Academic journal article Adult Learning

Envisioning an Adult Learning Graduate Program for the Early 21st Century: A Developmental Action Inquiry Study

Academic journal article Adult Learning

Envisioning an Adult Learning Graduate Program for the Early 21st Century: A Developmental Action Inquiry Study

Article excerpt

Abstract: The rapid pace of social and technological change in the early 21st century leaves many adults scrambling to meet the complexities that characterize their daily lives. Adult learners are faced with multiple, often competing, demands from work, education, family, and leisure, which requires adult education graduate programs to carefully consider how best to meet these changing needs of today's students. Using a developmental action inquiry approach, the authors collected data using multiple rounds of mutual inquiry from diverse groups of stakeholders in adult education. We asked each group to explore the question, "How does adult education as a profession, field, and practice help adults, organizations, and society meet the demands of 21st century life?" The combined results indicate that responsive, dynamic graduate programs in adult education for the 21st century should support the cultivation of critical and timely reflection, create online learning environments predicated on intentional community and mutuality, and foreground the relationship between adult learning and developmental capacity to prepare adult education facilitators who stand confidently in the face of complexity and ambiguity.

Keywords: action inquiry, complexity, graduate programs, adult education

The early 21st century presents a wide range of interconnected phenomena---environmental uncertainties, globalization of the market economy, technological innovations and rapid innovation cycles, and an extended life span, to name a few--which leaves many adults scrambling to meet the complexities and address the ambiguities that characterize their daily lives. This hidden curriculum of life (Kegan, 1994) causes many adults to experience a mismatch between their current realities and the mental models that have governed their meaning making in the past, requiring them to think in qualitatively different ways to live successfully in the present. Edwards and Usher (2000) suggest, "Change and uncertainty require lifelong learning," and if one of the central tenets of adult education is helping adults to develop the capacity for growth and learning across the life course, then graduate programs in adult education must explore these types of programmatic questions: What are the particular needs of adult learners in the early 21st century? How might a graduate curriculum in adult education best respond to these needs? In what ways might this curriculum respond to demands facing adult learners across the spheres of work, education, family, and leisure?

To respond to these questions, we undertook a study in an adult education graduate course in Program Planning and Development to explore the following question: How does adult education as a profession, field, and practice help adults, organizations, and society meet the demands of 21st century life? We used a developmental action inquiry (DAI; Torbert, 2004) approach to interview a range of stakeholders at our home institution, and we analyzed our findings using a complex adaptive conceptual framework. This manuscript's purpose is to discuss the results of our study with respect to perceived learners' needs in graduate programs, as well as the programmatic structure and delivery methods of these programs. We also offer some general recommendations for adult education programs and pose further questions that will, in our opinion, need continued attention as the new millennium unfolds.

Background

In conducting this study, we presumed the complexity underlying adults' lives offers a propitious opportunity to unearth assumptions that inform present graduate programs in adult education and, in turn, to challenge these assumptions in ways that generate the emergence of a more responsive set of programmatic framing strategies. Stacey and Griffin (2005) explain that adults find themselves increasingly in spaces that are "paradoxically stable and unstable, predictable and unpredictable, known and unknown, certain and uncertain all at the same time" (p. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.