What can we learn from the Past about Future Technological Trends in Adult Education?

What can we learn from the Past about Future Technological Trends in Adult Education?

John K. Hope (University of Auckland, New Zealand)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-153-9.ch019
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The purpose of this chapter is to examine the past two decades of technology use in adult education with the intention of providing a critical lens with which to view future technological trends 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 chapter in early 2010, 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?

Most readers of this book will have been involved with education in some form during the last two decades of the twentieth century, 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 word processing with it’s 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.

The enhanced convenience of a less significant but, still important technological leap, the invention and mass marketing of the laptop computer, was not lost on adult educators and students either. First developed for the space shuttle programme in 1979 but not mass marketed until Compaq launched their laptop in 1988 and Apple launched the first Mac laptop in 1989 (Roseberry, n.d.), the laptop was, until 2009, the computing tool of first choice for most people on the move. By its portable nature, the laptop computer helped bring home, workplace and tertiary institution together rather than having students limited to using computer laboratories in tertiary institutions. Writing associated with an adult learning programme could continue regardless of location, a major incentive for busy adult learners to trying to pursue their education while working and running a family. Intensive expansion and innovation in adult education e-learning through the late 1980s and 1990s was the result of the PC and later laptop introduction, leading to a subtle but profound paradigm shift in not only the design and delivery of education, but also in the very nature of learning (Harasim, 2006).

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