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The Aging Process & Trends That Affect Adult Education

by Lori Garrett-Hatfield

Adults who want to continue their education face different challenges than children and adolescents do. However, this does not mean that adults cannot learn the same material that adolescents can. But what adults want to learn and how they want to learn makes their education unique.

What is Adult Education?

Malcolm Knowles defined adult education by six principles: Adults are internally motivated and self-directed; adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences; adults are goal oriented; adults are relevancy oriented; adults are practical; and adult learners like to be respected. Adult education means that adults are actively engaged in a learning activity -- the activity may not take place within a classroom, and the activity may not be strictly "educational." For example, a group of adults may be learning how to kayak down a river. Even though the education is not scholarly, it is still a group of people learning a new skill -- which makes it adult education.

What Affects Adult Education?

The European Society for Research on the Education of Adults states that there are many factors that affect adult education. First, instructors need to be mindful that adults have many constraints on their time (children, work, caring for older parents, relationships) that adolescents and children do not have. Also, adults may not be able to attend a class or an event due to geography or transportation issues. They may not participate because they fear rejection. An adult may not participate because they do not have information on a class in their area, or because of socioeconomic or educational factors.

How Does the Aging Process Affect Adult Education?

Adult education is also affected by the aging process, according to Johns Hopkins University. As adults age, their ability to learn new things may be affected by blood flow, depression, stress and chronic illness. However, adults lose less than 1 percent of their ability to learn each year, so the capacity for new knowledge remains high throughout most of an adult's life. Researchers now know that adults are able to learn and acquire new knowledge throughout their lives, which is a shift in thinking from years past when it when thought that adults were not able to learn because of illness, genetic longevity or environment. Also, adults change careers many times in their lives and retire later in life than in years past. In addition, adults are more active in their retirement and want to stay active throughout their lives. This may mean that adults need to acquire new knowledge throughout their lives as well.

Trends in Adult Education

There are many trends in adult education, according to the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Many adult education classes, from botany to zoology, are available online -- which may mean that adults need to brush up on their technology skills to participate in online classes. Second, adults prefer collaborative learning rather than lecture learning. Third, adults prefer to learn through doing and their own experiences, rather than being told about a learning experience. Adult educators should take these preferences into consideration when planning classes. Fourth, adults enjoy project learning -- where there is an end result -- such as a creating sweater or painting. Fifth, adults like to build on prior learning experiences and to bring their experiences into the classroom to share.

About the Author

Lori Garrett-Hatfield has a B.J. in Journalism from the University of Missouri. She has a Ph.D. in Adult Education from the University of Georgia. She has been working in the Education field since 1994, and has taught every grade level in the K-12 system, specializing in English education, and English as a Second Language education.

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