 2007, p. 126). Asking these questions leaves no party in the learning process superior to the other. It makes the teacher and the learner to be subjects of the learning process.

It is important to note the difference between suggestions and decisions. Suggestions are synonymous to consultative voices while decisions are synonymous to deliberative voices. Usually, the adult learners would make suggestions and decisions about the learning process almost at the same time and therefore, it is important for the instructors to distinguish between the two. Roberts (2007) says that treating the adult learners as subjects to the learning process is a powerful motivation in learning but the question regarding what can be done to offer the adult learners as many opportunities as possible is the main dilemma in this analysis. Roberts (2007) recommends that instructors should refrain from doing what the adult learners can do and similarly, they should refrain from making decisions that the adult learners can make for themselves. As will be seen from subsequent sections of this study, successful development of adult learning programs lie in the “doing” and “deciding”.

There are many advantages to be enjoyed from recognizing learners as subjects. One such advantage is fewer dropout rates because the learners will feel more respected and important in the decision-making process (Warren, 2011, p. 9). Proper use of finances and personnel can also be realized through the recognition of learners as subjects because learners will be in a better decision to make healthier choices in life. Many researchers have reported immense benefits of empowering learners. Paulo Freire is one such researcher because through his book, Cultural Action for Freedom, he equates learner empowerment to be the true essence of freedom (Warren, 2011, p. 19).

Measuring Satisfaction

Many researchers have faulted many adult education activities as lacking the primary goal of attaining skills and expertise (Clark, 1991). In this regard, there is enough evidence to suggest that many adult learners are increasingly participating in various learning activities, merely for the pleasure they derive from it. Since this trend is real, Chapman (2010) affirms that there is a strong need for instructors, using the andragogy approach, to measure the learner’s level of satisfaction in this light. Chapman’s views borrow from Knowles’s works on andragogy. Knowles explains that though assessment criteria is not basically recommended (if achievement is not the essential goal), satisfaction in the learning experience should be measured in virtually all spheres of the administration of andragogy because the diverse measurement criterion influence adult learners when enrolling for learning. Andragogy instructors should therefore measure the variables related to the educational activity, but it is also recommended that they couple the same with the learner’s interests (Chapman, 2010).

From the analogy presented in this paper, it is also correct to note that learning occurs through a stimulation of the senses and some people use certain senses better than others do. Considering the truthfulness of this fact, Chapman (2010) recommends that adult learning instructors should use more learning materials that stimulate most senses. Based on this fact, four fundamental learning concepts should always be included in the learning curriculum; they include motivation, reinforcement, retention and transference.

As noted in previous sections of this paper, motivation is a critical element in the development of the learning curriculum because if students are not motivated to learn, any efforts made by the instructor to achieve the desired learning outcomes will be in vain. This strategy improves student motivational levels but instructors can still motivate their students using other learning strategies such as setting a positive feeling or tone for the learning process (this includes establishing an open and friendly atmosphere, which will aid the students to learn better) (Chapman, 2010).

Alternatively, instructors can set an appropriate level of concern where tension levels are checked to ensure they support the achievement of the learning objectives (sometimes, if the learning objectives are critical for the success of the student, a higher level of tension will be established. However, this is not the ideal situation because higher levels of tension act as a barrier to learning). Lastly, another strategy for improving student motivation is to set an appropriate level of difficulty for the students.

This paper also stresses the importance of ensuring prompt feedback for the learning process. This feedback should be very specific to the learning process because adult learners tend to learn better if their learning process gives them prompt rewards. Nonetheless, the reward should not be misunderstood to be financial rewards only; it would be enough to show a probable benefit for the learning experience. It is also important for the participants to demonstrate interest on the study program because there is a direct correlation between interests and rewards.

The concept of reinforcement is also another strong principle that arises in this study because it enables instructors to establish the right code of behavior and performance among the adult learners. The teaching of new skill is a critical component of adult learning that depends on positive reinforcements. Its desirability to promote good performance and behavior stems from the name itself “positive reinforcements”. Negative reinforcements are also critical in eliminating bad behaviors that hinder student performance (Chapman, 2010). For instance, attaching some form of punishment or penalty in a given section of the learning curriculum is a classic example of negative reinforcement. However, there are enough evidences to suggest that negative reinforcements will not entirely lead to the elimination of a bad behavior. Nonetheless, based on the recommendations of this paper, it is crucial for adult instructors to apply both positive and negative reinforcements. This teaching tool is useful in ensuring students retain what they have learned. In this analysis, reinforcements help in ensuring learners maintain a positive and correct behavior through the learning process (Chapman, 2010).

A desirable learning outcome for the adult learning process is ensuring there is a high retention rate among the students (regarding what they have learned). Retention is a critical concept of adult learning because it affirms what learners have learned. An instructor’s work is therefore incomplete until the students have retained what they have learned. Based on this analysis alone, there is a direct link between the characteristics of adult learners and the way the adult curriculum should be designed. In addition, there is a direct link between the characteristics of the adult learners and the expectations of the learning experience. For instance, the concept of retention depends on the adult characteristic of identifying the goal or objective of the learning process. It is therefore impossible for the students to retain information that they do not deem important. Nonetheless, information retention is not enough; the students must also be able to interpret and apply the information (Chapman, 2010). Learners should therefore be able to apply the right type of importance to the learning materials. In other words, it is correct to say that, if the participants did not correctly understand the taught concepts from the start, they would not be able to retain such knowledge. Nonetheless, adult instructors should emphasize the link between retention and application. It is therefore not only enough to see the students achieve high levels of performance and assuming the learning experience is a success.

Finally, the concept of transference clearly manifests itself in the analysis of adult learning because the transfer of learning is a product of training. In a different context, transference represents the use of learned knowledge in a different setting (apart from the classroom setting). However, transference bears a close similarity with reinforcement because both concepts are dual (positive and negative). Positive transference represents the use of positive ideas to come up with positive learning outcomes. Again, like negative reinforcement, negative transference represents a situation where learners learn by avoiding to do negative behaviors that hinder their performance (Chapman, 2010). Based on this understanding, adult instructors should be wary of the fact that transference occurs in an environment of association where students can relate their newly learned information with their preexisting information. Transference also occurs in an environment of similarity where students are able to identify the similarity between what they have already learned and what they already know. In this analysis, similarity refers to the revisit of a logical framework or pattern. Again, like the concept of reinforcement, transferability occurs best in a situation where the level of original learning was high. Finally, transference occurs in an environment where there is a critical element, which manifests where the learned experience contains beneficial knowledge (Chapman, 2010).


Ontario Adult Education System

Ontario has been known to have a steadfast program for adult learning (Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2012, p. 1). The program mainly helps adult learners to learn English, acquire post secondary diplomas and upgrading their skill levels (depending on their qualifications and professions). Usually, most of the learners who subscribe to this program intend to work in Ontario (Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2012, p. 1). Though Ontario’s adult learning program has been in existence for years, there seems to be a significant lack of cohesion in the adult education system. Partly, this disconnect can be seen from the lack of policy inclusion in the history of the adult education program used in the province.

As explained in previous sections of this paper, adult education is unique to conventional systems of education because it is more complex than ordinary educational systems. Adult learners who participate in Ontario’s adult educational program have to overcome barriers of lack of courage to participate in the program (Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2012, p. 1). Though they face these unique challenges, their participation in the adult education program is still vital for the overall health of the community. Adult learners are the parents of Ontario’s children and they are still important participants in the economy of the province. Though there is a significant difference in the types of adult educational programs practiced in different communities of Ontario, there seems to be a strong indication of the fact that most adult learning institutions are struggling to sustain their programs (Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2012, p. 1).

In Ontario, there is a raging debate regarding if adult education programs should be located in the high school education system or the college education system (Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2012, p. 1). However, this debate is insensitive to the existence of other bodies, which are important components to the establishment of the adult education program (but do not belong to colleges or high schools). Such institutions include tertiary institutions, municipal authorities, social planning councils and similar institutions. The exclusion of these bodies shows a significant weakness in Ontario’s adult education program because it neglects the principles of all stakeholder involvement. This paper acknowledges that adult educational programs need to be developed through the inclusion of all stakeholders and therefore, it is vital for the program planners to include all stakeholders in the improvement or development of Ontario’s adult education program. This recommendation reiterates Knowle’s assertion that adult learners need to be included in the decision-making system of adult learning programs.

Furthermore, the inclusion of social bodies and institutions in the society highlights another important aspect of adult learning, which is to ensure there is a connection between the knowledge learnt and the applicability of such knowledge in the practical environment. This recommendation also reiterates Knowles’s view that adult learning programs should be specific to the application of such knowledge on the lives of the learners. For instance, the inclusion of social planning councils improves the use of learned knowledge in the development of solutions for local problems (Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2012, p. 1). In addition, based on the unique characteristics of adult learners, which are highlighted in this paper, it is important to applaud Ontario’s initiative of promoting adult education exclusively. This initiative is informed by the fact that, though adult education is not very different from conventional types of education, it remains passive for a large section of the population (Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2012, p. 1).

Furthermore, since the society usually perceive education to be either primary, secondary or post secondary types of education, adult learners in Ontario have a limited form of organized voice to address their concerns. In this regard, adult education remains largely out of the public consciousness. From the above understanding, it is important to promote adult education in Ontario, privately. If adult learning in Ontario is to be promoted as a crucial element of the community, it is equally important to recognize the effort adult learners in the province undergo to be part of the educational system. Furthermore, it is important to celebrate the accomplishments and support given by the adult education learners as integral to the health of Ontario. In addition, there is a strong need to build stronger relationships with all the stakeholders of adult education in Ontario.

Increasing Adult participation in OECD Countries

A recent study that was meant to analyze the participation of adult learners in 17 OECD countries revealed that adult learning varied greatly across different countries (OECD, 2005, p. 1). When explaining that the objectives of adult learners vary widely, Knowles highlighted this diversity. In the study, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, ranked highest in adult learning participation while United Kingdom, and Switzerland ranked behind these countries. In the same study, it was established that Hungary, Portugal and Poland had the lowest levels of adult learning participation. The same study also exposed an interesting breakdown of participation and duration of training across these countries but interestingly, it was also evident that intrinsic models of learning were mainly used on a small number of people.

The study also revealed that there was a significant disparity in the participation of adult learning across different population groups. Participation in tertiary education ranked above most types of adult education while participation in low-skilled education ranked the least. It was also acknowledged that older students tend to participate more in adult education when compared to younger students (OECD, 2005, p. 1). The size of company where such students come from also had a significant bearing on the participation levels in adult education programs because it was established that small and medium-sized companies tend to have a lower participation of adult learners.

There have also been enough evidences to suggest that there are several discrepancies in the level of investments in adult education. Certain adult education courses have a higher level of investments than others do. For instance, the level of investments of adult education among low-skilled workers is significantly lower than the level of investments among highly skilled workers. Usually, the level of investments among skilled workers is higher. For instance, many adult learners participate in adult learning because they want to scale the managerial ladder (OECD, 2005, p. 1). This view exposes Pierre Bordieu’s views on adult learning as a platform for social progression.

OECD explains that most of the policy levers for elevating adult learning as a cultural capital tool rest with the government. For instance, governments can create the required structural framework for raising the benefits of adult learning so that people perceive adult learning to be meaningful to their lives. The government can also improve delivery and quality control standards in adult learning so that it has a higher level of engagement among its learners. Different governments can also improve policy coordination and coherence so that the adult learning program is of high quality.

OECD (2005) supports the above observation by asserting that “Given the non-conclusive evidence about the overall quantitative impact of market failures, adult learning policy should first concentrate on schemes with large leverage potential. Regulatory and institutional arrangements that are conducive to enhancing investments by firms and individuals, while limiting public financing, are key within this type of strategy” (p. 31).

Despite OECD’s assertion, there are several ways that governments can promote adult learning through structural provisions. The improvement of the visibility to learn is one such strategy. This strategy can be implemented by eliminating the structural barriers of adult learning. Usually, educationists strengthen the recognition of acquired skills by making them transparent to firms and individuals so that all know the benefits of adult learning. The development of a national qualification standard also acts as a form of currency for the operation of adult learning while the recognition of informal and formal forms of adult learning increases the alternatives of adult learning, thereby significantly reducing the costs associated with it. It is equally essential to ensure that certification programs are credible to all stakeholders otherwise; such credentials would be belittled and rendered useless (OECD, 2005, p. 1).

The provision of high quality knowledge and proper guidance during the adult learning process also increase the access to adult education and guarantees a proper match between the supply of education standards and the requisite demand. If there is a lack of information in the adult learning programs (or the information provided in the program is deemed to lack credibility), there will be a poor perception of adult learning and the participation levels of adult learning will also decline as a result. Different countries around the world have devised different ways of managing the above problem. Individual counseling support is one method that has been used by many institutions around the world especially in the improvement of adult participation among low-skilled workers and disadvantaged learner groups (OECD, 2005, p. 1). One significant approach to learning engages the use of mentors or learning ambassadors. It is of high importance for the participants to be linked by a single network throughout the learning experience where the participants can share information and exchange meaningful knowledge regarding the learning process. One-stop centers are such kind of platforms where information exchange occurs in one location.

How to finance adult education is also another important component to the success of adult education programs, though most researchers do not highlight its usefulness in determining the success of adult education. However, this view still reiterates Pierre’s views on adult learning and cultural capital. Certain groups of adult learners (such as the disadvantaged and low-skilled groups) are more likely to be affected by financial constraints. In addition, firms or organizations intending to take training activities may be strapped for cash to undertake general as opposed to firm-specific employee training programs. This situation may be realized even though such investments may be worthwhile to the economy as a whole.

Despite the observations regarding financing adult learning individuals, OECD (2005) notes that, it is important for adult learning to be privately financed because most of the benefits associated with adult learning are privately enjoyed. If this is not done, there is likely to be a “dead-weight effect” if adult learning is financed through public funding or subsidies (while the entire exercise would have been undertaken anyway). However, given the inequalities in income across the world, it is crucial for governments to offer subsidies or grants to disadvantaged or low-skilled workers. This financial assistance should also be stretched to small and medium-sized organizations because they encounter the same financial challenges that disadvantaged or low-skilled workers encounter. Though stakeholders who plan the adult learning program do not consider this aspect of financing adult learning as critical, it is considered of extreme importance by educationists who want to increase the participation of adult learners in the adult learning program.

If adult learning programs are better financed, there is a higher likelihood of increased efficiency in the adult learning program. There are several policy reforms that can be instituted to reduce the cost of adult learning and they include the deduction of tax profits and the provision of grants or levies (OECD, 2005, p. 1). However, in the provision of such grants and levies, it is important to create an efficient eligibility criterion so that no dead weight is realized and disadvantaged adult learners have an equal opportunity to participate in the adult learning program.

Payback clauses in the formulation of financing agreements can also be a good strategy for ensuring co-financing agreements work. In this type of setup, organizations are bound to have a mutual framework where poaching and free riding in the adult education program are eliminated through cost sharing. Vertically linked frameworks where large firms engaged in the same type of business provide smaller firms with the opportunity to finance their adult learning programs through cost sharing occurs in such a scenario (OECD, 2005, p. 1). At an individual level, individual learning accounts can be a useful tool to provide disadvantaged and low-skilled adult learners with the opportunity to pursue learning like other adult learners. Already, the successes of Individual learning accounts have been documented in several countries across the globe because it stimulated competition among learning providers. For example, Nordic countries have witnessed improved adult education efficiencies through the provision of individual allowances (OECD, 2005, p. 1). Throughout this analysis, there is a careful emphasis on disadvantaged and low-skilled workers as a vulnerable learning group. Bourdieu explained that this phenomenon is realized because such population groups have not institutionalized education as a form of cultural capital.

In assessing adult learning programs, there are crucial questions regarding the delivery of adult education and the provision of quality education in the same. These issues are important in the delivery of adult education because recommend delivery methods are important determinants of adult participation. Different educational institutions normally deliver adult education using different types of ways. Research on adult learning in the 17 OECD countries studied revealed that there should be a sharp focus on the target audience and the needs of the audience while trying to figure out the right delivery framework for adult education (OECD, 2005, p. 1). For example, among the different countries studied, it was affirmed that intergenerational learning strategies were crucial in delivering adult learning programs aimed at improving literacy levels.

For effective delivery of adult learning to occur, there should also be a strong focus on tackling existing barriers to learning. Some of these barriers can be tackled through increasing the flexibility of the learning program so that there are more alternatives to learning. It is already confirmed that many countries can achieve a higher level of participation if they adopt different learning alternatives such as distance learning and part time classes.

The realization of real involvement from employee representatives and increased dialogue between educationists and organizations can go a long way in improving the training experience (OECD, 2005, p. 2). The involvement of employee representatives in the discussion on education and training issues can also help to reduce the asymmetry of information (especially regarding costs and benefits). The inclusion of education representatives also assists in incorporating more types of general training and creating an equitable learning opportunity. In view of the fact that there are significant discrepancies in the access to adult education and the fact that many employers pay more attention to higher-educated types of training (at the expense of lower-skilled training), governments should ensure the provision of incentives for the creation of equitable learning opportunities (OECD, 2005, p. 2).

Referring to the issue of quality control in adult learning, there is no doubt that low quality programs and a lack of knowledge in program activities can lead to lower levels of participation in adult learning programs. The need for increased quality assurance and program assessments can therefore not be overemphasized at this point. To improve the overall learning environment, governments can also increase the transparency levels in the playing field by improving the access to information and increasing the level of competition among the learning institutions (OECD, 2005, p. 2). In doing so, governments can formulate quality standards and ensure such standards are adhered to. This information should be available to the public. Assessing what works for which population group and analyzing what type of information works for a certain circumstance improves the prospects of undertaking an efficient policy formulation process. However, the evaluation process for adult learning is a tricky undertaking because the learning goals of most adult learners tend to vary from one individual to another. Still, proper evaluation frameworks can be developed through the identification of the right performance indicators (OECD, 2005, p. 2).

Enhancing policy coordination and coherence is also another way of increasing adult learning participation. It is almost like a rule that adult learning should cover most needs of the adult learning process and the diversity of all stakeholders in the same process. From this understanding, it is affirmed that a strong sense of coordination and coherence should be promoted as a useful policy requirement in any country. This recommendation was made after assessing adult learning policy processes in most OECD countries (OECD, 2005, p. 2).

The best policy frameworks are made from the coordination of all stakeholders involved in the coordination of existing policy frameworks. These two requirements lead to the “reduction of early school dropout rates; the development of lifelong learners; effective co-ordination between education and employment policy objectives (in the use of adult learning to assist the unemployed in finding a job and linking adult learning to social welfare programmes, so that benefit recipients can also develop their skills) and improving co-ordination with social partners (in the definition of skills needs and the development of learning opportunities)” (OECD, 2005, p. 2).

A strategy for improving coordination within the adult learning framework rests in establishing a common policy formulation center. Depending on the structure of institutions, these policy frameworks can act as coordinators, advisory bodies or take the role of delivering similar tasks. Furthermore, through the establishment of policy institutions, there would be an easy establishment of priorities, a proper definition of financial and the establishment of a proper framework for the coordination of policy formulation objectives. The identification of the target learners as the final product of the learning process would also assist in merging the works of diverse actors towards arriving at a common goal.

General Motors (GM)

At General Motors (GM), there is an effort by the company’s management to equip their staff with knowledge regarding why they undertake their learning activities (Rachal, 2002, p. 210). This process often occurs through a review of competitive analyses and a consideration of the importance of undertaking regular educational activities to improve the company’s competitive positions. Most of these educational activities are undertaken in a workshop setup where practical application of learnt concepts is easy. Usually, most of the concepts that are taught in such workshops require their immediate application in the workplace and more importantly, such concepts are best applied in activities that require problem solving. The immediacy of these operations highlights Pardini and Priscilla’s views on adult learning because the two researchers emphasized the importance immediacy in adult learning methodologies. However, at GM, such concepts are applied in safety programs, quality improvement programs and in the production department (Warren, 2011, p. 5). In the workshop, students are given different practical problems, which they are required to solve in the same environment.

Medical Protective

Medical Protective is also another example of an organization that emphasizes the importance of adult learning. Most of the learning that goes on in the workplace is intended for the overall improvement of the work program but some of the learning is also intended for personal development (Cafarella, 2001, p. 12). In addition, through the adoption of information technology tools, most of the learning knowledge can be accessed online. The user can thereafter print or download such information depending on the intended use of the information. The use of IT is a common strategy used by Medical Protective to absorb new changes in the market and to stay relevant in the wake of a dynamic and fast-paced world (Cafarella, 2001, p. 12). The inclusion of modern training tools in adult development reiterates Cornelius-White’s recommendation to use modern tools in seeking adult views regarding the development of adult teaching programs.

Justification for Narratives Used

Adult education theories have been used to conceptualize the evolution of education and the characteristics of adult learners. Several learning institutions across the world are increasingly under the pressure of delivering effective learning curriculums but many fail to do so because they lack the right theoretical backgrounds to do so (Trotter, 2006, p. 1). Furthermore, some of these learning institutions fail to apply the right learning theories for the development of their educational curriculums. It is therefore important to apply the right theoretical framework for the development of the right program plan for the right audience. This analysis informs the inclusion of adult learning theorists in this study. However, emphasis is also given to the organization as a practical application of adult learning outcomes because most adult learners prefer to improve their skills and knowledge so that they can use it in their organizations.

Researchers note that situational circumstances in the organization play an important role in the promotion of adult learning (Warren, 2011, p. 34). In this regard, they note that, the organizational structure is a critical component of adult learning that can promote or discourage the same. Trotter (2006) explains, “the learning capabilities of organizational members are, at least in part, socially constructed by national, occupational, or other institutions” (p. 24). For instance, the departmentalization of organizational functions is an example of a barrier to cross-functional learning. In an analysis done by Warren (2011) to investigate the contribution of the organizational environment towards the promotion or hindrance of adult learning, it was established that positive outcomes are more apt to result in a fruitful and fulfilling adult learning experience.

A positive learning environment therefore facilitates stimulus responses while negative learning environments break stimulus response links. From this analysis, it becomes apparently clear that the right environment for teaching pleasant outcomes is when there are positive outcomes. This observation is further supported by the transformational leadership theory, which suggests that positive opportunities should be provided in a situation where growth is desired in an organizational life. Nonetheless, it is still contended that learning through trial and error is also another thorough way of understanding a certain topic or issue. This method of learning is however a longer way of doing so but it is almost the surest way to successful learning that an organization should embrace.

However, there have been questions voiced regarding how long organizational processes take and if they can be externally influenced. In the same fashion, it is noted that trial and error methods of learning are much more difficult and tedious processes of learning when compared to learning strategies that do not need practice (Warren, 2011). Furthermore, the concept of time is a crucial component of organizational learning processes because most organizational goals are designed within a specific scope of time. Time constraints can therefore be considered as a tool for speeding up the process of learning. However, some experts caution organizations that intend to use time constraints as a tool for speeding up the learning process by explaining that the same tool can act as a limiting factor in learning. This observation is especially noted when time constraints are perceived as a threatening element. Sometimes, time constraints make learning to be completely impossible. The above conditions define the influence of the organizational environment on adult learning.

This study identifies the need for adult education to be specific because the educational aspects discussed in this paper specifically appeal to the needs of adult learners. The above criterion focuses on the effective implementation of adult education programs and similarly, it appeals to situational aspects that are unique to adult learning (because the application of adult learning is in itself situational). More importantly, this study points out that adult learning appeals to the learner’s ability, learner’s motivation, and the facilitative elements that the instructor gives in the entire learning process. These elements are the successive factors in adult learning and from the above analysis; these factors are also the basis through which adult learning programs are based on. The recommendations of this paper also seem to follow succinctly the precepts and ideals of Knowles, even though his recommendations and perceptions about adult learning were criticized as idealistic. Nonetheless, it is an undeniable fact that adult learning, just like children learning, should be tailored towards the needs of the learner groups (and this fact is what adult learning programs should be based on).

Conversely, the issue of the appropriateness of learning concepts in adult learning can be contrasted with its effectiveness. Cafarella (2001) is also sympathetic to this view and affirms that the appropriateness of learning concepts in adult education should be the primary focus of study for future researchers because efforts to understand the appropriateness of a given learning methodology would be fruitless if its effectiveness is not established. However, apart from acknowledging the importance of this analysis in this study, this issue would be a separate topic altogether. Comprehensively, we can see that effective adult learning programs should be based essentially on unique adult needs and the above-mentioned criteria act as the blueprint for its implementation.

Comprehensively, we can assume that adult learning is unique to other learning concepts because adult learners have unique needs. The commitment of adult learners is also hinged on the characteristics and unique needs of adult learners. For instance, it is easy to guarantee the commitment of adult learners if the goals and objectives of the study are identified. More so, the application of the learned concepts is very important for adult learners and their relevance in the personal and professional lives of the students is equally of high importance. Similarly, it is evident that adult learners like to see a direct relation between what they do on a day-to-day basis with what they learn. In addition, from this paper, we have seen that adult learners always want to be the origin of their learning experiences. In this regard, they would not support courses that attack the very bedrock of their competence. This fact is especially important in the development of adult learning programs because instructors need to be wary of the fact that they need to cede some control to the students.

The above analysis of adult learning emphasizes the view that adult learning is egoistic. Therefore, adult learning programs should be structured in a manner that peer support is upheld and there is minimal opportunity for adult learners to be judged. Feedback is also another important concept that manifests itself in adult learning. Adult learners need to be given immediate results on their efforts. Existing opportunities in the adult learning process should therefore be built in the feedback program, which will allow the students to improve their learning experience. Group work is also another critical component of adult learning because group work enables adult learners to move beyond understanding basic knowledge to applying them. Furthermore, group work improves the prospects of learning new concepts form group members.

Group work therefore acts as a platform where adult learners can share, reflect and generalize their findings into a fruitful learning experience. In designing the adult learning program, this paper observes that a lot of emphasis lies on accommodating the wide range of experience, knowledge and diversity adult learners bring to the program. The transfer of learning in the adult learning program should also be understood to be a systematic process. In addition, within the same framework of understanding the unique needs of adult learners, educational instructors should be wary of the fact that, unlike children and teenagers, adult learners have a difficult task balancing their personal and professional responsibilities with their learning needs. This fact is a barrier to participation in learning. Most of the barriers to learning are diverse, but they include time limitations, financial limitations, lack of confidence, lack of interests, lack of knowledge regarding existing opportunities to learn, family responsibilities and similar barriers.

Motivation could also be perceived a barrier to learning (for adult learners) because if one asks the question regarding what motivates adult learners, typical answers would be the desire for promotion, improved competence, better chances of getting a license and similar issues. If such motivators are not in existence, this fact may act as a barrier to learning. Instructors should therefore strive to ensure they draw the link between the learning experience and the expected gains for the adult learner. This provision is especially important when developing the adult learning program. Educators should also acknowledge the fact that learning is not a one-off event; it takes time. Moreover, people learn at different speeds and therefore the learning curriculum should be designed to accommodate these unique characteristics of the learners. If an instructor initiates positive reinforcements, it is easy for students to achieve their learning objectives.

Though adult learning is unique to conventional learning, it still contains several elements that are similar to traditional learning. Therefore, the likelihood that adult learning can amount to high levels of success is still high. However, for adult learning to achieve high levels of success, a great level of responsibility lies with the instructor. Additionally, it is important to note that adult learners still come to the classroom with unique expectations but these expectations are still subject to different barriers to learning (which are explained in earlier sections of this paper). The greatest motivators that instructors can use to motivate adult learners are demonstrating the presence of selfish benefits and showing personal benefits to be enjoyed from the program. If instructors are able to demonstrate (through the learning curriculum) that the learning experience will benefit them pragmatically, adult learners will exhibit more enthusiasm and achieve higher levels of success in the program. These are the dynamics of adult learning.


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