Adapting Adult Educators’ Teaching Philosophies to Foster Adult Learners’ Transformation and Emancipation

Adapting Adult Educators’ Teaching Philosophies to Foster Adult Learners’ Transformation and Emancipation

Viktor Wang (Florida Atlantic University, USA) and Patricia Cranton (University of New Brunswick, Canada)
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 14
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4249-2.ch008
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This chapter argues that adult educators need to adapt their philosophy and their teaching roles to foster adult learners’ transformative learning, and it proposes a model that illustrates this process. The most common purposes of adult education are represented by five underlying philosophies as fully discussed by Elias and Merriam. Adult learners possess different needs, interests, and experiences. As teachers modify their roles and methods in response to their students’ diverse individual characteristics, they must also adapt their underlying philosophical perspective so that philosophy, roles, and methods are congruent. The authors maintain that in this context, the role of adult educators as facilitators of transformational learning should be examined and their prevalent humanistic and progressive philosophies critically questioned.
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Philosophical Perspectives In Adult Education

The philosophical perspectives that guide adult education practice have been organized into a variety of different frameworks (see, for example, Elias & Merriam, 1995; Tisdell & Taylor, 2000), but aside from some nuances in the terms used and the way the perspectives are grouped, there is a fair amount of consistency in the way scholars view the philosophies.

Liberalism has its roots in the Greek philosophers and the Enlightenment philosophers (such as Locke and Kant). In this perspective, the acquisition of knowledge is valued, especially from a rational perspective, and critical thinking is a goal of education. Liberalism also emphasizes the development of moral citizens and people informed in the arts, classic literature, and philosophy. The product of a liberal education is a well-rounded person. Until recently, liberalism informed higher education, and it still does in countries where universities are not seen as job-training institutions. In the U.S., when people refer to a “liberal arts college” they are talking about the kind of institution where students receive a broad background in the humanities, social sciences, and arts.

Progressivism emerged as a response to the demand for education that prepared people for work in an industrial society. Progressivism is founded in pragmatism, which values practical experience over abstract and theoretical concepts. Dewey (1938) popularized this philosophical perspective, and his influence remains strong today. When Dewey proposed that students (children and adults) learn best by doing things, this was a radical notion in a world where educational methods favored rote recall. Progressivism is the philosophical framework for adult vocational education, apprenticeship programs, skills based training, and technical education, among other fields. Progressivism incorporates problem solving and experiential learning; the teacher becomes a facilitator and mentor rather than an authority figure. Lindeman, who wrote The Meaning of Adult Education (1926), was strongly influenced by Dewey, and he applied the concepts to adult education. Much later, Knowles (1980) also drew on progressivism as he developed his model of andragogy.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Humanistic Education: This philosophy emphasizes freedom and autonomy, trust, active cooperation and participation, and self-directed learning. Humanistic educators include Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, Erich Fromm, and Malcolm Knowles.

Emancipation: It literally refers to the act of freeing or state of being freed, liberation.

Radical or Critical Education: Radical or Critical educators propose education as a force for achieving radical social change. Education is connected with social, political, and economic understanding of cultures, and with the development of methods to bring people to an awareness of responsible social action. Education is used to combat social, political, and economic oppression within society.

Liberal Education: It can be defined as liberal learning, organized knowledge, and the development of the intellectual powers of the mind. It was first adopted and adapted in the Christian schools in early, medieval, and modern times. Liberal education is greatly reflected in K-12 education settings.

Behaviorist Education: This philosophy emphasizes control, behavioral modification, learning through reinforcement, and management by objectives. Behaviorist leaders include Edward Thorndike, Ivan Pavlov, James Watson, and B. F. Skinner.

Transformation: It refers to the act, process, or instance of transforming or being transformed. Regarding transformative learning, Mezirow indicates learning occurs when there is a transformation in one of our beliefs or attitudes, or a change of our entire perspective.

Progressive Education: This philosophy places emphasis on the relationship between education and society, experience-centered, vocational, and democratic education. One of the leading progressive educators is John Dewey.

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