(Re)Inventing Adult Education

When it comes to education and its reform, adult learning has been – and remains – overlooked. Unlike primary and secondary education, adult ed lacks a designed process, defined structure, and dedicated institutions.

As adults, the only thing we know is why we should learn. We have to figure out on our own what to learn, how to learn, when to learn, and from whom.  As admirable as that may sound, it’s not the most efficient use of our precious time. Adult ed is a highly fragmented and self-directed pursuit and that needs to change.  It can and should have a designed process.

Adult ed needs a process that emphasizes wisdom over knowledge: adults learn better from people who have relatable experiences, not those who have studied the subject matter. We’re in an age where knowledge is in the palms of our hands. We can look up virtually anything or find someone who knows what we need to know. But it’s really hard to “look up” wisdom or find someone who has the experience we’re currently facing or might face in the future.

Adult ed needs a process that emphasizes interdependency and connectedness over self. The more we learn with others, the more we learn. It’s that simple. And the more we connect with others who share our interests, values, and goals, the more motivated and dedicated we become to learning. When we learn by ourself, everything stays in our head. When we do it with a community, our learning is forced to collide with that of others, helping them and ourselves.

Adult ed needs a process that emphasizes infinite learning over milestone achievement. Our learning usually ends with a final exam, degree, diploma, certification, or presentation. Most education providers talk about lifelong learning but do little about it. We know that humans use only a fraction of their brain power, yet we haven’t been able to use that to figure out how to use the remaining capacity.

Imagine if there were dedicated institutions that were doing this kind of thing. Imagine how much you could learn if those institutions tapped into the power of wisdom and experience, insisted on people learning together, and created real continuous education.

They’re out there: ADMCi, General Assembly, The Experience Institute, Starter League, Open Education AllianceThe Junto Institute, and Krypton Community College.

And there’s even more coming. Time for you to learn as an adult.