Technological Trends in Adult Education: Past, Present and in the Future

Technological Trends in Adult Education: Past, Present and in the Future

John K. Hope (University of Auckland, New Zealand)
DOI: 10.4018/jwbltt.2009091506
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The purpose of this article is to provide a critical review of the past two decades of technology use in adult education. The article begins with a brief summary of technological trends, such as the introduction of the Internet and the World Wide Web, that have influenced adult education over the past two decades. Political, economic, social, and pedagogical issues that have influenced the use of technology in adult education are also discussed and possible solutions to these issues are outlined. The article concludes with an attempt to extrapolate future technological trends that could influence the direction of adult education in the decade to come.
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At the time of completing this article in early 2009, the last two decades encompassed the period from the late 1980s until the present. What significant technological developments influenced adult education during that that time?

Use of new technology (reading glasses) in adult education is mentioned in one of the first recorded books devoted to adult education, that of Thomas Pole who wrote of his 1811 experiences teaching adults to read in England, “when their (adults) attention is gained and fixed, they soon learn: their age makes no great difference, if they are able, by the help of glasses, to see the letters” (Pole, 1968, p. 3). We now jump several generations of technological development in adult education, such as the postal system and ballpoint pen, to the 1980s when most readers of this book will have been involved with education in some form, as either student or teacher. It is likely that most adult educators would recall that use of educational technology in the form of a computer was minimal, being confined to a small group of “early adopters” (Jones, Kirkup, & Kirkwood, 1993) who had access to mainframe computers, or very early purchasers of desktop personal computers mainly used for word processing.

In the late 1980s most adult education was hard copy print based (Bates, 1993). Some institutions were experimenting with live audio and video technology (Isenberg, 2007), television (Bates, 1993) and institutions such as Jutland Open University in Denmark investing hugely in teleconferencing (Jones et al., 1993), but these institutions were the exception rather than the rule (Moore, 1995). Over the last one hundred and seventy years since the recorded inception of adult education, technological innovation was generally limited to print innovations. In 1981 the IBM PC arrived (Olle, 2004), allowing the decentralisation of computer terminals linked to mainframe computers to stand-alone desktop devices. The widespread and extremely rapid of uptake of personal computers in the 1980s and 1990s (Kodama, 2008) was one of the most significant technological developments of that period. Most adult learners, being by definition more mature learners rather than younger computer whiz kids, were not the earliest adopters of the new computer technological aids but the convenience of simplified editing of written text on a personal computer, available in the home, led to rapid growth in computer use by both adult learners and their teachers.

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