Daniel Schugurensky, Department of Adult Education 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 a personal mission statement, and how does it impact adult learning?

By Glennie Mercer and Meghan Seybold (OISE/UT)

Our main question was about personal mission statements, and their impact on learners. In order to address this question, we decided to explore: a) what is a personal mission statement? b) how does a mission statement, and its related value system, impact our choices in work?, and c) how do the mission statement and the subsequent work choice affect our commitment to ongoing learning and development?

To begin with, we need to clarify what we understand as mission, and what we understand as a personal mission statement? For the purposes of this inquiry, we conceptualize ‘mission’ as “what we are trying to be and do.” To “be” is intrinsic and personal, while to “do” reflects external activities. Combined, these two  components form the mission statement, as it pertains to how individuals sees their purpose and outcomes.

We believe that when adult learners see learning as relevant to their own personal mission, it is far more likely that they will engage in a learning process as developed or presented by others. If constituents of an organization are required to participate in learning activities, then it is important that the participants consider the learning as not only relevant to the organization, but also relevant to their own growth and development.

We also believe that as adult educators, we must ensure that learners see their role in the process as an active one of choice, because only then is transformative learning truly possible. Adult educators may be called upon to encourage and challenge learners to examine their own mission and values. It is crucial that each learner has the chance to pursue learning opportunities aligned with what they have deemed important, rather than only participating in education that is presented to them, and without thought as to the relevance of the learning in their lives. There is a relationship between the adult educator who may provide the guidance, and the learners, who engage in the work as it is relevant to them and meets their needs.

The Antigonish movement constitutes an example of how adult educators Tompkins and Coady, driven by both spiritual and humanitarian ideals and goals, and working through St. Francis Xavier University, provided and engaged the people in the region in activities that the learners saw as necessary and valuable to improving their “lot in life”. The work was extremely successful “based as it was on leadership, organization and study materials from the university and the study, activity and commitment of the people in the region” (Scott, Spencer, and Thomas 1998:27). It was successful because the participants saw an opportunity to improve their economic conditions, and became empowered by their improved knowledge. The Antigonish movement demonstrates that when individuals apply learning to areas that directly support their personal mission, their commitment to the process is significant.

As adult education work moves into the organizational domain, we need to take these lessons with us. When organizations create Vision and Mission statements, they need to recognize that if the members of the organization do not see these as relevant to them personally, the level of commitment will be less. Adult educators need to help individuals discover their own mission statements within themselves, so that they can then make the connections to their workplaces, and engage enthusiastically in the appropriate and relevant learning that may be required.

As adults, we often get so caught up in living day to day, that we neglect to reflect on the connection between what motivates us and what we do in the workplace, and how that is connected to, or helps us to fulfill, our personal mission. It may be that as adult educators, we need to stop, and provide people with time and opportunity to reflect, so that they make more informed and active choices about their learning.

Assuming that an enlightened organization recognizes that people have the right to the means necessary in order to pursue legitimate goals such as self-development in the workplace, then the next step is to ensure that the people see their responsibility in this process. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey (1990) describes the need for individuals to recognize where they have choice, and to take initiative with regards to those choices. It is imperative that people be proactive if they want to see positive and productive results in their lives. Adult educators need to encourage participants to be proactive and critically examine what they are learning and why. If people do not see the relevance of materials, then it is up to them to decide whether or not to continue participation, and how they might need to influence an organization to make the changes required to more accurately reflect and support their learning needs.

For workplace learning to be relevant, individuals need to understand why they work, and this goes beyond the economics. As adult educators we need to help people tap into this often unexamined self-knowledge, so that they can more actively engage in both work and learning that is meaningful to them. What are we hoping to accomplish through work? From an economic standpoint, it would be suggested that we work to support ourselves.  However, if that statement is true, why do we see cases where individuals leave high-paying positions for lesser-paying jobs? There must be something more at work than just economics. What potential lies in work? What is it that people are pursuing through work? We also see situations when the work relationship doesn’t work for certain individuals, and/or there is no sense of fulfillment. People in such situations may recognize that they can’t continue on in that role, because there is a sense of being deprived of something more meaningful. Internal dissatisfaction is a strong element that promotes change, or questioning of existing work relationships.

As adult learners it is also likely that we will question our assumptions and beliefs when our current situation changes or significant life events occur (Kroth & Boverie, 2000). While people may not always have the choice to leave a workplace, when they honestly assess their happiness in relation to their own mission and then choose to stay despite the disconnect between their mission and that of the organization, they do so understanding that a conscious choice has been made, and that learning may need to take place external to the particular organization.

In The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook, Peter Senge and associates identify that “it is increasingly clear that learning does not occur in any enduring fashion unless it is sparked by people’s own ardent interest and curiosity” (Senge et al., 1994 pg.193). Learning is much more meaningful if it is related to or supportive of an individual’s vision and mission, and when it is, it is much more likely that people will engage in and retain what has been learned. So once again, organizations and adult educators need to ensure that they provide a climate that is conducive to people finding and articulating their mission, and then having access to training and development that is relevant to it. It is also, however, imperative that the learners take the time and initiative to explore and build their personal vision and missions. If personal learning and development needs are to be met, they must first be identified and articulated by the learner, who may also need to request or negotiate with an employer to provide the access to the necessary experts and/or opportunities required.

Questioning is a fundamental dimension of adult learning. As adult educators, we need to encourage learners to question their own missions, so that they can make more conscious decisions and choices about actively engaging in relevant learning. We also need to be aware that many learners may already be  questioning their missions when they come to our courses. Helping learners to articulate and clarify their mission is a challenge for adult educators, but as a result learners gain more self-direction as they pursue relevant learning goals and objectives. When there is limited or no awareness of personal mission and learnings connection to it, participants in learning events may go along with whatever is offered, but without any real sense of enthusiasm, and so integration of the knowledge and skills presented may be less significant (Kroth & Boverie, 2000)

Knowing that personal mission will impact the learners’ commitment to the process helps adult educators plan and engage learners in a more meaningful way. When individuals connect their personal mission with learning that is available, there is a stronger more focused commitment to that learning.


Covey, Stephen, R. (1990). The 7 habits of highly effective people. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Kroth, Michael and Boverie, Patricia (2000). Life mission and adult learning. Adult Education Quarterly 50 (2), 134-146

Scott, Sue M., Spencer, Bruce and Thomas Alan M. (Eds.). (1998).  Learning for life: Canadian readings in adult education. Toronto: Thompson Educational Publishing Inc.

Senge, P., Kleiner, A., Roberts, C., Ross, R., Smith, B. (1994).  The fifth discipline fieldbook. New York: Doubleday.

 Fall 2002

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Last updated on January 03, 2003.