adult education

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adult education,

extension of educational opportunities to those adults beyond the age of general public education who feel a need for further training of any sort, also known as continuing education.

Forms of Adult Education

Contemporary adult education can take many different forms. Colleges and universities have instituted evening programs, extension work, courses without credit, corresponence courses, distance learning programs (with courses transmitted to numerous locations), and online courses; community collegescommunity college,
public institution of higher education. Community colleges are characterized by a two-year curriculum that leads to either the associate degree or transfer to a four-year college. The transfer program parallels the first two years of a four-year college.
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 have been especially active in this area. Organizations designed to relieve illiteracyilliteracy,
inability to meet a certain minimum criterion of reading and writing skill. Definition of Illiteracy

The exact nature of the criterion varies, so that illiteracy must be defined in each case before the term can be used in a meaningful way. In 1930 the U.
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 are instrumental in adult education, as are the schools established to teach the English language and American customs to the foreign-born. Adult education is also sponsored by corporations, labor unions, and private institutes. The field now embraces such diverse areas as vocational educationvocational education,
training designed to advance individuals' general proficiency, especially in relation to their present or future occupations. The term does not normally include training for the professions.
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, high-school equivalency, parent educationparent education,
movement to help parents' understanding of the problems of children at home and in the school. Much parent education is carried on through the channels of adult education, both formally and informally.
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, adult basic education (including literacy training), physical and emotional development, practical arts, applied science, and recreation as well as the traditional academic, business, and professional subjects. Each year millions of Americans take such a course or program.

At the local level, public schools have been active in furnishing facilities and assistance to private adult education groups in many communities. Community centers, political and economic action associations, and dramatic, musical, and artistic groups are regarded by many as adult education activities. Great Books groups (est. 1947), in which adults read and discuss a specified list of volumes, grew out of great books seminars at Chicago and Columbia universities and St. John's College. In many places the local public library sponsors such groups.


Only in the past two centuries has the field of adult education acquired definite organization. Its relatively recent development results from numerous social trends—the general spread of public education, the intensification of economic competition with a resulting premium on skills, the complexities of national and international politics demanding constant study, the stimulating effects of urbanization, the opportunity offered by increased leisure time, and increased interest in educational activities on the part of many older men and women. Modern and formal adult education probably originated in European political groups and, after the Industrial Revolution, in vocational classes for workers. Continuation schools for workers in Germany and Switzerland were common. The folk high schoolfolk high school,
type of adult education that in its most widely known form originated in Denmark in the middle of the 19th cent. The idea as originally conceived by Bishop Nikolai Grundtvig was to stimulate the intellectual life of young adults (generally from 18 to 25 years
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 in Denmark, founded by Bishop GrundtvigGrundtvig, Nikolai Frederik Severin
, 1783–1872, Danish educator, minister, and writer, founder of the Danish folk high school. He came into doctrinal conflict with church authorities and was forbidden to preach but was reinstated (1832) and became titular bishop (1861).
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, stressed intellectual studies, and the Adult Schools of the Society of Friends in England (1845) fostered the education of the poor.

The earliest American forms of adult education were the public lectures given in the lyceumlyceum
, 19th-century American association for popular instruction of adults by lectures, concerts, and other methods. Lyceum groups were concerned with the dissemination of information on the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs.
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 (c.1826) and the Lowell Institute of Boston endowed by John Lowell (1836). In 1873 the Chautauqua movementChautauqua movement,
development in adult education somewhat similar to the lyceum movement. It derived from an institution at Chautauqua, N.Y. There, in 1873, John Heyl Vincent and Lewis Miller proposed to a Methodist Episcopal camp meeting that secular as well as religious
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 introduced the discussion group and modified lecture system. Free public lectures supported by the Dept. of Education of New York City were inaugurated in 1904. In 1926 the Carnegie Corporation organized the American Association for Adult Education, which later became the Adult Education Association of the U.S.A. In 1982 it merged with the National Association for Public Continuing Adult Education to form the American Association for Adult and Continuing Education. This group, through its research and publications, works not only to promote education as a lifelong learning process but also to systematize the methods and philosophy of the field. The 21st cent. has seen the increasing development of online courses offered for free (without credit); the courses are offered in forms ranging from lecture videos and podcasts to text materials unsupplemented by any form of multimedia.

Federal funding and support for adult education have been provided through the Vocational Education Act (1963), the Economic Opportunity Act (1964), the Manpower Act (1965), the Adult Education Act (1966, amended 1970), the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (1973), the Lifelong Learning Act (1976), and for a broader spectrum of learners by the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Act (1984). The Office of Vocational and Adult Education, under the U.S. Dept. of Education, administers grant, contract, and technical assistance programs for adult education, literacy, and occupational training. Most federal funding for these programs is administered through the states, counties, and individual communities. Other major federal providers of adult education are the Dept. of Agriculture and the Dept. of Defense.


See C. H. Grattan, In Quest of Knowledge (1955, repr. 1971); D. N. Portman, The University and the Public (1979); P. Jarvis, Adult and Continuing Education (1990); and M. S. Knowles, A History of the Adult Education Movement in the United States (rev. ed. 1994).

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