Changing Approaches Epilogue

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Roger Hiemstra

Huey B. Long


Developments in the education of adults are obviously occur­ring with increasing rapidity. The rate of increase, however, may normally go unnoticed unless one is fortunate enough to be engaged in a continuing review of the field. Such a review was required of the editors of this volume, and consequently we could not help but be aware of the growing attention being given to studies and in­vestigations into topics related to the education of adults. Because of this intensification, we think an epilogue is desirable to note the research heritage of adult education, the emerging theoretical foun­dations, and some observations concerning future directions.

The authors of the eight chapters preceding this one out­line a number of ideas, methods, and trends in adult education. Indeed, the fact that this publication is a separate volume in a new adult education handbook series reveals that research in the field has achieved a high level of development in comparison to that reflected in the first handbook. In reaching this level, the field has built up a rich store of research. Of course, we cannot capture in a short concluding chapter all the appropriate contributing publica­tions, researchers, theorists, and efforts. But we can note some of the contributions for the reader's further study and reflection.


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The overview work of Brunner and others (1959) certainly did much to establish an important foundation for understanding the research findings and needs of adult education. Similar efforts on a smaller scale can be found as special chapters in past handbooks on adult education. In this same manner, the work of Jensen (1964) in pointing out the field's reformulating endeavors and the other chapter contributors in that same book provided an important benchmark. In addition, as Grabowski pointed out in Chapter Eight of the present book, several efforts by ERIC personnel and by Houle and his associates at the University of Chicago have been made in the past decade to identify research activity, trends, and findings in adult education, primarily those by or concerning graduate students. And various adult education authors have done some special work to highlight research needs or to build a foundation for carrying out adult education research (Apps, 1972; Knowles, 1973; Kreitlow, 1968, 1975; Mezirow, 1971). Another means by which some researchers have contributed to an understanding of adult education has been through an analysis of the research activity itself. Grabowski in Chapter Eight summarizes and extends many of these efforts. The writings of Dickinson and Rusnell (1971), Long ( 1977), and Long and Agyekum (1974) are also noteworthy in this respect. Our final observation regarding adult education's re­search heritage is this: Most of the research, perhaps with the ex­ception of studies of adult learning, has been carried out by graduate students and professors of adult education. And certainly much future research on this field will be carried out by the same two groups. But the examination of adult education must become a very broad, comprehensive enterprise. People in government bureaus, practitioners in a variety of operating agencies, employees in special research institutions, private researchers, and university researchers in a variety of disciplines must be encouraged to do more research on adult education problems, topics, and issues. This book may help facilitate such activity.


Theoretical Foundations


It may be premature, and indeed some would consider it presumptive, to suggest that definitive theoretical foundations now


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underpin the development of curriculum, programs, and teaching approaches in adult education. However, as will be shown in the other volumes in the Handbook Series, a great deal is now known about the field of adult education. And research in adult education has undoubtedly contributed to several emerging theories. The purpose of this section is to point out several of these theories about which a considerable body of knowledge has been gathered.

Three recent publications have examined research in adult education across a wide front. Utilizing primarily the journal Adult Education as a frame of reference, Hiemstra (1976, pp. 84-94) identified several topics on which considerable research information exists and about which, in many cases, conclusions of a theoretical nature have been drawn: the participant, dropping out and persevering, intelligence and achievement, learning and psychology, methods and media, program planning and administration, and teachers of adults. In addition, he cited two subjects--andragogy and the adult's projects (self-directed learning)--on which theories are evolving and suggested that additional research is required to more clearly understand them.

Another publication devoted to identifying cohesive research findings is by Knox (1977). Although focusing primarily on what he calls "systematic learning by adults," Knox divides his material into three broad categories and several subcategories (pp. 6-32): (1) adults as learners: learning, personality, performance, condition, context; (2) program development: setting, needs, objectives, ac­tivities, evaluation; and (3) organization and administration: par­ticipation, staffing, resources, organization, leadership, perspective. An attractive feature of the Knox work is his pinpointing of gaps in existing knowledge, his detailing of many promising research questions related to his theory categories, and his suggestions for new directions in research.

The third recent publication (College Entrance Examination Board, 1978) describes four basic subjects of research that should be given priority in the College Board's "Future Directions for a Learning Society" program.


1. Research that focuses primarily on learners

A.     The needs of learners that may be met through lifelong learning


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  1. The characteristics or conditions that facilitate or impede adults engaging in and benefiting from learning opportunities

2. Research that focuses primarily on providers

  1. The characteristics or conditions of institutional and individ­ual providers that may influence adults' participating in and benefiting from learning activities
  2. The administrative and management functions of provider institutions that either facilitate or impede the provision of learning opportunities

3. Research that focuses primarily on society, especially on the im­pact of lifelong learning

4. Research that focuses on the interactions of learners, providers, and society

  1. The ways in which providers and learners interact to facilitate lifelong learning
  2. The impact of society on learners; public policies and prac­tices that facilitate or impede adult learning
  3. The impact of society (public practices and policies) on pro­viders of learning opportunities
  4. The dissemination and use of research findings


These three lists illustrate both the diverse and common interests in adult-education research. Though the concepts focused on in the three lists differ, the generic elements reveal considerable overlap. Communication concerning the generic elements, however, is confounded and complicated by the lack of a widely accepted standard terminology and by the conceptual variance in research. These conditions present a significant challenge to those who are trying to advance theory by devising research strategies and setting priorities for research activities.


Future Directions


Although the specific directions of research and procedures may be difficult to forecast, it is not difficult to identify several interrelated factors that will stimulate research activity. The in­creasing number of adults engaging in all kinds of educative ac­tivities and the concomitant growing efforts of numerous providers


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to attract and serve adults will exert pressure for government sup­port of such activities. Consequently, the need for better under­standing and knowledge of adult learning and related topics will become more urgent. And this urgency will likely generate ad­ditional pressures and incentives for diverse research efforts. Thus, we predict that research activity will increase. Furthermore, re­searchers will probably continue to expand on the range of topics discussed in the first eight chapters of this book, including the topics mentioned in the preceding section of this chapter.

Clearly, research in adult education is constantly deepening and broadening. Not only has research been increasing in both diversity and amount, it is also becoming more sophisticated. As Carlson, Darkenwald, Dickinson and Blunt, and Grabowski point out in earlier chapters, a great deal of research, descriptive or his­torical in nature, continues to be needed and carried out. And more and more adult education researchers are asking the hard question why, in addition to what, where and when. A greater attention to method and design, a wise use of experimental designs, manipulation and analysis of multiple variables, analytical efforts based on the capacities of the computer, and the increased involvement of adult educators in annual research-related seminars or conferences are some of the very promising signs of maturation and theory develop­ment. Indeed, experienced adult educators who have been pro­fessionally engaged in the field long enough to have developed some historical perspective can look with some satisfaction on the growing maturity of the field in terms of its research.                                                                     .

We further predict that this development will continue, be­cause of increased social attention to adult education and lifelong learning, greater need for continued learning, and the "discovery" of the adult as a learner by many institutions of higher education. The consequent involvement of researchers in such specialized fields as educational gerontology and adult counseling, the improving research skill of professionals coming from graduate programs of adult education, and the growing effectiveness of many new clear­inghouse organizations should foster this growth. A future edition of this volume almost certainly will reveal much more about the methods, content, and impact of adult education research than can now be expressed.


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Future discussions of research and investigations into the phenomena of adult learning will more fully reveal how the methods of describing, measuring, and interpreting such phenomena have developed even while this book was in progress. As each of the preceding chapters has revealed, almost every kind of research method is the subject of continuing critical review.

The methods discussed in this volume reflect the traditional types of research subsumed under qualitative and quantitative labels. Research on adult education phenomena has included tech­niques of observation, testing, and statistical analysis in a variety of forms. However, investigators have also employed more qualita­tive methods, as recommended by Apps (1972) and by Darkenwald in this book. These methods include participant observation, in-depth interviewing, full participation in the processes being ex­amined, fieldwork, and related activities. As a result, the disciplined qualitative approach leads to careful descriptions of what goes on in given situations. Descriptions so generated are rich in detail and interpretation and aid the investigator in seeking to understand causality without the need to dissect reality into its component parts.

The other side of the issue is represented by Long's chapter on the experimental method, in which he seeks to encourage mutual appreciation by investigators from both the qualitative and the quantitative schools. Quantitatively oriented investigators need to realize that a single observation of the occurrence of a phenomenon is sufficient to prove that the phenomenon is possible. Concomitantly, qualitatively oriented researchers should recognize that their data are usually insufficient to establish the degree to which the observed phenomenon is probable. Probability can be established only by analyzing how often the phenomenon occurs in a sample of observations. Such analysis is not possible without enumeration, sampling, precise measurement, and statistical treatment.

Long's comments in Chapter Six suggested that adult educa­tion research is on the brink of discovering or employing what has been called the descriptive-correlational-experimental loop. This paradigm contains three fundamental elements: the development of ways to describe phenomena in a quantitative manner; the em­ployment of correlational studies in which the descriptive variables


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are related to selected dependent variables; and the use of experi­mental studies in which the critical variables identified in the correlational studies are tested in a controlled environment. We know that the first two fundamental elements in this loop are present in adult education research in many studies. Therefore, we may logically expect future research to reveal the third element, providing the quality of the first two elements is sufficient to enable us to identify the appropriate critical variables for controlled experimentation.

Somewhere between the most conservative proponents of either the qualitative or the quantitative research philosophy we find a number of moderates, who are likely to combine the strength of both approaches by using intensive experimental designs. In such a design the researcher substitutes frequency of observation for num­bers of subjects; he studies one or a few individuals or phenomena but conducts repeated observations of the single case before, during, and after some experimental treatment. Boshier's study (1975) of the use of operant conditioning in an adult education course is an example of this procedure.

At the other end of the methodological spectrum is the method of path analysis. Though the literature does not reveal great quantities of outstanding research in this mode, a number of dissertations appear to be based on model-building activities that are frequently related to path analysis. Path analysis begins with a model that represents the variables that are considered to be in­volved in contributing to variance -in a specific outcome, such as adults' achievement in basic education. Using this procedure, the researcher arranges the variables in what is judged to be, on external or a priori grounds, a causal sequence. For example, if the ability to count precedes another variable such as the ability to add, the ability to count is posited as a cause of (or contributor to) the ability to do addition. Generally, chronological sequence affects assumptions about causal sequence. Evidence from previous cor­relational and experimental research can also serve as a basis for causal inferences.

This epilogue expresses a basically optimistic view of the prospects for research. Previous research, conducted during the in­-


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fancy and adolescence of adult education as a field, has not been altogether barren of significant results. And the comments in other chapters and in the preceding sections of this epilogue present a number of promising ideas about ways to enhance the next round of research effort. Reviews of histories and philosophies of science, technology, and medicine reveal that progress in these fields has frequently occurred in spurts based on long periods of apparently fruitless basic investigations. For example, in the 1930s most medical writers could have complained about the apparent therapeutic fruitlessness of research on microbes and related disease factors over the previous half century. There was then no cure for lobar pneumonia, syphilis, typhoid, and a number of other microbial diseases. But forty years later, a hundred-year view shows that significant and necessary basic research was done during that so­-called fruitless first half century.

Similarly, the prospect that lies before adult education re­search is one of more definitive and effective knowledge gradually emerging from the efforts made in our first fifty years. The prospect suggests that adult education investigators will follow the descriptive-correlational-experimental paradigm and clean up a number of unfinished details. Fresh and novel variables will be identified, conceptualized, and measured. More resourceful ways of casting the interrelationships of variables will be invented and exploited. Improved qualitative studies, more comprehensive and more sophisti­cated correlational studies, additional intensive and single-case experiments, and more path analyses are likely. Such potential developments, however, do not necessarily imply that a unitary concept of research will characterize most investigations.

Even in the unlikely event of consensus concerning a specific research method, disagreement will probably continue on the focus of the research: applied or basic. Traditionally, scientific achieve­ments are pluralistic in nature; some are serendipitous and others result from a specific planned attack on a practical problem. Peni­cillin is a classical illustration of the former, and the atomic bomb illustrates the latter. Thus, we may contemplate the possibility that advances in adult education will come about in similar ways. Some may grow out of research results in such fields as physiology, chemistry, microbiology, statistics, and computer science. Others


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will occur as a result of direct attempts to answer such questions as, What is the best way to teach a specific topic to a specific learner? Or, what is (are) the best way (s) to attract a specific learner to a specific educational activity and keep the learner there? Both kinds of research are required if professionals and volunteers in adult education are to improve service and instruction for adult learners of all kinds.


January, 2005

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