Thoughts on Adult Education

Have a mentioned that I am taking classes? I know, all kinds of crazy over here. A perk of working on a university campus is that I have course fees as a part of my benefits package. So I thought, what the hell?

I am taking a Human Resources certificate program that will allow me to apply to get a Certified Human Resources Professional designation. Sounds good right?

I was on my way home from class the other night. Waiting at the bus stop. It was like a flash back to ten years ago when I started my undergraduate degree. And while I was waiting there I over heard a student complaining to a friend about a mid term test grade she received. It went a little something like this: ‘I can not believe they gave me a D+. My instructor said I did great on one part of the test. But then, in the written section I lost all the marks because I didn’t number each question and instead answered it in paragraph form. My teacher didn’t even read it, they just gave me no marks because they couldn’t be bothered to go through and read to see I had all the answers there.”

Here is the crappy thing about university/continuing education level teaching- sometimes it becomes more about the marks then the learning. It is certainly possible that this student didn’t read the instructions and it clearly said to answer each question in point form. And it is even more possible that the instructor has a full course load and no teaching assistant and 150 students in each class and there is no way they could possibly read each students exam if they all wrote it in paragraph form.

But it doesn’t really matter does it? This conversation said something to me about how adult education works. Check the boxes. Get the marks. Define the terms. Get the grade. Learning is not always about actually learning.

The course I am taking is interesting. It is about how people behave and function in organizations, something I find fascinating. Our instructor has a background in adult learning and she fills the class with lots of discussion and group activity. Which is valuable.

But we still have that definition dense, theory thick, no application of theory $125 text book that we have to read 3 chapters a week to keep up with the condensed nature of this course.  I am sorry, I find so little value in that. The value of education is in critical thinking, application and developing skills. But courses so often focus on learning stuff… not what to do with that stuff.

And yet these course and certificates look good on a resume. So we do them.

That is not to say there isn’t something valuable about adult education. There is. But it would be a lot more valuable in my opinion if the course content was boiled down, skill focused and to the point. Don’t overwhelm us with terms to memorize and theories to recall. Help us apply, think and question.

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6 responses to “Thoughts on Adult Education

  1. Susan November 3, 2010 at 9:31 am

    I love the idea of continuously learning and taking classes through adult life. Awesome that you’re making time for it. My dad goes to these seniors adult education courses at UofC and studies things he was always interested in but never had time for when he was working as an Engineer. Like Chinese History. And the Roman Empire. No papers. No grades. Just interesting reading and lots of lively class discussion. Love that model of learning.

    Another thoughtful post. I always enjoy them!

    • amoment2think November 5, 2010 at 10:53 am

      Oh, to take classes with no grades and were just about learning and talking and thinking about all the things that fascinate you. Awesome. That’s what education should be.

  2. Pam November 3, 2010 at 10:46 am

    I agree – even when you’re an adult considering venturing back into university for their bachelor’s, my biggest concern apart from cash and the time expenditure is, “how much will I get out of this?”. I had the advantage of taking an applied diploma that required no textbooks, and all we did was apply things and think critically, and be graded on our actions, not memorization skills. I’m just not sure if I’m willing to venture down that traditional learning path again and pay out the nose for it, too.

    • amoment2think November 5, 2010 at 10:55 am

      Applied programs are where it is at.

      And I do think some traditional programs can be awesome. It is all about how they are taught. The instructors that don’t feel the need to get students to jump through hoops just to get marks and who focus on making sure the students really get something out of the course- those are the best. But our society is obsessed with quantifying. And to be honest, I don’t think you an quantify real learning into an “A” “B” “C” ect.

  3. clara November 3, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    Forgive me, but isn’t that what *most* education is like? It sounds just like elementary, high school and university to me.

    But I agree with you that it’s not the best way for most people to learn.

    I still get looks of horror when I tell people I took a BA in political science NOT so I could get a political science-related job (?) but so I could learn things. A BA is not a Red Seal in carpentry, people!

    • amoment2think November 5, 2010 at 10:57 am

      Totally. Totally. I don’t have recent experience with elementary/junior/high school, so I was just writing about what I am experiencing. But you could take the “adult” right out of the title and apply my thoughts to most traditional education.

      Oh- we are fellow Poli Sci’ers… it all makes sense now! I agree, while I didn’t think it when I first graduated and struggled to find “entry level poli sci jobs” which are very rare, I do think now that BA prepared me in skills of critical thinking, reading, writing, communication, evaluation of arguments, ect. that have been so valuable in the career I find myself in now.

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