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Foundations of Adult and Continuing Education
Date Reviewed: June 23, 2017
Foundations of Adult and Continuing Education lays a foundation of the history, theory, research, policy, and practice of the amorphous expanse known in North America as adult and continuing education. Undoubtedly constructed as a resource for graduate students in the burgeoning field, this text lucidly summarizes complex and daunting theory without stripping the data of interest and nuance. That is high praise for what could have easily been just another bulky textbook.
Constructed of twelve chapters, divided into three sections, this work defines contemporary perspectives of the field, examines the foundations of the field, and focuses on the contexts of adult and continuing education (ix). The text gives a cursory summary of the historical rivalry between terms vying for lexical dominance of the then nascent field and while “there is still not a universally accepted definition today” one can trace certain themes and trends among the most noted definitions (3). The text presents different forms, purposes, and providers of adult education and even addresses the social forces affecting the expansion of the field (technological innovation, globalization and the global market, as well as seismic demographic shifts associated with rising levels of educational attainment, aging populations, and an increase in racial and ethnic diversity) (11-20). It outlines the prevailing historical patterns in adult participation and addresses some of the challenges that adult learners face, such as long waiting lists for ESL programs, limited formal educational background (especially among seniors [42-43]), the often-ignored relationship between social class and participation, as well as the influence race and ethnicity have on participation rates within adult education programs.
Perhaps the most harrowing statistics are those involving unemployed and underemployed adults and the working poor. Foundations references the US Census of 2012 when reporting that 10.6 million Americans are among the working poor (59). According to this research, “women are twice as likely as men to be part of the working poor” and Hispanics and Blacks are “twice as likely as Whites and Asians to be among the working poor” (59). Educational attainment and working poor status appear to be linked as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statics in 2012 reported that while only 2.1 percent of college graduates were categorized as working poor, “21.2 percent of those who had less than a high school diploma” (60) were categorized as such. Another startling revelation is related to the identity of adult educators.
Identifying the boundaries of adult and continuing education (ACE) as a field is complex and requires educators to define not just education but also adulthood (“a relatively new social construct in American society” explored in greater depth in chapter 7), and to work in a field awash in acronyms and associations. They must try to construct a sense of professional identity in a field which necessarily works within structures of power and simultaneously challenges those structures (108, 117).
Readers might be surprised by the inclusion of a chapter on philosophy in a text summarizing the history and vital components of what is commonly described as a predominately applied field. However, the inclusion of such is quite necessary considering that it is paramount to investigate “many ways of thinking” and the frameworks we use “for thinking about broader issues and social problems” (137). In fact, the authors describe philosophy in those exact terms. Coming from a religious studies background and being something of a theory-head, I found this chapter particularly engaging. It touches on everything from belief to Postmodernism and Critical Race Theory (CRT) and brilliantly illustrates the implications of such theory for the practice of education in general. The chapter, “Historical Perspective: Contexts and Contours,” is equally compelling because of its willingness to question the value of history for the field and investigate this history via its diffusion, “the spreading of ideas through newspapers, lectures, and academic and popular writing” (177). American history is intimately tied up with education and literacy: literacy and education took center stage during era of Reconstruction, illiteracy was viewed as a hindrance to the effort of the World Wars, and today, education and assimilation are still closely linked (191-192).
Learning about the limited role the federal government is allowed, constitutionally, to play in the realm of adult education (as explicated in chapter 8) is eye-opening. The few times the federal government has stepped into the realm of adult education has had to do with immediate national interest (adult literacy, English language learning, literacy for military, and even job training for women working in production to strengthen the war effort of WW II) (264-267). The chapter “Technology and Adult Learning” could be a separate book itself. The protean nature of new technologies, the effect of technology on neural cognitive activities, and the dire need to develop “critical evaluative skills” in adults as well as in children in the age of the Internet are expertly addressed here (314).
The two chapters dedicated to the expansive landscape of adult education map the varied spaces and contexts in which adult education takes place. While one chapter focuses on adult education within more formal contexts (within work, where adult education overlaps with the territory of higher education, inside programs of basic education and ESL learning, and military efforts), the other traces the outline of adult education as it occurs within a community context (faith-based programs, adult learning within museums and libraries, wellness programs, and civic engagement groups – especially those rooted in social justice). These two chapters spotlight just how diverse in topic, motivation, and method adult education can be. For newcomers to adult education like myself, the crisp explication of the regions and modes of what constitutes the field is exceptionally enlightening, as I have previously found it difficult to isolate what in fact constitutes, and does not constitute, adult education.
While noticeably constructed with Education graduate students in mind, this book has something to teach anyone even tangentially interested in lifelong learning, community building, education, employment, and the effects of technology on North American culture. As an academic advisor working within the halls of higher education and a lifelong learner myself, I see this text as a great resource for graduate students and educators in all disciplines but I also recommend it to those invested in education and learning outside the confines of formal educational structures (church leaders, community organizers, volunteers, and policy advocates).
Meeting the Transitional Needs of Young Adult Learners (New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, Number 143)
Date Reviewed: February 4, 2016
Part of the series “New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education,” Meeting the Transitional Needs of Young Adult Learners is the first entry to address young adult learners in thirty years. As such, it is a welcome contribution to the series, as well as a valuable resource in its own right. Faculty teaching traditional undergraduates, as well as those in continuing and adult education roles, will find much of value here.
The terms “young adult” and “youth” are used across the essays in the volume, though without a single common definition. Generally, “young adult” refers to individuals from ages eighteen to twenty-five, though with some flexibility on both sides; adult education may begin at sixteen, as Davis notes (chapter 6). Chapter 1, by Joanna Wyn, introduces several key concepts that recur in subsequent chapters. Wyn offers a nice overview of the scholarship of youth transitions, new adulthood, and age. She argues that the “metaphor of transition” — a frequent feature in discussions of young adulthood — should be replaced with a “metaphor of belonging” that emphasizes relationships and connections (9).
Indeed, many of the following chapters take up this call for an emphasis on relationships and belonging. Chapters 2 through 8 follow a basic model of identifying a specific community, reviewing the literature, data, or relevant theoretical work relating to that community, and concluding with suggestions for instructors. Thus Brendaly Drayton (chapter 2) introduces and theorizes cultural difference, with special attention to ethnic difference and the experience of young adults positioned in multiple cultures. Drayton encourages instructors to use texts from a range of cultures as well as collaborative learning practices. Rongbing Xie, Bisakha (Pia) Sen, and E. Michael Foster (chapter 3) offer a similar introduction to “vulnerable youth,” a broad category that encompasses socio-economic disparities, mental health, welfare, and involvement with the justice system. Noting the problem of youth who “age out” of social services, they call on educators to be informed and competent allies for vulnerable youth and to provide social support. Jessica Nina Lester (chapter 4) makes a similar argument with respect to “youth with dis/ability labels.” The pedagogical emphasis in these chapters is on the affective and relational, encouraging instructors to engage beyond course material. Steven B. Frye’s contribution addresses young adults in faith communities (chapter 5). Instructors in confessional contexts may find his insights helpful; in other contexts, less so.
The final three chapters are the work of the editors, C. Amelia Davis and Joann S. Olson. Davis (chapter 6) discusses adult education programs as they serve young adult learners, and offers some helpful suggestions for strengthening these programs. Olson (chapter 7) takes up the transition from school to workplace, arguing that educators can intentionally create classroom and school experiences that prepare students for, and ease the transition to, the workplace. She also offers a number of useful examples, including discussing class assignments. A final chapter by Olson and Davis (chapter 8) offers a concise overview of key themes from the preceding chapters. This is a valuable collection of essays, which much to offer all educators working with young adults.
Continuing Education in Colleges and Universities: Challenges and Opportunities (New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, Number 140)
Date Reviewed: February 12, 2015
That continuing education (CE) was only recently added to many traditional programs makes it understandable that it has still to gain the respect of some departments in many colleges and universities. Certain trends – well-outlined in this book – have brought CE to the fore in the academy, and readers who have not recognized these trends will have to account for their institutions’ tardiness in catching up. Ten essays chart these developments, each exploring some facet of the CE phenomena. The essays are more practical than speculative; they orient the reader to relevant knowledge about current trends and how best to implement a state-of-the-art CE program.
The economy and the technological boom are the major incentives for CE development, and the implications each has for such programs are well-covered in the essays. While disposable income has made CE attractive for the self-enrichment of a healthily aging population, retooling the present workforce to adapt to a changing economy indicates a significant need and opportunity for business and academia, respectively. Hence, CE’s profitability must be considered more closely, advantageous as it is for revenue-conscious higher education. Lisa Braverman’s essay explains why educators do well to note business practices (sometimes a loathed subject in academia), demographics, marketing, and innovation when designing CE programs. Nontraditional students will only increase in the near future, and effective marketing of CE will require innovation and nuance since marketing to nontraditional learners in the workforce differs significantly from traditional recruitment. To this end, some schools have enhanced their CE marketing departments, realizing that sophisticated use of social media and a better understanding of adult learners’ needs are more effective than the former “one size fits all” modes of recruitment based on criteria geared toward traditional students.
Rebecca Nichols’s article addresses the role of the community college as a partner in economic development. Not only do these schools meet needs in retooling the workforce, but they also play a role in creating jobs. To this end, Nichols offers seven examples of innovative community college programs around the country.
The essays acknowledge online education as the greatest recent innovation affecting CE. While nontraditional students continue to prefer brick-and-mortar campuses, they are opting for online education (38 percent by one survey) for its efficiency, a trend productive of increased revenue streams but one yet to gain more widespread acceptance and improvement of delivery. MOOC impact is considerable and is discussed in several of the essays.
Another specific factor for CE is “Prior Learning Assessment” (PLA), or the acceptance of work and life experience (such as military service) in addition to or in lieu of “seat time” credit hours. While this practice is not new, Rebecca Klein-Collins and Judith B. Wertherin argue that it is fueled by adult learners’ need to complete a degree quickly and to attract older workers. Left unanswered are questions about the merit of “life experiences” that cannot be readily measured in any way equivalent to classroom assignments.
Successful CE programs require the cooperation and understanding of their sponsoring institutions even as these programs keep in line with institutional missions. They also build lasting relationships with regional business, industry, and other entities requiring employees to keep updated certification. Such are the challenges and opportunities before CE programs everywhere.