Critical Thinking in Adult Education: An Elusive Quest for a Definition of the Field
Vaske, Joann M.
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The problem: My purpose in this study was to understand the meaning of critical thinking in adult education. I addressed the following research question: What are graduate faculty members' perceptions and perceived practices of critical thinking in adult education? Procedures: Grounded theory methodology was used to explain the meaning of critical thinking to adult educators. The primary data source was unstructured interviews with twelve adult educators who currently teach or have previously taught adult education courses in institutions in the United States that offer graduate degrees in adult education. Other data sources included relevant documents and field notes. Data were analyzed and coded using the constant comparative method. Findings: The analysis of data uncovered four themes based on participants' perceptions: (a) the goals of adult education, (b) conceptualizations of critical thinking, (c) impacts on teaching, and (d) importance of critical thinking in adult education. Conclusions: Four conclusions resulted from an examination of participants' perceptions as well as relevant literature. First, there are conflicting and contested goals of adult education. Second, there is little agreement about the conceptualization of critical thinking by graduate faculty in adult education. Third, graduate faculty in adult education may or may not be fostering critical thinking slulls in their students. Finally, what matters in adult education may not be critical thinlung but critical reflection. Questions and implications: The study produced more questions than answers. Three major questions are: (a) What is the work of adult education at the beginning of the 21st century? (b) If the field moves toward social development as a goal of adult education, what might adult educators need to understand about their changing work? (c) Given the current emphasis on "critical reflection," does critical thinlung in adult education really matter? Adult educators concerned about these issues may wish to reflect critically on their practice, study the merits and drawbacks of moving from individual development and toward social development as the goal of adult education, and continue their dialogue on the goal(s) of adult education.
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