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Education Philosophy as It Relates to Adult Learning and Higher Education


This paper deals with the philosophy of education relating to adult learning and higher education. It begins with the reflection of lived experience, which allows stating core values and beliefs of an educator, as well as factors able to influence them. The paper considers the educational philosophy of self-discovery in detail together with outlining the general purpose of education and the roles of teachers and learners in it. The further development and possible alteration of current educational philosophy with respect to world development are also discussed with the creative expression of the philosophy through non-traditional forms of expression (metaphors) concluding the paper.

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Education has always been of special importance for a society that remains ignorant and unproductive without a due level of intellectual development. In the process of development, the sphere of education started applying a new concept, adult learning, which is often regarded as “the glue that holds together an otherwise widely disparate field” (Merriam, 2002, p. 199). Education for adults is a more serious issue than that for regular students because it has to be coordinated by experienced people of various backgrounds (Caffarella, 2002). However, in the case of any type of education, a specific educational philosophy needs to be used. These philosophies may be numerous though, as a rule, the majority of educators use the philosophy which is common for all educational institutions. With time, these philosophies are re-considered and substituted for more effective ones. Irrespective of the type of philosophy used, it is applicable to both adult and regular education. This paper addresses the issues in the present philosophy of education focusing on the educators’ core values and beliefs, their and the learners’ roles in education, the educational philosophy of self-discovery, modification of the future practices with respect to this philosophy, and implications which these issues involved.

Reflection on Lived Experiences

Sharing core beliefs and values with the learners is essential for an educator, though it may be rather complicated sometimes. The educators are expected to introduce themselves in an unobtrusive way, especially in the case with adult learners each of who has his/her own values and beliefs. Among core values of an educator there may be learning and openness with the corresponding beliefs being promoting one’s intellectual or cultural development, encouraging research activities, as well as displaying a friendly attitude and tolerance towards others. In this case, introducing oneself, an educator should display openness first of all; this can be done by stating that the educator’s main task is sharing his/her knowledge with the learners, rather than imposing it on them. Learning and the beliefs connected with it can be demonstrated only in the course of the studies with the learners evaluating the educator’s assistance and his/her ability to foster the students’ social and intellectual development.

Numerous events and people a person meets throughout his/her life are able to influence the formation of core values and beliefs. Life experience often drastically changes people, let alone their values. Without taking into consideration personal problems, the factors influencing one’s core beliefs and values may range from reading a definite book or entering college to simply taking an additional course. New knowledge acquired in the course of these events changes people’s attitude towards their life or profession since this knowledge allows finding solutions to the problems which could not be dealt with before (Huang, 2002). People can also influence the development of one’s core values and beliefs; this is especially true of those who others perceive as an example to follow, such as educators. The first school teacher or college instructor may either inspire the students and promote the development of their values, or destruct them and hinder their formation.

Apart from core values and beliefs, any educator usually has a specific philosophical perspective towards education when teaching the students. There are four major perspectives that educators may have towards teaching: essentialism, perennialism, progressivism, and critical theory. Acquiring a definite perspective may depend on the effectiveness of the current one, though in most cases the perspective evolves due to the influence of the person’s educators. The reasons for changing the philosophy may be different, but most often “teachers modify their roles and methods in response to their students’ diverse individual characteristics” (Wang & Sarbo, 2004, p. 204). However, it is not always that an educational perspective may be easily changed. For example, it is possible to replace teaching constant enduring truths (perennialism) by encouraging social reforms (critical theory), but starting to teach students through providing experiences to learn from (progressivism) is difficult if an educator has used to a disciplined and systematic way of transmitting knowledge to students (essentialism).

Despite all these complexities, people will never stop selecting the field of education for their professional career due to their thirst for knowledge and desire to contribute to a definite area of study. Though this might be a sort of platitude, teaching is a calling, rather than a profession. An educator who does not like his/her job and finds it difficult to give him/herself up to it will never be able to assert him/herself and succeed in changing the students’ attitudes towards learning. The primary concern of any educator is to be able to hand down his/her knowledge and experience to the students and contribute to their intellectual development. People who live with this concern will never be able to realize themselves in other spheres of human activities, which is why they select the field of education and strive to become professionals in it.

Present Philosophy of Education

The framework for the educational philosophy of self-discovery and obtaining an opportunity to study only those things which are relevant to one’s life and interests may be provided by Progressive Learning Theory and Transformational Learning Theory. Self-discovery as such proved to be extremely successful in education. This concept reflects the ability of a person to learn through personal experiences and to explore nature with the purpose of satisfying their curiosity. In order to facilitate the learners’ self-discovery, learning methods for effective instruction have to be developed (Galbraith, 2004). The development of these methods is possible with the Progressive Learning Theory which allows the learners to develop decision-making and problem-solving in the course of experiencing the world. This helps the learners discover the areas they are interested in and satisfy their interests correspondingly. Transformational learning, in its turn, is “the process of becoming critically aware of how and why our assumptions constrain the way we perceive, understand, and feel about our world” (Yang, 2004, p. 253). This theory also contributes to the learners’ self-discovery this is why it can serve as a framework for the educational philosophy in question.

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However, self-discovery is not the only purpose of education. Education is there for far more significant purposes than mere personal benefit and interest satisfaction. Perhaps one of its more important purposes is to supply the country with a qualified workforce who will contribute to its economic development and prosperity. Here it should also be mentioned that on the personal level the purpose of education is to guarantee people the living which they wish to have. In addition, education is needed to sustain the existence and development of the society, which is possible only when educated professionals occupy governmentally and the like leading positions to control the society development.

Taking these purposes into account, it may be stated that large responsibility is placed on the teachers who have to ensure the population with proper education. On a less global level, within an educational institution, for instance, the role of an educator is to facilitate the process of learning and to make it accessible to all the students. The teacher is expected to develop the student’s critical thinking and logical decision-making since “reasoning logically and systematically … are considered essential elements of guaranteeing that the best solution is reached” (Visscher-Voerman & Gustafson, 2004, p. 77). The mission of an educator is accomplished if a student is able to apply critical thinking to find solutions to the problems.

Nevertheless, the role of an educator can hardly be fulfilled efficiently if the role of the learners is not carried out properly. An instructor cannot succeed in being a facilitator only if the learners do not “move from passive receivers to control their learning” (Huang, 2002, p. 31). The students should effectively participate in the process of studies and should never be satisfied with the information obtained during the class because it is only through striving for more that it is possible to achieve success in education. Fulfillment of this role depends partially on the education setting which can be private, small, nonprofit, etc (Watkins & Tisdell, 2006), though the greatest factors are still the attitude towards studies and longing for self-discovery, rather than setting or learning facilities.

Currently, the philosophy of self-discovery is widely manifested by educational establishments, which allows both the teachers and the learners to carry out their roles effectively. Thus, the learners gained an ability to discover skills and qualities which they have never known about before, while it became possible for the teachers to substitute the traditional methods of instruction with more modern and effective ones.

Future Implications for Professional Practice

Rapid world development and, correspondingly, the emergence of new global trends and knowledge has a profound impact on society with education being one of the most greatly influenced spheres of human activities. Technological development can change the way the information is handed down to the students, which will entirely change the perception of this information and using it in the future. This will entail further changes in current educational perspectives with the greatest influence produced on the learning and teaching methods. Technological advancement is likely to be beneficial for the learners, though the change in education philosophies may involve further alterations in curriculum thus possibly affecting the quality of education (using computer technologies, for instance, reduces participation of students in the learning process, which may result in their normal academic performance, but low level of knowledge at this).

Nevertheless, there is a way to cope with this problem. Reflective activities during the class are able to test students’ knowledge, as well as their general ability to memorize and process information. Reflective activities are able to modify future educational practices and make them more oriented towards the development of student’s speaking abilities. Reflective writing has proved to be beneficial for students, but reflective activities focused on the development of speaking abilities may help the learners discover their oratory skills as well, which will contribute to their self-discovery and increase their level of education. Therefore, the learners will largely benefit from such changes in educational practices with the educators’ and students’ core values and beliefs also changing.

Consequently, the change in values and beliefs will stimulate social change. Global trends and knowledge will bring innovations into society this is why social changes will be simply inevitable. The number of educational establishments will grow owing to the population’s increased interest in education. Thus, the overall level of society’s intellectual development is going to rise, which will result in an increased amount of the educated working force and an improved economic situation.

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Creative Expression of Philosophy

The educational philosophy of self-discovery can be represented by bright metaphors which help to disclose its essence. One of such metaphors is “the story of exploration”. It is suiting for the concept of self-discovery and the educational philosophy as well because it presents education as a story of the learners’ discovering who they are and what they are able to do. Like any story, it can be sad or happy and its ending depends only on the particular learner’s attitude towards it. Another phrase which is possible to use here is “the sky is the limit”, which means that self-discovery (as well as education) is never-ending and the skills, talents, abilities, etc which a learner may discover in him/herself depends on how much he/she wishes to find them.

These two metaphors are representative of the educational philosophy under consideration because they help to outline its main features and evaluate its importance for education. Calling the philosophy of self-discovery a story of exploration would mean that it can be applied to each learner individually, while its collective application is also possible. For example, this philosophy is advantageous for a particular learner for it helps him/her improve academic results; on the educational institution level it increases general progress rates; all this happens due to the learner’s writing his story of exploration (or education). I addition, the metaphor “the sky is the limit” is also representative of the philosophy of self-discovery because it points to its boundlessness and openness to innovations.


Therefore, the features of the educational philosophy of self-discovery are numerous and characterizing it by a simple general sentence is hardly possible. This philosophy allows learners to discover new possibilities which have been unknown to them before with these possibilities being able to change their values and belief system or help them choose a profession. The only fact that remains absolutely clear is that this philosophy contributes greatly to the personal development of each learner, which makes it hard to overestimate its contribution to the sphere of education.


Cafferella, R. (2002). Planning programs for adult learners: A practical guide for educators, trainers and staff developers. SanFrancisco: Jossey-Bass.

Galbraith, M. (2004). Adult learning methods: A guide for instruction. Malabar, Florida: Kreiger Publishing.

Huang, H. (2002). Toward constructivism for adult learners in online learning environments. British Journal of Education Technology, 33(1), 27-37.

Merriam, S. (2003). The changing landscape of adult learning theory. In Comings, J., Garner, B., & Smith, C (Eds.) Review of Adult Learning and Literacy ( 199-220). New York: Routledge.

Visscher-Voerman, I. & Gustafson, K. (2004). Paradigms in theory and practice of education. British Journal of Education Technology, 52(2), 69-89.

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Wang, V. C. X. & Sarbo, L. (2004). Philosophy, the role of adult educators, and learning: How contextually adapted philosophies and the situational role of adult educators affect learners’ transformation and emancipation. Journal of Transformative Education, 2, 204-214.

Watkins, B., & Tisdell, E. (2006). Negotiating the labyrinth from margin to center: Adult degree program administrators’ program planners within higher education institutions. Adult Education Quarterly, 56(2), 134-159.

Yang, B. (2004). Holistic learning theory and implications for human resource development. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 6(2), 241-262.

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