Spring 1985 // Volume 23 // Number 1 // Tools of the Trade // 1TOT1

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Teaching Adults


James S. Long
Staff Development Specialist
Washington State University-Pullman

Materials for Teaching Adults: Selection, Development, and Use. John P. Wilson, ed. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers, 1983. 115 pp. $7.95.

Reading this little paperback is like eating a crisp summer salad.

Its ingredients are fresh, varied, bite-sized, and well-proportioned. Its dressing is light and blends delightfully.

First, its ingredients. Wilson, adult education professor and Extension specialist at Iowa State, selected topics like these:

  • Choosing materials that fit adults' learning styles.
  • Audiotapes and videotapes for development of mental health professionals.
  • Slide sets.
  • Designing media for hoped-for attitudinal outcomes.
  • Videotapes for community change.
  • Using computers to teach problem solving.
  • The paradox of an institution developing materials for adults' self-directed learning.
  • Materials to help adults assess their own interests, goals, and preparedness.
  • Adapting materials to older learners.
  • Using materials for adult literacy instruction.
  • Evaluating, not the media, but attributesof materials-their pacing, sequencing, time on task, level of organization.

The chapters are short; guidelines are succinct, grounded on both research and the authors' personal experiences.

And other cooks in the kitchen? Well, they include:

  • Several professors of adult education.
  • A coordinator of audio-visual and television instruction.
  • A consultant in international agricultural development.
  • An officer in the research division of the Association for Educational Communication and Technology.
  • A program developer in a university Extension division.
  • A mathematician/computer programmer.
  • A pioneer in correspondence studies.
  • A psychologist.
  • An educational guidance counselor.
  • A fellow of the Gerontological Society of America.
  • An instructor.
  • A curriculum developer.

Wilson concludes the book with a chapter "Where Do We Grow from Here?" For me, it was the dressing that blended all these salad fixin's contributed by all these authors. It reviewed a framework-a rationale-to help us select, develop, adapt, and use materials that, in turn, help adults learn.

The framework prompts us to consider three things simultaneously:

  • The content, the subject matter-whether it's about individual learners themselves (as for career exploration, for instance), or relationships among people (such as communication skills), or about one's culture (knowledge accumulated in a given discipline, for example).
  • The learner-an individual, a group, a community.
  • The method we use to help adults learn: an individual, a group, or a community method.

Wilson concludes: when we survey the growing array of alternative materials, if we can define those three things-content, learner, and method-then we'll more likely use just those materials that, indeed, help adults learn.

This book is CE 17 in the series of Jossey-Bass quarterlies called "New Directions for Continuing Education." A refreshing, nutritious choice of material for our professional growth.