Despite of having many of the same features than regular or traditional education aimed to younger people, adult education has evolved to the point of deserving its own concept and approach. To define precisely what this is about, it is very important to know and understand some of its basic backgrounds, as well as its main characteristics.

Adults have always learned from different sources. By traveling, working, reading, socializing or just reflecting on their daily experiences, knowledge has been always available at any age.  Even in an unconscious way, adults keep learning along their lives. However, adult education as it is known today only appeared in the last centuries. Nowadays, in most of the countries around the world, adults also have the chance to obtain and improve new skills and access the formal educational system under their own conditions.

Evolution of Concept of Adult Education

Access the Formal Educational System

In the past, it was considered that people should obtain their education, values and social skills in the childhood and youth. Adulthood was the time to apply the acquired knowledge during that time. Adults did not have access to formal education. Also, in general, education for younger people was restricted to certain groups of the society. Nevertheless, with the advent of new technologies and cultures, it started to change. Since seventeen century, colonialism along with industrial and political revolutions made governments to expand their horizons and one of their first objectives were aimed to educate adults to let them participate in the new society. New workers and skills were needed and education emerged as one of the solutions at that time. In addition, the new political regimes were interested in attracting new followers and education was the way to instruct them with the new doctrines.

Access the Formal Educational System

New and Older Generations Gap

Because of the huge gap of ideas and lifestyle between new and older generations, it was necessary to facilitate the exchange of experiences and lifestyles. Also the appearance of new movements in the western world, such as Illustration, Liberalism, Feminism as well as French Revolution, empowered more people to demand better opportunities from those governments, even in the adulthood.

Most of the dictionaries coincide in their definition of education, as a process to obtain instruction, training or knowledge from public and private sources, such as, schools, colleges, institutes or universities. But, as opposite to education for younger generations, adult education has its own characteristics and it must be applied and developed under certain circumstances to be successful.  Adults have their own interests in life and it is very important to take them into consideration.  Those circumstances might be as diverse as lifestyles and particular interests.  In adulthood all these particular interests model the concept of adult education.  Responsibilities as adults create different challenges and also barriers which must be wisely handled by educators and adults intending to get education.

New and Older Generations Gap

Adults need to have clear goals

Some of the most outstanding circumstances to be considered include their motivation. Adults need to have clear goals that motivate them to acquire new skills and knowledge; usually those goals are related to practical reasons to improve their lives, either personally or professionally.  Due to their experience in life, they demand practical knowledge that can be applied according to that experience. They learn better with real life activities that they can share between them. They dedicate different amounts of time than younger learners because adults do not attend full time, but partial time.  All these situations have originated an invaluable and diverse offer to satisfy their demands and educational sources have developed extensions courses through new technologies, as well as new methods, which have been also applied to traditional courses with excellent results.

Considering all this, adult education does not differ in its meaning from the traditional concept.  However, as it was appointed before, it is important to add those special characteristics of adults to shape the final concept.