The philosophy behind continuing education is often understated, implicit, and rarely discussed or debated. Yet throughout the history of North America, three philosophical tenets about learning and teaching have evolved and become accepted by most if not all providers of continuing education. Understanding these three philosophical tenets is essential.
1. The responsibility for learning rests not only with the continuing education program administration, but also with the teacher and the participants.
Continuing education promotes self-directed learning. Much of continuing education is voluntary, not mandatory. And almost all education authorities and professors say that continuing education is more successful when it is undertaken voluntarily and enthusiastically by a learner, rather than being mandated to a reluctant learner.
Continuing educators often act as a linking mechanism between teachers and other subject matter experts and the participants, leaving the subject matter content to the teacher or
instructor, and the evaluation of whether the course was satisfactory up to the participants.
While continuing education providers and administrators take responsibility in the administration and offering of courses and activities, sometimes even guaranteeing them, responsibility for successful teaching and learning is shared with teachers and the
One ramification of this notion of shared responsibility is the concept of self-directed learning. Continuing education places a good part of the responsibility for learning on the learner. This brings up the recurring argument about whether people know what
is good for them, and continuing education as a field predominantly comes down on the side of “yes,” or at least that people should know what is good for them. Learners ought to be able to distinguish a good class from a poor one. Learners ought to be able to judge whether they are learning, whether they have developed a competency in the content of the class, and whether the instructor is able to help them learn.
2. Anyone can learn.
While this philosophical concept is widely accepted today, it has not always been the case. Before 1970, it was believed that you could not “teach an old dog new tricks,” as the saying went. Many people also believed that a traditional formal education was enough
to last throughout one’s life.
Today it is commonly believed that anyone can learn, and that learning should continue throughout one’s lifetime, with the term lifelong learning having evolved and gained popularity. And yet continuing educators often are at the forefront of extending the
notion that anyone can learn to new frontiers, breaking down other barriers and outmoded beliefs.
One ramification of this philosophical tenet is the notion that learning is good in and of itself, having both internal rewards as well as external rewards. Not all learning has to be for credit or a degree in order to be valuable.
Another ramification is that if anyone can learn, and all individuals are in some way different from each other, then individuals must necessarily then learn differently. Today continuing educators are exploring ways in which to help individuals learn in a variety
And yet another ramification is the notion that we each can, and should, learn throughout our lifetime. Continuing education is unique and essential in that it not only embraces but carries out and executes the notion of lifelong learning. Without continuing education,
lifelong learners would be without one of their primary ways to continue learning.
Continuing educators understand that lifelong learning extends one’s actual life, keeping the brain and body active longer in life.
Continuing educators understand that avocational and leisure learning keeps the brain active for workers and employees who then can acquire new work skills much faster.
Continuing educators understand that lifelong learning is positive not only for the individual, but for businesses and community development and the economy
and for society in general. When an individual engages in lifelong learning, everyone benefits.
3. Anyone can teach.
The notion that anyone can teach, and can teach anything, was also considered educational heresy at one time. Today continuing educators understand that people who are doing something are most often the best teachers of that ‘something.’
Continuing educators also understand that new subject matter is being created every day. Continuing educators understand that an unlimited offering of courses and subjects is far preferable for all concerned than a limited offering, and that the marketplace of participants is the best judge of what can and should be offered in almost all circumstances.
There is an unlimited number of topics and specialties that adults want to learn about today, and the only way to meet that need is to encourage learners to be teachers as well.
In fact, it is a repeatedly proven concept that the best way to learn something is to teach it. Thus, the interplay between teaching and learning is very positive and beneficial.
At one time this “right to teach” any subject was challenged by traditional gatekeepers. But always the freedom to learn in a democratic society was tied to the freedom to teach. Continuing educators have behaved responsibly in this regard, and so have almost all
teachers and learners. There have been almost no instances of irresponsibility when it comes to teaching various subjects and topics in a democratic society.