How Adult Education has Changed and Where it's Headed

The world of education is never static, especially when it comes to teaching older students. Newly developed technology and increased research on the way adults learn allow educators to bring new concepts to the classroom, strengthening their strategies and improving student outcomes.

Adult education is currently undergoing changes thanks to the convenience of e-learning technology, greater public focus on adult career readiness and the need for knowledgeable workforces in a world of globalization.


Long used in the field of K-12 education, e-learning is proving increasingly useful in teaching adults. Part of the reason the technology is such a valuable resource is because it easily facilitates further research and exploration.

One of the primary differences between young students and adults is that the latter are motivated to further their education for specific, personal reasons. Unlike children, adults don’t return to school for education’s sake. Rather, according to Malcolm Knowles theories of andragogy, adult learning is a means to a particular end, and elements of an adult’s educational experience should be in pursuit of that end. For example, some adult students take continuing education classes to pursue a better career, while others undergo professional training in the workplace in pursuit of a promotion.

Still others enroll in courses to learn a second language. Consider the Read Out Loud application, which allows English-as-a-second-language learners to deepen their understanding of the language while reading to their children. In this way, e-learning grants these adults autonomy over their education while bonding with their children.

With the internet at their fingertips, adult students can search news articles and online papers for further elaboration on a specific topic they find intriguing. In this way, they can tailor their educational experience in a manner that teaches them information relevant to their individual goals. What’s more, e-learning eases burdens on instructors by reducing paper waste and establishing an easy system for educators to collect assignments, record grades and provide feedback. In addition, most e-learning programs are easily implemented provided the facilities have the right hardware in place.

A Masters of Education in Adult and Continuing Education helps adult teachers make the most of these online tools. Graduates with a knack for tech or web development can work to design better e-learning resources and opportunities for their students.

Career readiness

As innovation changes the way humans navigate their personal lives, so too has it altered the knowledge and skills necessary to enter the workforce. Many adults, desiring a new career and having spent years outside the academic world, have found themselves unprepared to re-enter a job market where knowledge of engineering and computer literacy are highly sought after.

To help adult educators create and carry out programs that are most effective for the future career success of their students, The Office of Vocational and Adult Education, a branch of the U.S. Department of Education, established a set of guidelines based on an evaluation of the Common Core State Standards from an adult education standpoint. The College and Career Readiness Standards detail what information is most relevant for adult students in mathematics, English language arts and literacy. Although meeting these standards is by no means required by law, states are encouraged to use them to evaluate their own practices.

As career readiness becomes a bigger issue among adult students and their teachers, it’s possible other institutions, such as schools, counties and state departments, will begin providing similar resources. While pursuing a ME in ACE, students will study how to work in accordance with various standards in order to provide a quality education. In addition, ME in ACE students can choose elective courses in human resources development, allowing them to further explore ways to create learning tools that help adults advance or alter their careers.


Peter Jarvis, a professor of adult education in the U.K., theorized the field of adult education has been and continues to be influenced by globalization. International business has increased competition between corporations, and to succeed, businesses need knowledgeable, engaged employees in greater numbers than ever before. This workforce must be able to respond quickly to rapid developments in the market and produce ever more innovative products and services.

For example, the development of internet-connected devices, commonly referred to as the Internet of Things, is changing the manufacturing sector in major ways. Companies have begun using products to better predict and address maintenance issues, track shipping and delivery, monitor control rooms and automate processes. According to a report from Tata Consultancy Services, manufacturing businesses that invested in IoT technology saw a 28.5 percent revenue increase from 2013 to 2014. Meanwhile, an article in Industry Week predicted the number of industrial device-to-device connections will more than triple between 2014 and 2020, rising from 50 million to almost 180 million. The number of connections in China, one of the world’s fastest-growing economic sectors and a major source of competition for American businesses, is expected to double that of the U.S. over the same amount of time.

As such, one can predict corporations will invest even more heavily in adult education for the purpose of enriching their existing staff. As Industry Week noted, better corporate development opportunities will help manufacturers retain older, talented employees who are already familiar with the industry. Doing so saves businesses from spending time and money training new hires on basics like safety and terminology.

Globalization doesn’t always mean competition, however. Businesses are also hiring internationally. As more adults find themselves working with people from different countries, foreign language and cultural sensitivity training will likely become more prevalent.

MEd. in ACE students can graduate with the background necessary to bring such training programs into the corporate environment. As the complexity of job skills increases, adult educators will likely become increasingly necessary and tasking with finding new, more effective ways of teaching and evaluating older students.


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