Psychology and Adult Learning

Psychology and Adult Learning

Psychology and Adult Learning

Psychology and Adult Learning


This book examines the role of psychology in informing adult education practice. It acknowledges the psychological dimension of adult education work, and explores this dimension in the context of the concerns of adult educators. The approach is to examine the most important traditions of some key psychological theories and to discuss the issues and problems in applying them to an understanding of adult learning and development. The text is ideally suited for those who seek a critical understanding of psychological theory and research from the perspective of the adult educator.


The first edition of Psychology and Adult Learning was written while I was a Visiting Fellow with the Department of Continuing Education at the University of Warwick in 1986. This second edition was written while a Visiting Professor with the Center for Research and Development in Higher Education, Hokkaido University, Japan, during the northern winter of 1995-6. It has thus been ten years since I began work on the first edition. Over this decade, writes Welton (1995):

voices from the margins of the field—armed with interpretive strategies from hermeneutical, critical and postmodernist studies—have been levelling four fundamental accusations against the modern practice of adult education: (1) adult education has abandoned its once vital role in fostering democratic social action, (2) the discipline of adult learning was based on a shaky foundation, (3) the contemporary modern practice of adult education is governed by an instrumental rationality that works to the advantage of business, industry and large scale organisations, (4) the guiding principle of the modern practice of adult education, self directed learning, is conceptually inadequate to serve the interests of the poor, oppressed, and disenfranchised in global…society

He goes on to say that

the chaos and disorder so evident in the field of adult education as discourse and practice is largely attributable to the theoretical bankruptcy of the andragogical model.

During the same period Bruner (1990) writes that the development of psychology as a discipline

has become fragmented as never before in its history. It has lost its center and risks losing the cohesion needed to assure the internal exchange that might justify a division of labour between its parts. And the parts, each with its own organisational identity, its own theoretical apparatus, and often its own journals, have become specialities whose products become less and less exportable.

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