Daniel Schugurensky, Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)

Questions and Answers on Adult Education

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.


What is Adult Education? What is an adult? What is education?

Prepared by Tamar Kagan and Alfred Meidow, OISE/UT

A. What is Education?

The term education is difficult to define. The definition found in the Random House Dictionary includes the following components: the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgement and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life; acquiring skills for a profession; obtaining a degree or qualification; the results shown from instruction; and the science of teaching (pedagogy). This dictionary definition captures the broad nature of the term, and its different meanings.

Education can occur with or without a 'teacher', in both formal and non-formal environments, and can happen consciously or unconsciously.

Formal Education:

B. What is an Adult?

The term adult is also difficult define because it varies from one society to another, and has changed over time. The boundaries that determine who is considered an adult can depend on actions (i.e., legal age to fight in a war, drive a car, drink, vote), activities (i.e., age that one can begin to work), and/or responsibilities (i.e., marriage age, age to begin supporting family).

C. What is Adult Education?

Adult education also does not have a clear definition. In Chapter One of "The Foundations of Adult Education in Canada", the author quotes Malcolm Knowles. Knowles states that the term Adult Education refers to at least three different phenomena. "...To a set of activities...to the intellectual process by means of which adults seek, or are assisted, to learn things...[and] to the social system which is made up of individuals and organizations concerned with the education of adults." (P.15)

Different definitions have been proposed over the years. The broadest and most frequently cited definition was developed by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Social, Cultural Organization) and formally approved in 1976. It states:

    ...the entire body of organized educational processes, whatever the content, level and method, whether formal or otherwise, whether they prolong or replace initial education in schools, colleges and universities as well as in apprenticeship, whereby persons regarded as adult by the society to which they belong develop their abilities, enrich their knowledge, improve their technical or professional qualifications or turn them in a new direction and bring about changes in their attitudes or behaviour in the twofold perspective of full personal development and participation in balanced and independent social, economic and cultural development...
    UNESCO, Recommendation on the Development of Adult Education, published in Canada (Ottawa: Canadian Commission for UNESCO, 1980 [1976]) p.3.
Terms related to Adult Education (seen by some as synonymous)


Other Important Terms

Lifelong Education


Selman, Gordon, Mark Selman, Michael Cooke, & Paul Dampier (Eds.) (1998). Terms and Functions. In The Foundations of Adult Education in Canada. Toronto: Thompson Educational Publishing Inc., Chapter 1.

Home Page     Biography    Courses   Quotes by Adult Educators    Q&As    Links    Search

History of Education: Selected Moments     Lifelong Citizenship Learning Project      Reviews of Freire's Books

© 1998-2002 Daniel Schugurensky. All Rights Reserved. Design and maintenance by LMS.
Last updated on September 04, 2002.