all forms of schooling and
learning programs in which adults participate. Unlike other types of education,
adult education is defined by the student population rather than by the content
or complexity of a learning program. It includes literacy training, community
development, university credit programs, on-the-job training, and continuing
professional education. Programs vary in organization from casual, incidental
learning to formal college credit courses. Institutions offering education to
adults include colleges, libraries, museums, social service and government
agencies, businesses, and churches.
Early formal adult education
activities focused on single needs such as reading and writing. Many early
programs were started by churches to teach people to read the Bible. When the
original purpose was satisfied, programs were often adjusted to meet more
general educational needs of the population. Libraries, lecture series, and
discussion societies began in various countries during the 18th century. As more
people experienced the benefits of education, they began to participate
increasingly in social, political, and occupational activities. By the 19th
century, adult education was developing as a formal, organized movement in the
The largest early program in
the U.S., the Lyceum, founded (1826) in Massachusetts by Josiah Holbrook, was a
local association of men and women with some schooling who wanted to expand
their own education while working to establish a public school system. The
Lyceum movement encouraged the development of other adult education institutions
such as libraries, evening schools, and endowed lecture series. By midcentury,
employers and philanthropists began to endow institutions such as the Cooper
Union for the Advancement of Science and Art (1859) in New York City and the
Peabody Institute (1857) in Baltimore, Maryland, for adult education. Large
audiences were attracted to the Chautauqua movement, which began (1874) in New
York State as a summer training program for Sunday school teachers and evolved
into a traveling lecture series and summer school. Chautauqua was the prototype
of institutions established to further popular education in the U.S. By 1876,
universities started offering extension programs that brought education directly
to the public.
Adult education was an early
concern of the U.S. government. In 1862 Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act,
which led to the establishment of land-grant colleges offering training in
agriculture and the mechanical arts. The need to develop and provide instruction
in scientific farming techniques led to the establishment (1914) of the Federal
Extension Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The pattern of
demonstration farming and extension advisers created by cooperative extension
has been used to improve farming all over the world.
The rapid increase in
immigration into the United States during the early 20th century resulted in the
establishment of more English and citizenship classes and other Americanization
programs for immigrants. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the federal
government established education projects as part of its work-relief programs.
Public evening classes became the most popular means of adult education,
allowing people to earn a living during the day and pursue vocational and
intellectual interests in their spare time. Some institutions, such as the New
School for Social Research in New York City, were devoted almost entirely to
education for adults. After World War II, the adult education movement in the
U.S. received a major impetus with the passage of the G.I. Bill of Rights, which
enabled many veterans of World War II, and of later military service, to
complete their education. The Higher Education Acts of 1966 and 1986 both
reflected the growing importance of adult, part-time college students; they
authorized a separate title devoted to continuing education and several
financial-aid programs. Universities even began to offer graduate programs in
this new field.
A person's desire to
participate in an educational program often is the result of a changing
personal, social, or vocational situation. Consequently, programs must be
designed to satisfy the interests of participants. This individual orientation
has resulted in the creation of a continually changing, dynamic field able to
respond to the varied needs of society.
Programs for adults became
the fastest-growing segment of education in the U.S. during the 1970s and 1980s.
In 1985, part-time students accounted for slightly less than 45 percent of
enrollments in credit courses nationwide. Those over the age of 25 represented
nearly the same percentage. During the 1990s, adult part-time students are
projected to become the majority population served by the nation's colleges and
universities. Women, who have accounted for two-thirds of the increase in
college enrollments since 1970, now comprise some 51 percent of students. The
general increase in adult participation is mainly a result of increased leisure
time, the need to update information and skills, and the feminist movement,
which encouraged women to begin or complete educational programs.
Rapidly changing technical
fields such as electronics require constant updating of information in order for
workers to remain effective. Four out of five U.S. corporations with more than
500 employees now offer educational opportunities to workers, and many
professional associations have educational programs for their members.
In the last two decades, a
rapid increase in continuing professional education programs has occurred,
motivated by concern for improving the level of skills in fields as diverse as
medicine, engineering, teaching, and accounting. Some states and professional
associations have passed regulations requiring practitioners in licensed
occupations such as medicine, accounting, and teaching to participate in a
certain number of course-work hours each year. The need for continuing
professional education is generally acknowledged, but there are disagreements as
to whether such education should be mandatory. Controversy also exists over who
should control such regulatory processes—government agencies, professional
associations, or school faculties.
Another major development,
perhaps the most important for future generations, is the increasing use of
radio, network television, and cable television for adult education; broadcast
media are being used worldwide to teach reading and writing, specialized
seminars, and short courses, as well as to provide university-degree programs.
With millions of personal computers and videocassette recorders in use in the
U.S., teaching via these nonbroadcast technologies is also growing rapidly.
Electronic media offer the means for reaching populations that are homebound or
Adult education has long been
important in Europe, where formal programs began in the 18th century. For
example, the Danish folk high school movement in the mid-19th century prevented
the loss of Danish language and culture that a strong German influence
threatened to absorb. In Great Britain, concern for the education of poor and
working-class people resulted in the growth of adult education programs, such as
the evening school and the Mechanic's Institute, to expand educational
opportunities for all people. After the Russian Revolution the Soviet government
virtually eliminated illiteracy through the establishment of various
institutions and extension classes for adults.
In other areas of the world
adult education movements are of a more recent origin. In 1960, Egypt
established a “schools for the people” system designed to educate the adult
population. The pattern used is similar to that developed in Great Britain a
century ago. After many years in which the primary educational concern was with
creating public school systems, in the 1970s countries in Africa, Asia, and
Latin America began to increase opportunities for adult education. Innovative
programs involving the mass media are being used in many countries. Tanzania,
for example, has used mass-education techniques and the radio to organize
national education programs in health, nutrition, and citizenship. In the 1980s,
international educational exchange programs involving short-term nondegree study
in specialized fields grew in popularity in the United States and many other
A literate population is a
necessity for any nation wishing to take advantage of modern technological
growth. For instance, research has shown a direct relationship between literacy
among women and improved health and child care in the family. The United Nations
Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has long supported
the concept that education must be considered an ongoing process. UNESCO has
encouraged literacy programs, agricultural extension, and community instruction.
The low cost and flexibility of such programs make adult education suitable for
many areas of the world that do not yet have formal school programs.
Education," Microsoft® Encarta® 96 Encyclopedia. © 1993-1995
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