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Adult Education

Adult Education

12 February, 2016

Adult education is the practice of teaching and educating adults.

Adult education takes place in the workplace, through ‘extension’ or ‘continuing education’ courses at secondary schools, or at colleges or universities. Other learning places include folk high schools, community colleges, and lifelong learning centers. The practice is also often referred to as ‘Training and Development’ and is often related with workforce or professional development. It has also been referred to as andragogy (to distinguish it from pedagogy). Adult education is not the same with vocational education, which is mostly workplace-based for skill improvement; and also from non-formal adult education, comprising learning skills or learning for personal development.

Adult High School

An adult high school or adult school is a high school facility structured for adult education. It is intended for adults who have not finished high school to continue their education. Some adult high schools offer child care, special integration programs for immigrants and refugees, career counseling and other programs and services geared toward the special needs of adult students. Some adult high schools may also provide general interest programs such as computer skills or other continuing education courses.

A few cities in the United States and Canada have dedicated adult high school facilities. In most cities, students age out of the system at 19 or 20 leaving them no other choice than getting their GED or attend an online high school program. This is a problem for students who still need many classes to gain the skills they need to pass a GED test. This issue is compounded for the United States’ growing population of adults who grew up outside the United States who are not used with the American school systems and are still learning English, especially if they come into the United States in their teens and are expected to catch up with their American peers by the time they are at the age of 19 or 20.


Programs offer one to one tutoring and small group sessions for adults at the 6th grade level or below. Public libraries, nonprofit organizations and school systems administer these programs across the country.

Educating adults varies from educating children in several ways. One of the most important differences is that adults have accumulated knowledge, work experience or military service that can add to the learning experience. Furthermore, most adult education is voluntary, so, the participants are generally better motivated.

Adults often apply their knowledge in a practical fashion to learn effectively. They must have a reasonable expectation that the knowledge recently obtained will help them further their goals. One example, common in the 1990s, was the wide use of computer training courses in which adults (not children or adolescents), most of whom were office workers, could enroll. These courses would teach basic use of the operating system or specific application software. Because the abstractions governing the user’s interactions with a PC were so new, many people who had been working white-collar jobs for ten years or more eventually took such training courses, either at their own whim (to gain computer skills and thus earn higher pay) or at the behest of their managers.

In the United States, a more general example, and stereotypical, is that of the high-school dropout who returns to school to finish general education requirements. Most upwardly-mobile positions need at the very least a high school diploma or equivalent. A working adult is unlikely to have the freedom to simply quit his or her job and go “back to school” full time. Public school systems and community colleges usually offer evening or weekend classes for this reason. In Europe, this is often referred to as “second-chance”, and many schools offer tailor-made courses and learning programs for these returning learners.

Those adults who read at the very lowest level get help from volunteer literacy programs. These national organizations offer training, tutor certification, and accreditation for local volunteer programs. States often have state organizations, such as Literacy Florida! Inc., which provide field services for volunteer literacy programs.

In the U.S.A., the equivalent of the high school diploma earned by an adult through these programs is to pass the General Education Development (GED) test.

Another fast-growing sector of adult education is English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), also referred to as English as a Second Language (ESL) or English Language Learners (ELL). These courses are keys in assisting immigrants with not only the acquisition of the English language, but the acclimation process to the culture of the United States.