A Real World and Social Education

For adults, education overcomes a social barrier and increases employment- and budgetary- opportunities. The majority of adult students of thirty years or more return to school because they feel that they need to and not out of any particular desire to study but as a means to surpass tall impediments. Merriam and Grace (2011) write that education is life, where it once formed only steps to reach these goals. Today’s students range in ages and interest, capabilities and desires, and in reasons for going to school. Educating such a diverse student body challenges both the student and the educator to dig deeper to create connections between the curriculum, the individual, and their class mates.

Because adult education accurately describes students typically ranging from eighteen years of age to those who are already well into their twilight years, the term recently grew to include education throughout the life stages and for many different reasons. Merriam and Brockett (2007) explain that ‘adult education’ in itself is a diverse term subject to the sociocultural interpretation and application of different groups (pp. 4-6). Thus, the typical limit of this age range develops from which facet a culture defines an adult primarily by; in modern civilizations, the legal parameters of adulthood often determine entry and expected intellectual attainment and comprehension.

Freire (2011) writes that traditional adult education frequently utilized a ‘banking’ method in which an instructor conveys his expertise, and the observer chooses to extract details and study them for greater recall (Merriam & Grace, p. 21). With these methods, planning typically assesses achievement through behavioral analysis (Merriam & Brockett, pp. 39-40). Although the benefit of behaviorism remains popular, some educators have chosen to combine its strengths with those of social theories, guiding their planning and implementation with Bandura’s theories of social learning (Merriam & Grace, p. 344). By contrast, the liberal progressive and social perspectives of adult education encounter criticism for some of its teachers’ haphazard implementation (Merriam & Grace, pp. 21-23). Banking requires significant prior knowledge to be effective, whereas the liberal perspectives flop without an interpersonal connection with global themes which apply to the area of study. Critical social theories may bolster this approach if a significant interaction finds common ground between the two or more people involved and their reactions to the curriculum (Merriam & Brockett, pp. 42). This ‘business versus pleasure’ duality determines by what name a program goes- where banking more often utilizes the term ‘adult education’ in place of the liberal development of ‘lifelong education’ (Merriam & Brockett, 2007, pp. 13-15). While this distinction seems arbitrary, they both convey different foci.

The individual’s internal processing and memory storage develop learning; the educator facilitates learning in a systematic way, with clear objectives in mind (Merriam & Brockett, 2007, p. 6). One of the most common misconceptions of education in general lays in the belief that skill and planning eliminates the need for compensation. As Myles Horton states: “…My ideas have changed and are changing and should change and that I’m as proud of my inconsistencies as I am my consistencies” (Bell, Gaventa, & Peters, 1990, p. 10). This singularly odd comment conveys the need for even sound instruction to be tailored to fit the students, and the authors continue their examination and debate what beliefs and experiences matter to them, adding the role of facilitator to the instructor’s responsibilities (p. 180).

Merriam and Grace (2011) criticize inflexible planning methodologies for developing the learner’s workplace skills as one sharpens a lifeless tool, meeting needs rather than nurturing and realizing potential (pp. 36-37). By the same token, students may obtain and organize their learning adequately to earn good grades but leave the class with an education which does not extrapolate knowledge and personal connections to others and the curriculum. When students become deeply involved, they become active participants in planning a curriculum- provided that the educator is paying attention (Bell et al., p. 117, 145). Bandura’s theory molds the behaviorist commitment to details with the social theory’s deeper learning; this theory “accounts for both the learner and the environment in which he or she operates. Behavior is a function of the interaction of the person with the environment” (Merriam & Grace, p. 344).

Such positive interactions, writes Johnson and Johnson, encourages individuals to act responsibly, provides help to group mates, become highly motivated, encourages attempts to reach goals, provide feedback which improves group mates’ performance, challenging each other’s reasoning and conclusions, and assume an empathic understanding of new perspectives (Johnson & Johnson, 2009, pp. 368-369). Their direct involvement in their own education and that of others also empowers even adult students and illuminates opportunities to make better decisions and to take action.  More than a matter purely of encouraging interaction, social theory fosters positive attitudes which prepare students to work in a world which becomes increasingly globalized, a business world which reaches clients and investors around the world.

Social theories of adult education allow for tactics from related perspectives to be integrated into a larger body of research. For example, cooperative learning with small groups met with skepticism at its introduction but has endured as a perennial favorite of educators, who find that appropriate planning opens doors to moral self-discovery, as mentioned above. Social interdependence theory educates but emphasizes behavior over introspection (Johnson & Johnson, 2009). Social theorists argue that psychological processes precede action—another crucial distinction.

Although each approach mentioned differs, they share a commitment to building relationships and behaviors which place education at the base of an enriched personal life that goes beyond merely being prepared to walk into a supervisor’s office and demand a raise. In fact, social theory hones the skills which may warn a worker that this tactic will not produce the desired results with this particular personality type. Even consistently-disliked people may teach their adversaries lessons in patience, fortitude, assertiveness, or even faith in a personal moral compass. Adults generally accept being lesser participants in their education alongside a greater responsibility to teach oneself, but teaching absolutes to them requires that students suspend the questioning which intensifies their commitment to the learning. Social theory requires that educators surrender their accustomed role and facilitate the empowerment of men and women who are grown and likely expecting to spit out information for a test and move back into the work force to begin ‘the good life’ back in the regular world.


Bell, B., Gaventa J., & J. Peters (ed.). (1990). We make the road by walking: Conversations on education and social change. M. Horton & P. Freire. Temple University Press: Philadelphia. Print.

Johnson, D., & R. Johnson. (2009). An Educational Psychology Success Story: Social Interdependence Theory and Cooperative Learning. Educational Researcher, 38(5): 365-379. Print.

Merriam, S., & A. Grace. (2011). The Jossey-Bass Reader on Contemporary Issues in Adult Education. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.: San Francisco, CA. Print.

Merriam, S., & R. Brockett. (2007). The Profession and Practice of Adult Education: An Introduction. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.: San Francisco, Ca. Print.