Key Concepts in Adult Education and Training
reviewed by Martin J. Lecker - 2004
In a TC Record book review, Stephen Brookfield opened with the following passage, "Readers of contemporary adult education literature will seek in vain for elements of the visionary, the messianic, or the inspirational," (Brookfield, 1984, p. 513). Although British educator Malcolm Tight's book may not be considered visionary or messianic, it can definitely be considered inspirational. After reading this book, you will find that Tight has the ability to whet your intellectual curiosity by giving just enough information about the concepts that he introduces, so you want to research them further.
In his book on adult education and training, Tight introduces the reader to forty-five concepts used in adult education and training, which may be combined with each other to form a total of 150 concepts (p. 10). This technique gives the reader a strong overall base to better comprehend the many facets of adult education and training. For this reason, I found this book to be an excellent primer for the inexperienced adult trainer or educator, as well as the expert who has been in the field for several years.
This 196-page book is divided into an introduction and eight chapters that included 457 references, of which only 30 percent are found in the first edition (p. 6). It may be interesting to note that three TC faculty members’ publications were included in this list: Professors Jack Mezirow, Stephen Brookfield, and Victoria Marsick. What I found unique and appealing about Tight's work is that after reading the Introduction and first chapter, the reader is free to explore any of the other seven chapters, regardless of their order, since they are free standing chapters. In addition, at the end of each chapter there is an annotated reference section to encourage further reading about the concepts presented in the chapter.
Tight’s introductory chapter includes two charts: one depicting the central 45 concepts (p. 5) and a second chart that breaks down these concepts (p. 8). The first category he calls core concepts, and defines them as "the most common and central" in the field of adult learning and training (p. 7). These core concepts are introduced in Chapter One. The second category, qualifying concepts, refers to a more detailed approach to explaining the core concepts (p. 7).
In Chapters two through seven, he describes an overview for each qualifying concept, with the expectation that the reader will further research the discussed concept. Each chapter generally begins with the historical and definitional framework of the concept being discussed, with an added provocative aspect. For example, when discussing the concept adult, Tight raises the question, what do we mean by the concept adult? In
After introducing the historical and definitional framework, Tight then cross-references one concept with another one, so for example when adult is defined in an institutional or organizational context, on page 14 (Chapter one), he refers to page 62 (Chapter three) on adult and continuing education, to demonstrate another context (p. 14). The cross-referencing that appears throughout the book enables the reader to understand the multitude of interrelationships found between all of the presented concepts.
The next facet found in the majority of the chapters is the philosophical aspect. In Chapter Two, the concept lifelong education is questioned philosophically as being imprecise. For example, in some literature it is an instrument for change, while in other venues it can be a buffer for change (p. 41). This also piques the interest of the reader to encourage them to research the concepts further.
Throughout the book, there are numerous references to the British educational system, since Tight is a Professor of Education at the
Towards the end of each chapter (Two-Seven), Tight draws various conclusions, depending upon the chapter. For example, in Chapter Two the concepts are linked together and in some cases it is noted that they are defined in terms of each other (p. 53). In Chapter Six, the political battleground that has ensued between some of the curricular concepts, such as competence and quality are discussed (pp. 132-39). It is for this reason that Chapter Eight should be read as well, since this chapter raises questions about the concepts in terms of their past and future implications. In my opinion, this chapter is a springboard for further research and inquiry for the reader to delve into the discipline of adult education and training.
However, I did find one anomaly. In the first chapter, six core concepts are identified (adult, education, training, learning, teaching, and development), but the adult concept is not found on the core concept list in the table. Instead, it is found on the qualifying concept list (p. 8). This anomaly is due to the fact that all of the core concepts can be matched with the qualifying concepts to create a new grammatically-correct concept, all except the concept adult. For example, the term distance may be coupled with education (distance education), training (distance training), learning (distance learning), etc. But, if the concept adult was listed under the core concepts, it would not be able to be coupled with any of the other qualifying concepts, at least not in a grammatical sense. Although adult should be a core concept in the chart since the book is on adult education and training, it appears that this concept (adult) has been “forced” into the chart or forced to be categorized as a core concept. Either way it is somewhat awkward, but this was one of the few problems found in this book.
If you compare the first edition with this second edition, you will note that one concept, recurrent education, was deleted (pp. 6-7) and four concepts not found in the first edition were added: social capital (Chapter Four); problem-based learning (Chapter Five); communities of practice (Chapter Five), and social inclusion (Chapter Seven).
All in all, I would recommend this book if you are interested in learning more about the current concepts found in adult education and training. Regardless of your level of expertise, anyone reading this book can learn something new and may even be encouraged to continue his/her own quest for knowledge, which is the point of the book.