Adult education, extension of educational opportunities to those adults beyond the age of general public education who feel a need for further training of any sort, also known as continuing education.
Forms of Adult Education
Contemporary adult education can take many different forms. Colleges and universities have instituted evening programs, extension work, courses without credit, corresponence courses, distance learning programs (with courses transmitted to numerous locations), and online courses; community colleges have been especially active in this area. Organizations designed to relieve illiteracy are instrumental in adult education, as are the schools established to teach the English language and American customs to the foreign-born. Adult education is also sponsored by corporations, labor unions, and private institutes. The field now embraces such diverse areas as vocational education, high-school equivalency, parent education, adult basic education (including literacy training), physical and emotional development, practical arts, applied science, and recreation as well as the traditional academic, business, and professional subjects. Each year millions of Americans take such a course or program.
At the local level, public schools have been active in furnishing facilities and assistance to private adult education groups in many communities. Community centers, political and economic action associations, and dramatic, musical, and artistic groups are regarded by many as adult education activities. Great Books groups (est. 1947), in which adults read and discuss a specified list of volumes, grew out of great books seminars at Chicago and Columbia universities and St. John's College. In many places the local public library sponsors such groups.
Only in the past two centuries has the field of adult education acquired definite organization. Its relatively recent development results from numerous social trends-the general spread of public education, the intensification of economic competition with a resulting premium on skills, the complexities of national and international politics demanding constant study, the stimulating effects of urbanization, the opportunity offered by increased leisure time, and increased interest in educational activities on the part of many older men and women. Modern and formal adult education probably originated in European political groups and, after the Industrial Revolution, in vocational classes for workers. Continuation schools for workers in Germany and Switzerland were common. The folk high school in Denmark, founded by Bishop Grundtvig, stressed intellectual studies, and the Adult Schools of the Society of Friends in England (1845) fostered the education of the poor.