Adult education is a field of study that examines adults’ possibilities and conditions for learning, formation and development. It is a practice in which adults engage in systematic and supported self–educating activities to gain new forms of learning, skills, attitudes, or values. It can mean any form of learning adults engage in beyond traditional schooling, encompassing basic literacy to personal fulfillment as a lifelong learner.
Degree programs in adult education equip you to teach adults in the background and field of your preference and afford adult learners with new knowledge and skills that can be used to improve career opportunities and achieve lifelong interests.
Adult education programs are generally continuing education programs for those older than standard high school or college age. Most commonly this is an adult who would like to earn a GED, become specialized in a particular technical or business skill to further their career, return to or begin a degree program, or simply take a class on a topic they are interested in.
Adult education programs incorporate various learning objectives, such as basic life skills, GED preparation for adults with high school diplomas, English as a second language or professional development in the corporate world. This education can take place in a variety of settings. As an adult educator, you may teach large classrooms of students at the college or university level or small groups of adults in a corporate setting. Adult educators may even find themselves working with students on an individual basis.
An adult educator typically has some education and/or work experience in a specific field. A Teaching & Education degree with a major in adult education builds upon their education and work experience, qualifying them to not only to work in their particular field but to teach skills in that field as well.
Adult educators support and enable adults to advance their education. If you think you may want to pursue a major in this field, you should appreciate teaching, have strong interpersonal skills and work well with diverse populations.
Learning about adult education most often takes place in post-secondary schools, such as vocational schools (also known as technical colleges), colleges and universities. It’s also happening more and more often online. Courses can cover topics such as adult growth and development, adult psychology, and program planning and development.
Teaching in a post-secondary setting usually requires at least a college degree and strong knowledge of a particular subject. Your prior education and work experience often determine the specialities you can teach. For example, a person with a college degree in finance who earns a graduate degree in adult education may go on to teach university courses in accounting.
While the passion for sharing knowledge comes naturally to potential adult educators, master’s programs help develop the skills needed to have a positive impact on students. The most successful adult educators have a strong understanding of how adults learn, as well as how that differs from how children learn. They can then apply these adult education theories to planning, designing and implementing specialized lessons and programs.
As an adult education student, you will be equipped with these essential skills- Basic computational skills, Critical thinking skills. Basic reading skills, Writing skills, Effective Communication Skills, Listening skills, Numeracy and Continuous learning.
The learning happens in numerous ways and in many contexts just as all adults’ lives differ. Adult learning can be in any of the three contexts, i.e.:
- Formal – Structured learning that typically takes place in an education or training institution, usually with a set curriculum and carries credentials;
- Non-formal – Learning that is organized by educational institutions but non-credential. Non-formal learning opportunities may be provided in the workplace and through the activities of civil society organizations and groups;
- Informal education – Learning that goes on all the time, resulting from daily life activities related to work, family, community or leisure (e.g. community baking class).
What career paths can you pursue?
Those who seek out a degree in adult education have a myriad of career and specialization options. A degree in adult and continuing education enables you to teach students beyond the high school level. Locations for teaching adults include institutions of higher learning, such as community colleges, universities and technical and trade schools. It also opens the doors to career opportunities within community organizations, human resources development teams, academic admissions and research groups.
An adult educator typically works for organizations devoted to improving the life or employment possibilities for citizens. If you choose a career teaching adults, you may find a position in a community college or a prison or working with government or charitable groups who provide assistance to individuals in your area.
Beyond the classroom, corporations hire in-house trainers to implement employee growth, development and training initiatives. That includes the onboarding process for new hires as well as continuing education for all employees.
Adult education graduates can also get involved in workplace education, such as tutoring departments in health care organizations, religious organizations, human resources departments, or training departments in businesses.
The degree is also often necessary for adult literacy and remedial education teachers, who teach high school-level courses to adults and English language skills to adult immigrants looking to develop their literacy.
1. Community College Professor
While not required, an adult education master’s is helpful to those seeking employment as a community college professor, who gain enhanced knowledge of adult learning through the degree program.
These teachers provide instruction to diverse populations in basic academic and language skills required for employment and further education. They teach GED preparation and high school completion classes to all ages of adults, English as a Second Language (ESL) to immigrants and adult basic education (ABE) to adults who need to develop numeracy and literacy.
In addition to young adults beginning their college and vocational careers, older adults seeking to change or advance in their fields are attracted to community colleges. Community college instructors must establish expertise in their field and/or have a minimum of a master’s degree in the area they teach.
2. Continuing Education Professor
Continuing education professors and specialists work with students who decide to go back to school. These students include some who went to college and later dropped out and those who never went to college after finishing high school. As a continuing education specialist, you work with students who may lack the skills that their younger peers have. You meet with adult students, provide them with tests to determine the classes they should take and continue meeting with them to ensure that they fulfil all the requirements within the program and that they don’t have any problems with their classes. The following steps represent the typical pathway to becoming an adult and continuing education teacher:
- Earn a bachelor’s degree in the desired career field.
- After graduating from your bachelor’s program, earn experience in your career field.
- Complete a teacher preparation program through an alternative route or by earning a master’s degree, if necessary.
- If you plan to teach at the post-secondary level, earn a doctoral degree.
- Apply for teacher licensure in your state, if necessary.
- Begin applying to open positions.
3. Corporate Trainer
Another career path open to those interested in adult learning and workforce education is that of a corporate trainer. Corporations hire trainers to help train and prepare new employees for the tasks they need to do on the job. Some corporations hire trainers when changing to a new computer system or when implementing new regulations. You’ll go over all the information available to you, come up with lesson plans and then meet with students. Trainers must ensure that employees know how to do each task and how to work with any new systems to keep them safe on the job.
4. Colleges, Universities and Vocational or Technical School Teacher
The majority of post-secondary educators teach at the college or university level. A post-secondary educator with a graduate degree in adult education typically holds an undergraduate degree in a particular field of expertise and often has some work experience in that area as well. For example, a person with an undergraduate degree in accounting might work for a few years as an accountant and then pursue a master’s degree in adult education. With this combination of experience and education, he may then pursue a career as a teacher of finance or accounting at his local university.
Colleges and universities typically require that their instructors hold at least a master’s degree. Higher-level instructors, such as professors, will typically hold a PhD in the subject they teach. In the world of post-secondary education, the higher your education level, the more career options are available to you.
Colleges and universities often expect their educators to conduct research in their primary field and publish their findings. Vocational schools, also known as technical schools or colleges, are post-secondary institutions that typically teach skills that will help students in a particular job, such as welding or small engine repair. These schools offer opportunities for adult educators as well. To teach in a vocational or technical school, job experience in a specific field is important, as well as recognition in that field through certification or licensure. For example, an individual with experience as a welder and an associate degree in adult education is a good candidate for a position as a welding instructor.
Although vocational schools may not always require a master’s degree or a bachelor’s degree, formal education plays a major role when schools hire new teachers. In addition to teaching, schools expect instructors to stay current on trends and new techniques in their speciality. Schedules are typically flexible, though night or weekend courses may be taught here as well.
5. Corporate Training Specialists
Adult educators have sprung up in corporate environments as well, teaching employees how to perform their duties. A company’s human resources department usually oversees this position, often referred to as “corporate training.” Trainers build and deliver professional development programs to employees. These may cover a wide variety of topics, from general business concepts to company specifics, on-the-job training programs for employees. These programs may include basic employee orientation, as well as more complex programs such as teaching employees how to use new software. Government programs that are teaching job and life skills to underserved populations often employ training managers and specialists. In these cases, training managers may be responsible for working with the client to determine what type of training they require, and seeing that they receive it. Programs can be as varied as the clients they serve, from literacy skills to basic budgeting. Although these positions require varying levels of education, most require at least a bachelor’s degree.
6. Education Administrators
Education administrators oversee a variety of educational institutions, ranging from daycare centres to universities. Universities typically require administrators to have a PhD, although a master’s degree is sometimes sufficient at a childcare centre or a secondary school. Education administrators typically begin as teachers. They leverage their classroom experience, along with their education, to excel and advance in their careers. Administrators govern the school and supervise the staff. Administrators at a college or university often spend most of their time handling managerial duties, including fundraising, budgeting, and personnel development. A formal degree in adult education can make a big difference to an administrator who wants to advance his or her career to the next level.
7. GED Instructor
A degree in adult learning and workforce education qualifies you to work as a GED instructor. The GED is equivalent to a high school diploma and allows those who dropped out of high school to complete their studies. While you might work with older people who dropped out decades ago, you may also work with students in their late teens or early 20s. You’re responsible for going over some of the questions asked on the GED test and ensuring that your students have an understanding of math, science, English and other skills they need to pass that test.
Helping adults develop themselves with better reading skills, writing skills or the knowledge to complete a GED is not only rewarding but an important service to the community. The right education can increase the odds of employment and earning potential for adults who missed important pieces of their education or need help due to language barriers. Better language competence can give people the tools to understand contracts, leases, directions, instructions and other crucial social skills for living as an adult. You can be a part of building a stronger community with more productive members.
8. Human Resource Manager
Businesses of all sizes hire human resources directors and managers to help them evaluate potential candidates. These managers create job listings that they post online, internally and in newspapers, but they then weed out candidates based on resumes and decide which candidates deserve interviews. In addition to interviewing and hiring new workers, HR managers also work with other departments to ensure that employees get the best benefits. Your degree in adult learning and workforce education can help you train and educate some of those new employees.
9. Literacy Specialist
all adults leave school with strong literacy skills. Some students find it easy to skate by in their classes and to leave school with poor reading and writing skills. A literacy specialist is someone who works with those students and teaches them the fundamentals of reading. Even adults who know how to read may have a hard time sounding out words or figuring out the meaning behind words. While some specialists work with children, those who have a background in adult learning and workforce education can work with adults in vocational schools and tutoring centres.
The careers open to those with a background or degree in adult learning and workforce education include literacy specialists, corporate trainers, GED instructors, HR managers and continuing education professors.
Adult Education Certification, Licensure and Associations
Although no universal adult education license exists, your county or state may require a certificate or a license in your speciality to obtain a teaching position. Particularly in a vocational setting, you may be required to hold a license or certification in the courses you plan to teach. For example, many states require a teacher of cosmetology to hold a valid cosmetologist’s license to start a position as a cosmetology instructor.
Therefore, be sure to keep up with any required continuing education programs in your chosen speciality. Also, check with your local authorities about keeping any necessary licenses current.
While a master’s in adult education is not a requirement for all of the career paths discussed above, it can help make candidates more competitive and give them specialized knowledge that can help them to stand out. For some career paths, such human resources specialist, a master’s degree is preferred. Ultimately, a master’s degree in adult education can open many doors for interested candidates.
Whether you earn a bachelor’s or a master’s degree in adult learning and workforce education, you probably want an idea of some of the jobs you can apply for later. This field is fairly diverse and prepares you for working for colleges, corporations and even small businesses. There is a lot of demand for professionals who can teach/train students or employees in different fields. This is why pursuing a career in Adult Education can lead you to rewarding jobs. You can receive a competitive salary and also have scores of growth opportunities.