Learning Perspectives – EDUC 401: The Purposes of Adult Education

Adult education courses bring to mind a syllabus filled with techniques and approaches for teachers to use in the classroom. According to Dr. Michael Welton, a tutor in AU’s Centre for Distance Education, ?Like so many other Canadians, [students] think of adult education as night school classes, or literacy programs for immigrants.? However, a closer examination reveals a much different story.

EDUC 401: The Purposes of Adult Education is offered through AU’s Centre for Work and Community Studies (a collection of Humanities and Social Science disciplines). This specialized reading course provides an introduction to the foundations and purposes of adult education.

Dr. Welton began tutoring the course two years ago after teaching adult education courses in graduate programs at Dalhousie and Mount St. Vincent Universities in Nova Scotia. Dr. Welton provides guidance to students as they explore the dynamic and often controversial field of adult education.

Refuting the notion of adult education as simply night school classes, Dr. Welton argues that ?adult learning theory has challenged this narrow idea. In fact, some adult education theorists argue that ?all of society? is a vast school, and that we can understand that formal education is really just the tip of the learning iceberg.?

EDUC 401 is structured into five units: education for adults, education for economy, education for transformation, education for diversity, and education for the 21st century. The readings support the units and offer numerous opportunities for discussion. The order is complementary: it allows students to begin with an exploration of the history of adult education and how it is distinguished from traditional pedagogy. The readings illustrate the centrality of adult education purposes to society, work, citizenship, and self-development.

A central tenet of adult education is that adult learners come to the learning environment with a wealth of life experience, and adult education should therefore reflect and build upon that experience. In EDUC 401, andragogy is summarized and reviewed in terms of its characteristics, principles, and recommended practices. Readings distinguish andragogy from pedagogy on the crucial assumptions of the differences between child and adult learners.

The course situates the debates of adult education within a Canadian context, highlighting the vibrant role that Canadian scholars have played in utilizing the principles of adult education for social transformation. Dr. Welton articulates this through the well-known Antigonish Movement and its leader, Rev. Dr. Moses Coady, as being ahead of his time with his provocative take on transforming the economy of the Maritimes.

Further, Dr. Welton says, ?Once my tutorial students sense that adult learning and education is about the stuff of life’social movements, work, civil society, transforming self and world, responding to climate change, raising kids, loving a partner, learning to live in an open, pluralistic world, and many more?they are pretty excited.?

Course texts for EDUC 401 include Father Jimmy: The life and times of Jimmy Tompkins, a text that highlights a Canadian example of how Coady and Father Jimmy Tompkins used adult education principles to address the economic needs of local people.

EDUC 401 is a senior-level three-credit social science course with no prerequisites. However, it is recommended that students possess high proficiency in their writing skills. Assignment 1 is worth 25%, while assignments 2 and 3 are each worth 20%. The final assignment, worth 30%, is a 2,000-word essay that asks students to discuss the purposes of adult education in the 21st century. There is also 5% participation grade involving student communication with their tutor.

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