Curriculum Development for Adult Learners in Career and Technical Education

Curriculum Development for Adult Learners in Career and Technical Education

Viktor Wang (California State University, Long Beach, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-739-3.ch048
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This chapter addresses pertinent issues concerning the development of meaningful curricula for adult learners in career and technical education. Although developing a curriculum or a course in adult vocational education depends on a competency-based model which has been borrowed from foreign countries, adult learning theory promotes a humanistic orientation for the development of self-actualizing persons. The chapter discusses how the two different models contribute to curriculum development in career and technical education.
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For years, scholars in different fields have been trying to come up with precise definitions of learning and teaching. One of the definitions learning researchers often cite based on the work of Zull (2002), Bloom and Krathwohl (1956) and Kolb (1984), defines learning as a physical change in synaptic pathways in the brain brought about by confronting real-life situations that either confirm or challenge our mental models. Johnson, Johnson, and Smith (1998) view teaching and learning in terms of several principal constructs:

  • Knowledge is discovered, transformed, and extended by students.

  • Students actively construct their own knowledge.

  • Learning is a social enterprise in which students need to interact with the instructor and classmates.

  • Faculty effort should be aimed at developing students’ competencies and talents.

  • Education is a personal transaction among students and between faculty and students as they work together.

  • Learning is best when it takes place within a cooperative context.

  • Teaching is a complex application of theory and research that requires considerable instructor training and continuous refinement of skills and procedures.

Interestingly enough, these scholars’ definitions of teaching and learning do not deviate much from the way adult learning scholars perceive teaching and learning for adults. The foundation of adult learning theory postulates:

  • Adults are motivated to learn as they experience needs and interests that learning will satisfy; therefore, there are the appropriate starting points for organizing adult learning activities.

  • Adults’ orientation to learning is life-centered; therefore, the appropriate units for organizing adult learning are life situations, not subjects.

  • Experience is the richest resource for adults’ learning; therefore, the core methodology of adult education is the analysis of experience.

  • Adults have a deep need to be self-directing; therefore, the role of the teacher is to engage in a process of mutual inquiry with them rather than to transmit his or her knowledge to them and then evaluate their conformity to it.

  • Individual differences among people increase with age; therefore, adult education must make optimal provision for differences in style, time, place, and pace of learning (Knowles, Holton, & Swanson, 2005, pp. 39-40).

Adult education has not been a field that operated by itself; rather, its relationship with career and technical education (formerly known as vocational education) has been an important arena for serving adult learners. Many land-grant universities in the United States have a department called Department of Vocational and Adult Education. Those departments known only as Departments of Career and Technical Education offer courses for adult learners as the majority of adult learners enter the field of career and technical education. Even today, we still have the Office of Vocational and Adult Education housed under U.S. Department of Education that handles a massive enterprise of career, technical, and adult education. As an overview, this is how the Office of Vocational and Adult Education addresses the interrelationship between career and technical education as one area and adult education as another:

Key Terms in this Chapter

Competency-Based Education: Based on the book, Philosophical Foundations of Adult Education by Elias and Merriam, since the mid-1990s, competency-based education has been eclipsed by the notion of “standards-based” or skill standards. The “fixed standard” for workforce education is via skill standards set up by the National Skills Standards (NSSB). Established in 1994, the NSSB has as its mission to develop skills standards in each of the 15 industry sectors, and to establish assessment and certification systems. Standards-based education is well suited to adult vocational education for several reasons: it allows for individual differences in terms of the starting point for instruction; the time it takes a student to master competencies is flexible and dependent upon individual ability; learning specified competencies may be done in a variety of ways from formal class activities to life or work experiences; criterion-referenced evaluation is non-threatening; it is an ideal vehicle for a self-directed individual learning experience (2005, pp. 100-101).

Curriculum: This is defined as organized course of study undertaken by groups of students. Curriculum is developed according to a set of guidelines. It may be characterized by centralization or decentralization depending on the culture of an educational institution in a particular country. It may refer to all the educational events offered by an educational institution.

Malcolm Knowles: He was an American adult educator known throughout the world as the father of adult education. He has been the most frequently cited author in the field. He lived between 1913 and 1997. He was executive director of the Adult Education Association of the United States of America, and thereafter a professor of adult education for different universities such as North Carolina State University and University of Arkansas.

Behaviorist Philosophy: This philosophy emphasizes such concepts as control behavioral modification, learning through reinforcement, and management by objectives. The philosophy was advanced by such theorists such as Edward Thorndike, Ivan Pavlov, James Watson and B. F. Skinner. Skinner was the most prominent behaviorist. This philosophy has led to the creation of programmed learning, behavioral objectives, and performance-based educational programs. Behaviorist principles are predominant in industrial and corporate training programs. In education, the roles of teacher and learner are defined in the behaviorist framework. The ultimate goal of education is to bring about behavior that will ensure survival of the human species, societies and individuals. Student learning outcomes, according to behaviorist philosophies, must be measured objectively and precisely, thus revealing how much progress has been made on the part of the learner. Evaluation based on behavioral objectives eliminates subjective, capricious estimates of student performance.

Criterion-Referenced Evaluation: Criterion-referenced evaluation is an important concept in behavioral psychology. In criterion-referenced evaluation, the learner’s process or accomplishments are compared to a fixed standard or criterion of mastery rather than to the performance of other students. It is based on the assumption that learning objectives can be predetermined, and that given sufficient time and proper reinforcements nearly all students can meet the objectives.

Humanistic Philosophy: According to humanistic philosophers, humans have unlimited potential for learning. Advocates of this approach emphasize freedom and autonomy, trust, active cooperation and participation, and self-directed learning. Since students are capable of self-directed learning, humanistic education is student-centered not only with regard to the responsibility for learning but in terms of the self-development of each learner. The student is viewed as a unique individual in whom all aspects of the person must be allowed to grow in the educative process. Emotions, attitudes, physical aspects are as important as intellectual development. The whole personality, all the dimensions of humanness that differentiates human beings from animals, are deemed the important areas of development in humanistic education. Because of self-directed learning on the part of the students, instructors are expected to be learning facilitators, linking students to learning resources. Sometimes, instructors are expected to consultants, or a “guide on the side.”

Victor Della Vos: He was the director of the Moscow Imperial Technical School in 1886 and developed the Russian system of competency-based instruction, which was partly influenced by Pavlov’s research on conditioning. He exhibited his system of instruction at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876. As a result of this presentation, the School of Mechanic Arts was opened in connection with the Massachusetts Institution of Technology in Boston. The principles of his system were adopted by other schools as well in 1880.

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