history of Adult/Community Education

History of Adult/Community Education. Robert Mphepo


Robert Mphepo Commented On
 Mishele Adams ( Group 2)



Adult education has evolved over the years according to society or community needs, goals and the purpose for education. For example the purpose of education in Colonial America is different from after Revolutionary War and Modern-day education. This paper will address the history of education, goals and purpose of education in different eras, programs and social events that occurred in those period of time.

Highlights and Influential Factors

First the Colonial America, Merriam and Brockett (2007) explains that the fundamental purpose of adult education was to teach an adult learner how to read the bible. The society and community of this period strived much as they can to understand what the bible say, in order to get salvation. The adult learner of this period of time did not have access to information the way information is easily accessed in modern times. The adult learner was given or taught just enough education to read and translate the bible, and be loyal and commit to the church.

Most of these adult learners and educators were from Europe, seeking religious freedom in the new found land North America. The educators and learners of this time period were satisfied with having freedom to exercise their religion and having land to do farming to sustain their families.

Second, the Post-Revolutionary War era the needs and purpose for education changed to fit that era as Merriam and Brockett (2007) explains that the need for informed and enlighten citizenry was bedrock for new democratic process. The adult educators of this period combine the use of bible with the new civic education to have an informed society or community. It is important to point out that only men were allowed to participate in the democratic process. Women and slaves were not allowed to participate in the democratic process. The Women’s Rights to Vote was passed in 1920 by the United States Congress (Hershey, 2013). As for the slaves it was illegal to teach the slaves how read and write and the rights were non-existence to them.

The Industrial Revolution also contributed to education of adult education, the adult learner had to learn how to operate the machinery for manufacturing. As a result Industrial Revolution led to mass production of goods and other commodities. Some of the notable productions were steam powered machines, chemical manufacturing, textile machines, and iron production, just to mention a few.

The Industrial Revolution also led to mass migration of workers from rural area to urban areas in search of job opportunities. The Industrial Revolution gave a platform for Industrial workers to form labor unions, which empowered the workers to have a voice and advocate for better wages and working conditions in the factories they worked. The impacts of these labor unions are still visible to day such collective bargaining on benefits, wages and working conditions.

Third, Modern day education, the purpose of education has been transformed tremendously especially with technology, social justice, innovations, and self-improvements by adult learners. The modern day adult learners are well informed but still there is a need for educators to guide them, as the go through the course or learning experiences. Educational institutions and other non-traditional institutions like libraries, museums and zoos provide adult learners with information to facilitate education.

There are number of educators and educational institutions throughout the United State that have contributed and make a difference to adult education. For example Booker T. Washington, an educator, author, and an advisor to President Theodore Roosevelt, made tremendous contributions to the field of education. His commitment to educate the disenfranchised and victims of the Jim Crow discriminatory laws, who were mostly African American. He founded Tuskegee University and his contribution to vocational instructional programs and teacher preparation; and development of vocational student organizations are still visible today. Washington understood the importance of education and empowering members of the community to have a voice and challenge the issues of social injustices that they were faced with.

Another educator Eduard Lindeman, an America educator and Chairman of the Civil Liberties Union Commission of Academic Freedom. His commitment to community and adult educator is quite remarkable, as he points out that adult learning by educational institution should be designed according to adults needs. Such as Education should be coterminous with life; It should revolve around non-academic and non-vocational ideas; It should start with the lives of the learners; and It should look to the learner’s own experience as its most valuable resource Linderman (2015). Linderman understood that in order for adult education to take place there be should a willingness of adult learner to go through their life experiences and also the educators have to provide the environment where learning and should occur. The curriculums for adult education should suit what they are looking for succeed.


The use of technology in modern day era has made education of adults much easier, information is easily access through the use of internet. Computers, television, cell phones and other electronic devices have contributed to easy access of information for adult learners. Higher learning institutions have also developed curriculums that suits the community needs. For example accelerated nursing programs at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), where some with a bachelor’s degree in a different field can obtain a nursing degree in just two years.

The use of technology has also made it possible for adult learner to take class online in steady of the traditional classroom setting. Educational institutions like Ball State University have developed curriculums that fits busy adult learner who cannot take class on campus by providing them with online classes. Ball State also offers distance education classes for student who cannot drive to main camps and attend classes, for example the Fishers Learning Center and Indianapolis Learning Center.

Institution like the Highlander has also contributed to adult education through social justices movements. The main ones are the industrial union movement and the civil rights movement. Horton (1990) points out the labor movement offered much more than just collective bargaining, but also they were foundations for political and community activities, and cultural education.

The Highlander taught participants how to be community organizers, community leaders, voter registration, and good responsible citizenship. The Highlander education stressed the importance of empowering community as Horton puts it, “We all love each other, and we’re all fighting together for the same purpose, and you can succeed if you nurture each other” (1990).  Highlander understood the importance of grassroots organization, and it encouraged participants to share their life experiences in order to address the problems that they were going through. For example the experience of participants who were on welfare program, and how they make the program to be more effective. There are some notable leaders who attended the Highlander Education Center like Rosa Parks. A civil rights leader in the 1960’s who refused to give a seat to a white man in the bus, as a result she was jailed.

On issues of social justice, adult education has made an impact on how adult learner mobilize and protest if they feel that their fellow citizens are not treated fairly. For example the protest in Ferguson Missouri, where an armed African man was shot by a white police offer, and there have been so many incidences similar to this throughout the country in the past three years. On the other hand there are police departments that have to train the officers on the proper use of excessive force.

As far as innovation is concerned, the 19th century has been the most successful century that mankind has made tremendous impact on adult education. For example the production of cars and airplane to make travelling easier, the internet for easy access of information, hospital to treat complicated diseases, space exploration using satellites, issue of global warming and its impact on our planet, building of nuclear weapons and other military equipment, just to mention a few.

Self-improvement is also an area where adult education has made an impact, in order for learning to happen there has to be a willingness and appetite to learning from adult learners. The desire to make improvement to one’s life and the community around them is what leads to adults to learn. Peyton (2009) points out that adult learning cannot take place without the adult educator to guide the adult learner, on how things works for the adult learner to apply the knowledge to their everyday life. The adult educators should also understand how important their actions are in development and making a difference in the lives of their adult learners (Deggs & Miller, 2011).

Education will continue to evolve as the demands for adult and community changes with time. And as long as there is a need for education, adult learners will always push themselves to learn new things going into the future.


Summary of History of Adult/Community Education

Areas Summary
Social Background -Colonial Era- Salvation and Reading the Bible.

-Post-Revolutionary War- Informed Citizenry, education on democratic process.

-Modern Era- Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, Women Voting Rights in 1920.

Highlights -Industrial Revolution and inventions of steam powered machinery, textiles and chemicals.

-Mass migration from rural areas to urban areas.

-Formation of Labor Union.


Implications -Ability to mobilize and protest social injustice issues.

-Bargaining power by labor unions.

-Easy access of information through the internet.





Degg, D & Miller, M. (2011). Developing Community Expectations: The Critical Role of Adult Educators. American Association for Adult and Continuing Education. 25-30.

Hershey, M.R. (2013) Party Politics in America. 15th ed. Boston. Pearson.

Horton, M. The Long Haul: An Autobiography. 1990. Doubleday: New York. Pgs. 231,161-168.

Lindeman, E. C. (2015). The meaning of adult education. Ravenio Books.

Merriam, S.B &Brockett R.G., (2007). The profession and Practice of Adult Education: An Introduction. Jossey-Bass. San Francisco, CA.

Peyton, J & Allery L. Teaching and Learning in Medical Practice. 1st Ed. Guilford: ManticEurope Limited; 1998. P.57-69.







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