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Narrative Summary of Adult Educator Interview

For the purposes of this paper, I conducted an extensive phone interview with an Adult Basic and Literacy Education (ABLE) instructor from Ohio named Anne Bingham. Anne is well qualified to discuss many aspects of adult education as she has worked in the profession for over ten years and holds a Master’s Degree in Adult Education from The Pennsylvania State University. The program where Anne works is in a county that is both agriculturally oriented, as well as blue-collar industrial, and has faced many economic issues in the recent economic downturn.

Her own personal education experience, as well as her ABLE instruction experience gives Anne the ability to describe adult learning from both sides of the situation. Anne readily admits to the fact that adult education was not her original plan when she worked on her undergraduate degree. Holding a Bachelor’s degree in Public Administration, Anne expected to work in the non-profit sector, and did so for the first 15 years out of college.

She developed a great affinity for working with low-income populations, and grew in her awareness of the educational gaps that many adults faced. Once she was ready to return to the workforce after having children, Anne realized she felt “called” to work with adults in the local literacy program. Through a mutual professional acquaintance, Anne began volunteering with adults in reading and math and was eventually offered a position with the program, conducting orientation sessions.

This lead to an offer to become a full-time ABLE instructor, preparing students for their General Equivalency Diplomas (GED), as well as Workforce Development and post-secondary transition coursework. During this time, Anne began working on her own continuing education program by earning her Master’s degree in Adult Education through Penn State’s World Campus program. As an adult who faced many of the same problems her students faced, Anne began to appreciate the difficulties in managing a home life, school, work and outside commitments.

This became one of the things Anne most appreciated about working with adults: that educational opportunities, for most adults, were 1) voluntary and something they chose to add to their lives – for a variety of reasons; and 2) difficult under even the most supportive of circumstances, let alone the difficulties that many of her low income students faced. Characteristics of Adult Education While we discussed some of the specific challenges low-income/low educated/low functioning adults can face in ABLE programs, we also spent a considerable amount of time discussing adult learners in general.

One of the things Anne talked about was how different adults are from children in how they learn. In her Master’s degree work, Anne said they spent considerable time discussing the difference between pedagogy and andragogy, as a way of thinking about educating and facilitating adult learning. Pedagogy focuses largely on educational strategies that lead the learner through the process of obtaining knowledge, instructional methodology and the art of teaching.

Andragogy, first coined as a term by Alexander Kapp in 1833 and later developed into a theory of adult education by Malcolm Knowles, guides adult educators more in the direction of incorporating the adult learner in the educational process through partnering with them in the planning and evaluating of the experience, as well as focusing on experiential learning that is problem-centered and is highly relevant to their lives and interests. According to Anne, understanding Knowles’ theory was a turning point in her understanding of how to better understand the adults she worked with.

It cemented the idea that adults connect learning with prior knowledge, something children often do not have; and it also confirmed what Anne knew from her own life: adults seek out learning based on opportunities in their lives that are important to them, just as she had sought out a Master’s degree in a field she knew she wanted to pursue. Adult motivation was a large part of our discussion characterizing adult learners. Employment skills, financial security, getting and/or keeping a job and being able to engage their children with homework were all among the top reasons Anne cited that her students sought further education.

Staff members are trained to realize that contextualized learning is an effective method for adults to learn, as well as in high demand by their students. When lessons are presented that reflect relevancy to their needs, students respond far better than when instruction is presented organically. Anne used the specific example of teaching fractions using kitchen measuring cups or mechanical calibrations on common manufacturing tools such as a CNC machine. Anne readily admitted this was the most challenging part of working with a large, diverse classroom – making the material relevant to all.

However, she also said that seeing adults who never felt they could learn before in “pure academic environments” really “get it,” was the most rewarding part of working with adult learners. Importance of Education From an educator’s standpoint, Anne, of course, believes that adult education is important, particularly continuing education. In discussing adult education from a holistic standpoint, Anne felt that education never really ends and to give the impression that a degree somehow signals the completion of something was really a falsehood that has proven a disservice to Americans.

“We like paper that can be framed, as if it indicates we have mastered something. In reality, it shows a snapshot in time – something we were able to achieve once. But what about where we are now? Is there really nothing else we need to learn today or tomorrow to remain relevant? Of course not. ” Anne described her belief in continuing education much like a highway with many on and off ramps. At various points in time, we all need some kind of formalized education and we get on the “education highway.

” Sometimes we are derailed or take a wrong turn and get off too early. Some never find their way back to the main road. Others get off for a while, sightsee, maybe work or have a family or are busy with life n general. Eventually, something will happen and they will need to move on down the road again: lose a job, want a better job, change careers, divorce, children leaving the nest, or even just plain old personal satisfaction. All are great “on ramps” back into the world of education and provide great motivation.

Beyond the students’ wants and needs for continuing education, Anne also cites the societal need for continually educating an adult workforce. “We live in a consumer-based society with a taxpayer-driven government, in a globally competitive world that shrinks every day. If our workforce doesn’t have the latest skills, know the most current technology, communicate intelligently, and generate work, everything we know about how our economy begins to crumble. ” Stakeholders in quality adult education programs go beyond just the adults who seek to expand their knowledge base or credentials.

Employers need workers who can understand technology and communicate effectively; government needs taxpayers and informed voters; children and future generations need to be taught and mentored. Education, according to Anne, is the lifeblood of each of those systems. Necessity of Adult Education As we discussed Anne’s obvious commitment to the importance of adult and continuing education, she expanded the idea of importance to that of necessity. A point that she returned to was that in a global economy, education can never really be considered complete if one wishes to stay current.

She challenged me to think of any profession where continuing education was not at least recommended, if not required. She pointed out that even minimum-wage service industry jobs conduct safety trainings, product updates or other staff trainings that require employees to engage in some form of learning. The necessity of educating adults is really a function of its inevitability. Anne also reflected on the public school argument and theory that “no child would be left behind” if traditional K-12 education worked as it should.

While this sounds like an admirable goal, according to Anne, the reality of multiple learning styles, learning disabilities, life circumstances and disciplinary issues, the reality is that traditional school “doesn’t work for everyone. ” There will, inevitably, be adults who lack some basic education, are incapable of achieving beyond certain functioning levels, or who need more attention or resources than could ever be provided through traditional public school systems.

The necessity of adult education is really the reality that there will always be adults who need to be better prepared for whatever station in life they are capable of functioning at. There will always be cashiers at McDonald’s who could learn to make change better. There will always be high schoolers who get pregnant and have to leave school or to take care of other family issues and need to go back and earn their GED. There will always be the need for nurses to engage in continuing education, or doctors to learn new medical techniques.

When asked if having adult education opportunities like the GED made it easier for kids to drop out of school, Anne chuckled and asked if I had ever seen a copy of the test. The reality, according to Anne, is that adult education is often far more challenging than people think because of the juggling of demands adults face. However, the majority of her students express regret at not being able to have completed their high school diploma before having to work in studying between job, family and other demands.

While some skills like reading generally do not fade over time, math and writing skills, when not used regularly in a challenging format, often take much longer to relearn than adults expect. This leads often to frustration and a pattern of quitting, restarting the process and quitting again. The necessity of that education, however, remains constant. Enhancement of Adult Education After establishing grounds for both the importance and necessity of adult education, I asked Anne to discuss areas where she felt the practice and profession of adult education could be expanded or improved.

Within the state of Ohio, major changes are underway in revamping the Adult and Continuing Education programs throughout the state. Recently, the Ohio Department of Education released Adult and Workforce Education to the Board of Regents in Ohio where a program of “stackable certificates” are in development. The primary idea behind this is to allow adults to certify their skills at various levels and to unify the University System in Ohio so that credits carry seamlessly between colleges and universities in Ohio.

Anne feels this unification and strengthening of funding for adult education programs is encouraging and could be potentially one of the strongest things that has happened in favor of adult education in Ohio in many years. With regard to the profession of adult education, Anne suggests that those considering entering this field consider their motivations carefully and to ask themselves if they believe learning is a life-long process. She cautions that anyone who feels they are just “plugging gaps” in another’s education is shortsighted in understanding the importance and relevancy of working with adults.

Anne also repeated her earlier statements concerning adult education as being different in nature from K-12 education in how instructors relate to their students. One of the things Anne also mentioned is the lack of credentials and adult-specific research available to expand the knowledge base for adult educators. Many resources are merely adapted from K-12 practitioners and are not specific to adults. As a holistic review of adult education, my interview with Anne gave me a much deeper insight into the concept of andragogy and facilitating adult learning rather than leading adults through the learning process.

My appreciation for the kinds of students Anne works with and the methods she uses to connect with them grew as I learned more about an ABLE program and working with GED students. The term “lifelong learning,” I no longer feel is merely political slogan, but a reality in which we all live and a concept we all need to embrace, both as students who are engaged in the process now and potentially instructors, educators or facilitators in the future.

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