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 are the differences between adult education and adult learning?

Prepared by Artemis Diamantouros, OISE/UT

The distinction between adult learning and adult education was first explored in the 1960s by Alan Thomas and Roby Kidd. Since then, much attention has been focussed on these terms and many theorists have attempted to explain and discuss the distinction between the two.

Some of the simpler distinctions between the two include "education tends to imply formal schooling whereas learning occurs both inside and outside of classrooms" or "learning is something which people do, while education is a social institution which provides learning opportunities for people."

To gain further insight into the answer to this question, a closer examination of the two terms is warranted.

The dictionary definition of learning is "the action learn (to get knowledge of a subject) or skill by study, experience or teaching" and "what is learnt or taught". With respect to adults, learning is most often related to a process that tends to occur within human groups of all kinds, ranging from families to communities.

Learning is an activitiy that is essential for survival and is something that occurs throughout a person’s lifetime. The most important role that is associated with learning is that of "member" and what is important as a distinction is the feeling that individuals learn more as members than they do as students.

In contrast, education has a predominant preoccupation with teaching not learning. The term education is identified to be a collective response to the existence of the human capacity to learn. This capacity to learn is then directed toward objectives that have been pre-decided and relate to knowledge, skill and attitude.

Whereas learning focuses on collective knowledge and competition between groups, education encourages individual rather than group competition. Teaching is undertaken in groups but evaluation is generally individualized.

Education revolves around courses and programs that are time-defined and are measured or evaluated using diplomas, certificates and degrees. One of the risks or dangers that has been identified in formal education is the tendency to confuse process with outcome, leading to an enslavement of learning capacity by collective goals.

Hopefully, by examining each term more closely, it has become clear that the terms learning and education are distinct terms in their relationship to adults. As Alan Thomas states, "the proper balance between learning and education is desirable precisely because of their contrasting processes and the significance of those processes in the meaning of learning in the world".


  1. Thomas, AM. Learning Our Way Out. In: Scott, SM, Spencer, B & Thomas, AM (eds.) (1998). Learning For Life: Canadian Readings in Adult Education. Toronto, ON: Thompson Educational Publishing, Inc.
  2. Tight, M (1983). Education for Adults, volume I: Adult Learning and education. Beckenham, Kent: The Open University.
  3. Verduin, JR et al. (1977). Adults Teaching Adults : Principles and Strategies. Austin, TX: Learning Concepts.

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Last updated on September 04, 2002.