What is liberal adult education?

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Liberal adult education is, in the most basic sense, one of several philosophical models of adult education. It is distinct from progressive, humanist, and behaviorist models of adult education. The Liberal adult education model, while it originated in the Scandinavian countries, has become an especially popular philosophical model.

Educators who believe in a liberal adult education tend to focus on an academic approach to education. They believe in the value of educating a person – the whole person – over training people for a specific job. A liberal adult education is also sometimes known as a “liberal arts” education. A liberal arts education is appropriate both for traditional learners at younger ages, as well as for adults in a liberal adult education setting.

A liberal adult education depends, in part, on the idea that the primary purpose of education is to help learners develop the ability to analyze and to synthesize knowledge, empowering them to make good decisions. It also assumes that a certain amount of basic knowledge about the world we live in helps the learner to be able to develop those skills and abilities. Important cultural, social, and historical concepts are offered to the students, who then work not just to learn those concepts but to integrate them into their entire learning process. Thus, in a liberal adult education, the things a student learns in a literature course complement and interact with the things the student learns in a fine arts course, for example.

One of the important principles of a liberal adult education is that education centers, in many ways, on core knowledge. A liberal education will include core classes on areas such as mathematics, literature, science, history and the arts. Liberal adult education tends to differ at least a little bit from a traditional education in that the goal of a liberal adult education often  doesn’t have a degree or occupation at the end of it.

Liberal adult education often can take the form of general education studies. These studies can take place in many nontraditional methods, such as television or radio broadcast delivery of a course, online or E-courses, or even traditional classroom education.

Liberal adult education isn’t as concerned with convincing the student to memorize certain specialize facts. Rather, liberal adult education strives to help the student become a life-long learner. Ultimately, liberal adult education is less interested in the specific educational goals than it is with helping the person become a critical thinker, helping the person to develop critical thinking skills, and giving the person a broad knowledge base from which to interpret the world around her.


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