Adult Education and Lifelong Learning, Theory and Practice [3rd Edition]

Author(s) P. Jarvis
Publisher RoutledgeFalmer
Published 2004
ISBN 0415314933
Reviewed by John Roberts
University of Wales Newport
Review published 1 December 2004

This is the third edition of a book that was published first in 1983 as Adult and Continuing Education and revised for a second edition in 1995. At nearly 400 pages this is almost 100 pages longer than the previous edition and has 23 pages of bibliography and 11 pages of guidance on further reading. This is a substantial re-working of the previous version; in the author’s words: there are so many changes … that I might have written a new bookAll of the chapters have been rewritten, some quite extensively, one chapter has been sub-divided … and some … re-ordered. The central theme is the depiction and analysis of the responses that education has been required to make to social forces.

This is both an authoritative and illuminating work. It is impossible in a short review to convey the breadth of the range of references but the assured architectural structure of the book can be seen immediately in the structure of the first chapter entitled Towards a rationale for the provision of learning opportunities for adults. The first section is The nature of contemporary society and the second sub-section is The changing nature of knowledge and the knowledge society. At this point Jarvis suggests that there are at least seven ways in which changes in our conception of knowledge, and even knowledge itself, have changed; each is a sub-section: Legitimation of knowledge [Rational, Empirical, Pragmatic – alternatively, according to Habermas – empirical, historical-hermeneutic, emancipatory]; Relativity of knowledge; Types of knowledge [Data, Information, Knowledge, Wisdom]; Practical knowledge; Integrated knowledge; Mode1 – Mode 2 knowledge. The chapter considers systematically the knowledge society, the learning society, learning organizations, human beings as lifelong learners and their need to learn.

One of the author’s intentions is to provide a guide to confused and confusing terms; as a result anyone seeking to open up or pin down a slippery concept will be well served, as exemplified by the second chapter: From adult education to lifelong learning which Jarvis introduces as: a conceptual continuum … while, on occasion, different terms are used to convey the same meaning. This chapter maps known territory – teaching, learning, education, adult education, the education of adults, continuing education, recurrent education, community education, human resource development, learning in the community – and its philosophical basis with assurance, clarity and specific examples.

Jarvis maintains that lifelong learning is a human right and a fundamental necessity in any civilized society, in which everyone should be regarded as a learner, and it is The adult learner and adult learning that are the subject of the third chapter, which at 50 pages is a substantial treatment. Here we find: conceptual consideration of self, learning, experience and motivation; summaries of participation studies since the 1970s; reviews of the benefits of learning and learning styles. The dominant theories of learning are reviewed critically, with fourteen pages devoted to experience and experiential learning. This chapter contains also discussions of Jarvis’s own models of learning processes and possible learning situations.

The fourth chapter, Adults learning- some theoretical perspectives, highlights five writers, each of whom has examined different aspects of adult learning. The five are: Friere, Gagne, Knowles, Mezirow and Rogers and their contributions are not merely summarised, they are presented and critically evaluated in relation to the ideas discussed in previous chapters. The complementarity that is the basis for the selection itself highlights the need for a comprehensive and integrated theory of learning such as that offered in the previous chapter.

Teaching Adults is the fifth chapter, which begins by noting the increasing divisions of function and role to be found under that umbrella term ‘teaching’. Conditions of learning, teaching methods and styles, specific teaching techniques, individual learning methods and teaching aids all are described [it should be noted that distance education is the subject of a separate chapter] as a basis for consideration of Some theoretical perspectives on teaching adults in Chapter Six. The two foci here are the art and science of teaching – the human aspects - and then some of its moral aspects. These are investigated through the work of: Bruner, Dewey, Friere, Illich and Knowles. This is a highly conceptual, richly provocative chapter, twice as long as in the previous edition.

In Chapter Seven Distance Education there is helpful differentiation of current terminology located in the context of advanced capitalism. This third edition concludes a new chapter, though not wholly new content; Assessing and Evaluating are examined in Chapter Eight which, at twelve pages, is surprisingly brief in view of the tension between the needs and interests of individual learners [and teachers] and the systemic power of the technologies of assessment and evaluation.

Curriculum Theory and Programme Planning, Chapter Nine, briefly explores the development of and tensions within curriculum theory [English and American usages; the continuum of meanings of curriculum, for example]. Jarvis stresses the discontinuity between curriculum theorising and the realities of programme planning in education marketplaces, though his range here is less international than elsewhere in the book.

Practice, theory and research, Chapter Ten, has at its core the increasingly complex role of the adult educator, as well as the nature and acquisition of the practical professional knowledge of the adult educator and the importance of him/her being aware of debates about research in a context where the applicability of theory to practice may be open to question. Jarvis discusses the complexity of the relationship between these dynamics and research practice, data and knowledge given competing research paradigms.

Chapter Eleven concerns itself with The professional preparation of teachers of adults. The European Union is the starting point though the study is an account of the process of professionalisation of adult educators in the UK, a process that continues as there is greater segmentation of the role and corresponding opportunities for professional preparation and development. It would have been relevant here to note the activities of national training Organisations and Sector Skills Councils, but these are omitted.

The provision of adult education and lifelong learning in the United Kingdom is the scope of Chapter Twelve; it examines; the provision made for, and developments in, lifelong learning and some of the organisations that support the service in the United Kingdom. The roles and functions are summarised of: the state, LEAs, universities, non-governmental organisations, business and industry. There is a summary of selected developments in: access, adult basic education, guidance services, pre and post-retirement, self-directed media and the World Wide Web.

This book should occupy a place on the shelf as a valuable work of reference for tutors in schools of education and continuing education, and as a key text for students on Certificate and PGCE, in-service BA and MA programmes. It offers accessible definitions and summations alongside up-to-date syntheses and there are repeated reminders that learning may be a human need, that adult learning and education are human enterprises and that: the teaching and learning relationship should … embrace moral values which are contrary to those that are dominant in contemporary Western society [205]. While these are issues for teachers and their educators to resolve, we should hope that Jarvis, in 2014, is able to synthesise for us in a fourth edition what surely will be a decade of upheaval for the field.