Adult Education and Lifelong Learning

(by Joanna Michalakelli - Vatoussa Mytilene,Rhodes)

Undoubtedly, technology has revolutionized society in many places around the globe and its influence has permeated into all our facets of our lives, including educational settings. In this era of rapid technological and economic change, the need to promote lifelong learning by developing flexible courses that will exploit new modes of delivery is becoming a competitive necessity in contemporary educational circles (Berge and Collins, 199; Fox, 1998: 59; Howell, Williams and Lindsay, 2003; Smith, 2003).

The present article, which focuses on the implementation of Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) in the field of adult education, will begin by offering a definition of the concept of adulthood and adult education. Then, we will discuss the fundamental principles that are particularly relevant to this area and analyse the benefits of integrating CALL into adult education.

Defining the Field and the Principles of Adulthood and Adult Education

According to Rogers (2002: 40-41), it is rather difficult to define an adult and identify those characteristics inherent within the cultural construct of adulthood. He suggests that the basic characteristics of adulthood include far-sightedness, self-control, established and acceptable values, security, experience and autonomy. Jarvis (1993: 166) adds that the concept of adulthood refers to those individuals who are regarded as adults within their own society.

Proceeding to define the concept of adult education, Rogers (2002: 55) claims that it consists of those forms of education that treat students as adults- capable, experienced, responsible, mature and balanced people. He also asserts that the essential difference of adult education from all other kinds of education lies in its power relationships, namely in the equality of teachers and their students.

As far as the evolution of adult education is concerned, it seems that Knowles’ theory of andragogy has had particular influence on instruction in this field (Burge, 1988; Beder and Medina, 2001: 22). Knowles (1980: 43) defines andragogy as “the art and science of helping adults learn, in contrast to pedagogy as the art and science of teaching children”.

He has introduced this term as a counterpart to pedagogy in en effort to establish a separate field of inquiry into the nature and conditions for promoting adult learning. Mezirow (1991: 199) states that andragogy describes an organized and sustained effort which aims at assisting adults to learn in a way that enhances their capability to function as self-directed learners.

Wiesenberg (2000) and Wang (2007: 30) adopt Mezirow’s view as they observe that the methods derived from Knowles’ andragogical model are democratic approaches to teaching which take adult learners’ needs into serious consideration and encourage adults to assume responsibility for their learning. On the other hand, Keegan (1988: 30) seems to disagree with the significance attributed to andragogy as he believes that the introduction of this concept into educational discussion is not essential.

Apropos of the fundamental principles related to the field of adult education, Muirhead (2001) suggests that contemporary adult theories are based on the premise that adult educators should encourage their students to become self-directed and assume responsibility for their educational experiences.

According to Wang (2007: 21), there are six universal principles relating to the field of adult education: adult learners’ need to know; their self-concept, which indicates adult students’ ability to teach themselves; their prior experience; orientation to learning; readiness to learn; and motivation to learn.

The first principle suggests that adults are goal-oriented learners (Askov and Bixler, 1998: 168) who seek instruction that is meaningful and relevant to their goals and needs. With respect to the second principle, adult learners’ self-concept moves “from one of being a dependent personality toward being a self-directed human being” (Knowles, 1980: 44-45) shaped by the accumulation of authentic personal experience.

The third principle indicates that adult learners have accumulated a wealth of information and experience (Wrigley and Guth, 1992: 4), which can function as an increasingly rich resource for learning. Pertaining to adult students’ orientation to learning and readiness to learn, Knowles (1980: 45) maintains that adults’ orientation to learning shifts from one of subject-centredness to one of performance-centredness, while their readiness to learn becomes increasingly oriented to the developmental tasks of their social roles.

The last principle relating to the field of adult education is motivation to learn. According to Rogers (2002: 95) and Wang (2007: 21), adult learners are primarily motivated by internal factors, such as self-esteem, quality of life and job satisfaction, which create a desire for learning changes.

As far as the issue of motivation is concerned, it seems that the integration of Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) into EFL education can contribute scientifically to the enhancement of student motivation, as well as to experiential learning, authentic communication, individualization of the learning process, independence from a single source of information and global understanding (Lee, 2000; Tsotsoli, 2004: 12-13; Zhao, 2005: 3).

CALL, which has been defined as “the search for and study of applications of the computer in language teaching and learning” (Levy, 1997:1) embraces many types of computer technologies such as word processing, software, compact disks, email, chat, mailing lists, discussion forums, the World Wide Web and so on (Al-Jarf, 2005: 5).

Regarding the role of CALL in the field of adult education, Seaman and McCallister (1988: 1) claim that CALL is one area which has shown promise of successful learning by adults who have not succeeded in traditional school settings or had to interrupt their education for some reason.

The integration of technology in adult education does not only enhance learners’ academic performance, but it also promotes their learning motivation, autonomy and their continued use of literacy skills that will enable them to become lifelong learners (Wagner and Kozma, 2003: 14; Rutkauskiene, Volungeviciene and Kovertaite, 2004: 564; Chen, 2005).

Selwynn (2003: 6) emphasizes that the integration of CALL in adult education can make learning provision more flexible, enable learners to learn at their own pace and encourage constructivist learning; this, in turn, will contribute to the enhancement of the quality of adult education (Hopey, 1998:4; Stites, 1998: 51).

The Adult Students’ Profile

Wang (2007: 21) maintains that adult learners’ characteristics have been directly derived from the principles of adult education mentioned above. Pertaining to the adult learners’ profile, a first observation we could make is that these students, who define themselves as adults, are in the middle of a process of growth.

They possess a package of experiences and values which enable them to come to education with intentions and expectations about the learning process; they also have competing interests and their own unique set of patterns of learning (Rogers, 2002: 71; Κόκκος: 2003: 89-92). Furthermore, adult learners seek the opportunity to apply learning to practical issues by pursuing self-directed learning (Cahoon, 1998; Spencer, 1994; Nash, 2001: 187).

According to Hiemstra (1994) and Forbes (2000), adults need to learn at their own pace, at times and places that are compatible with the commitments of family, work and leisure. For this reason, it is rather significant to provide adult learners with a supportive and collaborative environment which will encourage them to participate energetically in the educational process (Courau, 2000: 29).

Recommendations for English Language Teachers

The dramatic growth of the adult student population, in combination with the need to promote lifelong learning, is making CALL an increasingly popular choice of learning techniques. The rapid advancement of technology offers English language teachers the potential to develop flexible courses that can reach an increasing number of adult students by enabling them to learn at their own pace, at times and places that are compatible with the commitments of family, work and leisure.

Computer-mediated education can also offer teachers the opportunity to develop a collaborative learning environment that will maximize students’ positive emotions and enhance learning (O’ Regan, 2003: 89) by utilizing reliable, accessible technology and encouraging students to assume responsibility for their own learning.

As a conclusion, it is worth citing Warschauer’s (2002) remark as a recommendation to all teachers and students: The goal in TESOL, and especially in considerations of how to make use of technology, should be not only development of the language but also development of the person. At the classroom level, that implies helping students not only use the technology as an instructional aid but also master technology as a medium of communication, research, and knowledge production. (p. 472)

(Posting date 7 November 2008)

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