Foundations of Adult Education

Adult education involves the process of imparting skills and knowledge to people who are beyond the school-going age. They may include groups of people or individuals found in organizational or community settings (Merriam & Brockett, 2007). There are numerous different types of educational programs for adults, for example, short skill sessions or residential study at university (Caffarella et al., 2013). Different social, cultural, and political forces are responsible for the growth of adult education (Schmidt, 2013). For example, career changes, demographic shifts, and advancements in technology account for the increased interest in adult learning (Ilin, 2021). Broadly, three main forces are responsible for the development of adult education, and they include changes to individuals, organizations, and the communities they serve.

Five main objectives underpin adult education, consisting of encouraging continuous growth and development of individuals, assisting people to respond to practical problems, preparing people for work opportunities, helping organizations to achieve their desired objectives, and fostering change for the common good by preparing communities to examine social issues affecting them (Merriam & Brockett, 2007). The process of achieving these objectives is dependent on several factors, some of which are contextual.

My work experience suggests that subjective factors affecting the learning environment have a bigger impact on adult education than the educational content taught in these sessions. Merriam and Brockett (2007) affirm this position when they say, “Contextual factors that affect the change process, such as organizational constraints, and political and economic realities, are routinely not taken into account” (p. 8). This quote impacted me because it emphasizes why people who take part in adult education need planned assistance to accommodate contextual factors influencing learning outcomes.

Different typologies of adult educators are developed according to the objectives of the learning programs they implement. The first category is training specialists who impart skills and knowledge to learners based on their authority or knowledge in a specific area of work (Ilin, 2021). The second category is comprised of volunteer educators who engage in adult learning based on their need for advocacy (Schmidt, 2013). For example, those who teach people about social justice fall within this group of adult educators.

The third category of adult learners is comprised of supervisors and line administrators. They do not hold the title “adult educators” per se, but their job descriptions allow them to perform this function by teaching employees how to conduct their work in specific job categories (Merriam & Brockett, 2007). The fourth category of adult educators is mentors who impart skills and knowledge in specific subject areas by performing actions that can be emulated (Schmidt, 2013). They are closely related to the fifth category of adult educators who are community leaders. As alluded to in their title, their work is confined to issues affecting community members, and they equally act as information centers where people can seek guidance regarding various issues affecting them.

The success of the above-mentioned groups of adult educators depends on the commitment that they have to teach. Passion is important in securing positive outcomes because it may be difficult to sustain long-term change without it. Schmidt (2013) highlights this fact by saying, “We agree that passion for helping adults learn and being present when “light bulb moment” occurs is what drives us to do what we do. It is what motivates and keeps us going as adult educators” (p. 79). This quote impacted me because it highlights the importance of adult educators having a passion for their work if they are to realize long-lasting change. However, given the growing uncertainties affecting the workplace environment today, what is the future of adult education likely to look like?


Caffarella, R. S., Daffron, S. R., & Ronald M. C. (2013). Planning programs for adult learners: A practical guide (3). Jossey-Bass.

Ilin, V. (2021). The role of user preferences in engagement with online learning. E-Learning and Digital Media, 6(2), 234-246.

Merriam, S. B. & Brockett, R. G. (2007). The profession and practice of adult education (2nded.). Jossey-Bass.

Schmidt, S. W. (2013). The future of adult education. Adult Learning, 24(2), 79-81.

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ChalkyPapers. "Foundations of Adult Education." April 15, 2023.