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Learning with Adults: A Critical Pedagogical Introduction

reviewed by Ewan Ingleby - May 30, 2014

coverTitle: Learning with Adults: A Critical Pedagogical Introduction
Author(s): Leona M. English & Peter Mayo
Publisher: Sense Publishers, Rotterdam
ISBN: 9460917666, Pages: 292, Year: 2012
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The authors take an eclectic stance within this informative book by linking together a range of chapters about learning with adults. In doing so, attention is drawn to the integral and essential contribution this form of education makes to critical pedagogy. As opposed to viewing learning with adults as a component of educational processes, the authors highlight the vibrant characteristics associated with learning with adults. The book is grounded in important themes including Marxist and post-structural interpretations of adult education. Whereas some texts about pedagogy can appear to be dry and weighed down by semantics, this book gives a lively account of learning with adults. This enables a number of important themes to be linked together. It allows the book to produce a comprehensive insight into many key themes that are integral to learning and teaching in this area. Moreover, the book provides a range of fascinating aspects of pedagogy that include adult education and work, as well as adult education and women, racism, and spirituality. The authors present the reader with a wealth of information. They do this within a well-organized book that is divided into four complementary sections.

Essentially the authors structure the text within the following framework:

contextualising adult education;

contemporary theoretical perspectives on adult education;

contexts of practice in adult education;

concerns of the practice of adult education.

The material within each of these sections is well written and effectively organized. The book’s main emphasis is located within the practical and philosophical issues surrounding adult education. In order to maintain this theme throughout the text the authors have arranged the material in a way that reinforces the book’s central theme. Learning with adults is considered in relation to political, social and economic forces that shape our understanding of this form of education. Essentially the book adopts a multidisciplinary approach by combining the work of Marx, Foucault and Habermas (among others). A range of theoretical perspectives is considered. Too often, political and economic factors can be isolated from pedagogy. This can mean that the process of pedagogy is described in a way that appears to be ‘robotic’, ‘mechanistic’ and ‘rigid’. By drawing attention to the phenomenology of educating adults, the authors ensure that the profundity of educating adults is acknowledged. The process of pedagogy can become similar to the way that light reifies through a crystal. The diverse patterns that are produced can equate to the intensity of the experience. By acknowledging this phenomenology of educating adults, the depth of experience of the pedagogical process is accorded. It is important to acknowledge that every form of pedagogy necessitates reflecting on ‘experience’. All four sections of the book are based on acknowledging this pedagogical experience.

The book makes the important point that the process of learning with adults should be associated with a lack of prior expectations or preconceptions. When one reflects on educating adults the process is not dominated by a prior hypothesis. The first section of the book acknowledges the importance of ‘contestation’ that is associated with learning with adults. It is important for educators to acknowledge this contested learning space. This is a critical characteristic of educating adults. This reflective point may challenge common misconceptions that are held by many educators that there is ‘an answer’ to be found that is apart from their personal values. This argument is developed in a user-friendly way so that the experiences of teachers and learners are not viewed as being somehow distinct.

This is an excellent book that is useful for understanding educating adults. A range of themes is considered within a lively set of sections that are thought provoking and engaging. Readers will find the sections accessible and invaluable if they need to demonstrate awareness of current thought about educating adults. It presents a wealth of information about educating adults by drawing on the extensive expertise of the authors. In his book, Works and Lives: the Anthropologist as Author, Clifford Geertz argues that the social world can become akin to “the lady sawed in half,” that is “done but never really done at all” (Geertz, 1988, p. 2). This criticism may be levelled at political interpretations of education with their wish to quantify the educational process. The editors of this book ensure that this analogy does not apply to their material. Moreover the authors reinforce Urban’s (2008) reflection that educational processes are likely to be misunderstood if there is a separation of “educational product” and “educational process.” If the “ways of being” (or pedagogy) become separate from the “ways of knowing” (policies about pedagogy), this appears to be when difficulties appear within educational processes. The policy makers say one thing. The practitioners say something else. There is a separation of educational processes. The subsequent tension in the realm of ideas produces the contestation that the authors write about in the opening section of the book. This text is a comprehensive account of the factors influencing adult education. It is an example of “thick description” about teaching and learning with adults. In my opinion the book makes an important contribution to understanding adult education.


Geertz, C. (1988). Works and Lives: The Anthropologist as Author. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Urban, M. (2008). Dealing with uncertainty: Challenges and possibilities for the early childhood profession. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 16, 135–152.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: May 30, 2014
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17552, Date Accessed: 1/27/2022 10:05:12 PM

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About the Author
  • Ewan Ingleby
    Teesside University
    E-mail Author
    EWAN INGLEBY, PhD, is based in the education section of Teesside University’s school of social sciences and law. Ewan is an elected member of International Professional Development Association’s international committee. At Teesside University, Ewan is the school of social science and law’s postgraduate tutor and the chair and co-convenor of the school’s Education Work Based Learning Research Unit. Ewan is also the school’s research institute management board representative for education. Ewan teaches on the Education Doctorate, the MA in Education, the BA (Hons) Early Childhood Studies programme and has contributed to the University’s Initial Teacher Training programmes. Ewan’ last two publications are:Selected student and tutor perceptions of ICTs in further and higher education in England. Journal of Further and Higher Education 38(3) 287–304. and An A-Z of the lifelong learning sector. London: Open University Press.
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