Personal Philosophy of Adult Education:

Margaret A. Birmingham

By: Margaret A. Birmingham

AED 6000, Graduate Seminar in Adult Education

Elmira College

Dr. Roger Hiemstra, Instructor

March 13, 2000


Margaret A. Birmingham

My Philosophical Systems: Primarily I am humanistic and secondarily progressive. I can associate with some aspects of other systems. I have also found an interest in radical education through my course work. I believe that education is a great means of developing people into empowered individuals able to achieve social change and economic improvements. As expected, this philosophy has changed from its initial form as I learned more and critically reflected upon my beliefs. My educational focus on adult psychology, organizational development, staff and workforce issues, gerontology and literacy, have influenced my beliefs about adult education by developing an increased tolerance and understanding of the diversity of human beings, their learning styles their values and their transitions in life.

Meaning: Beyond my belief of intellect differentiating humans from animals, I believe that concrete facts are the underpinning of adult education, informed choice is better than ignorant choice, and experience is the best teacher. Experience and the transitions of one's lifetime are rich in learning for both the individual and those who learn from them. Shared learning creates meaning and reality for us all.

What is Reality: I believe that human beings have great potential in their growth and development, no matter their age, and are essentially good. I believe each of us has our own perception(s) of reality. Because I believe in our ability to choose, I believe in a strong responsibility for one's actions, even when choosing "no action". Reality changes as one learns and grows older. As we age it is important to maintain control of one's actions for as long as possible in order to aid in learning and continued development until death. We are responsible for working toward our own capabilities by continuing formal education, when possible, and the informal opportunities and challenges that life brings. Older adults have valuable resources to bring and share with younger generations and vice versa.

Nature of Being Human: I believe in freedom and dignity for all people. Freedom and independence in learning are basic rights throughout our entire lives. I believe in a responsibility to be sensitive and not infringe on the freedom and dignity of others as I am exercising my own. I believe it is my responsibility to unearth the stereotypes our society has toward people of different race, gender, age and other differences. It is my human responsibility to help other learners, young and old, find their own reality in their learning without controlling the learning. It is my responsibility to protect the freedom of those who are unable to protect their own from others who would disregard their freedom from learning as an individual. I believe that instructional techniques should provide great flexibility to the adult learner and that this flexibility promotes the greatest personal learning.


Educational Aims: I believe that maximizing human potential throughout the lifespan is the ultimate goal of adult education. I possess a poster with the statement: "the best way out is through". This is reflected in my continual aspirations to become a better parent, spouse, supervisor, worker, teacher, and citizen. I believe that by virtue of the many roles we possess as individuals, and the transitions that we pass through, that there are limitless opportunities for learning and skill development. For me, education develops a keener ability for self-reflection to occur resulting in maximum personal growth. The result of this growth is a greater satisfaction in our life. As we age we will continually struggle "through" the difficulties of life. As learners and teachers we must continue to open our eyes to the learning even in the most difficult times. This can provide a positive outlook to our journey should we choose this perspective.

Educational Methods: I am a vigorous proponent of self-direction. I believe this aligns with my strong belief in personal responsibility. I also feel a great responsibility to use adapted techniques and methods to assist individuals with disabilities or other barriers to learning. I am concerned with sharing the load with other educators while assisting those individuals with barriers to learning. I think that Project Based Learning is a wonderful tool for teaching adults because of the opportunity to experience learning outcomes and relate them to other learning. I believe learning contracts are valuable instruments in aiding and supporting the learning of adults. I consider the teacher a facilitator, spark, mentor and guide with a huge responsibility. The many roles of an instructor require an ability to reflect on one's beliefs, techniques and practices. There is a fundamental premise to face and make the necessary changes based on personal philosophy, ethics, and student needs. This cannot be underestimated. There is a great need in adult education to focus new research and education on older people struggling to survive in the knowledge age. Distance Education, as a means of access for many adults needs to be developed with adult educational theories and best practices in mind. As a leader in my field, it is my job to learn about workplace changes so I am able to share the trends with students, workers, and other professionals.

Educational Content: I believe that all experiences are opportunities for learning although; in more formal situations there needs to be more clear objectives. I strive to offer flexible opportunities for learners to achieve their defined objectives and struggle with my philosophy when I am unable to do so. I believe that too little has been done to help adults understand the impact of the new workplace on themselves and future generations. There continues to be a great need to educate individuals on the importance of lifelong education for their physical, emotional and financial health. In addition, more needs to be done to incorporate the theories of andragogy into adult learning experience and to support learning in both directed and self-directed settings.


Daloz, L. (1987). Effective teaching and mentoring. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Hiemstra, R., & Sisco, B. (1990). Individualizing instruction. San Francisco: Jossey Bass. [on-line]. Available: /iiindex.html.

Merriam, S., & Brockett, R. (1997). The profession and practice of adult education. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Shea, G. F. (1991). Managing older employees. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

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