Journal of Christian Ministry | Adult Learning – Book Reviews

Adult Learning – Book Reviews

Adult Learning – Book Reviews


Adult Learning:
Linking Theory and Practice
Sharon B. Merriam and Laura L. Bierema
Jossey-Bass, San Francisco. 2014 $45.20
Planning Programs for Adult Learners
A Practical Guide (3rd ed.)
Rosemary S. Caffarella and Sandra Ratcliff Daffron
John Wiley and Sons, San Francisco, 2013. $46.00
Reviewed by Randall L. Stone, PhD
Director, Doctor of Educational Ministry Program
Chair, Christian Education Division
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

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A deliberate and delicate balance of principle and practice permeates the text.
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Sharan B. Merriam is an accomplished and award-winning author in the field of adult education. She currently holds the position of professor of adult education and qualitative research at the University of Georgia, Athens. Dr. Merriam has written or contributed to more than twenty-six books. She has earned the Cyril O. Houle Award for Outstanding Literature in Adult Education on multiple occasions.

Coauthor, Laura L. Bierema, is likewise a noted author and professor of adult education and human resource and organizational development at the University of Georgia. Her previous works include Implementing a Critical Approach to Organization Development and Philosophy and Practice of Organizational Learning.

The subtitle of Adult Learning: Linking Theory and Practice describes the aim of the book by Merriam and Bierema precisely. A deliberate and delicate balance of principle and practice permeates the text. The authors’ intended to present the “major theories and research in adult learning in a language that those new to adult education can understand and at the same time points out applications of these ideas to practice.” (xii). Their articulated aim was met clearly.

Three specific audiences targeted intentionally through this book include the academic instructor, the adult education curriculum guide, and the curious adult learner. The attention given to theory and emerging practice offers the reader a solid foundation. Practitioners will find valuable insights and suggestions useful for constructing efficacious adult learning programs. Finally, individuals pursing personal understanding and growth can benefit from the relevant information.

Merriam and Bierema present their content in twelve independent chapters. Each chapter can be read autonomously or used collectively as an overview and guide for comprehensive adult education. Demonstrating educational practicality, the book includes an element entitled “Linking Theory and Practice: Activities and Resources.” The supplemental resources located at the end of each chapter transitions the core content to personal application.

Merriam and Bierema acknowledge, in the opening chapter, what many, including this writer, sense innately: “Change is at such an accelerated pace that even some of the routine tasks of daily living require new learning.”(5) The authors give particular attention to the sociological and demographic changes in the adult population. As internet access by adults increases exponentially and information spreads globally the nature and scope of education moderates.

They have observed a proportional shift from formal to informal learning. (18) An overview of both traditional and contemporary learning theories including, Behaviorism, Humanism, Cognitivism, Social Cognitivism, and Constructivism in chapter two offers an excellent introduction of the primary theories for the neophyte. For the accomplished student or teacher the review serves as a beneficial refresher.

A central idea of the book is the essence of and approach to adult education. Malcom Knowles’ androgogical assumptions are presented with a complementary question: “Are andragogy and pedagogy different? If so, how?” The contemporary adult educator’s style and perspective reflect a personal position. Implied in the preferred approach is that andragogy either expands the pedagogical progression or stands alone as an educational design. A reference to Conti’s Principles of Adult Learning Scale (PALS) (59) is an example of cited practical tools to enhance the educator’s skill.