Adult Learning: Critic and Report

Critic: Engaging the adult learner by Gold H.E.

There has been recently a rise in the number of adult learners today in the institutions of higher learning. The number of adult learners has gradually increased since the early 70s and many universities today have established programs favorable to adult learners (Peers, 2003). These learning methods are slightly different from those used by the normal learners, and the gradual increase of these learners has introduced a challenge to the institutions of higher learning since only courses designed for the young and normal students were the order of the day for some time until the new caliber of learners in the institutions cropped (Howard, Schenk & Discenza, 2004).

A research carried out by Gold (2005) indicated that in 1970, the number of students in the university was 28 %. This number increased to 37% in 1980, and later to 43% in 2003. The data shows a growing trend in the number of adult learners returning to institutions of higher learning over time. It would be important to note and in detail find out the factors that have contributed to this. Several factors were advanced in the research to explain the high number of students returning to universities above the normal schooling age. Gold (2005) explained that 32.3% of the respondents between 40-44 years returned to the institutions of higher learning due to job improvement, 13.6% reported having returned to the institutions of higher learning for personal or social factors, while 4.7% reported having returned to the institutions of higher learning to obtain degrees.

The respondents who were between 25-34 years old in the research gave similar reasons. 23.5% of the respondents in this group reported to have gone back to universities due to job improvement, 27.1% of the respondents in the age gap 35-39 years old also reported job improvement as the main reason behind their decision to go back to the universities (Clayton, 2007). On the other hand, 28.3 % of the respondents in the age group 45-49 years reported the same motivating factor of job improvement as the main reason behind going back to the universities. Integration of these students in the normal learning programs as Gold (2005) explained calls for a well-designed collaborative learning method, which involves the use of various forms of learning methods other than the teacher’s instruction s only as Gold further explained.

The main question that may arise from the above data, might be related to how the older students cope up with the education system, which had been recognized as suitable for the young learner’s overtime. The design of the curriculum to cope with the new class of students might be another intriguing thought that many might wonder about since the new class of students might pose a case where a parent would be in the same class with their children. How and what challenges face the incorporation of the new class of learners in the formal learning environment? Gold (2005) in trying to address some of the above questions have offered answers relating to the design of the new curriculum. Adult learners according to Gold have to be given special considerations mainly due to the commitments that they are faced within their daily lives. The students have work responsibilities, family and social responsibilities as well as other roles to play in society (Rauhvargers, 2008). This brings out the idea that their learning schedule has to be as flexible as possible (Hudson, Maslin-Prothero &Oates, 1997), to integrate their responsibilities together with their learning programs. It would therefore involve the integration of formal learning with the daily routines and responsibilities of the students (Gold, 2005; Werquin, 2010).

The data reported by Gold (2005) portrays a constant trend among all the respondents in the different age groups. Improvement of job status or advancement in the place of work might be considered as the most important aspects that lead to the enrollment of the adult learners in the formal learning institutions (Bjørnåvold &

Bulgarelli, 2008). The numbers of the respondents who answered to this effect were almost the same in all the groups and hence, it might be taken to mean that adult learners might not be interested in certifications but only advancement in their places of work. Garcia, Martinez, Dimitriadis & Anguita (2007) argued to the same effect and explained, that the presence of different levels of students in the class has called for new and better methods of instruction to enable coordination in the learning process. The low number of those who responded to have reported back to the institutions to have a degree or due to interest suggest that, in the education system, a certificate does not count much at the adult level of students, and knowledge and skills obtained in the process would be the determining factors to success (Stahl, 2002). Learning according to this research has been explained as a process through which careers are built rather than a way in which social skills are achieved. Many learners would not be interested in the certificates or the skills acquired during the learning process but the end product has to be an improvement in the profession, for a system to be successful.

The data as described above shows steadily increasing numbers of adult learners in the universities. The high increase has also been explained by the adult Education Quarterly (2010). AEQ has explained that there might be a need to have a new approach towards the adult education programs in the learning curriculums. This explains that the numbers would continuously increase over time and hence there would be a need for preparedness and design in the new education system. The steady increase might be increased by the steady advancement in technologies today. Many job applications would require the use of technology in all sectors, and many of those in the job market would be rendered redundant in the near future if no efforts are employed to advance their skills and knowledge in the new technologies, management philosophies, and new approaches in the job market. Interest as well as the need to achieve a certain qualification level has also been highlighted as some of the reasons behind returning to the classroom. Gold (2005) therefore highlighted an important aspect in the current global market where many are striving to keep up with the advancement of technologies.

However, although Gold (2005) has well outlined the reasons behind the trends in going back to the institutions of higher learning, the research does not answer questions on how the curriculum would be structured to fit the students whom Gold has described as responsible in decision making as well as too much occupied. Noting that many of these adult learners have to be integrated into the current universities, how should the adults be trained together with the younger students noting that many universities have been designed to enroll a greater number of younger learners? Should the instruction method be in the form of pedagogy or andragogy? These might be some of the serious questions that might be involved in the adult learning methods especially where formal learning is involved as in this case.

Adult learning: Defining an effective model

Executive summary

Adult learning is a phenomenon that had been taken to mean those that had not stepped into a class by the age of 25 (Blakely, 2008). It was considered as an informal type of learning only aimed at improving the literacy levels in a specific population. However, the view has changed with adult education counting as one of the branches of formal education. The difference with the traditional teaching methods is that adult learning requires a more flexible and versatile program that would accord to the duties and responsibilities of the learner. In addition, it has to be issue-based since most adult learners are workers from the field looking for specific knowledge. It, therefore, calls for a better method of teaching known as andragogy, in addition to the cognitive instructions as well as the use of collaborative methods.


Adult education has been a confusing term in the current age when many people are overwhelmingly returning to the classrooms, mostly in college and higher learning institutions globally. Traditionally, adult learning was a preserve of those who had not stepped into a classroom by the age of 25 years as Patterson (2010) and Joy-Matthews, Megginson, &

Surtees (2004) explained. Traditional adult learning has over time been about the literacy levels in a population that involves the ability of people to read and write accordingly (Leberman, McDonald, & Doyle,2006; Chisholm, Hoskins, & Glahn, 2005). It has been identified as one of the ways through which poverty and poor living conditions might be achieved in the population and many governmental and non-governmental organizations have been on the front line campaigning for the same.

However, the term adult education has achieved a broader meaning with time, and not the literacy level of education as has been taken by many to mean. As Gold (2005) explained, adult education has gone a notch higher, with many adult students registering in the institutions of higher learning to accomplish specific goals in their professions. Adult education according to Discenza (2004) has been taken to be a way through which many accomplish their goals in attaining a higher education level, getting promotions in the place of work as well as engaging in the academic world for interest and social aspects. According to OECD (2009), formal learning involves a well-structured and focused form of education. The learning method has well-laid down objectives and is always intentional in the point of view of the learner. In the Informal learning method, the learner has to gain skills competencies, and knowledge. This is the typical arrangement of the formal institutions of learning, as well as the formal training that is arranged by an employer to train and impact necessary attributes and skills to their employees (Wilson, 2005). It is therefore defined as a form of training or education in a formal setting (Tight, 2002).

Since learning is a continuous and life process, it would be important to join the formal form of learning as explained below with informal and non-formal learning methods that occur in the life process. As OECD (2006) explained, informal learning is never organized has no well-defined objectives concerning the outcome of the learning, and in most cases, the learning is not intentional on the part of the learner but happens automatically in the life process. The proper argument, in this case, would be that as OECD (2009) explained, the act of living in one way or another exposes an individual to events of learning, either at work, at home, and in many other different instances that the individual might be involved in. non-formal education, on the other hand, might be explained to mean a little consent in the learning process. It however might have objectives on the part of the learner through which the learning process is achieved. In addition to happening at the voluntary action of the individual, informal, learning might also occur as a by-product of organized activities. In adult education, it has therefore been classified in the group of non-formal learning as explained above in some countries, while in others; it has been recognized as a formal learning method.

Literature review

Speck (1996) and Merriam (2008) explained various factors to be considered in designing the adult learning methods that should form professional development activities by educators in the adult learning procedures. It, therefore, means that the adult learner in the adult learning theory will only commit to the learning process when their professional and other important needs have been addressed (Brookfield, 2005; Clawson, 1997)). The adult learning theory as Speck (1996) and Baumgartner (2003) explained requires that adults always take control of their learning process, and will always resist attempts that might be considered a threat or that have no importance in their learning process. Swanson & Holton (2009) and Werner & DeSimone (2008 ) explained that many models of adult learning have to be defined and designed in a way that the adult learner has total control over the learning process. This as Gold (2005) explained would result from the fact that, adult learners unlike the young learners, the learning process has to ensure that the responsibilities have been catered for which as earlier explained, include the family, work, personal, and other social responsibilities. Therefore, the adult learning model has to be designed with the needs and schedules of the adult learner in mind for it to be effective ( Mullen, 2009).

As speck (1996) further explained, the adult learner in formal education has to be satisfied that professional development in the learning method and their daily activities have to be relevant for a learning method to be considered as effective or applicable. As Gold (2005) argued, the adult learner will only be involved in a learning process where the content has to be directly the same or similar to the skills and knowledge that they might be after. Redundancy and wide deviations from the topic of study cannot be encouraged in the learning process, where adult learners are concerned. This further affirms the reasons offered by Gold (2005) as the main factors behind adult formal education in the institutions of higher learning. In other words, the adult learner in most cases is an employee who would like to advance or improve their knowledge and skills on a particular issue. Currently, the advent and improvement in technology have been the drive behind the flocking of adult learners into the classroom. The theories of adult learning according to Speck (1996) as well as the model suggested and discussed by Gold (2005), to large extent agree on the view of adult learners engaging in the learning process to get specific objectives and skills. Research by Gold (2005) indicated that job improvement has been the factor that has led most of the adult learners back to class.

Foley (2004) and Abdi &Kapoor (2008) explained the importance of incorporating a method that would to large extent involve the students themselves rather than an instructional method that would involve just listening and having close attention to the instructor. Tett, Hamilton, and Hillier (2010) further argued that the failure of adult education programs has resulted from the lack of understanding of the complexity and contested nature of adult education and of an effective system of education in general. Gold (2005) to this effect explained that the adult learner has to be involved in the learning process to make it more effective and to structure it as per their own interest. The adult learning program has to be very flexible and versatile to ensure that all the schedules in the process have been integrated (Indabawa & Mpofu, 2006). The flexibility according to Knowles (1980) and McKenzie & Harton (2002) could be well achieved considering several factors that define adult learners. Adult learners according to Mavrinac (2005) and Hernon & Rossiter (2007) might be considered to be more independent and self-directed compared to the young learners, the adult learners bring out more experience to the learning process compared to the young learners. Knowles, Holton & Swanson (2005) and Fogarty and Fogarty (2004) on the same issue argued that adult learners inmost cases are in the practical field, and hence know and recognize the important aspects of learning that would go along with the specific problem in the field compared to the young learners and traditional learning methods that use a laid down system that has to be followed.


The research involved questioning 50 adult students on the best practices that they consider effective when used in their curriculums by instructors. The choice was between the andragogy teaching methods and the pedagogy teaching method which might be explained as the most common teaching method in schools. The respondents were also questioned on the effectiveness of collaborative learning in their learning methods. The respondents were to indicate if the use of charts and other visual aids in the learning process has s proved to be effective in their learning process. Also, the effectiveness of group works during classwork while learning, or whether they would choose to learn individually without the use of group work. The table below indicates the results of the research according to the respondents.


  • Number of respondents
    • affirmative
  • Number of respondents
    • negative
  • Choice of pedagogy
    • 8
    • 42
  • Choice of andragogy
    • 42
    • 8
  • Choice of collaborative learning
    • 38
    • 12


According to the results above, there was a unanimous proposal of applying methods that would help the students in the learning. The advantage of this method as explained by Watanabe (2008) was having visual and other aids that the learners would be able to link with the learning to make learning easier and faster. All the respondents on the other hand stressed the importance of having a student-centered learning environment, where the students would control much of the learning activities. Making students control the learning program through the above-mentioned strategies would be important in identifying the needs of each individual student and hence as Bruffee (1999) and Walsh &

Kahn (2009)explained the learning would be student-based and not based on the lecturer. This would be a good way of linking the learning tasks with the objectives since each student would learn at an individual pace (Kezar & Lester, 2009; Gillies & Ashman, 2003).

The idea of collaborative learning as explained by Watanabe (2008) was further expounded by the respondents who stressed the importance of using additional teaching aids which would include visual aids, group works, and technology-related aids such as enhancing e-learning to complement the instructors teaching methods (Roberts, 2004). The respondents identified teaching aids such as interviews among the students, where the student would learn better from one another while at the same time discovering their weaknesses and strengths (Nafukho, Amutabi & Otunga, 2005). There has to be therefore a link between the task and the objective as Knowles (1980) explained.

As earlier explained Knowles, Holton & Swanson (2005) argued on the effectiveness of models that would recognize the differences of tasks that would require adult’s to learn voluntarily while on duties in the field to the tasks that were complex enough to require the learners to participate in some learning models sanctioned by the job requirements as Andre, Rocco & Welton (2009) explained. To reverse the situation in the traditional pedagogy practices, Knowles, Holton & Swanson (2005) and Henry (1998) explained that adult education was more successful while designed through the route of situations and not the subject as was the case in many institutions of higher learning. While in the traditional learning methods, the students came second after the teachers and the subject, the adult learning model as designed by Knowles reversed the situation to place the student first and the other two elements in the learning process second( Rose, Kasworm & Ross-Gordon, 2010; Brookfield & Holst, 2010).

In the new andragogy model as the respondents indicated, cognitive learning could be largely connected to needs and requirements as determined by the field practices as Andre, Rocco & Welton (2009) explained. The subjects are therefore designed and made to suit the requirement of the students with a teacher as the referee to oversee the implementation of the learning process and intervene where necessary.

As Knowles (1984) explained, the molding of the subject around the student was critical in ensuring that the adult learning programs were designed with a particular problem in focus, thereby improving the cognitive-based education learning, which had in many instances distanced itself from the field requirements thereby resulting to critics from many quarters in the field. The fallout between the learning for practice and cognitive learning was the major force behind Knowles adult education model that was to a large extent a bridge that rectified the errors created by the traditional learning methods (Indabawa & Mpofu, 2006). The design of the curriculum to cope with the new class of students might be another intriguing thought that many might wonder about since the new class of students might pose a case where a parent would be in the same class with their children. Adult learners according to Gold have to be given special considerations mainly due to the commitments that they are faced within their daily lives.


Adult education has become an important aspect in the institutions of learning that requires more concern and attention due to the challenges and responsibilities required by adult learners. The special needs and responsibilities that the adult learners have in the learning process to a large extent differentiate them from the traditional learners who have been using pedagogy learning methods in the learning process. However, andragogy has been found to be more appropriate in adult learning where the learner would be involved in the learning process as much as possible (Chee-kwong, 1995; Clive, 2006). In addition, to cognitive development, they need to be practically oriented to match the learning process with practical field requirements. Several researches that have been done on the same as explained agree to these facts and as the research above portrayed, the learning process might be more effective when andragogy and collaborative learning model are incorporated.


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