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Participatory Lifelong Learning at the AAACE Conference

Monday, May 9, 2016   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Marty Finsterbusch and Jean Fleming
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This year, the American Association for Adult and Continuing Education (AAACE) is partnering with VALUEUSA ( to highlight initiatives that involve adult learners in the development and governance of their programs. VALUE refers to these opportunities as “participatory lifelong learning.”

Traditionally adult education and workplace programs have focused on the literacy and basic skills training that adults need to gain new employment or promotions. Training programs are developed by educators or employers to offer adults skills they need as they access college and career pathways, typically with little or no input from the adults themselves. Adults who are often disadvantaged are repeatedly excluded from having a say in the learning services they consume, and many don’t see a way to object. Lifelong learning – whether it occurs on the job, in an adult or postsecondary education program, or in community settings – needs to focus on the needs that adult learners themselves identify. It needs to empower them to make their own decisions on issues that affect their lives and meaningfully involve them in dealing with those issues. Participatory lifelong learning gives voice to the needs of adult learners and focuses on sharing resources – adult learner time and input, life experience, and instructional leadership – to kick start and encourage learning. Lifelong learning using participatory approaches facilitates adults’ full engagement as learners and as leaders in the settings where they learn.

Many adults participate in lifelong learning from their first job on but don’t know how to leverage what they’ve learned into further learning or workplace opportunities. Some come to realize that they actually learn much about how to do a job by just doing it, by dealing with everyday problems and working alongside their fellow workers, from whom they learn a lot.

Research suggests the way people learn at work happens informally through collaboration. Adults can take these problem-solving and collaboration skills with them into educational and community settings, as well as future workplaces, and apply them to benefit their own learning and that of other adults. The process of participatory lifelong learning is not intuitive, however. Instructors and employers may not know how to share instructional power or to host adult learning rather than direct it. Adult learners don’t simply wake up one day as instructional leaders, ready to share their experiences and become fully involved in lifelong learning. The process takes time, training in leadership skills, and mentoring. The benefits are numerous, and engaged lifelong learners gain as much as they give.

The AAACE conference is an opportunity for you to showcase the efforts you’ve made to engage lifelong learners as leaders within your programs and organizations. AAACE and VALUEUSA would like to invite you to submit a proposal to conduct a concurrent session, roundtable, or poster session related to “participatory lifelong learning” at the Annual AAACE Conference in Albuquerque, November 8-11, 2016. When submitting a proposal in ProposalSpace related to participatory lifelong learning, you will be asked to identify an Interest Area for your proposal. Please select the option from the dropdown menu that begins with “Community and Non-formal Education.”

The deadline for proposal submission is May 11th and notification of acceptance will be sent in early June. Please consider adding your proposal to help other adult educators become aware of the benefits to organizations, programs, and adult learners themselves, of involving adults in the programs in which they participate.

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