Changing Approaches Preface

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Etymologically the word adult is derived from the Latin verb adoles­cere, meaning to come to maturity, and is a form of the past participle adultus; it denotes that which has matured, is no longer growing and developing. Thus the root of the word suggests why scholars and others were for years content to define adulthood merely as the stage between adolescence and old age, as a time of no change between periods of growth and decline. Indeed, for the past half century educators of adults have often believed that very few others were interested in the adult, since too frequently people have believed that the adult has already acquired all the knowledge and habits he is going to have. People have therefore been reluctant to explore that mysterious "black box" known as adulthood.

Recently, however, a dramatic reversal has occurred. Sud­denly adult educators are not alone in considering adulthood the most significant, as well as the longest, stage of life. An important reason for this change is the demographic shift in the American population: soon the majority of this country's citizens will be thirty years of age or older. Whatever the other causes-and we will not go into them here-it is true that in an increasing number of pro­fessional and occupational fields, interest in the adult has become almost a fascination; it is as if science had discovered a new human


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species. And study of the new species is attracting people from a wide spectrum, in medicine, the social services, in government, foundations, and education. Although the authors of this book frequently use the term adult education to refer to a specific field of research interest, the book is not limited to adult educators or to adult education. We believe that students and professionals from a variety of occupations can benefit from what we as adult educators have learned about the study of adults in the past fifty years.

This book, then, is about the study of adults primarily as conducted and perceived by some adult educators. As is pointed out in Chapter One, research has been a continuing topic of interest among adult educators. But heretofore, adult education research has been discussed in a variety of unrelated publications, an article here and one there, appearing over a period of years. Thus this publica­tion is different in that it contains a number of chapters written by a variety of authors at about the same time. It may represent an evolutionary step in the study of the adult.

As the only handbook devoted exclusively to research in the present series, it must treat a wide range of topics from fairly general to rather specific. Two of our objectives were to provide constructive comment on the status of research in the field and to contribute to an improved conception of adult education by creating a better understanding of some of the more popular research methods em­ployed by adult educators, as well as some appropriate methods that perhaps should be used more extensively. We chose the general review as the best means of achieving those goals. The book, thus, was not planned to provide an in-depth treatment of research methodology, designs, statistics, and similar topics. And, of necessity, it reflects the uneven use of different research methods among the hundreds of investigations annually conducted by adult educators and other researchers in various related fields. Neither was the book designed to interpret the variety of adult education research by topic and results, as did Brunner and others' classic work (1959). But even though we do not attempt to provide answers to specific methodological questions, general guidelines to correct some com­mon, frequent, and customary errors are provided throughout. The emphasis is on the practice and philosophy of adult education re­search and what may be considered its distinctive aspects. Support-­


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ing illustrations and examples from adult research are provided whenever appropriate.

Occasional overlaps among authors were permitted because of the significance of the topics discussed and the nature of each author's assignment. While there is a certain risk in the pluralistic discussion of selected topics, we determined that restricted and controlled duplication was preferable to requiring the reader to move back and forth among the chapters frequently or to depend heavily on recall.

The nine chapters take up the major areas of interest in the conduct of research on adult subjects. Four chapters examine spe­cific research methods: the two on survey research and grounded theory reflect the prevalence of descriptive research; the other two discuss experimental research and historical research. The following definitions of research methods used by DeCrow (1967), Grabowski (1973), and Grabowski and Loague (1970) are employed in this publication:


1.      Experimental research is based on a design that is primarily used to test hypotheses concerned with cause and effect, or a design that includes control groups, randomization procedures, and manipulation of independent variables to control pertinent fac­tors as much as possible. Such variables are quantitatively described.

2.      Descriptive research is based on designs that require survey and descriptive activity to establish the status of the selected phenomenon or to assess the characteristics of a population. Such activity usually focuses on people, vital facts about their beliefs, opinions, attitudes, motivations, and behavior.

3.      Historical research is based on critical investigation of events, developments, and experiences of the past, the careful weighing of evidence of the validity of information sources, and the in­terpretation of the evidence.


Each chapter analyzes and discusses the application of a par­ticular research method, compares the use of selected methods within adult education, or examines trends and problems in the selection and use of various methods by specific groups.


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In Chapter One Huey B. Long provides a brief look at some of the incentives for conducting research concerning adult phenomena. Long suggests that the expansion and elaboration of pro­grams designed to serve adults has helped to focus attention and interest on adult research questions. He then presents a working definition of adult education research before reviewing what has been written about it. Three kinds of literature are explicated: liter­ature that deals with the role of research in academic programs, bibliographic literature, and, most important, the descriptive and analytical literature.

Chapter Two has a more practical task: to assist the novice researcher with planning, practicing, and reporting research. Huey B. Long and Roger Hiemstra describe how to organize and pursue a research question for a thesis or dissertation. Some common characteristics in the practice of research in graduate programs are also discussed. These commonalities include the needs of the adult edu­cator as they relate to research, the needs of the field as they are addressed by graduate research, the approach to research, and the preparation of a research proposal and a dissertation.

Robert A. Carlson, in the third chapter, says that a philo­sophical or humanistic history will challenge assumptions upon which the profession is based, and because of its potential for chal­lenging basic assumptions, this type of research may offer a unique opportunity to those involved in the study of adult education. Writers of humanistic historical research are reminded that they have con­comitant responsibilities for careful investigation and for high-quality literary scholarship. The literary scholarship and thesis development are best accomplished, according to Carlson, through a "playwright historian" concept whereby the writer rings up the curtain on the time he chooses, selects the lead characters and bit players, and develops the plot by selection and arrangement of the facts.

Chapter Four, by Gary Dickinson and Adrian Blunt, describes the role of the survey method, identifies its strengths and weaknesses, and discusses the flow of activities, together with the problems typ­ically encountered in planning and conducting surveys. Since 1851 the survey has been employed to study a variety of topics, including personnel and staffing, adults' learning needs and interests, program activities, finance, and participation. And the authors believe the


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survey will probably continue to be the chosen method in most studies of adult education.

"Field Research and Grounded Theory" by Gordon G. Darkenwald is basic and practical, as it is addressed primarily to researchers who may be interested in, but unfamiliar with, grounded theory. Darkenwald believes grounded-theory research is probably more difficult than the typical descriptive or experimental study. The difficulty arises from several sources, including the absence of easily understood, codified rules for the collection and analysis of data and the construction of theory. Darkenwald gives several examples of both successful and unsuccessful applications of grounded theory in adult education.

In Chapter Six, Huey B. Long discusses several topics per­taining to experimental research: basic logic, hypotheses, designs, the handling of critical elements of the experimental design in adult education research, and the reasons why experimental research is not done more often and why it should be. Long suggests that an understanding of basic logic and Mill's canons should be helpful to the individual designing an experimental research project. He also predicts that the experimental method will be used more frequently as the fund of knowledge derived from descriptive research expands; the experimental method will be required to test explanations for important phenomena in the field.

Robert D. Boyd then tackles the following aspects of methodology: conjecture and its relation to the theoretical framework, to falsifiability, and to null hypotheses; the connection between con­cepts and method; reliability and validity; objectivity and intersubjectivity; categorization; and instrument development and testing. Boyd points out several common errors found in adult education re­search, such as the mismatching of methods and hypotheses and the failure to understand how concepts are inescapably imbedded in a theoretical framework.

In Chapter Eight Stanley M. Grabowski presents trends in graduate research since 1935. The data for his analysis were provided by the former ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult Education at Syracuse University. He looks at the quantity and quality of re­search, the topics studied, and the methods used. To support his conclusions concerning the trend toward higher quality, he cites


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several analyses of portions of the adult education literature. He also cites improvements in research design that strengthen internal and external validity and an improved theoretical structure as elements that contribute to the qualitative improvements.

Past, present, and future aspects of investigation into the education of adults are discussed by Hiemstra and Long in the Epilogue. In this brief chapter they summarize the research heritage, discuss emerging theories, and make some observations concerning future directions. As they see it, the expected changes in adult edu­cation research will not be radical. They predict that the field will benefit from the research activity of specialists in other areas, such as biology, chemistry, computer science, gerontology, and physiology. In addition, a kind of detente between the quantitatively oriented and qualitatively oriented researchers may be reached. Increased use of intensive experimental designs and path-analysis techniques is also noted as a possibility. The Epilogue is admittedly optimistic about the future results of adult education research.


February 1980

HUEY B. LONG Athens, Georgia


January, 2005

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