Is a career in adult education right for you?

January 29, 2019

Educating adults is very different than teaching children.

Adults bring life experiences into the classroom that can enhance or challenge learning. They also have ingrained habits, scheduling conflicts, work and family obligations, and various biases and motivations that adult educators must take into account. But those who choose to delve into the field of adult education say the work is both rich and rewarding. Is it the right career path for you?

Ramo Lord, a faculty member with Capella University’s School of Public Service and Education, recently answered some questions about adult education career paths.

Q. What kinds of jobs and workplaces require people trained in adult education?

A. Adult educators work in a wide variety of settings. They serve as instructors in nontraditional education settings, assisting students as they strengthen their English language skills or work to complete a GED. They find jobs in higher education, as curriculum designers or as classroom or online instructors. They work in community-education programs sponsored by nonprofits, churches, and other organizations, helping people learn skills that range from household budgeting to cake decorating. Still others are activists, working with adults to try to raise awareness about social issues, poverty, and other subjects of community concern.

Q. What kind of people excel in adult education?

First and foremost, adult educators must be interested in people. Does that sound obvious? Actually, it’s not as common as you’d think. Adult educators need to have a genuine interest in helping others succeed. This requires empathy and compassion, as well as the ability to motivate people to be their best. You have to be focused and driven and curious about things. Most of us in adult education have ourselves, as adults, sought out education. We are, by nature, lifelong learners.

Q. How is educating adults different from teaching children?

A. Adults enter the classroom with experience. We usually have a family, a work history, and some form of previous education. And our past experience is something we use to assess all new knowledge. Unlike children, who absorb information and may not question its source or validity, adult students are likely to ask their instructors challenging questions. Their perspectives on classroom topics may run counter to traditional views, so it’s important that adult educators respect the diverse experiences that their students bring to the table but also know the course material well enough that they can explain things carefully and persuasively. Adult learning needs to be continuous.

Q. How can I get a job in adult education?

A. Networking is key to finding a job—and an environment—that aligns with your professional goals and workplace needs. If you’re just starting to explore options, get involved with associations and groups focused on adult education, like the American Association for Adult and Continuing Education.   Membership in such organizations provides a sense of credibility. You should attend conferences, and as you get more established in the field, consider giving talks, presenting papers, and doing other things that generate interest and build respect for your skills and ideas.

Learn more about Capella’s online MS in Higher Education, Adult Education program.

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