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Developing and Sustaining Adult Learners

reviewed by Hongxia Shan - October 22, 2015

coverTitle: Developing and Sustaining Adult Learners
Author(s): Carrie J. Boden Mcgill, Kathleen P. King (Eds.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1623965144, Pages: 456, Year: 2013
Search for book at Amazon.com

Developing and Sustaining Adult Learners comprises 23 original contributions, including theories and models, research reports, and literature syntheses. Together, the contributors explore the pedagogical and institutional practices that might be conducive to enhancing adults’ learning experiences. The editors bring together vastly diverse writings such as "Best Practices," "Improved Programming for Adult Learners," "Transformative Learning," "Learning in Organizations and Professional Development," and "Effective Program Assessment."

Best Practices starts with three traditional foci in adult education: trusting relationships, engagement, and motivation. Risley and Petroff’s literature synthesis focuses on the role of trust in educational environments, introducing a number of instruments that educators could reference to assess the level of trust between facilitators and students. Scott’s chapter reminds us of the complex nature of student engagement. His engaged-learning theory centers on what he calls “bonds of engagement”—actual, continuing, and reciprocal experiences, each calling for different actions on the part of facilitators. While Scott follows a sophisticated model building process, real life examples would have helped illustrate the practical utility of his model. Lovell, through a quantitative comparative analysis, attempts to determine the impact of project-based learning on the intrinsic motivation of traditional versus nontraditional aged students in psychology classrooms. The study shows that age is not a significant predictor for motivation, suggesting instead that project-based learning rich with academic presence can strengthen motivation of both traditional and nontraditional students. Two chapters in this section focus on writing as a pedagogical means to an end. Shia presents an action research project that explores how critical pedagogy could simultaneously foster writing skill and critical consciousness. Zarestky makes a strong case for the use of reflective writing in all adult education classrooms. The last chapter of this section, by Green, Coke and Ballard, features different generations of students in higher education in America. It highlights the challenges and strategies that administrators, faculties, and advisors may consider when working with the millennium generation in particular.

In Improved Programming for Adult Learners, Lane’s chapter focuses on sustaining adults in musical activities. This chapter is an important read for practitioners interested in the embodied dimension of learning, advocating that “[t]hrough deeper investigation into the ways adults perceive, process and internalize music,” educators can work effectively to make music learning a lifelong engagement (p. 114). Pinder’s case study may strike a chord with many practitioners working with marginalized communities. As a tutor and researcher, Pinder worked with a literacy student and documented the challenges both she and her student faced in the process. The study pinpoints that “learner participation is a complex combination of people, events, and attitudes that moves learners to consider their circumstances and personal development in light of the cost and consequence of participation” (p. 143). From the perspective of students dealing with complex problems, Eicher and Dietz propose heutagogical programming and illustrate its use in higher institutions, an exemplar use of the complex system theory in practice.

The section on transformative learning begins with a qualitative study reported by Parks, Rich and Hathcote, highlighting the unique needs and challenges facing six nontraditional students who returned to higher education after leaving it. Oddly, although the authors use transformative learning in the title, the chapter makes few references to transformative learning as a theory. The research findings are less about the transformation of individuals than the transformation of the higher education institution. In contrast, the next three chapters centralize a few constructs that share grounding with transformative learning. Owen and Erichsen refer to “positive disintegration” when grappling with how education for gifted adults may look. Michaelek delves into the role of normalization in parental learning. Vogt uses generative learning theory to understand creativity and invention. Readers may be drawn to her elaboration of breakthrough learning, which involves individuals confronting assumptions and letting go of the rational mind.

Mcwhorter and Mancuso’s chapter adds to the discussion on professional development by drawing attention to how technology can be used to enable virtual engagement such as online conferences. Readers interested in virtual conferences will find the resources in this chapter particularly useful. Moilanen also presents an exciting research project that looks at how commissioned officers make intuitive decisions in critical moments. Leslie and Fishback explore the barriers preventing adjunct faculties from implementing interactive teaching methods. Lockhart crafts a conceptual framework entitled “sphere of holistic faculty program development” and provides an example of how this framework was utilized in practice. Peno and Mangiante present an intriguing study on how six veteran teachers learned at different stages of their career lives. From this study, they derive a number of support strategies, which can be useful for faculty and administrators working with pre- and in-service teachers.

Saal and Beckers’s chapter on Effective Program Assessment, demonstrating how a comprehensive assessment system can help the development of literacy programs within higher education, raised some concerns. Although the authors suggest that information on students’ personal history should be used with hesitance, there is still uncertainty as to how it will be used. Furthermore, the authors use terms such as critical literacy and differentiated instruction, though it is unclear what they mean by them. While related queries may seem peripheral to assessment practices, some careful consideration of terms may fundamentally change how assessment can be imagined and practiced. The last two chapters highlight the difficulties associated with program evaluation; however, even though all three articles are technically quite strong, none of them examine issues of power and politics in the process of assessment.

Taken together, the contributions in Developing and Sustaining Adult Learners pinpoint some of the challenges and opportunities adult educators face in a changing world. This collection certainly gives readers a sense of the intersecting fields of adult and higher education. That said, it might have failed to attract more critical work. The book as a whole could have benefited from a critical introduction of the social cultural and economic climates besieging adult and higher education at both a global and local level. The editors of the book use the idea of symbiosis to cohere the collection, but this metaphor does not capture the complexity, contradictions, and tensions that educators may experience in different fronts. Furthermore, although some of the authors acknowledged nontraditional students, there is little mentioning of who these students are in terms of gender, race, and class. Finally, while the collection aspires to best practice, the question remains whether there is a best practice for all and across all contexts.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: October 22, 2015
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 18183, Date Accessed: 5/26/2022 8:07:43 AM

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About the Author
  • Hongxia Shan
    University of British Columbia
    E-mail Author
    HONGXIA SHAN, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Studies, University of British Columbia Canada. Her major research areas include adult learning, gender and career, and knowledge transfer and translation in the context of globalization and migration.
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