Helping adults learn

This is the final piece I will be writing on Lindeman’s book, The Meaning of Adult Education*. Here some final thoughts from the book where Lindeman addresses concerns about becoming too specialized, the importance of building collective knowledge, and methods for helping adults learn.

Lindeman seems to express a concern about learners becoming too specialized; however, he does explain how this has all come about. Lindeman explains the amount of knowledge has increased to the extent that to understand it requires that it be subdivided into specializations. Because of the amount of research needed, disciplines have been subdivided. As a result, individuals will know a lot about only a fraction of their entire field of knowledge. Because of specialization in education, higher education is now turning out specialists rather than well-rounded learners. In terms of education, Lindeman recommends requiring broad orientation courses, minimize specialization in a general education, and have undergraduates focus on liberal arts courses while allowing graduate students specialize in a narrower field of study. The problem is that students are paying for something that they hope will be immediately practical, they are not thinking about becoming lifelong learners. If we do not have general knowledge, or awareness of a number of things, we will be constantly meeting with specialists. Can being too specialized negatively affect an organization such as Cooperative Extension Service?

Lindeman begins his discussion on collective knowledge with a relevant quote, “The problem is not how to produce great men, but how to produce great societies” ~ A.N. Whitehead (Lindeman, 1989, p. 92).

Lindeman begins by pointing out that education is the adjustment to ever changing internal and external factors to minimize the pain points. In most cases, learning occurs through dialogue with others, education advances through communication. Learners must be social because they have no choice. If they wish to expand their knowledge, they must interact with their social environment. Not all social environments are smooth sailing; there is a class system whether individuals accept it or not. At any moment, there is always someone in a better or worse status in regards to knowledge, economics, power, etc. Individuals regardless of class must cooperate to advance their position. Rather than enter a discussion in a defensive mode, people can gain more through creative honest open educative cooperation. Either-or scenarios do not allow for creative negotiation. Groups develop when individuals agree with the ideas of others, and conflicts develop when individuals cannot agree.

Finally, Lindeman discusses methods for helping adults learn. He emphasizes two key areas experiences and subjects. “Experience is, first of all, doing something; second, doing something that makes a difference; third, knowing what difference it makes” (Lindeman, 1989, p. 87). Life is about living and gaining experience that in turn is educational. Adults gain knowledge through personal experience; they cannot acquire it through the experiences of others. The most memorable lessons are the ones personally experienced. Experience is more powerful the closer it relates to the individual. For example, lessons about finances will have more meaning when they are associated with personal finances than with obscure references to corporate finances in a remote city. Adult educators must personalized and localized learning for the adult learner.

We must remember that adults voluntarily enter into learning episodes. As adult educators, we need to focus on the methods we use to pass on knowledge. We should focus on situational-experiences. We should not isolate knowledge into subjects. Subjects are the products of specialists. Life is not about subjects, life is a melting pot. A subject cannot stand in solitary; subjects integrate with countless other subjects. By focusing on subjects, students rapidly lose knowledge upon completion of the course. By tying knowledge to an individual’s experience, it will stay with them longer.

Overall, Lindeman has reinforced ideas I have had about learning. Although reading works written by Lindeman, Dewy, and Knowles have shaped and clarified my understanding about adult education, I realized long ago that knowledge is power, and to be successful and stay successful, you must continue to learn, adapt, and retool. It has been interesting that a book written in 1926 still resonates in 2011.


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