The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)
Edited by Daniel Schugurensky
This site includes questions and answers on Adult Education that were written by students in the course 'Outline of Adult Education' at OISE/UT. The questions are first raised in class by the students themselves. Then they organize in teams in order to research and answer them. New entries are added regularly. This website is intended to provide information about the field to new students and to those who have a general interest in Adult Education. Anyone is welcome to submit a question and/or answer.
By Germán Andrés Piderit and Luisa Fernanda Quijano (OISE/UT)
to answer our question, we explored the place that methods and techniques have
in the adult learning process, summarized the range of practical strategies used
today in the field of adult education, and attempted to determine the
contribution of educational techniques in the learning experience of the adult
learner by identifying the critical factors that would make such experience a
valuable, lasting and effective one.
selection, application and mastering of a particular technique only address the
“How” of the educational goal, and
cannot be analyzed outside of an overall framework that includes the role that
the “Why”, “What”, “Where” and
“Who” plays in the overall
relates to the objective and justifies the educational experience as a desire to
be educated. The “What” relates to
content and the type of knowledge being expanded in the educational process,
i.e. emotional, cognitive and/or spiritual. The “Where”
investigates the places where the meeting of educators, students and
subject-matter take place. The “Who”
acknowledges the duality of educator and learner as drivers of the educational
process and the influence of these agents in the selection of the most
educator’s perspective, learning reaches its plateau when the delivery
technique (execution of the “how”)
is perfectly aligned with the requirements of the remaining “W’s”.
recognize the dynamic interdependence among four key elements involved in the
educational process which function as a system:
suggest that these four elements are interdependent and yet they operate at the
same level. Firstly, educator and learner work as elements that take action in
the learning experience, and secondly, content and delivery methods work as the
subject-matter(s) and tools required to make the experience effective.
uniqueness of the moment of learning
proposed here that the state of this “system” of four elements is unique at
any given point in time. In other words, the combined interaction between
educator and learner through content and execution method is dynamic and
non-repeatable. In order to remain at this “learning plateau” throughout the
learning experience, it has to be recognized that all four elements have to
change during this evolution. It is impossible for any of them to remain
constant and keep the educational experience optimal.
selection of the most appropriate technique plays a balancing role. In this
manner, techniques have a defined lifecycle. When conditions change, they should
expire and be replaced by new ones as learners, educators and content evolve.
challenge becomes for the educator, some times with the help of the learning
community of students, to continuously be able to select the most appropriate
techniques throughout the process objectively given that she/he is part of the
book The Courage to Teach (1998), Parker J. Palmer (1998) argues
self-knowledge determines the very basic building blocks for commitment, love
and mastery of teaching. It is not only required that the teacher be proficient
in the subjects and techniques about to be shared, but also that a strong
inner-sense of self-identity and integrity be present. Palmer claims that “We
teach who we are… teaching emerges from one’s
inwardness”( p.1). At the end, regardless of content, the learning experience
will reflect the very soul of that individual. He assumes that in our rush to
reform education we have forgotten that it will never be achieved by
“rewriting curricula and revising texts if we fail to cherish —and
challenge— the human heart that is the source of good teaching” (P. 3). The
inner landscape of teaching itself is then the place to explore and to find an
answer to the techniques required for each point in time and space, to
manage/teach/learn content (see content description below) effectively.
affirms that any subject matter should be viewed from the intellectual,
emotional and spiritual dimensions not as segmented aspects but in the wholeness
of reality. He also sees the teacher as the connector of the reality of the
subject-matter, himself/herself and his/her students:
teachers distance themselves from the subject they are teaching—and in the
process, from their students. Good teachers join self and subject and students
in the fabric of life… Good teachers possess a capacity for connectedness.
They are able to weave a complex weave of connections, among themselves, their
subjects and their students so that students can learn to weave a world for
themselves. (Palmer, 1998, P. 11).
of the teacher’s world
teacher acts as the element of the learning process who exercises the
intentional act of creating conditions that can help students learn. She/he
should learn to “reeducate her/his heart” so it gets engaged in the joyful
“pursuit of truth in the company of friends” (Palmer, 1998, p. 90). Among
other simple issues that may characterize a teacher here are some collected from
our own experience as teachers, and from the sources given at the end of the
clear sense of identity with our
culture, our country, family, our own genes, strengths and weaknesses.
Identity comes from the self-knowledge of our examined life.
humble integrity that help us to
face reality with honesty and courage; that allows us to be vulnerable, take
risks and to expose our weaknesses. Integrity comes as an inner decision
that upraises the elemental need for our own beliefs to guide our life
educated heart able to remain
open in the very moments when it is asked to hold more, to understand, to be
patient, to be silent or to talk.
spiritual quest for connectedness
with our subject of study, our selves, our students and the world.
authentic respect for the
students as complex and sacred beings capable of enriching our connections
with the subject of study, the learning community and the world.
welcome to the voices of truth,
in the way of listening to the voices of the students, and their silences as
well; to the stories narrated as experiences that connect the subject-matter
with reality; also listening to our own speaking voice when we teach, and to
the inner voice that guide us on what technique to use.
aptitude for asking good
questions and listening. Learning not to ask the questions too soon
(thinking about technicalities or quick solutions), and giving a silent
space, even if the heart fears the silence.
willingness to take the risk of
inviting open dialogue without knowing where it is going to take us, and the
knowledge of how to turn the questions into a communal dialogue, trusting
that the community can deal with the issue at hand, because “truth is an
eternal conversation about things that matter, conducted with passion and
discipline” (Palmer, 1998, p. 104).
incredible that more often than not we don’t know who our students are before
the first class. A good first step would be to have some written information
about our students before we start planning our courses. But if that is not
possible, then during the time between our first two class meetings, we should
answer the question: who are my students?
general, adult students share some important characteristics. They are active
learners who respond positively to learning experiences that involve them. They
like to have their opinions consulted and “enjoy having their talents and
experience made use of in the teaching situation” (Mezei, 1991, p.10).
the purposes of understanding the influence of the adult learners in the
selection of techniques, two aspects of adults are briefly discussed: (a) the
characteristics of the adult learner, as introduced by M. Knowles; and (b) the
learning styles recognized according to some late 20th century
Knowles popularized the term andragogy in 1968, he reflected on four key areas
where adults display certain characteristics that govern the learning process,
and makes this process different than children’s education. Even though
Knowles’ conceptualization has been criticized by other education theorists
(for instance, see Collins 1998, or Draper 1998) they would still help us to
address our question on the appropriate methodologies to the adult learner. For
Knowles, the four areas that govern adult learning are the following:
in self-concept: as the human being evolves into adulthood, Knowles
recognizes the migration from total dependency to increasing
role of experience: adults “carry” a great inventory of experiences they
can relate to.
the four specific characteristics of adult learners mentioned above, several
experts in the field maintain that we as learners have a certain tendency to
manage knowledge and reflect, act, theorize about it in different ways. For
instance, Kolb (1976) identifies four learning styles. As learners display more
propensities to learn according to a certain style, it is possible to recognize four learner types:
ability to learn for hands-on experience. Learn by doing.
best at viewing concrete situations from many different points of view.
individuals within learning style proficient at finding practical uses for
ideas and theories.
best at understanding a wide range of information and putting into concise
social and economic movements within reigning and new paradigms have
historically defined content at macro-social levels. In recent decades, we have
observed three major tendencies, which have evolved as key influences for
determining content in the formal and non-formal adult education:
development and training: emphasis on corporate development, automation and
training techniques for the professional achievements in the global age.
Focus: emphasis on social justice, democracy, citizenship, ecology, equal
opportunities and non-discrimination issues.
and Spiritual Development: emphasis on spiritual development and holistic
views of daily life, work and education.
unfolding the methodologies used in adult education it would be useful to take
an overview into the most general tendencies observed in our western culture. In
the first place, a method is defined as an “overall plan for systematic
presentation (of a subject) based upon a selected approach” (Brown, 2001,
p.14). Techniques are the specific activities manifested in the classroom that
are consistent with a method.
are specific methods used in teaching, as opposed to other formal agencies of
schooling that have employed, and often do employ, methods other than teaching,
for example indoctrination, suggestion, threats and force. What distinguishes
teaching (Scheffler, 1965) is “its special connection with rational
explanation and critical dialogue, with the enterprise of giving honest reasons
and welcoming radical questions” (p.11). The teacher does not want to foster
merely belief, but to bring it about through the exercise of free rational
judgment by the student. Moreover, it is important to recall the key
psychological principles advanced by liberal education throughout the 20th
century: “progressing from the simple to the complex, from the particular to
the general, from the concrete to the abstract” (Hirst, 1965, p. 136).
analysis of techniques used in adult education generally divides the strategies
in three broad categories:
teacher oriented techniques the lecture and the questioning techniques are the
most utilized. We may find also the guided
discussion techniques and the scripted
role-play but because they allow more interaction in class we decided to
classify them as interactive techniques.
subject-matter of study requires specific information, the learning community is
large and the place of learning allows it, the lecture is useful. It should be
planned in terms of length and placement and should have a structured outline,
including an introduction, a body and a conclusion. Ideal lectures give
mini-summaries periodically, allow participation of the community, time for
reflection and feedback (Humber College, 1996, p. 26).
techniques are a powerful way of increasing student participation. The teacher
plans them according to a higher or lower level of response. They could ask for
summarizing, understanding, encouraging critical thinking, enhancing
problem-solving ability or stimulating creativity or research activities.
may be open with a wide realm of answers or closed with limited responses. The
skilled teacher plans the questions according to the goals and the content, and
clearly phrases them to be sure that they don’t reveal the answers. After the
students answer, the next step requires expertise to know where to place the
students’ responses. They may help to reinforce the subject-matter, prove it,
refocus it, redirect it or rephrase it.
is vital to consider the environment of freedom in the classroom to ask
questions, to answer questions and not to feel threatened by giving an incorrect
response. The teacher should listen to the students’ questions and be sure
that she/he and the class understood the question. There are some paths that the
teacher can take: answering the question, redirecting the question to the class,
helping the student to answer his/her own question, asking the student to stop
after class to discuss the question, referring the student to a resource where
the question can be answered or deferring the question until a more appropriate
time. (Humber College, pp. 29-35).
control of learning to our students is much like parents allowing their children
to go home. It’s scary! (Humber p. 36) But as we have seen, the learning process needs it and puts
more fun into the learning endeavor.
common interactive techniques are guide discussion, role-play, case study,
group-work, programmed fieldwork and cooperative learning.
can target almost any level of cognitive and affective domains but requires a
structured process of large and small group discussion focused in the
subject–matter objectives. There are some variations like “circle
responses” that gives the opportunity to talk to every one in the small group;
“spend a penny” which works with the use of tokens to allow everybody to
talk a certain number of times; “brainstorming” that is open to the
imagination of the group; “guided discussions” where the group facilitation
expertise of the teacher draws out the more reluctant speakers and gently holds
back the more verbal participants; “panel discussions” a conversation of a
small group in front of the whole group; “debates” a discussion wherein two
opposing sides will be moderated; “reaction groups” which constitute a forum
for quick responses; and “concentric circles” where a small circle of group
members form to discuss a topic within a larger circle that listens for a while
until the discussion is reversed. (Humber, 1996).
technique is extensively used in medicine and legal professions, and it refers
to real life problems narrated with a story telling quality and challenges
participants to find recommendations and solutions to the problems. They are
mainly used in teaching knowledge, values and attitudes. Peter Renner suggests
that we humans are fascinated by well-told stories, so it enhances the case
study when we can give “adventurous names to the protagonists…or play with
words: Fred B. Friendly, Jura Paine, Zizzy Zazu” (Renner,1999, p.81). Also it
is appealing to use realistic details, descriptive situations, put the words in
the mouth of the protagonists like in a real novel and give a complete view; but
depending on the experience of the participants it is possible to leave room for
speculation and mystery.
work is a generic term for multiple techniques in which two or more students
(more than six is not recommended) (Brown, 2001) are assigned a task that
involves collaboration and self initiated conversation. Group work is considered
vital to education because among other reasons, it offers an embracing affective
climate, promotes learner responsibility and autonomy, and is a step toward self
to select the appropriate group techniques, the teacher must plan them, must
monitor them and follow them up. In order to do this it is important to clarify
the differences between pair work and group work. Pair work serves for short and
simple tasks. Group work embraces games, role-play and simulations, drama,
projects, information gaps, jigsaw techniques and buzz groups or Phillips 66
(groups of six working for six minutes). We chose to describe the buzz group
dynamics because it is considered one of the most interesting in interactive
group (buzz refers to the sound emitted by the group of adults concentrating on
the task) is a spontaneously formed team with a task to be accomplished in short
time. One person acts as recorder, summarizing the group output and reporting to
the larger group afterwards. The teacher allows four to six minutes for the
buzz, the instructions and the report. The group may need some materials like
paper, newsprint, felt pens, masking tape, transparencies, etc. (Renner, 2001,
than a technique the fieldwork is a learning process that occurs in a natural
setting with or without teacher observation. The most important benefit is the
opportunity to apply and integrate theory with practice, even if the evaluation
process is difficult because of the absence of the teacher, for example in a
hospital placement for nursing students.
or cooperative learning is a process that involves a group of techniques to work
in small peer learning groups to enhance classroom interaction and achieve
learning purposes. In order for the students to work cooperatively teachers must
systematically structure the basic components, and be available as a resource
person to monitor and facilitate group process. (Bennett, 1991)
is a re-creation of a real life situation, which involves acting it out in front
of the group. It can be spontaneous or guided by the teacher, is useful for the
development of interpersonal skills and the affective domain and can induce a
real experience of emotions.
and games provide a fun break from the seriousness of our daily life, and allow
students to relax and learn painlessly. They represent or model a real life
situation in a concrete or abstract form and encourage the use of rules,
principles, concepts and decision-making inner processes. Skillful debriefing is
necessary to transfer insights into real-life applications. (Mezey 1991).
the independent techniques we find computer assisted techniques, programmed and
modularized instruction, independent learning packages, and self directed
and Modularized Instruction
techniques are highly structured printed or computerized programs in which the
content is broken into small sequenced steps. The learner moves through the
program based on supplying answers to questions posed at intervals during the
program. The students work at their own pace and receive immediate feedback to
their questions. This method is more efficient for learning at the lower levels
of cognitive domain (Humber, 1996).
independent learning packages consist of independent or prescribed materials
selected in consultation with the teacher, according to the student’s needs
and level. The curriculum can be tailor made for each individual (Humber, 1996).
directed learning techniques
It is a
process by which the learner develops a plan for learning that includes goals
(learning outcomes), resources, strategies and evaluations. This plan is made in
consultation with the teacher who acts as facilitator of the process. The
student enters into a learning contract with the teacher to ensure that the
requirements for a particular course of study are met. (Humber, 1996).
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D., Teaching by Principles: An Interactive Approach to Language Pedagogy.
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E., “Effective Classroom Questioning techniques”. University of Illinois In:
Selecting Teaching and Learning Strategies. A Self Study Guide. Lens,
Humber College, Toronto, 1996.
M., “Critical Returns: From Andragogy to Lifelong Education”. In: Learning
for Life. Canadian Readings in Adult Education. Scott, S., Thompson
Educational Publishing, Inc. Toronto, 1998.
P., Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Herder & Herder, N Y, 1972.
P., in Archambault, R.P., Philosophical Analysis and Education. The
Humanities Press N.Y, 1965.
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Strategies. A self Study Guide.
Lens, Toronto, 1996.
D., Learning Style Inventory. McBer & Co., 1976.
K., Principles of Adult Learning. Humber College Ed. Toronto, 1991.
Renner P., The Art of Teaching Adults: How to become an exceptional instructor and facilitator. Training Associates, Vancouver, BC, Canada, 1999.
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