Probing the Interface Between Learning Theory and Practice in Adult Basic Education
Posted by Laura McLoughlin on June 16, 2021 in categoryFacts & Research

The current issue of Adult Literacy Education: The International Journal of Literacy, Language, and Numeracy, includes an interesting research article by George Demetrion that examines the dynamic of learning theory and learning practice. 

In “Probing the Interface Between Learning Theory and Practice in Adult Basic Education,” Demetrion takes a deep look at the tensions between learning theories and how they fit into the instructional design and curriculum development of an actual adult literacy classroom. The research expands on conflicting perspectives of graduate students in a course for adult educators. Read an excerpt from the article here: 


As I read through these theoretical papers, I feel the professional academics get to dream as big as they want to, but the actual classroom teacher is the real-life practitioner who takes what might be great in theory and translates what she can into her actual working situation.  


As one immersed in 37 years of classroom experience and academic discourse on the relationship between pedagogy and the political culture of adult literacy, I have experienced anxieties similar to the student, above, in my course on curriculum development for adult educators in efforts to work through pervasive theory/practice tensions. This strain has underlain my ambivalence in assigning a second week on learning theory, in a course where I wrapped around several key topics, including adult education philosophies, learning theory, and instructional design. This concern echoed those of other class members of this graduate course I designed and taught from 2009-2017 in the Virginia Commonwealth University’s Online Certificate in Adult Literacy Program. Members consisted mostly of seasoned ABE, ESOL, and GED preparation teachers, many of whom worked in corrections facilities. Student reflections cited in this essay are from the 2014 and 2017 semesters. 


I highlighted several nationally prominent programs to facilitate discussion on curriculum issues. We concentrated 1 week on the CASAS Competencies (2008), which focus on consumer economics, community resources, health, employment, and government and law. We dedicated another week to the Equipped for the Future’s (EFF) program with its “progressive mastery of the knowledge demands of key social roles” (Demetrion, 2005, p. 153) at home, work, and the community, processed through transferable content standards in the areas of communication, decision-making, interpersonal and life-long learning skills. We also studied the revised 2014 GED test which is based on “a thinking curriculum, teaching adults how to reason [emphasis added] in the context of real-life reading texts, science concepts, social science and writing” (GED® Test Curriculum Blueprint, 2013, p. 3). This orientation represented a significant contrast to prior versions of the test centered more on mastery of a set body of knowledge in the academic content areas. Our primary textbook (A Guide for Planning and Implementing Instruction for Adults) used an integrated theme-based approach, which “places the learner’s life contexts at the center of the instructional process” (Dirkx & Prenger, 1997, p. xiii) and proved a key resource in our exploration of critical issues in adult education curriculum studies. 


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