Adult Education

views updated May 21 2018


Most basically defined, adult education is the intentional, systematic process of teaching and learning by which persons who occupy adult roles acquire new values, attitudes, knowledge, skills, and disciplines. As a concept, "adult education" demarcates a subfield of education that is distinct from the latter's historical and still general identification with the formal schooling of youth in primary and secondary schools, colleges, and universities. Once lacking the central social significance long recognized for this formal schooling, adult education expanded rapidly after 1950. Changing social, economic, and demographic forces occasioned new educational forms and organizations and new levels of adult participation in existing forms. Adult education is now so widespread and important a feature of societies worldwide that it increasingly occupies the attention of social scientists, policy makers, businesses, and the public.


Adult education now permeates modern societies. It does not do so, however, with the kind of public funding, legislative sanction, organizational cohesion, and standardization of practice that have made universal schooling a highly visible and central institution. Precise substantive definition and classification of adult education is frustrated by the great and changing variety that characterizes the field (Courtney 1989). The complex circumstances of adult life and development lead to the informal, nonformal, and formal pursuit of education for many different purposes. In response to an intricate array of social, economic, and political conditions, formal and nonformal organizations—from multi-state international agencies to corporations to local recreational clubs—support and develop adult education programs. In consequence, an eclectic set of professions, occupations, disciplines, and practices forms the division of adult education labor.

Adults seek a wide variety of educational goals. These include basic literacy and work readiness skills; knowledge and technical competencies required for entering and improving performance of occupational, avocational, and recreational roles; credentials for status attainment; information for the improvement of family life, health, and psychological well-being; knowledge, values, and disciplines for spiritual growth and intellectual enrichment; and tools for addressing community problems and advancing political and social-action agendas. An equally diverse set of organizations and groups provides such education. Publishers and producers of print and electronic educational media serve a growing market for informal adult education with products that range from golf tutorials to taped lectures on the history of philosophy. A large and rapidly expanding nonformal sector (i.e., educational organizations that are not a part of the formal school and college system), now mobilizes very considerable resources to educate adults. Businesses, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations train employees to enhance productivity, organizational effectiveness, and client satisfaction, to spur innovation in products and services, and as an employment benefit to attract workers. Proprietary schools and training companies seek profits by providing similar training to both businesses and individuals. National, regional, and local governments fund adult education programs to reduce welfare dependency and promote economic development. Political parties and special-interest groups deliver adult education designed to foster either dominant or insurgent civic values, knowledge, and action. Professional associations sponsor and certify continuing education to maintain and enhance member competence, ensure the value of their credentials, and maintain market advantages for their members.

Other major providers of nonformal education programs that expressly target adults include unions; churches; libraries, and museums; the armed forces; prison systems; charitable, fraternal, service, and cultural associations; and the health care industry. The formal educational system itself no longer serves only the young. Community school adjuncts to primary and secondary schools teach basic literacy, prepare adults for high school equivalency exams, and offer classes in subjects ranging from the latest computer software to traditional arts and crafts. Colleges and universities now educate almost as many adults as youth; in the United States almost half of all college students are adults above twenty-five years of age. With increasing frequency, these students study in divisions of colleges and universities specifically dedicated to adults.

The functional and organizational diversity of adult education is mirrored in its professions and occupations. Those working in the field include the administrators, researchers, and professors in university graduate programs that train adult educators and maintain adult education as an academic discipline. Teachers and student-service personnel in university, governmental, and proprietary organizations deliver graduate, undergraduate, and continuing education to adults. Managers, trainers, and associated marketing and support personnel staff the employee, technical, and professional training industry. Adult literacy and basic education practitioners form a specialization of their own. Professional activists, organizers, and volunteers consciously include adult education in the portfolio of skills that they apply to pursuits ranging across the full spectrum of ideologies and interests. Policy analysts, planners, researchers, and administrators staff the adult education divisions of international organizations, national and regional governments, and independent foundations and development agencies.

While those who occupy these professional statuses and roles are clearly doing adult education, not all identify themselves as adult educators or, even when sharing this identity, see themselves as engaged in similar practice. The field is conceptually, theoretically, and pedagogically heterogeneous both within and among its many sectors. Role identity and performance differences based in organizational setting and population served are compounded by differences in fundamental aims and methods. One of the sharpest divides is between many in the "training and development" industry and those in academia and elsewhere who identify with "adult education" as a discipline, as a profession and, sometimes, as a social movement.

Training and development specialists tend to define their task as cultivating human resources and capital that can be used productively for the purposes of businesses, armed forces, government agencies, and other formal organizations. For training line employees, and all employees in technical areas, they tend to emphasize teaching and learning methodologies that maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of individual acquisition of skill sets that can be easily and usefully applied to well-established performance objectives. For executive and managerial development, they tend to emphasize leadership, team, problem-solving, strategy, and change management competencies in the context of developing general organizational learning, effectiveness, and continuous quality improvement (Craig 1996).

Those who identify themselves as adult educators, on the other hand, tend to emphasize theories and methods designed to "facilitate" individual transformation and development. Variants of the facilitation model advocated by the adult education profession include the following: one perspective focuses on the special characteristics of learning in adulthood, and on "andragogy" as a new type of specifically adult teaching and learning distinct from pedagogy, as critical to successful adult education (Knowles 1980); another emphasizes adult life circumstances and experiences as key variables (Knox 1986); a third sees facilitating new critical and alternative thinking as the key to successful adult transformation (Brookfield 1987); and yet another sees adult education as active, consciousness-transforming engagement with social conditions to produce individual liberation and progressive social change (Coben, Kincheloe, and Cohen 1998). Common to all of the facilitation approaches is the ideal of adult education as a democratic, participatory process wherein adult educators facilitate active learning and critical reflection for which adult learners themselves assume a large measure of responsibility and direction.

Theoretical and ideological differences among adult education practitioners draw sharper lines than does their actual practice. Active learning techniques through which concepts, information, and skills are acquired in the course of real or simulated practical problem solving, strongly advocated by professional adult educators, have been embraced by the corporate training and development industry. Educational technology tools such as interactive, computer-based learning modules and Web-based tutorials, tools most robustly developed by the training industry, enable precisely the kind of independent, self-directed learning celebrated by the adult education profession. In most of its settings and branches, adult educators of all types deploy the entire array of pedagogies from rote memorization to classic lecture-recitation to the creation of self-sustaining "learning communities." Few central methodological tendencies demarcate distinct factions within the field, or the field itself from other types of education. Visible variants, such as the training and facilitation models, serve only partially to distinguish different segments of the field; and even these differences stem more from the particular histories, conditions, aims, and clients of those segments than from distinct disciplines, theories, or methods. Other methodological tendencies, such as widespread reliance on adult experience and self-direction as foundational for instructional design and delivery, reflect differences between adult and childhood learning more than a distinctly adult pedagogy (Merriam and Cafferella 1991).

Adult learning has several well-established characteristics that distinguish it from learning earlier in the life cycle: greater importance of clear practical relevance for learning, even of higher-order reasoning skills; the relatively rich stock of experience and knowledge to which adults relate new learning; "learner" or "student" as a role secondary to and embedded in adult familial, occupational and social roles; and the application of adult levels of responsibility and self-direction to the learning process. Indeed, at the level of practice, the learning characteristics of those being educated (i.e., adults) serve to distinguish adult education as a distinct field much more clearly than do distinctively adult educators, organizations, or methods.


The remarkable variety of contemporary adult education directly reflects complexity in the social environment and the necessities and rewards associated with mastering that complexity. Like schooling, adult education emerged and developed in response to the social, economic, political, cultural, and demographic forces that produced increasing structural and functional differentiation as one of the few clear trends in human social evolution. As social roles and practices proliferated, conveying the skills, knowledge, and disciplines that they embodied required the intentional and organized teaching and learning that is education. As productivity, wealth, power, and status became more dependent on the mastery and application of knowledge, education to acquire it increasingly occupied the interest and resources of individuals and groups.

The long and discontinuous trajectory of increasing social complexity within and among human societies yielded very little formal and nonformal adult education before the advent of industrialism. Prior to the Neolithic revolution, education of any type was rare; informal socialization without conscious, systematic intent to train or study sufficed for most cultural transmission and role acquisition. Agrarian, state-organized societies, especially the early and late classical civilizations of the Middle East, Asia, and Europe, developed the first formal and nonformal schooling in response to the increasing complexity of knowledge, administration, social control, and production. This schooling was delivered by professional tutors and early versions of primary and secondary schools to educate the children of political, military, and religious aristocracies for their rulership roles; in schools and colleges to train bureaucratic and religious functionaries, professionals in law and medicine, and the elite in the liberal arts; and by nonformal systems of apprenticeship, such as the medieval guilds, for specialized crafts and trades. Although there are many examples of adults seeking informal education from adepts in the arts, religion, and natural philosophy, the educational systems of agrarian societies were devoted mostly to preparation for adult roles.

The widespread and diverse adult education of the present era emerged in response to the development of modern, urban, scientifically and technologically complex societies. Education became an important and dynamic institutional sector, one that gradually extended its territory from basic schooling for the literacy, numeracy, and general knowledge necessary to market relationships, industrial production, and democratic politics to adult continuing education for advanced professional workers in the theoretical and applied sciences. With some exceptions, the pattern of extension was from earlier to later stages of the life cycle (finally yielding education for learning that is "lifelong") from the upper to the lower reaches of class and status hierarchies (yielding "universal education") and from informal education occurring in avocational and domestic contexts, to nonformal education conducted by voluntary organizations to increasingly institutionalized formal systems.

Prior to industrialization, informal and nonformal adult education was relatively widespread in Europe, especially in England and North America, and especially among the growing urban middle class of artisans and merchants. As this new middle class sought to acquire its share of the growing stock of culture, and as literacy spread and became intrinsic to social and economic participation, adults increasingly engaged in self-directed study (aided by a publishing explosion that included a growing number of "how-to" handbooks) participated in informal study groups, and established cultural institutes and lyceums that delivered public lectures and evening courses of study.

Systematic efforts to spread adult education to the working class and the general population emerged during the process of industrialization. Until the last decades of the nineteenth century, these were almost entirely voluntary efforts devoted to democratization, social amelioration, and social movement goals. In both Britain and the United States, mechanics' institutes, some with libraries, museums, and laboratories, delivered education in applied science, taught mechanical skills, and conducted public lectures on contemporary issues. In Scandinavia, "folk high schools" performed similar functions. Religious groups conducted literacy campaigns among the new urban masses and established adult educational forums in organizations such as the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA). Women's suffrage groups, labor unions, abolitionists, socialists, and many others developed educational programs both to develop their members and as an organizing tool. After 1860 and until World War I, efforts to popularize education among adults continued in various ways: in an extensive network of lyceums, rural and urban Chautauquas and settlement homes; in educational efforts to aid and acculturate immigrants to the burgeoning industrial cities; and in post-slavery self-improvement efforts of African Americans. These middle-and working-class adult education activities received considerable support and extension from the spread of public libraries.

In most societies, state support for and sponsorship of adult education has always been scant in comparison to that for schooling children and adolescents. Late nineteenth-and twentieth-century imperialism included modest adult educational efforts designed to selectively spread literacy and educate indigenous peoples as functionaries for colonial administrations. Some higher-level adult education of the type delivered by the mechanics' and folk institutes received public funding, especially in Nordic societies where leisure time and adult continuing education were well provisioned by the state. With the Hatch Act of 1887 and enabling legislation in 1914, American land-grant universities were charged with developing "extension" services to deliver a wide range of educational and technical assistance to farmers and rural populations. The agricultural extension model later expanded to include technical training and assistance for industry, and night schools and continuing education for adults. Public funding for these developments was minimal; extension services beyond the land-grant mandate, to the present, have usually been expected to operate as fiscally self-supporting units.

Robust state support for adult education occurred only in the socialist societies that emerged after the Russian Revolution of 1917. Beginning with the mass literacy campaign initiated by the Bolsheviks, adult education was an important priority of the Soviet regime (Lee 1998). It established a large and wide-ranging formal adult continuing education system, with branches in virtually all institutional sectors of Soviet life. It was intended to foster ideological allegiance to the Soviet system, develop the Soviet workforce, spread socialist culture, and foster progress in sports and the arts. A nonformal, decentralized system of "people's universities" paralleled and reinforced the formal system. After World War II, Soviet-style adult education was transplanted to most of its Eastern European satellites and, usually in severely truncated form, to the developing societies of Asia, Africa, and Latin America that followed the Soviet model. After the communist victory in 1949, China began its own mass literacy campaign for adults. Later it developed a near-universal system of "spare-time" and other adult schools that trained students for very specific political, economic, and cultural roles in the new society, and for political and ideological conformity to the tenets and goals of the revolution. In the decade following 1966, China conducted one of the largest and most disastrous adult education programs in history. The Cultural Revolution spawned a severe and mandatory form of experiential learning that replaced much of higher education by sending professionals and officials with suspect class pedigrees, intellectuals, professors, and students into agricultural villages and factories to be reeducated by proletarian labor and incessant exposure to Mao-sanctioned communist propaganda.

In spite of the social control service to the dominant regime that it was designed to deliver, socialist adult education played a very significant role in the rapid industrialization and modernization of agrarian Russia and China. In the market societies of the West, the unplanned and longer-term realization of such development did not entail centralized efforts to transform adults for new roles. The systems of political and social control did not generally require the systematic and continuous indoctrination of adults. Thus, until the second half of the twentieth century, adult education in the West remained largely a function of individual and small group informal education, voluntary and philanthropic organizations, relatively small government efforts, specialty units of the system of formal schooling, and small training programs in proprietary schools and businesses.


After 1950, adult education grew in scale and organization. The pattern of this growth involved a shift from adult education delivered by community-based organizations to that provided by formal educational institutions and the training industry. Demand for education among adults grew because of increasing rates of technological innovation, professional specialization, organizational complexity, knowledge intensiveness in goods-andservices production, and rising credential requirements for employment. Adults returned to secondary and postsecondary education in steadily increasing numbers. In the United States, the GI Bill sent the first large wave of these new students into colleges and universities after World War II (Olson 1974). In the 1960s and 1970s new or expanded units of formal education were organized to accommodate and recruit adult students in both Europe and the United States: college adult degree programs, open universities, evening colleges, programs for accrediting experientially based adult learning, and government and school-district sponsored adult high school completion programs.

Higher education attendance among adults continued to accelerate in the 1980s and 1990s as a result of several factors: multiple stop-in, stop-out college career paths; rapid obsolescence of knowledge and associated multiple career changes throughout a lengthening cycle of life and work; increased requirements and rewards for specialized graduate, certificate, and technical education; and, most significantly, the large returning student population among Baby Boom adults. In turn, the growing market of adult students spawned new forms of higher education. In the 1990s, the for-profit, fully accredited University of Phoenix became the largest private university in the United States, with over 65,000 adult graduate and undergraduate students (Winston 1999). Phoenix provides a library that is entirely electronic, uses both branch campuses in strip malls and office buildings and Internet-delivered courses to provide education nationwide, and employs only forty-five full-time faculty and more than 4,500 adjuncts. Internationally, "mega-universities," such as Britain's Open University and China's TV University—100,000 and 500,000 students respectively—deliver education to adults through diffuse networks of distance education technologies and part-time local mentors. Collectively, the new virtual (i.e. based entirely on the Internet), distance, for-profit, and mega-universities, all oriented primarily to adults, are beginning to significantly alter the structure and practice of higher education worldwide.

Training and development programs witnessed similar growth after World War II under the impact of a combination of forces. New technologies, especially those associated with information technology production and use, and increased rates of innovation, required education for entirely new skill sets and for continuous upgrading of existing knowledge. Increased job mobility required more new worker training. More intense, global economic competition and new understandings of the contribution of training to productivity and profitability led to greater training investments by firms, agencies, and individuals.

The growing volume of adult training is delivered in many forms and sectors of society and has important consequences. In the advanced industrial societies of Europe and Asia, training and development systems, usually involving employers, unions, and governments, provide training in a substantial majority of firms and to most workers (Lynch 1994). Yearly participation rates by both firms and individuals are highest in the European and Japanese systems and may be an important factor in their high rates of productivity growth. Even in the more diffuse U.S. system with lower participation, over 60 percent of adults between twenty-eight and fifty years of age had participated in some variety of part-time adult education or training by the early 1990s (Hight 1998). Workplace training alone became a $60-billion a year industry with 53,000 providers (Martin 1998). Some firms supply most of their own training through another new institutional form of adult education, the "corporate university." With curricula ranging from basic employee orientation to the most advanced technical and business subjects, several of these universities are now fully accredited to grant baccalaureate and graduate degrees. As the U.S. military's reliance on technologically complex strategies, tactics, logistics and equipment grew, it became the largest single provider of training in the United States. Even with post-Cold War downsizing, the military's adult training activities remain significant contributors to labor-force development, especially in computer, electronics, and mechanical specialties (Barley 1998). Higher education institutions are also major training providers. Collectively, college and university adult continuing and professional education now rivals or surpasses the volume of military training (Gose 1999). Harvard serves over 60,000 adults each year in continuing education classes. New York University's School of Continuing and Professional Studies offers more than one hundred certificate programs and has revenues of over $90-million a year. The involvement of universities in the expansion of training presents something of a paradox. In many instances, the new training complex is endowing its adult students with professional and industry certifications that are beginning to rival standard degrees as the credentials of both individual and employer choice. This training may also be working significant changes in the social structure. Considerable evidence suggests that a large measure of the growing income inequality characteristic of advanced industrial societies is a function of technological change and associated wage premiums paid for workers with the kind of technical credentials and competencies that much of the new training is designed to deliver (Bassie 1999).

Contemporary developing societies of Africa, Asia, and Latin America contain all of the forms of adult education found in the West, as well as forms of popular adult education now only minimally present there. While virtually all of the less developed societies have succeeded in establishing systems of primary, secondary, and higher education for youth, participation rates vary widely among and within them. Some Latin American countries, for example, have higher college attendance rates than their European counterparts while many poor children never enter or complete primary school (Arnove et al. 1996). In such contexts, adult education is often bifurcated (Torres 1990). The poor are served by literacy programs, popular education efforts developed by local nongovernmental organizations, and the health and technical education programs of international agencies. Middle and upper classes participate in corporate training, government-sponsored adult higher education, and professional continuing education programs that are little different from and, in the case of training delivered distance education technologies and global firms, exactly the same as those found in the most advanced societies. However, under the impact of globalization, the distinctions among higher education, human resource training, and popular education are softening. There is a growing recognition among education professionals and policy makers that widespread and inclusive lifelong learning is a critical common good (Walters 1997).

Lifelong learning and adult education that is on a par with schooling are increasingly articulated goals of social policy. The United Nations concluded its fifth Conference on Adult Education in 1997 with a call for worldwide lifelong learning to promote social and economic development, empower women, support cultural diversity, and incorporate new information technologies. Adult education and training is now a central focus of the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization's (UNESCO) development policy, planning, and programs. The European Union designated 1996 the "European Year of Lifelong Learning" and established the European Lifelong Learning Initiative to research, coordinate, and develop lifelong learning policies and programs throughout Europe. In 1997, the Commission for a Nation of Lifelong Learners, representing U.S. business, labor, government, and education interests, called for policies that would ensure equity of access to lifelong learning, optimize the use of new technologies, reorganize the education and training system into one providing comprehensive lifelong learning, and commit private and public resources sufficient to these ends. The federal administration established a yearly summit on lifelong learning to pursue implementation of these goals. Similar policy formation and advocacy is now widespread at the local level, and cities recognize the importance of lifelong learning to workforce development and urban economic viability in the new "knowledge economy." It remains to be seen whether the new focus on adult education policy will result in the kind of resource deployment or accessible, comprehensive system for lifelong learning recommended by most analysis.


The sociology of education has traditionally focused on the processes, structures, and effects of schooling, with very little attention to adult education. Thus, there is no scholarly or applied field, no distinct body of theory or research that can be properly labeled "the sociology of adult education." Expositions of a sociology of adult education that do exist tend to be general characterizations of the field in terms drawn from general sociological and schooling literature (e.g., Rubenson 1989; Jarvis 1985). Certainly much of this is applicable. Adult education presents many opportunities for sociological interpretation in terms of the functionalist, conflict, reproductive, or postmodernist educational models applied to schooling; in terms of adult education's impact on social mobility, status attainment, and distributional equity; or in terms of its contribution to organizational effectiveness, social welfare, or economic development. The small body of sociological research in the area takes just such an approach, focusing on issues such as: the patterns and causes of adult enrollment in higher education (e.g., Jacobs and Stoner-Eby 1998); the consequences of women's return to higher education (e.g., Felmlee 1988); and the patterns of access to and provision of employer-provided training (e.g., Jacobs, Lukens, and Useem 1996). However, neither the extent nor the depth of sociological study in the area matches its potential importance.

Adult education is clearly no longer a social activity marginal to schooling. The information-technology revolution, the knowledge society, the learning organization, and the increasingly critical concern of individuals and organizations with the development and control of human and knowledge capital are representative of trends that are bringing adult education into the mainstream of social interest, analysis, and policy. Responses to these trends for which adult education is central include new and powerful forms of higher education, new determinants of the structure and process of social inequality, new bases for economic and social development, and new conceptions of the relationship of education to the human life cycle. Many opportunities for the application of sociological theory, research, and practice to adult education await realization.


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Bassi, Laurie J. 1999 "Are Employers' Recruitment Strategies Changing?" In N. G. Stacey, project manager, Competence Without Credentials. Jessup, M.: U.S. Department of Education.

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Coben, Diana, Joe L. Kincheloe, and Diana Cohen 1998 Radical Heroes: Gramsci, Freire and the Politics of Adult Education. New York: Garland Publishing.

Courtney, Sean 1989 "Defining Adult and Continuing Education." In S. B. Merriam and P.M. Cunningham, eds., Handbook of Continuing and Adult Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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Gose, Ben 1999 "Surge in Continuing Education Brings Profits for Universities." The Chronicle of Higher Education 45(February 9):A, 24.

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Lynch, Lisa M. 1994 "Payoffs to Alternative Training Strategies at Work." In Richard B. Freeman, ed., Working Under Different Rules. New York: Russell Sage.

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John Houghton

Adult Education

views updated May 21 2018

Adult Education

Forms and methods


Research and theory


The term “adult education” has come into general use within the last half century to identify two different but related phenomena: a field of social activity and an emerging discipline in social science. Although different, these phenomena are interdependent. The discipline finds its subject of study in the field, which is, in turn, dependent upon the discipline for its development.

The field of adult education has been identified and defined in various ways. Most definitions include all learning by adults, from the casual incidental learning that may occur in the natural societal setting to the systematic learning accomplished in a formal instructional setting. Thus, the field of adult education may include “all the activities with an educational purpose that are carried on by people engaged in the ordinary business of life” (Bryson 1936, pp. 3–4). This aspect of adult education may be designated by several alternate synonyms: continuous learning, adult schools, education of adults, lifelong learning, night schools, further education, extension, and continuing education.

The discipline of adult education is concerned with the study of those educational activities for adults that occur in the formal instructional setting. Consequently, it can be defined more precisely: “Adult education is the action of an external educational agent in purposefully ordering behavior into planned systematic experiences that can result in learning for those for whom such activity is supplemental to their primary role in society, and which involves some continuity in an exchange relationship between the agent and the learner so that the educational process is under constant supervision and direction” (Verner 1962, pp. 2–3).

Forms and methods

Educational activities specifically for adults, while found in all societies, have assumed different forms as a result of differing needs for learning in different cultural situations. Consequently, there are no specific forms of adult education common to all cultures. The various forms that develop in differing cultures are the methods whereby a society provides for the education of adults. Methods that come into existence within a specific culture cannot be transferred readily to a dissimilar culture, nor will they survive long in their original setting unless the method is adapted to changes in the culture. This condition explains the extensive diversity encountered in adult education from one place to another and from one era to another. The forms of adult education common to Western society grew out of English culture, and many methods that originated in England in the eighteenth century spread elsewhere in Western society as English culture was diffused. Even in Western society, however, certain methods have developed that have not been transferred successfully from one place to another.

The earliest systematic education of adults in England concentrated on literacy. It was thought that the poor were sinful because they were illiterate and that by learning to read the Bible they could save themselves from sin. In Wales, Griffith Jones operated his peripatetic Welsh charity schools from 1740 to 1770 to teach adults to read the Bible; Robert Raikes organized Sunday schools in 1780 for secular and moral education; and Robert Owen included adult education in his model villages (Kelly 1962). The volume of such activity was sufficient for the American Quaker Thomas Pole to publish his history of adult schools in 1814 and to revise and reprint it in 1816.

It was in the United States that the concept of adult literacy became utilitarian rather than moralistic. Literacy education was accepted as a public responsibility with the extension of the function of the public school to include night schools for illiterate adults, both native and foreign born (Grattan 1955). Such night schools are now found in virtually every community; however, the original concept has been expanded to include every subject of study. Night schools have become respectable middle-class institutions, no longer associated solely with the poor and ignorant in the public mind.

As a result of the changing needs of the nineteenth century, different forms of adult education arose in different cultural settings. Adult education has flourished in the Scandinavian countries, England, and the United States more than elsewhere. In Denmark originated the predominantly cultural folk schools, which spread throughout northern Europe but did not take root successfully in other countries (Lund 1949).

The industrial revolution in England emphasized the need for education for workingmen. Mechanics institutes were established in the early nineteenth century, but after a period of intensive growth in major population centers both in England and the United States they began to decline. Very few now survive and none in their original form (Kelly 1957).

Several distinctive methods of adult education originated in the United States—some of which have survived and spread elsewhere, while some have not. Among those now virtually extinct are the lyceum, founded by Josiah Holbrook in New England in 1826, and the chautauqua, which started in New York State in 1874. The lyceum lasted some twenty years and was generally limited to the northeastern states (Bode 1956). The chautauqua, on the other hand, survived until 1930, flourishing in a number of local centers across the country (Gould 1961). The traveling or tent chautauqua was the leading source of culture and education for rural America for at least a quarter of a century (Harrison 1958). In both instances the inability of the method to adapt to changing conditions in the culture resulted in its abandonment, and although some remnants may have survived, they have no real similarity to the original idea.

University extension is an administrative pattern of adult education that originated in England in 1873 and has spread everywhere that the English university concept has been diffused (Peers 1958). It was introduced in the United States in the 1890s and has developed more extensively in that country than elsewhere. University extension employs a variety of methods, including correspondence study, extension classes, short courses, workshops, and any other method that will extend educational opportunities to adults on a university level.

A by-product of university extension, the evening college, has spread throughout the United States in urban centers (McMahon 1959). Both university-extension and evening-college concepts are being adapted to conditions in newly developing nations.

Individual study by correspondence is one of the older forms of adult education. The idea originated in Berlin in 1856 but had its greatest development in the United States after William Rainey Harper organized the first university-sponsored correspondence study in 1890 at the University of Chicago. As a method for adult study, correspondence has many advantages, for adults are not excluded from learning by reasons of geographical isolation or physical disability. It is difficult, however, and requires a high degree of motivation that few adults can sustain for the time required to complete a correspondence course. In the United States the armed forces use correspondence instruction, and there are a number of private proprietary correspondence schools. Because of the exceedingly low rate of successful course completions many universities are discontinuing this phase of their adult-education programs.

The Cooperative Agricultural and Home Economics Extension Service of the United States is another method of adult education that has spread elsewhere in the world. It began officially in 1914 after its feasibility had been amply demonstrated by unofficial organizations (Brunner & Yang 1949). Originally its efforts were confined exclusively to teaching and demonstrating improved agricultural and homemaking processes that had been attested by the research of state colleges of agriculture, through which the service operated. As it gained the confidence of rural people and as rural living conditions changed, the Extension Service was urged to broaden the program. First steps in this direction were the inclusion of instruction in marketing and the formation of cooperatives. Today, most states include community development, health, recreation, public affairs, and liberal-arts studies as part of the program of the Cooperative Extension Service. No single pattern of adult education anywhere has produced the phenomenal changes that the Extension Service has brought about in rural America since its inception.

Radio and television have been used extensively for the diffusion of information, but less successfully, on the whole, for adult education. Formal courses in some subjects have been broadcast over both media by university instructors, as in the surprisingly popular “sunrise semester” shows on television. Such courses are usually combined with correspondence study. The Canadian Farm Radio Forum enjoyed many successful years by combining group listening and discussion. Some universities operate their own broadcasting stations, and some communities operate nonprofit educational television stations. State-owned systems, such as the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, have developed extensive programs of high quality aimed at adult audiences, as well as daytime school broadcasts.

Adult education is spreading rapidly to the underdeveloped nations, and many of the methods of adult education developed in Western society are being adapted to different cultures. Some kinds of activity for adults in fundamental and literacy education, in agriculture, health, vocational training, and community development are appearing in these newer nations through the assistance of world organizations and aid programs of developed nations.


The first adult-education association on record was established in England in 1903 as a student organization designed to promote educational activities for adults (Stocks 1953). In the United States a general national association was organized in 1926 as an outgrowth of earlier, more specialized professional organizations (Knowles 1962). At present there are numerous voluntary associations in the United States and other countries, which both serve specialized groups and act as general coordinating bodies in adult education.

Adult education does not fit properly into any one system, theory, or institutional structure because it is found in all institutions and systems; however, the degree of involvement varies. In rare cases, adult education is the primary function of the institution. Often, as in the case of schools and universities, adult education is an extension of the primary function of the institution. The most common form of adult education, however, is found in those institutions for which it serves as a means of accomplishing some primary function, as in the case of public or private agencies for health, welfare, business, or industry (Verner 1964, pp. 11–17).

The peripheral nature of adult education is a persuasive factor explaining its episodic history. The origin, evolution, and extinction of adulteducation programs provide fertile ground for a study of institutions.


For actual participants adult education is a socializing experience, even though motivation may vary. For some, adult education compensates for basic deficiencies in their equipment for functioning in their environment. Thus, immigrants may enroll in language courses that will help them adapt to their new society.

A growing number of adults enlist in a wide variety of educational activities designed to enrich their lives through art, music, or literature or to improve their competence as citizens through a better understanding of world affairs. Many activities are designed to enhance the use and enjoyment of leisure (Handbook . . . 1960). Most adult educational effort, however, could be characterized as vocational or technical.

What may be called the liberal-arts, sociopolitical, and recreational aspects of adult education, as distinguished from the vocational, are chiefly found in the developed and more affluent societies. In the newly developing countries emphasis is placed on fundamental and vocational education.

The process of socialization within adult education is conditioned to some extent by its marginal character. Since it is not institutionalized in a single system, it is less bound by tradition and can be related more quickly to social and technological changes than the more formalized educational programs. The main contribution of adult education to socialization comes through the interaction among people within its groups and between them and the knowledge they study.

A recent American study estimates that about 25 million adults engage in educational activities listed under 60 different categories of subjects; two-thirds of the participants attend formal courses, and the rest engage in independent study, frequently by correspondence (Johnstone 1964). The enrollment figure is twice as high in other considered estimates, based on organizational reports, many of which may be guesses or liberal estimates and few if any of which take account of duplications in enrollment. It is doubtful that any precise measure of participation in adult education can be achieved because of the dispersion of the activity throughout the society.

There appears to be little difference between the sexes in their enlistment in adult education, although women are in a very slight majority. By age, the largest number of adult-education participants are in the third and fourth decades of life, with those between 40 and 59 years of age close behind. Only one in 12 of the sample of participants was over 60 years of age, though that age group constitutes more than one-seventh of the population. The increasing numbers and proportion of the aged in the population are often used as an argument to gain support for adult education, but the ways of overcoming the handicaps of age have clearly not been found. Marriage appears to be no bar. Over one-fifth of the participants had three or more children. The same proportion were childless. Unemployed and retired persons made up only 3 per cent of the total registered in courses. Full-time workers accounted for 60 per cent, and another tenth were working part-time. Almost 25 per cent of the participants were in the professional and technical occupational categories, with 18 per cent listed as craftsmen and foremen. Industrial operatives and service workers each accounted for 10 per cent of the enrollees.

As might be expected, vocational subjects were the most favored by men of all ages, especially those under 35 years of age. For women, courses in home and family life were in first or second place for all age groups, especially those under 35, with recreational, academic, and vocational courses following closely in that order. The first two of these three subjects were in either second or third place among men under 55, but with sharply lower proportions than among women.

The largest proportion of participants, 36 per cent, had had no formal education after high-school graduation. Twenty per cent had had some college experience but had not graduated. Eighteen per cent were graduates or had had graduate-school experience. It follows that adult education was reaching barely one-fourth of the educationally disadvantaged. Socioeconomic status may be one explanation for this result, since the higher the income category above $6,000 per year, the larger the proportion participating in adult education. Below the $4,000 level the proportions were in reverse order.

In one sense, the primary objective of adult education is to reduce the cultural lag. This lag has resulted from the rapid changes of the last two centuries affecting the philosophies and conduct of government, the improvements in technologies with the attendant instabilities in age-old occupations, the intensity of specialization through science and—especially in developed countries—the opportunities for more leisure, and finally, a growing complexity of human relationships.

Adult educators try desperately to meet needs arising from these phenomena, but the needs outstrip both the resources and personnel required. Furthermore, adult education has become a middle-class activity, attracting those with more, rather than less, education; consequently it tends to widen the gap between the two groups (London et al. 1963). This tendency is reinforced by those institutions involved in adult education, since they are unintentionally selective of their clientele and eliminate those from the lower socioeconomic levels. University-extension programs are directed toward those with some college or better, and public night schools appeal primarily to those with some high school or better. The Cooperative Extension Service works with higher-status farmers and only occasionally with those on the bottom. Thus, although adult education in Western civilization originated as a medium for reducing the gap between the higher and lower strata, it now tends to widen it. Those in society with the greatest need for the kinds of educational opportunities adult education can provide are least served by it (Brunner et al. 1959, pp. 89–118).

Research and theory

As an emerging field of social science research, adult education has not yet established any considerable body of research literature. The practitioners in the field are so pressed by public demands for education that they have little inclination to accomplish more than essential service studies. Thus, much of the research extant is concerned with localized surveys of needs and resources or status surveys to indicate what is going on in an area. The fundamental research in adult education is supplied largely by other disciplines—particularly by sociology and psychology. Such research, however, is usually peripheral to the central concerns of adult education and is of value to it only as a by-product not always foreseen in the original design of the study. This can be seen, for example, in much of the diffusion research produced by rural sociology. The absence of any neatly defined universe that can be identified as adult-education research is inevitable in a field that is as young as adult education and is so heterogeneous in its interests, programs, and practices.

Although certain aspects of adult education have been studied in some depth, it has not always been to the extent that permits valid generalizations; nor has adult education been adequately conceptualized so as to indicate fruitful lines of investigation. Most of the existing research is descriptive and consists largely of surveys. The earliest known survey was published in 1814 (Pole 1814) and revised in 1851 (Hudson 1851). Since then there have been literally thousands of local surveys of one kind or another involving one or another institution, but this material has never been used to show any trends or general development in the field.

Local historical studies are almost as numerous as local status surveys. Such studies are particularly popular as subjects of graduate research (Little 1961). These treat the history of adult education within an area or an institution, but there are too few historical studies that integrate, analyze, and interpret the historical evolution of adult education as a persistent social activity. In this respect adult education offers a wealth of data for a historian or a historical sociologist to investigate.

Case studies are another common form of research utilized in adult education. The earliest such study was a report of an experiment in teaching adults to read, published in England in 1816 (Account. . . 1816). This might also be considered the earliest experimental study. Numerous similar studies were made in the early development of adult education, but few case studies are produced now.

The major concerns of adult education include participation, organization, adult learning, program planning, instructional processes, and evaluation. These are also the major areas of research, and while some studies have been made in each area, by and large they tend to stand in isolation. Participation has been studied more than any other area of interest, and such research is closely related to similar sociological studies. These studies are sufficiently extensive to provide some valid generalizations about the characteristics of active participants in adult-education programs. The generalizations produced through research in adult education are generally consistent with the ones resulting from social participation studies; however, different institutions providing adult-education activities tend to attract different kinds of people to their programs. In spite of its scope, participation research does not yet answer some crucial adult-education questions: why do adults participate? why do they select the kinds of educational activities they do? and why do certain kinds of adults fail to participate in any further education? Answers to questions of this sort are necessary in order to plan educational programs suited to all kinds of adult learners (Brunner et al. 1959, chapter 6).

There is very little research that helps understand the structure and organization of adult education. Carefully designed historical studies could contribute much knowledge to this area. Similarly, studies of institutions designed to include adult education are needed. The most significant recent study in the latter category was made by Clark (1956); this produced his theory of marginality, which goes a long way toward explaining the episodic nature of adult education. This marginality is a function of several factors. Adult education has become an additional responsibility of established educational institutions quite recently and lacks both controls and compulsions. Because it is viewed as peripheral, neither administrators nor their boards fully accept it as a normal function of the institution, and it is a part-time, hence a secondary, activity, both for instructors and instructed. Adult education is thus handicapped in building normal institutional loyalties or institutionalized power to resist budget cutting or to answer criticisms. Among private organizations adult education is just one of many tools useful in achieving organizational objectives and is not considered an end in itself, justifying the expenditure of resources.

Since adult education is a social phenomenon that does not fit established theories of social organization and since it is a massive and persistent form of social activity, it warrants the serious attention of sociologists.

The instructional processes used in educating adults have been studied extensively by sociology, psychology, and pedagogy. Because of the numerous uncontrolled variables in an instructional situation each study is virtually an independent entity, with few generalizations resulting. This is due, in part, to the lack of precise conceptualization of the instructional situation and processes; so that different studies have employed differing concepts. It is noticeable in diffusion research, where the effectiveness of processes is measured by the rates of adoption of new practices. This research indicates that a higher rate of adoption occurs with an increase in the number of processes used, but it does not say precisely which processes are clearly the most effective (Rogers 1962).

Certain specific educational processes have been studied more thoroughly than others. Lewin (1942) made a major contribution in his pioneer study comparing the effectiveness of lecture and discussion in changing food habits. Such comparative studies have become numerous since then (Brunner et al. 1959, chapter 10). In particular, the studies by Hill (1960) and Kaplan (1960) have identified the relationship between certain socioeconomic characteristics and the effective use of educational processes. Other educational processes have also been studied, but not as extensively as lecture and discussion (Brunner et al. 1959, chapter 9).

One barrier to effective research in this area of educational processes is the confusion between the diffusion of information and education [seeDiffusion, article oninterpersonal influence]. This is especially obvious in the acceptance and adoption studies by rural sociologists, where such a differentiation is implied but not clearly conceptualized in the research design (Wilson & Gallup 1955). Verner (1963) has drawn a sharp distinction between diffusion and education in developing his theory of adult educational processes. Diffusion involves the dissemination of information, such as research on proven practices, without specific concern for learning or the understanding of the theory behind the research. Thus, such learning as may result from diffusion occurs largely by chance and is rarely complete or transferable. Education, on the other hand, is primarily concerned with learning and the learning process through the management of specific instructional situations. Both diffusion and education are used by institutions and organizations concerned with introducing change, but adult education involves only the latter. This distinction permits a more precise research design by providing a needed conceptual differentiation between diffusion and education and among the instructional processes utilized, so that adoption rates can be related specifically to the process that brought about adult education (Verner 1962).

Since adult education is largely an activity involving groups, group research is of the utmost importance to the field. Some research in this area has been done by adult educators; however, most of the research pertinent to adult education is done by sociologists and social psychologists. From such research—which often uses adult-education groups for study—the dynamics of the instructional group are beginning to emerge and such factors as group size and interpersonal interaction are becoming clarified (Brunner et al. 1959, chapter 12). Jensen (1963) has developed a set of sociopsychological principles for guiding adult instruction that are derived from group research.

Although research in adult education is largely descriptive and widely dispersed, it offers more fundamental knowledge than is generally recognized owing to the lack of any really adequate systematic analysis and the paucity of theory. Brunner and others (1959) have made the only attempt at systematic integration, but this is by no means inclusive or adequate. There are numerous bibliographies of adult-education literature that list a wide variety of works, but there is no single source for research literature (Handbook . . . 1960, chapter 14). With the slow and persistent development of adult education in the graduate curriculum the future growth of research and theory seems assured.

Edmund deS. Brunner and Coolie Verner

[Other relevant material may be found inEducation; Socialization; Universities.]


Account of the Origin, Principles, Proceedings and Results of an Institution for Teaching Adults to Read, Established in the Contiguous Parts of Bucks and Berks in 1814. 1816 Windsor (England): Knight.

Adult Education. 1950–1959 Review of Educational Research 20:161–250; 23:191–283; 29:221–234.

Aker, George F. 1965 Adult Education Procedures, Methods and Techniques; A Classified and Annotated Bibliography: 1953–1963. Syracuse Univ., The Library of Continuing Education and Univ. College of Syracuse Univ.

Bode, Carl 1956 The American Lyceum: Town Meeting of the Mind. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Brunner, Edmund des.; and Yang, Hsin-pao 1949 Rural America and the Extension Service: A History and Critique of the Cooperative Agricultural and Home Economics Extension Service. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University.

Brunner, Edmund des. et al. 1959 An Overview of Adult Education Research. Chicago: Adult Education Association.

Bryson, Lyman 1936 Adult Education. New York: American Book.

Clark, Burton R. 1956 Adult Education in Transition: A Study of Institutional Security. University of California Publications in Sociology and Social Institutions, Vol. 1, No. 2. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

Gould, Joseph E. 1961 The Chautauqua Movement: An Episode in the Continuing American Revolution. New York: State Univ. of New York.

Grattan, Clinton H. 1955 In Quest of Knowledge: A Historical Perspective on Adult Education. New York: Association Press.

Handbook of Adult Education in the United States. 1960 New York: American Association for Adult Education. → See especially Chapter 14, “The Literature of Adult Education,” by Coolie Verner.

Harrison, Harry P. 1958 Culture Under Canvas: The Story of Tent Chautauqua. New York: Hastings House.

Hill, Richard 1960 A Comparative Study of Lecture and Discussion Methods. White Plains, N.Y.: Fund for Adult Education.

Houle, Cyril D. 1962 The Doctorate in Adult Education 1961. Adult Education 12:131–135.

Hudson, James W. 1851 The History of Adult Education. London: Longmans.

Jensen, Gale E. 1963 Socio—Psychological Foundations of Adult Learning. Pages 20–30 in Irving Lorge et al., Psychology of Adults. Chicago: Adult Education Association.

Jensen, Gale; Liveright, A. A.; and Hallenbeck, Wilbur (editors) 1964 Adult Education: Outlines of an Emerging Field of University Study. Washington: Adult Education Association.

Johnstone, John W. C. 1964 Volunteers for Learning. Chicago: Aldine.

Kaplan, Abraham A. 1960 Study Discussion in the Liberal Arts. White Plains, N.Y.: Fund for Adult Education.

Karbe, Walther; and Richter, Ernst 1962 Bibliographie zur Erwachsenenbildung im deutschen Sprachgebiet. Braunschweig (Germany): Westermann.

Kelly, thomas (1952) 1962 A Select Bibliography of Adult Education in Great Britain. 2d ed. London: National Institute of Adult Education.

Kelly, thomas 1957 George Birkbeck: Pioneer of Adult Education. Liverpool Univ. Press.

Kelly, thomas 1962 A History of Adult Education in Great Britain. Liverpool Univ. Press.

Knowles, Malcolm 1962 The Adult Education Movement in the United States. New York: Holt.

Lewin, Kurt 1942 The Relative Effectiveness of a Method of Group Discussion for Changing Food Habits. Unpublished report. National Research Council.

Little, Lawrence C. (1961) 1963 A Bibliography of Doctoral Dissertations on Adults and Adult Education. Rev. ed. Univ. of Pittsburgh Press.

London, Jack; Wenkert, Robert; and Hagstrom, Warren D. 1963 Adult Education and Social Class. Berkeley: Survey Research Center, Univ. of California.

Lund, Ragnar (editor) (1949) 1952 Scandinavian Adult Education: Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden. 2d ed. Copenhagen: Danske forlag.

McMahon, Ernest E. (1959) 1960 The Emerging Evening College. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University.

Mezirow, Jack D.; and BERRY, DOROTHEA 1960 The Literature of Liberal Adult Education: 1945–1957. New York: Scarecrow.

Miller, Harry L. 1964 Teaching and Learning in Adult Education. New York: Macmillan.

National University Extension Association 1953 University Extension in the United States. University: Univ. of Alabama Press.

Peers, Robert 1958 Adult Education: A Comparative Study. London: Routledge; New York: Humanities.

Pole, Thomas (1814) 1816 History of the Origin and Progress of Adult Schools: With an Account of Some of the Beneficial Effects Already Produced on the Moral Character of the Labouring Poor. 2d ed. Bristol (England): The Author.

Ranganathan, Shiyali R. 1952 Social Education Literature for Authors, Artists, Publishers, Teachers, Librarians and Governments. Delhi: Atma Ram.

Rogers, Everett M. 1962 Diffusion of Innovations. New York: Free Press.

Stocks, Mary Danvers 1953 The Workers’ Educational Association: The First Fifty Years. London: Allen & Unwin.

Unesco 1952 Universities in Adult Education. Problems in Education, No. 4. Paris: UNESCO.

Verner, Coolie 1962 A Conceptual Scheme for the Identification and Classification of Processes for Adult Education. Chicago: Adult Education Association.

Verner, Coolie 1963 Concepts and Limitations. Pages 229–240 in James R. Kidd (editor), Learning and Society: Readings in Canadian Adult Education. Toronto: Canadian Association for Adult Education.

Verner, Coolie 1964 Adult Education. Washington: Center for Applied Research in Education.

Wilson, Meredith C.; and Gallup, Gladys 1955 Extension Teaching Methods and Other Factors That Influence Adoption of Agricultural and Home Economic Practices. Washington: Government Printing Office.

Adult Education

views updated May 14 2018

Chapter 5
Adult Education

1. Introduction

2. A Learning City

3. Higher Education for Adults

4. Improving the Educational Network and Developing Distance Learning

5. Training Urgently Needed Talents

6. Pilot Programs in Community Education

7. Training the Suburban Labor Force

8. Private Non-academic Education

9. Education for Senior Residents

10. Corporate Education

1. Introduction

Shanghai is one of the cities in China that enjoy the most advanced adult educational system. In 1865 (the fourth year during the reign of Emperor Tongzhi in the Qing dynasty), Jiangnan Arsenal was established. Five years later, two learning centers on ships and machinery, and ship sailing and naval warfare were founded to provide training programs for helmsmen, pilots, and other posts. This was the beginning of modern adult education in Shanghai.

After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, over half of the workers in Shanghai were illiterate or half-illiterate. Shanghai, therefore, initiated evening schools to educate them on science, production, and politics. These evening schools were equivalent to senior primary schools. The building of part-time primary and secondary schools for workers started in 1952 in response to the request of the national campaign to eliminate illiteracy and provide workers with supplementary lessons on Chinese and culture. In 1978, adult education in Shanghai entered an era of success. The educational content shifted from basic cultural skills to a combination of cultural and vocational training; the educational level also elevated from elimination of illiteracy and primary schools to adult elementary, secondary, and institutions of higher education; the educational approaches evolved from face-to-face teaching to correspondence, television/radio broadcasting, and self-study; the educational organizations started with primary and secondary evening schools and moved to part-time schools, corporate training centers, and private non-academic institutions, and so on.

Since 1992, over two million Shanghai residents have received various kinds of adult education, which has become an inseparable part of Shanghai’s educational framework. Shanghai has developed a multi-level and multi-functional network of adult education, with 87 secondary and tertiary educational institutions for adults. Of them, 21 are independent higher institutions and about 50 are secondary vocational schools. There are also more than 700 secondary technical training schools and over 1,500 private training institutions in Shanghai. Moreover, towns and neighborhoods have also opened community schools for residents, thus forming a four-tier (city, district/county, town/neighborhood, and residents’ committee/village) educational network.

Adult education in Shanghai has several distinctive features: (1) the market-oriented non-academic training programs are rapidly developing; (2) with the popularization of senior high school education, the newly added labor force demands more higher education programs for adults; (3) the community-based education and education for senior residents are also progressing robustly to satisfy the demands of neighborhood residents and promote community development and social stability; (4) the corporate educational system is improving; (5) adult education in the rural area is also going through continuous advancement. A lifelong educational system is taking shape, featuring a rational, open, and multi-dimensional structure.

2. A Learning City

At the Shanghai Educational Conference held in 2004, the educational modernization of Shanghai was proposed. The city would strive to build, by 2010, a modern, open, diversified, high-standard educational system and a lifelong educational system as epitomized by the term “learning city.”

Shanghai specifies its objectives in building a learning city in the following respects: (1) a social learning framework will be established by 2010, under which “every one is entitled to educational opportunities based on flexible time and space”; (2) a consensus will be reached about making most of its residents accept lifelong learning; (3) one-third of the employees will receive annual training to update their knowledge and skills; (4) the reading time and amount per person will reach that of the major cities of advanced countries; (5) a lifelong education system will be established to provide Shanghai residents with rich resources and adequate learning opportunities. The average schooling of the new labor force will extend to 14.5 years; (6) a multi-mode learning structure with a wide coverage will be established. Two-thirds of the government offices, enterprises, business, communities, and families will all become learning units; (7) individuals, society, and government will collaborate with one another in the building of a learning society. One-third of the educational investment will be spent on the establishment of a lifelong educational system.

To enhance lifelong education, several steps need to be taken. One salient step is to improve community education. Community education will provide various services to meet the demands of the neighborhood residents. It will also become a part of the comprehensive social development plan of districts or counties. A further step is to develop vocational training programs. Assistance from corporations, government, and other social sectors are indispensable to the establishment and gradual improvement of a multi-level vocational training system with emphasis on the cultivation of practical talents, senior technical workers, and senior technicians. Re-employment training programs are also provided to the unemployed. Vocational training programs should be provided for migrant workers, too. The building of open training centers needs to be further strengthened to improve the employment capability of the labor force. Another important step concerns the development of continuing education. Collaboration among institutions of higher education, institutes of science and research, corporations, and industrial associations are encouraged in offering professional courses in close connection with the latest trend of technological and industrial development. Corporate professionals should receive professional training while management staff should be offered training related to their posts.

In addition, education in rural areas has to be reinforced. Vocational education and other training programs should be well planned for the rural labor force. Every town should at least have one standard adult school, and every village likewise should have at least one school. The training programs aim at shifting the rural labor force to other technical areas. Free vocational education in rural areas should be systematically popularized and the implementation of training programs for unearthing pragmatic talents in rural areas be integrated with agriculture, research, and education. The popularization of programs such as the Green Certificate Program (GCP) and the Prairie Fire Program (an educational program for improving farmers’ literacy and skills) will enable the rural labor force to have at least two technical skills. More favorable policies on talents and funding should be ensured to enhance support for rural education and increase the urban service to the rural regions, agriculture, and farmers.

The last step worth considering is to boost the education for senior residents by means of enhanced online education, municipal and district/county colleges, community and neighborhood schools, adult schools, TV/radio broadcasting, and the distance learning network.

3. Higher Education for Adults

By July 2005, Shanghai had 62 institutions of higher education for adults (minus the distance learning network) which fall into two categories. The first category refers to 21 independent institutions: nine district part-time universities, four administration colleges for cadres, four universities for workers, one television university, and one private institution. The second category includes 43 secondary colleges (like continuing education colleges or adult colleges) under regular institutions of higher education: eight universities under central ministries, 21 universities under the municipal administration, and 14 higher vocational colleges.

There are two main learning patterns in higher education for adults in Shanghai. Under one pattern, the students receive face-to-face education after passing a national examination. Independent institutions of higher education and full-time higher vocational colleges offer curricula similar to those of vocational education. The secondary colleges under regular institutions of higher education offer curricula equivalent to those of degree and diploma courses for senior high school graduates. They can also offer curricula equivalent to the degree courses for diploma holders. Multiple forms were adopted, such as part-time, full-time, correspondence, and credit hour system. All students were required to sit for the national university entrance examination for adults held every October before enrolment.

Under the other learning pattern, students play an active role because they rely mainly on self-study. They receive higher education through its open modes, such as television universities and STHEEs. Here a system called “easy to enroll but difficult to graduate from” is practiced. All students need not take the entrance examination, but have to pass all the required examinations before obtaining their diploma or degree.

In recent years, Shanghai Television University has adopted an open educational pattern to successfully address the lifelong learning demand of workers in Shanghai. This new pattern stressed a combination of academic and non-academic courses, the cultivation of students’ learning aptitude, application ability, and development potentials. The university had graduated 120,000 students by the end of 2005. There were 105,000 registered students taking degree courses in 2005. Each year the university also provides various training programs on technical skills and qualification certificates to over 500,000 students. So far about four million residents of Shanghai have participated in its training courses and tests on computer literacy.

The STHEEs have been in place for 20 years in China, forming an open higher educational system that is based on national examination and self-study and supplemented by training sessions and courses from various educational organizations. The STHEE of Shanghai operates by a tripartite system: the examination administration, assisting institutions, and hosting institutions. The administrative department sets policies, exercises macro-control, and implements quality control. The hosting institutions design majors, implement the examinations, and manage test registrations. Assisting institutions develop student resources and help those cash-strapped students complete their studies.

At present, there are 260,000 registered students in institutions of higher education for adults in Shanghai. Among them, 126,000 are in regular institutions of higher education for adults, 64,000 in universities and 62,000 in higher vocational colleges; 31,000 are in independent higher institutions and 110,000 pursue their studies via Shanghai Television University. There are about 200,000 people registered for STHEEs, with the yearly number of test-takers exceeding 430,000. In 2004 the enrolment of higher education for adults in Shanghai exceeded 100,000.

Non-academic courses and training programs were also sufficiently patronized in Shanghai. In recent years, about 150,000 people have attended training programs for professional qualification certificates; 17,000 for basic cultural knowledge; more than 10,000 for leisure courses; 320,000 for tutorials for self-taught examinations; and 310,000 for other programs and courses.

4. Improving the Educational Network and Developing Distance Learning

The building of a lifelong educational network in Shanghai started in 1986. Now Shanghai has formed a complete educational training network. According to statistics, there are now 200,000 registered students in 87 independent institutions of secondary and higher education for adults. Four hundred thousand test-takers sit in the self-taught higher education examinations each year. There are 1,543 private non-academic institutions of education with an annual trainee population over 2.3 million. There are also 126 community cultural and technical schools (one in each and every town or neighborhood) with an annual trainee population of 1.8 million. Corporations and industries have established their own training centers. More than 800,000 people are participating in community schools and schools for senior residents every year.

Modern information technology is the key to the construction of a lifelong educational system in Shanghai. A distance learning network covering both urban and rural areas of Shanghai has taken shape. In 1995, Shanghai established Shanghai Television University for Senior Residents and Shanghai Online College for Senior Residents, with 300,000 senior residents who have taken courses with the help of modern media. In September 2003, the MEC of Shanghai and Agriculture Commission co-founded a distance learning network for suburban farmers of Shanghai, now covering 80% of the town schools for adults. Providing the rural labor force with training in new technical and vocational skills, the system has contributed to the transformation of the labor force.

In 2005, the MEC of Shanghai established another public platform for lifelong education consisting of the headquarters of the Municipal Distance Learning Group Ltd., 19 backbone branch centers in districts and counties, and the grassroots centers at the community schools. Aided by the satellite system and the Internet, the platform delivered the learning resources to 215 towns and neighborhoods in Shanghai. So far, a large number of teaching software has been developed, which covers education for senior residents, employment education, education for migrant workers, and family education and involves such categories as educational information, life, health care, tourism, food, and training.

5. Training Urgently Needed Talents

In the 1990s, Shanghai launched a training program for urgently needed talents in response to the considerable demand generated by the industrial restructuring for a large number of professionals with strong management skills or commitment to hi-tech development. This program consisted of four major parts: (1) the founding of Shanghai Education Television Station to provide distance education to the public; (2) the establishment of the Test of Computer Application and the Test of General Purpose English to improve the English proficiency and computer skills of Shanghainese; (3) the setup of ten training centers; and (4) the compilation and publication of suitable training textbooks.

To safeguard the quality and authority of the training programs, a team of well-known professors and experts from universities and businesses was constituted to decide the content of the programs, compile the examination syllabus, textbooks, and supplementary materials for every training program. Examination offices were established to administer the setting of questions, ensure simultaneous examinations in different locations, and standardize the issue of certificates.

After eight years of implementation, the program has produced remarkable results. First, the first Test of General Purpose English and Test of Computer Application were launched in January 1994. On April 27, 1994, Shanghai Education Television Station officially went on air. During the first half of 1994, ten training centers were built: Business Management Training Center, Construction Training Center, International Business Training Center, Finance and Trade Training Center, Rural Economics and Technology Training Center for Cadres, International Transaction Lawyers Training Center, Tourism Training Center, Administrative Staff Training Center, Administrative Staff Educational Center, and Pudong Continuing Education Center (PCEC). More than four million trainees had taken courses on computer and foreign language, as well as relevant tests. Over 100,000 people attended other courses developed under the program, with more than 30,000 trainees passing the examinations and obtaining Shanghai Working Qualification Certificate. About 65,000 people took a Certified Diploma in Accounting and Finance, with nearly 40,000 of them obtaining Single Subject Certificate and over 5,000 obtaining the Certified Diploma in Accounting and Finance.

The outdated system of management and operation on adult education was phased out during the implementation of the training program. A new mechanism came into being that featured governmental leadership, business administration, school autonomy, and students’ willingness. The new mechanism enhanced the enthusiasm of both teachers and trainees and guaranteed training and testing. Moreover, the working qualification certificate was accorded more respect and attention as a new educational “warranty” besides diplomas. The training programs emphasized the importance of setting the examination syllabus, making the teaching plan, and compiling textbooks and supplementary materials in a way that took full account of social needs and requirements.

6. Pilot Programs in Community Education

As part of the lifelong education system, the pilot programs in community education aim to further enhance the quality of all citizens. At present there are five communities in Shanghai which are listed as national-level ones in carrying out the pilot programs.

The community educational pilot programs mainly explore the following: (1) the management system, the comprehensive planning of institutions of various types and levels, the development and use of educational resources; (2) the try-out and research into community moral education, the integration of education at school, home, and society; and (3) the overall planning and balanced development of community building and educational resources, as well as the evaluation of community education. The community educational pilot programs had their own organizations and specially assigned staff. For example, Xuhui and Pudong districts established community education management offices and guidance centers to provide institutional and human resource guarantees for the smooth implementation of the programs. In addition, these programs received increased educational funding: Zhabei District allocated RMB 700,000 and Jiading District over RMB 1 million to these pilot programs every year.

The programs further integrated various kinds of educational resources, such as schoolhouses and playgrounds on the one hand and teaching staff, textbooks, and curriculum on the other hand. On the basis of a three-tiered educational network of districts, neighborhood, and residents’ committee, the pilot programs standardized community schools and encouraged the building of model schools. The communities under the pilot program also tried opening the educational resources of their regular schools to the public. Fifty percent of primary and secondary schools in the five communities under the pilot programs were open to the public. The concerned communities attached great importance to staff development, with clearly defined tasks and detailed management measures toward high performance. They provided teachers not only with welfare, job title, and promotion opportunities, but also various training courses. All these measures enhanced the professional quality of full-time community educational staff.

To accelerate the community education pilot programs, the MEC of Shanghai started its evaluation process in 2005. It evaluated 41 pilot projects conducted by ten districts and counties. In 2006, the MEC carried on the evaluation and planned to extend the pilot programs to more neighborhoods/towns, with a view to making the community education pilot programs more effective and down-to-earth.

7. Training the Suburban Labor Force

There are about 2.5 million people in the rural labor force in Shanghai, with 0.7 million of them engaged in farming. Seventy-five percent of the rural labor force have an education of or lower than junior high school. The continuing restructuring of suburban industries has become crucial in the economic development of rural areas, making the labor force shift toward non-agricultural sectors. The provision of vocational education and training programs and the enhanced competence of the rural labor force are the key to the successful and healthy development of Shanghai and its new suburban areas.

The training programs for the rural labor force should focus on their employment and strengthen their on-the-job performance and competence and on the improvement of their technical skills. Different districts and counties should design their training programs according to the needs of local economic development. The training should aim at transforming the farmers’ employment concepts and highlight technical skill evaluation. Given that the rural labor force has a wide age span but limited education, the training programs should be varied in form, level, approach, pedagogy, content, and pattern.

The training programs for the rural labor force rely largely on the existing educational resources and social sectors. They operate mainly at four levels with each tapping its own advantages to the fullest: municipal, district (or counties), township (or community), and villages; school networks for adult; vocational schools in the suburbs; and private non-academic educational institutions. The MEC of Shanghai set up ten vocational schools in the suburbs, with each having an open training center for the rural residents. In 2005, 64,505 rural laborers took part in the training programs under the joint efforts of 166 training institutions. Among these trainees, 11,996 (or 18.6%) obtained National Vocational Qualification Certificates; 11,770 (or 27.5%) acquired the Working Qualification Certificates, and 38,553 (or 57.5%) found jobs on completing the training programs.

At present, the training programs for the rural labor force in Shanghai have developed three new features. A key feature is that adult schools of townships shoulder most of the training programs. In 2004, these schools admitted 55,000 trainees, accounting for 78.1% of the total trainees. Sixty-seven thousand people participated in technical training and 37,000 of them (or 55.7%) received their training in adult schools of township.

Next, modern information technology is widely employed. Facing problems like scattered trainees and hence inconvenience for concentrated training, Shanghai established distance learning for suburban residents. About 80% of adult schools currently use a satellite distance educational network to provide training programs. The establishment of distance learning for suburban farmers greatly enriched the training content and enhanced the training level and efficiency. The improvement of the quality of the rural laborers has accelerated rural economic development and increased farmers’ income.

A further feature is the significant development in applied agricultural techniques. According to the national requirement for the construction of a new countryside, the township adult schools in Shanghai duly considered the restructuring of agriculture and organized large-scale training sessions on applied agricultural techniques. More than 300,000 people took part in training programs, such as the PFP, Green Certificate Program, and Technical Training for Young Farmers of the New Century. Training in agricultural techniques has boosted the readjustment of agriculture and the further integration of agriculture, research, and education, paving the way for farmers to get rich.

8. Private Non-academic Education

Private non-academic education is an important part of the educational system of Shanghai. It has played an important part in meeting the public demand for continuing learning, building the lifelong education system, and turning Shanghai into a learning city. Over the past two years, private non-academic education in Shanghai has witnessed fast growth.

By 2005, over 1,500 private training organizations had registered with the MEC of Shanghai. The annual use of classroom area reached 1.3 million square meters, of which 260,000 square meters (or 20%) was owned by these training organizations. There were 14,000 administrative staff, of whom 5,500 were full-timers and 85% of whom held an education of or better than higher vocational schools. Thirty-five thousand part-time teachers worked for these organizations, 27% of whom were from institutions of higher education, while 30% were from secondary schools. Since 2004, a full-time teaching staff has been formed in private educational institutions, accounting for about 12% of all the teachers. Ninety percent of the full-time teaching staff had college or higher education and 30% of them held senior professional titles.

Private non-academic training organizations recruited more than 2.5 million trainees every year, among whom 0.5 million were in foreign language programs, 0.4 million in cultural programs including STHEEs, review courses for university entrance examination, and part-time senior high schools. Half a million children took part in foreign language, computer, and arts programs. Compared with other programs, these three types were quite stable. The statistics showed a constant decrease in the trainee population of adults in computer courses, from 0.3 million in 2000 to 0.1 million in 2005. The popularization of computers is the main cause for the drop. Other general training programs, such as bodybuilding and arranging flowers, enjoyed a relatively small trainee population of around 0.1 million per year. Training programs in arts, such as painting, calligraphy, and music, are becoming popular, with an increase of trainee population from 0.1 million in 2000 to 2.6 million in 2005. And the vocational training programs are most successful, with a rapid increase from 0.3 million in 2000 to 0.9 million in 2005.

Rapid development in recent years has resulted in huge changes in the private non-academic training sector. At the beginning, most organizers were retired teachers or former principals of schools with an average age of 60 or above. Most of the early organizations were large in number but small in scale. In recent years, many young people have entered into the area, running their organizations both as a means of livelihood and as a way of career building. Comparatively large in scale, this type of training organization took up a fairly large share of the sector. Twenty-three of them each had a student population over 10,000.

Private non-academic educational organizations are now run in various ways. Some of them choose to cooperate with their counterparts or with regular institutions of higher education, while others run chain-classes or league-classes. Others become the training centers of corporations and shoulder the training tasks previously administered by the corporations themselves.

9. Education for Senior Residents

Shanghai has over 2.6 million senior residents, accounting for 20% of the city’s total population. By the end of 2020, the percentage will increase to 33%. Given the fact that Shanghai is the first city in China that has become an aging society, it is important to provide the senior residents with quality education to satisfy their demand for culture and happiness and enhance their quality of life.

Yangpu Siping Community School for Senior Residents, the first in Shanghai, was established in 1985. Over the past two decades, a four-tiered (city, districts, townships, and residents’ committee) educational network for senior residents has been formed. Now there are four municipal-level universities for senior residents, 61 universities at district and county level, 213 schools at township level, and 4,261 schools run by the residents’ committees. By the end of 2005, there were over 0.4 million senior residents who attended schools for senior residents and took part in educational programs, such as the School for Senior Residents on the Air. About 143 courses under ten categories were available in various schools for senior residents, including economics, painting and calligraphy, literature and history, foreign languages, health care, household management, craftsmanship, and science and technology. Activities such as lectures on current affairs and health care, newspaper reading groups, reading association, public lectures, literature societies, sports teams, and salons of various themes became very popular among senior residents.

Shanghai has built a team to undertake the education of senior residents consisting of administrative staff and part-time teaching staff. According to statistics, among the 2,083 administrative staff in Shanghai now, 310 are full-timers. And among the 2,494 part-time teachers, 523 hold senior professional titles. There is also a team of volunteers playing an active role in various schools for senior residents at different levels.

10. Corporate Education

Corporate education in Shanghai started in the early 1980s. Since then, it has undergone great transformation. Many corporations and businesses set up their own educational organizations and organized training programs, focusing on culture and techniques. During the educational reforms which started in 1987, on-the-job training became more prominent. Large-scale on-the-job training programs brought about a soaring improvement in corporate productivity and economic prosperity in Shanghai.

In 1993, corporate education in Shanghai entered a new phase of development with corporations granted greater autonomy. They were encouraged to establish their corporate educational system. The Conference on Adult Education in Shanghai, held in May 1995, proposed that a modern corporate educational system be set up and a number of modern corporate training centers be built. Corporate education programs in Shanghai aim to: (1) create a lifelong educational environment for all staff; (2) bring out the learning aptitude, practical capability, and innovation of staff; (3) stick to the principle of respecting labor, knowledge, talents, and originality, and enhance the innovation ability of the corporation; (4) build a team of quality staff as the core of the entire corporation in order to improve their competitiveness and drive Shanghai forward on its way to becoming a society of affluence.

Over the past decade, a primary modern corporate educational framework has taken shape with the following features: (1) a corporate educational system independent of governmental administration; (2) an educational management system compatible with the structure of modern corporate governance; (3) an open corporate educational system well suited to the requirements of a market economy; (4) an educational training mechanism suitable for the modern development of human resources; (5) a corporate educational system based on an incentive and constraint mechanism that is in harmony with modern competition; and (6) a corporate educational security system adaptable to the modernization of education.

The reformed corporate education has helped train a large number of high-quality talents capable of adapting themselves to opening-up and socialist modernization. The percentage of senior technicians in such large, Shanghai-based corporations as Bao Steel, Sino Petro-Chem, GM, Shanghai Boiler Works Ltd. has reached or even surpassed the standard of advanced countries. A closer link has been built between corporations and educational organizations both at home and abroad, especially with institutions of higher education and research organizations. For instance, Bao Steel collaborates with over 50 educational organizations both at home and abroad. Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation sends over 600 personnel abroad each year for various professional and technical training.

To meet the needs of corporations for higher-level training programs, corporate educational organizations have also been improving their training capability. New content of high quality delivered in attractive forms is the universal requirement today for corporate education. The principle is also stressed that seeks to combine theory with practice, integrate learning with application, and nurture talents through practice.

Many new and innovative training patterns have come into being with the development of corporate education. These patterns include the corporation culture and modern management education of Bao Steel; the efficient productivity and open education of Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation; the on-the-job training of Shanghai Construction Group; the collaborative training programs developed by China Shipping Group Company and Norway; the qualification certificates-centered training of Shanghai Municipal Construction Committee; the internationalization training programs of Jinjiang Corporation; the model training base of the railway establishment; the forward-looking training programs of Jiangnan Shipyard Group Co. Ltd.; and the “internationalization of continuing education for project managers” of Shanghai Tunnel Engineering Co. Ltd.


views updated May 21 2018

a·dult / əˈdəlt; ˈadˌəlt/ • n. a person who is fully grown or developed. ∎  a fully developed animal. ∎  Law a person who has reached the age of majority. See majority (sense 2).• adj. (of a person or animal) fully grown or developed. ∎  of or for adult people: adult education. ∎  emotionally and mentally mature. ∎  sexually explicit or pornographic (used euphemistically to refer to a movie, book, or magazine).DERIVATIVES: a·dult·hood / -ˌhoŏd/ n.


views updated May 23 2018


A person who by virtue of attaining a certain age, generally eighteen, is regarded in the eyes of the law as being able to manage his or her own affairs.

The age specified by law, called the legal age of majority, indicates that a person acquires full legal capacity to be bound by various documents, such as contracts and deeds, that he or she makes with others and to commit other legal acts such as voting in elections and entering marriage. The age at which a person becomes an adult varies from state to state and often varies within a state, depending upon the nature of the action taken by the person. Thus, a person wishing to obtain a license to operate a motor vehicle may be considered an adult at age sixteen, but may not reach adulthood until age eighteen for purposes of marriage, or age twenty-one for purposes of purchasing intoxicating liquors.

Anyone who has not reached the age of adulthood is legally considered an infant.


views updated May 23 2018

adult adj. XVI, sb. XVII. — L. adultus, pp. of adolēscere (see ADOLESCENT); cf. F. adulte.