Patterns of Learning: New Perspectives on Life-Span Education
reviewed by William Bean Kennedy - 1988
For those who know Cyril Houle personally, Patterns of Learning will remind them happily of his many rich contributions to adult education. It will make those who do not know him wish that they did. The emeritus professor of education at the University of Chicago and senior program consultant for the Kellogg Foundation brings together in this book wisdom garnered from a lifetime of interest and activity in adult education. He explores many ways of learning, offered separately or simultaneously or sequentially, in order to stimulate educators of adults to be more creative in life-span learning by considering a broader framework for their programs. Intending to stimulate not prescribe, Houle develops a fascinating potpourri of examples.
Who else would put such a list of subjects togetherMontaigne, Pope, Thoreau, Billy Graham, Edward Everett, William Osler, and the city of Florence? He develops each chapter by describing the learning context of the subject and the processes by which each works to educate adults committed to some sort of self-education. Each essay in its own distinctive way invites the reader into a mode of learning that makes one long for more time to explore that mode with the intensity of interest the author communicates. From Montaignes essays based on knowledge gained from the steady and judicious use of experience, including reading (p. 30), to Thoreaus Small-Group Discussion, Self-Examination, and Observation (p. 53) using the lyceum model, to Grahams Oratory as an Art Form (p. 75), to studying the cultural resources of Florence, Houle evokes in the reader a dialogue with each subject regarding ongoing education for adults.
In the final two chapters Houle summarizes traditional conceptions, goals, and forms of learning, and from his examples and analyses draws implications for educators. The style changes from the charming variety of the body of the book to a more didactic summary, but the analysis brings the essays into a clearer and more useful framework. I would have found it helpful if the exemplary models had included more attention to the oppressed, illiterate, and less elitist people of the world. Inferences can be drawn from the book, such as the popular development of the lyceum movement, or from references to the ordinary people of Florence, but in what ways are such unschooled persons also potential ongoing adult learners? What patterns of learning might work for those struggling to survive?
Bernard Bailyn and Lawrence Cremin have helped expand the historiography of education beyond formal schooling into the broader configurations of planned learning. What Houle does here is to reflect the ways education for adults has developed alongside of and beyond formal education. Reading this book opens up from that perspective the multiple and varied ways education can occur with self-motivated adults. Anyone who wants a fascinating immersion in different patterns of learning, in the broad scope of life-span education, will enjoy and profit from reading this book.