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Adult Learning

Workplace Learning: Adult Education as Solution and Problem

Amy D. Rose
Adult Learning 1997 8: 5
DOI: 10.1177/104515959700800402
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Workplace Learning: Adult Education as

Solution and Problem
w h a t exactly is adult education for? What should it be for?
These seemingly simple questions are really quite complex
and belie the sometimes simplistic policy issues that pass for
debate within adult education
circles. The basic premise for
much of the research on learning
in the workplace is that todays
increasingly technical and
scientific society demands more
complex thinking on the part of
the work force. However, as tlie
educational needs of tlie work
force increase, American workers
are sadly under prepared for the
workplace. They cannot perform
basic tasks because they have
not met lniniinuni standards in
math and English. Thus, the
public school curriculum needs
to be upgraded and standardized
so that employers will have a
stable and qualified work force
from which to draw. I n addition,
adult education can fill the gap,
equipping workers with the kinds
of basic skills that the schools
are failing to provide.
Additionally, adult education
fits in with the newest incamation of lifelong learning currently
in vogue in the workplace tlie idea of the learning organization. According to this view,
the very idea that learning is
preparatory and stops is antithetical to the learning organization. Here, American industry,
in order to remain globally competitive must constantly reinvent

itself and it can only do this by

having the employees themselves
constantly reinventing themselves
and their work. Job stagnation
leads not only to boredom, but to
lack of innovation, and hence, to
the lack of professional growth.

Hence, the history of

adult education
policy is really a history
of a lack of policy,
or at least of a lack
of central focus.

Work force projections emphasize the need for more highly

skilled workers, calling for both
more care in vocational education, while simultaneously
decrying the debased value of the
current high school degree. Also
frequently cited are studies showing an increasing flattening of
hierarchical relationships within
the American workplace, with
each individual worker asserting
greater responsibilityfor his or
her output. In direct contrast, to
the 1Bylorian model of efficiency,

which was predicated on breaking

down each task into the smallest
component possible so that each
individual would have no direct
responsibility for the whole,
todays management gurus maintain that only through the maintenance of direct responsibility for
product can quality improve and
output grow. Of course, within
this scenario, industrial growth
is the key issue and it is perhaps
here that adult educators are
being at least somewhat naive.
Once again we see education
portrayed as the great American
panacea. Throughout the twentieth
century, education has been portrayed as the solution to myriad
social problems. These have
included problems of continuing
discrimination and race hatred;
drug prevention; the building of
self-esteem, and other fads that
have been designated as ways of
correcting what is wrong with
American society. Because education is traditionally a local community and family concern,
educational policy, particularly on
the federal level, has consistently
needed to perceive a crisis in order
to enunciate a legitimate national
goal. For adult education, the
issue is even more complex. With
almost no local base at all, adult
education has been at the mercy
of almost every passing fad. Adult
educators have sought funding
from almost anyone willing to
provide it. Thus, beginning with
tlie Carnegie Corporation in the

l92Os, followed by the Ford

Foundation in the 1950s, and the
Kellogg Foundation in the 1980s,
foundations have dominated
much of the academic interest in
adult education. In fact, up until
about the 1970s, most of these
efforts were concerned forth developing adult education as a grassroots movement within individual
localities. When this failed, the
federal government took over the
funding of basic adult education
and interest shifted to those areas
deemed most worthy by the government. Hence, the history of
adult education policy is really a
history of a lack of policy, or at
least of a lack of central focus.
Educators and policy makers,
too eager to find a niche within
corporate America, ignore the
broader policy issues related to
adult education. But this deliberate ignorance leads to a further
problem -the embrace of workplace learning as a new innovation, while overlooking the vast
literature analyzing the nature
of the individual and the individuals value to the organization.
As many economists have pointed
out, computing this value is
difficult given the inherent contradictions of the process. On the
one hand, individuals are not
commodities, at least not since
slavery was eliminated. A basic
premise of democratic society is
that a person is more than an
interchangeable part on the

in Kewrch, p. 7

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March/April 1997

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%achingfrom the Heart, by
Jerold W.Apps. (1996). Malabar,
FL: Krieger. 133 pages. $21.50

u p o n scanning the pages of

Appss Teachiugfrom the Heurt,
one might be tempted to conclude
prematurely that the book offers
little in the way of profound or
innovative inforniation and that
the ideas within have little to do
with adult education. Apps suggests that educators today suffer
from an over-emphasis on the
pragmatics of learning and
teaching, a paradigm that he
maintains is an artifact of the
industrial age, but one that

~ l r d l i l ? l 111
S t?l!SWdl

P 5

production line. Individuals have

inalienable rights, which coinmodities do not. On the other
hand, the well-being of the individual is seen a5 being directly
connected to his or her output.
The more education a person has,
the more potential he or she has
for adding to the industrial growth
of the country. Hence, within this
mindset, while individuals are not
commodities, they are resources
-resources that must he nurtured in order to ensure the greatest economic growth. But of
course, as economist Kenneth
Boulding pointed out over forty
years ago, the problem with viewing people as resources is that this

doesnt serve us well in a changing world. Instead, he says we

need new ways of thinking, new
ways of incorporating mind, body,
and spirit . . . especially in our
learning and in our teaching
(p. 8). One way, according to
Apps, is teaching from the heart.
Apps maintains that all teaching and learning benefit from a
connection with the heart, and he
includes exercises and examples
to assist the reader in moving
toward heartfelt teaching and
learning. These include identifying barriers (such as fear, inner
turmoil, and time constraints),
understanding the importance of
relationships, and undertaking
self-examination to know better
who we are. In partial response to
the recognition of heartfelt teach-

ing as unpredictable, filled with

ambiguity, and sometimes even
chaotic (p. lll),Apps does offer
a teaching credo, techniques for
group learning, or suggestions for
relaxation, solitude, and journal
writing. While learners and
teachers alike may identify with
the barriers and agree with the
value of self-reflection, the reader
is left, however, with questions
regarding just how to accomplish
what Apps advocates.
As with his other works, Apps
writing style is straightforward
and direct, sprinkled with anecdotes, metaphors, and personal
examples of significant experiential learning. His ideas leave the
reader convinced of the merit of
heartfelt teaching, yet uneasy
about its implementation or

conception treats the individual

as an intermediate good,
instead of as an end.
Is the goal of preparing individuals for work the same as the
goal of educating them? This
question has great importance,
not only for adult education, but
for childrens education as well.
As linkages with industry become
the norm for all levels of education -including elementary
schools, it is becoming increasingly clear that adult educators in
particular, have f.di\ed to explore
the ramifications of this issue. To
read the current research is to be
struck by the absence of debate.
I n fact, very often corporate interests are defined so as to embrace
the whole individual. The basic

premise being I suppose that a

fulfilled worker is a productive
one. One of the principal themes
of the post-war period has been
the idea that education should be
a national priority because it
affects American productivity and
hence American world standing.
While American economic health
has long been connected to the
diffusion of information and
particularly of innovations, the
post-war era has seen a greater
connection than ever before
between diffusion and educational levels. As educators have long
recognized, diffusion by itself is
not sufficient for innovation. In
the same way, the connection
between innovation and education remains to be more fully

consequences. This response is

perhaps reflective of the very
pragmatic disposition of educators to which Apps refers. Apps
himself acknowledges that there
are potholes in the road, and
the road maps are not clear, but
he adds I can think of nothing
more important for a teacher to
do than to help people become
more human, the ultimate goal
of teaching from the heart
(p. 116). Who can argue with
that? A

by Vivian E Mott
East Carolina Univmity.
Cremuille. SC

As adult educators embrace the
trends laid out along the parameters of the learning organization,
we might do well to remember
that this is just a managerial
trend, not an educational goal. To
confuse the two, is to ultimately
lose sight of the importance of
the individual within our highly
individualized society. This is the
contradiction with which American adult educators must grapple,
if we are ever to develop a satisfactory policy regarding adult
education in the workplace and
beyond. A
Amy D. Rose
Northern lllino&University

March/April 1997
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