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Future of adult education


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Future of adult education

  1. 1. Vol.24 No. 2 ADULT LEARNINGFuturesThe Future of Adult EducationSteven W. Schmidt,It is an interesting assignment to think about thefuture of adult education. In fact, it is an assignmentI have the graduate students in my Introduction toAdult Education class at East Carolina University con-sider during one of our course units. In that unit, whichoccurs after examining the history of adult education,we consider where our field is head-ing. Not surprisingly, responses tothis question are as diverse as thestudents in the class and as diverseas the field of adult education itself.Most students are excited about thefuture and interested in consideringhow their interests, education, andparticular skill sets might best servethem in the field of adult educa-tion. Many who work in the field ofadult education bemoan the lack ofresources, institutional ambivalence,and other obstacles. Almost all stu-dents discuss their interest in work-ing with adult learners and under-lying motivation for helping adultslearn and grow. Some comment on the diversity of thefield, as represented by the many different jobs heldby the members of the class. Despite the differences inbackgrounds, career goals, and interests within the field,in the end, some common themes emerge. We agreethat passion for helping adults learn and being presentwhen light bulb moments occur is what drives us to dowhat we do. It is what motivates us and keeps us goingas adult educators. We are also optimistic about thefuture and enjoy speculating about what the fuaire ofadult education holds for us.As a member of the Board of Directors for the AmericanAssociation for Adult and Continuing Education (AAACE),and now as incoming President-Elect, I have also beenconsidering the future of our discipline. AAACE recentlycompleted a strategic planning pro-cess and evaluated where the orga-nization stands and where it isheaded. Through a member sur-vey and self-assessment, AAACEexamined how the board can bestserve the needs of members andpromote the organization and thediscipline.As a result of these discussionsand my own contemplation, sev-eral themes emerged that mayhold the keys forfiaturesuccessfor AAACE and thefieldof adulteducation.T H E FUTURE OFADULT EDUCATIONHOLDS MANYOPPORTUNITIES.AAACEs GOAL IS TOPROVIDE ITS MEMBERSWITH THE TOOLS THAT ITTAKES TO DO EXACTLYTHAT."The Future Means Being FlexibleWe can look at the concept offlexibilityin several dif-ferent ways. Technology, for example, provides adulteducators and learners flexibility in program deliv-ery methods and access to formal education. This doesnot mean traditional face-to-face teaching will becomeobsolete. It simply means we can be more innova-tive in the options we offer learners. Flexibility alsoallows us to be more responsive to learner needs. GoneDOI: 10.1177/1045159513477849. From ^East Carolina University, Greenville, NC. Address Correspondence to: Steven W. Schmidt, EastCarolina University, 221B,Ragsdale Hall, Greenville, NC 27858, USA; email: schmidtst@ecu.eduFor reprints and permissions queries, please visit SAGEs Web site at © 2013 The Author(s)79
  2. 2. ADULT LEARNING May 2013are the days when adults stayed in one job for theirentire lives. Now, people change jobs and entire careerpaths on a regular basis. Often, they need educationas part of these transitions. Furthermore, demographicshifts mean retiring baby boomers are looking for lei-sure-time learning activities. Social justice issues in ourworld continue to evolve. The demand for adult basicskills education continues to increase. As adult educa-tors, we need to be flexible in response to the changingneeds of adult learners and ready to provide the educa-tional opportunities they need, when they are needed.Flexibility means we at AAACE must continually eval-uate the products and services we offer our membersand make changes when appropriate. The recent addi-tions of the Special Interest Group on Sustainability andEnvironmental Aduli Education and the Special InterestGroup for Labor/Workforce Education are good exam-ples of responsiveness to the changing field of adulteducation and new needs of our members. We must beopen to the opportunities that present themselves asthe field of adult education evolves.The Future Means Using Technology WiselyAs noted above, technology has changed the waywe educate adults. It has also changed the way wecommunicate. We al AAACE are always looking forbetter ways to communicate with members and nowuse Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin and continuouslywork to improve the AAACE website. However,we do not want to overwhelm members with anoverabundance of communication methods. We rely onour overall communications strategy to make the bestchoices about how we communicate respectfully witheach other. Technology will continue to drive changesin education and communication; however, the key isto use it wisely and appropriately.The Future Means Partnering and WorkingTogetherWe must continually look for new ways of doingwhat we do—reaching learners, developing programs,meeting societal needs, and promoting our discipline.This can mean partnering with other, like-mindedorganizations for the benefit of all. Developingpartnerships with complimentary organizations isessential for our professional well-being. At AAACE,we are partnering with several other associationsto connect and collaborate on programs related toour annual conference. These types of partneringagreements allow for more opportunities and varietyfor our members. Partnering can also benefit specificeducational programs. For example, at East CarolinaUniversity, our Adult Education program is thriving,thanks in part to partnerships with the U.S. Army forthe teaching of Army trainers. We also partnered withour medical school on a graduate certificate programin medical education and with the North CarolinaCommunity College System on a graduate certificate incommunity college instruction. Partnering helps us tobecome stronger.The Future Means Promoting the Field andSharing What We Bring to the TahleEast Carolina Universitys faculty convocation marksthe official start of the school year and each yearthe Professor of the Year is asked to make someremarks. These professors typically talk about theirunconventional ways of teaching. They discuss theirtransitions from traditional lectures to getting studentsinvolved. They talk about acting more like a facilitatorand providing an environment in which students canbest learn. In short, they talk about all the things weas adult educators have known and done for years.Communicating the value of what we know andcan offer learners is paramount to our success as aprofession. Often, we spend so much time doing adulteducation that we forget to promote our achievementsand successes. One of the steps in Caffarellas (2007)Planning Programsfor Adult Learners is communicatingthe value of the educational program. There are manyadult educators doing wonderfijl and important work,but not sharing their achievements. It is important to theprofession that our successes are shared and celebrated.At AAACE, that means getting involved in public policyinitiatives that affect adult learners and promoting ourorganization to those who may be unfamiliar with it. Italso means increasing the visibility of our organizationspublic profile by continuously improving our websiteand electronic communications.The Future Means Focusing on ProfessionalSustainahilityI am fortunate to have had many great mentorsthroughout my career. These mentors made me80
  3. 3. Vol. 24 No. 2 ADULT LEARNINGthe adult educator I am today It is our collectiveprofessional responsibility to ensure we work toprepare the next generation of adult educators,just as we have been prepared. This might meanmentoring students in formal or informal situations orproviding opportunities for early-career practitionersto grow within the field. We at AAACE have manygreat opportunities for students and early-careerprofessionals to become involved in the organizationand the field. Getting involved with AAACE hasafforded me many opportunities to work withcolleagues from all over the country—I urge everyonewho is interested to inquire about how you can getinvolved. It is as simple as contacting the AAACE officeor one of the members of our Board of Directors orSpecial Interest Groups.Whether for a course assignment, as part of astrategic planning process, or when evaluating onespersonal and career goals, considering the future issomething we all should do from time to time. I amproud to be one of many dedicated members workingto plan for the nature of AAACE. The nature of adulteducation holds many opportunities for those whocan take advantage of them. Our goal at AAACE is toprovide you, our members, with the tools that it takesto do exactly that.Conflict of InterestThe author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interestwith respect to the authorship and/or publication ofthis article.FundingThe author(s) received no financial support for theresearch, authorship, and/or publication of this article.ReferenceCaffarella, R. S. (2007). Planning programs for adult learners.San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Author BiographySteven W. Schmidt, PhD is an associateprofessor and coordinator of the AdultEducation Program in the Higher, Adult andCounselor Education Department at EastCarolina University in Greenville, NC. He ispresident-elect of the American AssociationforAdult and Continuing Education (AAACE).81
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