Adult Education Essay

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For many years there has been much debate about what, if anything, sets adult education apart from other fields of study or disciplines. According to Davenport and Davenport (1985), the identification of what is unique about adult learning (in contrast to child or youth learning) has been a long-standing effort in adult education. They reasoned that if this difference could be identified, then the research territory of adult education could be based on these theoretical distinctions. Knowles (1980) suggests that a contributing factor to the confusion is that adult education can be defined in three different ways: (a) as a process; (b) as a set of organized activities carried on by a wide variety of institutions for the accomplishment of specific educational objectives; and (c) as an idea of a field of social practice involving individuals, institutions and associations “working toward common goals of improving the methods and materials of adult learning, extending the opportunities for adults to learn, and advancing the general level of our culture” (p. 25). After much criticism and debate over Knowles original definition of andragogy, he has asserted in his later writings that the differences between pedagogy and andragogy are perhaps not absolute but instead opposite ends of a continuum (as cited in Smith, 2002). This paper will argue that intentional learning is the essential ingredient that sets adult education apart from other fields of study and specifically of other types of education and learning. The first section of this paper will define intentional learning and describe the factors that explain how this type of learning differentiates adult education, sometimes referred to as andragogy, from other disciplines, and specifically from pedagogy. The second section will address the critiques of this argument in the literature and a response to those critiques. Finally, a discussion of what is at stake in choosing this essential ingredient will be addressed. Intentional Learning – The Essential Ingredient

Gale Sinatra (2000) defines intentional learning as the kind of learning that is (a) goal directed and deliberate, (b) internally initiated rather than initiated by the environment, and (c) under the conscious control of the learner – who can initiate, redirect, or cease learning at will. “The intentional learner is one who uses knowledge or belief in internally initiated, goal directed action in the service of knowledge and skill acquisition” (p. 15). According to Gale’s definition, the construct of intentional learning is related in educational psychology with the constructs of metacognition, self-regulation, engagement, and critical thinking. Intentional learning refers to learning that is being actively pursued and managed by the individual learner (Palincsar, 1990). He further states that intentional learning develops cognitive processes, portrays learning as a goal, and encourages students to monitor and adjust their learning styles as needed. At its most basic definition, intentional learning emphasizes question generation along the road to goal attainment. This process guides students to find personal relevance in, and ownership of, learning activities and, in turn, develops the skills needed for lifelong learning (Palincsar).

Based on these definitions, it may be argued that learners are not fully capable of intentional learning until a certain level of maturity is reached. The implication is that the required level of maturity is reached over time. Bereiter and Scardamlia (1989) claim, “intentional learning is an achievement, not an automatic consequence of human intelligence” (p. 366). They argue that immature learners develop strategies to meet the short-term goals of school tasks in ways that economize on mental effort and thus lack the more effortful moves that may lead to the development of intentional learning. “Children have little conception of learning as a goal directed process so...
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