Academic journal article International Journal of Instructional Media

Teachers, Technology, and Training: Adult Education: A Brief Review of Literature Using a Template of Perspectives

Academic journal article International Journal of Instructional Media

Teachers, Technology, and Training: Adult Education: A Brief Review of Literature Using a Template of Perspectives

Article excerpt


The recent death (November 27, 1997) of Malcolm Knowles--widely regarded as one of the significant founders of the modern field of adult education--prompted us to examine some of the contributions of adult education theorists and practitioners using the same template of perspectives we have employed for two years in the Journal to review and consider the K-12 education and school reform literature. In this article, a brief description of the four perspectives again will be provided, followed by examples of writings from the adult education literature that exemplify the perspective in question. It is our contention that the same template of perspectives we have engaged to assess the K-12 literature also may be used profitably to capture and to think about literature in the field of adult education.


As we have noted previously (see Teachers, Technology, and Training in Volume 23 [1-4] and Volume 24 [1-4]), writings on education and school reform fall within four major perspectives: technological, psychological, ideological, and sociological. Simply stated, the technological perspective is characterized by writings generally sympathetic to the concerns of the business community. Such writings focus on raising academic standards and achievement levels for all students with a view to developing competent future workers.

The psychological perspective includes writings that promote developmentally appropriate instruction. Writers in this perspective seek to develop a wide range of psychological potentials in students, ground their reform initiatives in psychological theory, and suggest psychological sophistication when working with young people, including those who are experiencing emotional and behavioral difficulties.

Writers in the ideological perspective attempt to identify and to transform unequal power relationships in society to expand tradition-imposed boundaries for marginalized groups. The ideological perspective brings a critical eye to the schools as reproducers of hegemonic attitudes and cultural practices in society.

The sociological perspective is tripartite: descriptive, prescriptive, and communitarian. The descriptive sociological perspective focuses on demographics, economic data, and social trends and forces. Writings in this perspective inform theorists and practitioners about student populations and their families; provide commentary on significant emerging data; and offer historical, cultural or philosophical interpretations of educational trends and movements.

The prescriptive sociological perspective includes authors who concentrate on understanding social mechanisms that sustain or inhibit group functioning in a variety of educational settings. These authors look to harness constructive group, peer, and organizational pressures to raise the functional level of educational institutions.

Authors in the communitarian sociological perspective promote broad availability of social services to children and families at the school level. Writers in this perspective also encourage a deep understanding of democratic citizenship and the ethical obligations and relationships necessary for sustaining the larger social fabric. In this perspective, writers promote the development of morals and values that undergird constructive community life.


The twentieth century has seen adult education emerge as a discrete field of study and practice. The modern movement owes its development to a wide variety of sources and traditions and has been advanced in the United States, particularly, by the early seminal work of Eduard Lindeman and Malcolm Knowles. While Lindeman advocated a conception of adult education as intimately concerned with human problems and societal issues (see Stewart, 1987; and Brookfield, 1987), Knowles considered adult education in the following way:

      In its broadest sense, the term describes a process--the process of
   adults learning. … 
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