Definition of Adult Education and Its Philosophical Underpinnings


Adult education is an important field of learning, which is characterized by different definitions and philosophical positions. For purposes of this paper, a definition of the concept is derived from class reading materials and scholarly research on adult education with a link established between the concept and its philosophical underpinnings. The latter section of the analysis will highlight the roles of adult education and its most critical aspects.

Definition of Adult Education

Learning is associated with the process of acquiring knowledge and is supported by different tools of facilitation. Adult education is unique from other types of learning because of its form, audience, and composition (Carpenter-Aeby & Aeby, 2013). Nonetheless, my understanding of adult learning is predicated on the type of students involved and their unique needs. Stated differently, adult education is a subset of learning that has tailored learning content to suit the needs of adult students (Carpenter-Aeby & Aeby, 2013). In this case, adult learners are unique from other cadres of students, such as adolescents and child learners, because they are older and mature. This group of participants often has a full, or part-time, job outside of the formal education system and is often looking to engage in educational activities to meet their career or professional goals.

Philosophical Positions underpinning Adult Education

Roles and Purpose of Adult Education: Adult education is important for the delivery of social justice to students who were unable to complete conventional education courses when younger. Therefore, it is intended to promote equality in education access because, without it, the poor, or those who lack access to education, would be denied education services (Muñoz et al., 2013). Therefore, the main goal of adult education is to promote equality and social justice in education.

Powerful Aspects of Adult Education: Given its role in society, different aspects of adult education play an important role in their implementation. Experiential learning is the most important aspect because it integrates students’ field experiences with theoretical learning content to provide holistic education (Bowl & Tobias, 2012). Indeed, experience is a unique quality of adult learners that sets them apart from their younger counterparts.

Philosophical Orientations of Adult Education: The difference between adult and younger learners stems from their philosophical understanding of education. Five main approaches are often associated with adult learning and they include progressivism, humanism, liberalism, behaviorism, and radicalism (Hayes & Danver, 2016). The progressive approach resonates with my educational experience because it focuses on experiential learning, which allows students to use their field experiences in problem-solving. This progressive approach is consistent with my understanding of adult education because mature students are often rich in experience compared to younger learners.

Comparatively, the radicalism philosophy does not augur well with my understanding of adult education because it promotes equality between learners and students. This learning style draws merit from the works of researchers, such as Muñoz et al. (2013), who argue that adult students require self-directed learning through minimal teacher input. However, students and teachers enter the learning environment from different power positions where teachers have more influence in the learning process compared to learners. Therefore, promoting equality between learners and students through radicalism is inconsistent with my understanding of adult education.

Personal Philosophical Orientation of Adult Education: The continued proliferation of technology in adult learning has made education more fluid. The availability of online learning content has brought this change by making it possible for both adult and conventional learners to access educational content (Hayes & Danver, 2016). Therefore, both stakeholders can interact freely and make the learning process more productive than would be the case if traditional teaching methods were adopted.


Overall, based on the insights highlighted in this paper, the definition and philosophical underpinnings of adult education are rooted in an understanding of the unique dynamics of adult learners, as a special subcategory of students. From a definition standpoint, this paper has highlighted adult learning as a subset of education intended to meet the peculiar needs of mature learners. Comparatively, from a philosophical point of view, their work experience makes the progressivism philosophy more attractive than other philosophical approaches outlined in this paper to the field of adult learning. Broadly, the findings of this paper highlight a nuanced understanding of adult education based on its conception and philosophical premises.


Bowl, M., & Tobias, R. (2012). Learning from the past, organizing for the future: Adult and community education in Aotearoa New Zealand. Adult Education Quarterly, 62(3), 272–286. Web.

Carpenter-Aeby, T., & Aeby, V. G. (2013). Application of andragogy to instruction in an MSW practice class. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 40(1), 3–13. Web.

Hayes, W. D., & Danver, S. L. (2016). The SAGE encyclopedia of online education. SAGE Publications, Inc.

Muñoz, J. C., Redecker, C., Vuorikari, R., & Punie, Y. (2013). Open education 2030: Planning the future of adult learning in Europe. The Journal of Open, Distance and eLearning, 28(3), 171-186. Web.

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ChalkyPapers. 2023. "Definition of Adult Education and Its Philosophical Underpinnings." September 11, 2023.

1. ChalkyPapers. "Definition of Adult Education and Its Philosophical Underpinnings." September 11, 2023.


ChalkyPapers. "Definition of Adult Education and Its Philosophical Underpinnings." September 11, 2023.