Technology and Innovation in Adult Learning - Kathleen P. King - E-Book

Technology and Innovation in Adult Learning E-Book

Kathleen P. King

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A comprehensive exploration of technology's role in adult learning Technology and Innovation in Adult Learning introduces educators and students to the intersection of adult learning and the growing technological revolution. Written by an internationally recognized expert in the field, this book explores the theory, research, and practice driving innovation in both adult learning and learning technology, and illuminates a powerful approach to recognize and leverage these opportunities. Building on current trends and research in technology and its use, each chapter illustrates the need, opportunities, and examples of current and future technologies that scaffold adult learning, and provides comprehensive coverage of both current and emerging challenges. Many adult learning faculty, practitioners, and students realize that technology presents a growing and ever-present set of issues, yet few feel confident in identifying the opportunities that arise with each step forward. This book clarifies the interplay between adult learning and learning technology, and characterizes the cyclic exchange of information and opportunities that link these fields now and in the future. * Understand the critical issues currently affecting adult learning * Learn how technology is presenting both opportunities and challenges for the teaching and learning of adults in different contexts * Examine recent research on learning technology for adult learners * Discover how technological innovation can be applied now and how it will continue to shape the future of learning Adult learning is on the rise, and there is no mistaking technology's role; whether they're learning with or about technology, today's adult learners come with unique sets of needs and skills that demand specialized approaches. Traditional pedagogical techniques don't transfer directly, and learning technology requires its own unique approach to development and use. Technology and Innovation in Adult Learning equips practitioners to further adult learning and shape the future of the field, while providing a rich perspective for classroom inquiry and research.

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“If you teach adults and are thinking about, or are currently using digital tools with your learners, this book is for you. King has done it again!”

—Kathy Peno, Professor of Education, Adult Education Coordinator, Adult Education Master's Program, University of Rhode Island

“The digital age meets adult learning—a timely and necessary read for those who wish to strengthen the scholarship and practice around educational technology and distance education.”

—Tonette S. Rocco, Florida International University

“Uniquely integrating adult learning and technology for global and digital learners, Technology Innovation in Adult Learning is a timely, comprehensive, theory-based and strategy-rich book. King's distinctive expertise and years of research and teaching in both adult learning and technology fields provides readers not only with a wide angle to view a new vista of applying learning theories for adult lifelong learning needs, but also with applicable use of instructional technology tools and examples. It is a must-have reference book for anyone who works with adult learners in formal, informal, and non-formal learning environments.”

—Qi Sun, Associate Professor, Program Coordinator of Adult Learning & Adult Education, and Co-Editor, Adult Education Quarterly (AEQ), The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

“Kathleen P. King continues to surprise and delight me as she adds even more insights into adult education in this modern world. She has the unique ability to first and foremost capture the practical opportunities and challenges of educating adults, informed by immense personal knowledge, experience and understanding. I felt affirmed as a professional and challenged to further strive, to grow and to excel as an adult educator.”

—Shirley Reushle, Honorary Associate Professor, University of Southern Queensland

“Anyone who wants to achieve and sustain the competitive advantage, and ‘happens to’ have a smartphone or tablet or laptop or computer, should read this book.”

—Tian Xie, Department of Psychology, Wuhan University, China

“King delivers an easy-to-read, innovative book which blends vital technology skills with adult learning principles into a practical and universal approach for practitioners and researchers for now and in the future. A must-have book for practitioners.”

—Waynne B. James, Professor, University of South Florida

“This book enriches and enlarges the field of adult learning. With cutting-edge research, this book inspires readers to probe the paradigm shift of how technology has changed and reshaped human beings' lives, relationships, and learning.”

—Pi-Chi Han, National Kaohsiung Normal University, Taiwan

Table of Contents


Title Page




Who Will Benefit from This Book?

Overview of the Book

A New Leader Emerges: Adult Learning in the Digital Age


Part 1: A Foundation for New Learning

Chapter 1: The Digital Age Secret for Success: Adult Learning

The Lifesaver


Chapter 2: Understanding the Evolution of the Digital Age

How Did We Get Here?

Spurring Change Trends and Demands


Chapter 3: Adult Learning and Living in the Digital Age

Personal Development


The Workplace



Informal and Formal Education


Chapter 4: Biological Concerns: Development, Aging, and Neuroscience

Models and Stages

Cognitive Development Theories

Intrinsic Motivation

Learning Preferences


Critical Connections with Prior Experiences


Part 2: Scaffolding Essential Skills for Learning in the Digital Age

Chapter 5: Andragogy Illustrated

Andragogy Concepts and Background

Learning Developing from Social Role Tasks

Applications of Andragogy


Chapter 6: Motivation's Essential Role

Motivation Defined

Motivation Needed

Extrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic Motivation

Leveraging Intrinsic Motivation with Technology Toolkit (LIMT Toolkit)


Chapter 7: Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving

Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving

Strategies to Cultivate: Critical Thinking and Problem-Based Learning


Chapter 8: Self-Directed Learning Discovered

Background of SDL

Strategies for Cultivating SDL


Chapter 9: Required Intercultural Competencies

Understanding Diversity in a Globally Connected World

Diversity Theories and Models

Strategies for Diversity Awareness


Chapter 10: Transformative Learning Perspectives

Transformative Learning Theory Specifics

Digital Age Needs for Transformative Learning

TL Research and Theory for the Digital Age

Transformative Learning Experience Strategies


Part 3: New Vistas in a Digital World

Chapter 11: Mind, Body, and Spirit Connections

Digital Age Needs for MBS Awareness

Mindfulness and Learning

MBS Theories and Models to Consider

Strategies to Incorporate MBS Awareness in Adult Learning


Chapter 12: e-Learning Models: Distance, Mobile, Virtual, and Informal Learning

Innovation Sweeps Across Adult Learning Sectors

Innovation and Adoption


e-Learning Theories and Models for the Digital Age

Strategies for Using e-Learning in the Digital Age


Chapter 13: Psychology of Technology Use and Adoption

Psychology of Technology

Theories and Models

Strategic Applications


Chapter 14: Conclusion: Emergent Research Opportunities

Adult Learning: New Vistas of Possibilities

Types of Learning Needed

Contexts of Adult Learning

Adult Learning Research: Opportunities

The Model of Researching Adult Learning and Innovation (MoRALI)

Strategy 14.1: Technology-Assisted Research Inquiry




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Table of Contents

Begin Reading

List of Illustrations

Chapter 3: Giving an ETF Life in the Markets

Figure 3.1 Spiral of Information Explosion

Chapter 4: Trading Volumes and ETF Liquidity

Figure 4.1 Dewey's Model of Reflective Thought and Action

Figure 4.2 Women's Ways of Knowing Model

Figure 4.3 Bloom's Taxonomy

Chapter 5: Andragogy Illustrated

Figure 5.1 Adults Navigate Multiple Social Roles in the Digital Age

Figure 5.2 High School Senior's Degree Expectations

Chapter 6: Motivation's Essential Role

Figure 6.1 Home Page

Figure 6.2

Chapter 7: Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving

Figure 7.1 Popular Problem-Solving Model

Figure 7.2 Thinking Actively in a Social Context (TASC) Problem-Solving Model

Figure 7.3 Problem- and Project-Based Learning (PPBL) as a Continuum of Constructivist, Experiential Learning Approaches

Chapter 10: Transformative Learning Perspectives

Figure 10.1 Transformative Learning and the Digital Age

Figure 10.2 The Transformative Learning Opportunities Model (TLOM)

Chapter 11: Mind, Body, and Spirit Connections

Figure 11.1 MBS Learning Model

Chapter 14: Conclusion: Emergent Research Opportunities

Figure 14.1 Contexts for Learning in the Digital Age

Figure 14.2 Undergraduates Enrollment by Degree

Figure 14.3 The Model of Researching Adult Learning and Innovation

List of Tables

Chapter 2: Understanding the Evolution of the Digital Age

Table 2.1 Technology Social Adoption Activity

Table 2.2 Globalization Examples Activity

Table 2.3 Common Uses of Technology

Table 2.4 Cyber Identity Information Activity

Chapter 3: Adult Learning and Living in the Digital Age

Table 3.1 Innovations in the Workplace: Benefits and Limitations

Table 3.2 NCES Postsecondary Enrollment Trends

Chapter 4: Biological Concerns: Development, Aging, and Neuroscience

Table 4.1 Erikson's Stages of Identity Development

Table 4.2 Kegan's Five Orders of Mind

Chapter 6: Motivation's Essential Role

Table 6.1 Planning Effective Personal and Professional Learning on a Health-Related Topic

Table 6.2 Planning Effective Learning Experiences Using Online Communities

Chapter 7: Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving

Table 7.1 Discovery Learning Comparison: Problem-Based Learning (PBL) Versus Project-Based Learning (PjBL)

Table 7.2 21st-Century KWHLAQ Model

Table 7.3 KWHLAQ in Higher Education Contexts

Table 7.4 Learner Application of Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving

Table 7.5 Instructor Application of Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving

Chapter 8: Self-Directed Learning Discovered

Table 8.1 Planning Your Learning Contract

Chapter 10: Transformative Learning Perspectives

Table 10.1 Stages of Transformative Learning

Chapter 12: e-Learning Models: Distance, Mobile, Virtual, and Informal Learning

Table 12.1 Definitions of Types of Online Learning

Chapter 13: Psychology of Technology Use and Adoption

Table 13.1 Rogers's Adoption Process

Table 13.2 Rogers's Adopter Categories

Table 13.3 Roles of Technology Adoption in Organizations

Table 13.4 Innovation Reflection Work Sheet




Kathleen P. King










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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: King, Kathleen P., 1958- author.

Title: Technology and innovation in adult learning / Kathleen P. King.

Description: First edition. | San Francisco, CA : John Wiley & Sons Inc., [2017] | Includes index.

Identifiers: LCCN 2016045437 | ISBN 9781119049616 (Paper) | ISBN 9781119051008 (Adobe PDF) | ISBN 9781119051015 (ePub)

Subjects: LCSH: Adult learning. | Educational technology. | Educational innovations.

Classification: LCC LC5225.L42 K545 2017 | DDC 374/.26—dc23

LC record available at

Cover design: Wiley

Cover image: © vlastas/Getty Images, Inc.


To Karen E.,

You are a brilliant example of a lifelong learner who critically examines technology. Thank you for your unwavering support, care, and wisdom. You make my life rich, exciting, and filled with love.


In the digital age, adults are engaged in learning as ubiquitously as technology is available. Yet, this fact is one of the best-hidden secrets because of society's general lack of understanding, recognition, and awareness of adult learning. Although adult education is accustomed to being considered marginal by many policy makers, administrators, and funders, compared to P–12 education, the digital age provides a tremendous opportunity to change that experience.

This book provides a compelling read, easily accessible discussion, and abundant resources and strategies for educators and learners interested in adult learning and technology. In addition, it was written to accommodate the needs of readers across all levels of technology expertise. This approach enables everyone to become versed in the unique discussions of the sectors in which technology and adult learning intersect.

Adult learning experts and learners will discover that this book provides the foundation to understand and vitally contribute to 21st-century instructional innovation related to technology. Many examples are provided to reflect on the possibilities of transforming one's own practice and also to apply those transformations across different areas of instruction, professional development, research, and knowledge-building agendas, goals, and projects.

This book also offers a great opportunity to change the landscape of technology based on adult learning design. As readers gain understanding and experience in this area, they can contribute to initiatives that customarily are designed by people untrained, or minimally trained, in adult learning. From the distance learning efforts of educational institutions and corporations to online gaming, learning management systems (LMSs), YouTube, virtual reality, instructional television, podcasts, videocasts, blogs, and wikis, scores of venues and technologies are being used to develop adult learning materials with little vision of the connections to adult learning research, principles, or strategies. This book prepares readers to do the following:

Incorporate adult learning concepts into instructional technology design.

Identify opportunities and critical issues for adult learning in the midst of 21st-century's ongoing technology innovation revolution.

Understand emergent technology issues and trends through examples related to formal and informal learning and real-life contexts.

Contribute to the application of adult learning across its many settings and contexts.

Converse as professionals knowledgeable about adult learning with technology experts.

Use adult learning as a foundation to advance the knowledge base and research agenda of technology innovation.

This book accomplishes these objectives, but it also prepares adult learning professionals to pose additional questions and shape the future of learning in the digital age.

Authors always have to define the scope of their work. In that vein, it is helpful to recognize what this book can and cannot provide. First, important characteristics of this book emerge from the need for the field of practice to (1) have literature written in accessible language and style for educated adults and (2) employ examples to illustrate concepts. Therefore, it will not provide bleeding-edge technology-jargon-laden discussions of hot, new trends for technology aficionados (“techies”). Second, instead of solely focusing on the instructional applications of technology, this book examines the use of technology in learning, classroom applications, as well as its opportunities and future.

Who Will Benefit from This Book?

There will be many interested and relevant audiences for this book across the fields of adult learning, instructional technology, and higher education. Such audiences include learners in adult learning degree programs, learners in other programs, faculty members and instructors, researchers, and other professionals.

The primary audience is people who want to create materials for and teach returning adult learners according to comprehensive theories. It especially addresses the needs of faculty members, instructors, and other professionals, such as administrators, directors, faculty developers, and trainers who are already work with adult learners.

Some of these readers may be students enrolled in adult learning, adult education, and higher education master's and doctoral programs. Course titles may include “Adult Learning, Emergent Technologies,” “21st-Century Learning,” “Nontraditional Student Learning,” “Instructional Technology,” and others.

Other students, graduate and undergraduate, may be enrolled in closely related fields such as (1) human resource development programs that prepare trainers and consultants; (2) instructional technology programs that get ready to work with librarians, P–12 or higher education faculty members; and (3) professional and higher education preparation programs for faculty members, instructors, directors, or other administrators serving adult education and postsecondary (or tertiary) education. These academic programs have various names (lifelong learning, andragogy, social education, adult and professional education, community education, etc.), but often such programs have a course on adult learning and a keen interest in technology.

For example, individual instructors, administrators, and student development personnel may build their understanding of emergent technology, new avenues for adult learning research, and knowledge building through this book. As with some other valuable educational publications, faculty development groups (such as faculty study groups) may read, discuss, and apply the book. Such groups meet one to two times per month and function similar to a workplace book club. Not only do these faculty members desire transfer of learning for innovative instructional practices and peer learning but also they enjoy discussing philosophical and theoretical issues together.

Although the primary audience for this book is academic, in the identified programs most learners are practitioners working with adult learners in many different contexts. As a complement to traditional books on adult learning, this book extends the conversation in new directions for practitioners to reconceptualize (1) their profession, (2) instructional efforts, and (3) future adult learning opportunities.

Overview of the Book

This book is organized according to how the material would be presented logically for a graduate course or study group on this topic.

Part 1: A Foundation for New Learning

The first section of the book provides a vision of how differences in our lives, work, and learning in the 21st century develop urgency for reconsidering the role and opportunities for adult learning.

Chapter 1: The Digital Age Secret for Success: Adult Learning

There are many powerful ways in which technology has pushed adult learning to the forefront of our lives in the 21st century, yet the phenomenon has gone largely unnoticed by most people, including experts in the field. This chapter introduces major influences that technology has on adult lives and how that relates to adult learning, all of which are discussed in separate chapters in Part 2.

Chapter 2: Understanding the Evolution of the Digital Age

How did we arrive at this point at which technology is changing our lives rapidly and providing many demands for adult learning? This discussion discusses details of three major areas of emergent technologies and demands for different ways to think and interact from the perspective of adult learning. Social adoption, political changes, globalization, and cross-culturalism are explained as they relate to the digital age and adult learning. The terminology of technology is also explained in this chapter with vital examples related to adult learning.

Chapter 3: Adult Learning and Living in the Digital Age

Where does adult learning occur in everyday life in the digital age? This chapter not only provides many examples but also integrates adult learning theories and models throughout these discussions. This chapter provides vivid examples of adults learning throughout their daily and work lives, as well as adult learning theories and models.

Chapter 4: Biological Concerns: Development, Aging, and Neuroscience

New developments in neuroscience provide life-changing possibilities for adult learning and adult development. At the same time, how will young and mature adults be affected as they advance in the digital age? This chapter includes examples of applying research findings that provide valuable strategies for designing and facilitating adult learning.

Part 2: Scaffolding Essential Skills for Learning in the Digital Age

This section addresses in detail the essential skills demanded of adults to be successful in their daily lives in the digital age. Each chapter in this section provides scenarios, theories, models, and strategies (which include an individual, workplace, and classroom focus).

Chapter 5: Andragogy Illustrated

Andragogy is the first section discussed in Part 2 aimed at orienting the reader to the literature of adult learning. By discussing andragogy's background and providing examples, this section illustrates the value of using aspects of these principles to understand the roles of adult learners and instructors.

Chapter 6: Motivation's Essential Role

When application drives adults' need to learn, their motivation is a powerful impetus. The chapter's examples and discussion of motivation in learning spans the areas of work, entertainment, relationships, health, and wellness. The different types of motivation are explained as well as how they relate to adult learning. Strategies to cultivate motivation are illustrated through specific resources and examples.

Chapter 7: Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving

In recent years, the workplace and the landscape of our daily lives have changed. Adults in the digital age constantly need to problem-solve multiple systems in order to accomplish their goals. Readers will find not only an extensive discussion that explains the details of and means to cultivate critical thinking and problem-solving but also many examples and strategies.

Chapter 8: Self-Directed Learning Discovered

In the 21st century, self-directed learning (SDL) is one of the most valuable and needed skill sets. Adults can no longer rely on their mandatory (P–12) or college education to suffice for a lifetime. Therefore, it is essential for successful adults to be adept at self-directed learning across many venues of their lives. Based on the extensive research and literature of this field, this chapter explains what self-direct learning is, how to cultivate it, and strategies for sustaining and applying it in the life and work of adults.

Chapter 9: Required Intercultural Competencies

Another major consequence of the digital age is that our daily scope of life and communication is now global. This chapter explores the consequences of a global life via several facets. It recognizes the new demands for diversity awareness and intercultural effectiveness competency in these contexts. Using research and models as a foundation, this chapter also presents strategies for integrating their principles in face-to-face as well as technology-facilitated communication.

Chapter 10: Transformative Learning Perspectives

Understanding transformative learning theory provides a valuable framework to understand how adults can use coping skills to support the scores of changes embedded in this world of innovative technology. The 21st-century world is changing rapidly and so are societal and work demands, expectations, and taboos. Multiple examples illustrate adult needs, strategies, and journeys as they experience transformative learning in formal and informal situations. Cultivating skills to support the process is a key responsibility for learners and educators of adults.

Part 3: New Vistas in a Digital World

Reaching beyond familiar adult learning discussions, this section considers evolving opportunities of learning. Chapters explore new vistas in the areas of mind, body, and spirit (MBS) connections; e-learning models spanning many technologies; research about technology adoption and use; and emergent technologies for research.

Chapter 11: Mind, Body, and Spirit Connections

Recent adult learning literature has been exploring MBS connections (Hill, 2011; King, 2013; Merriam & Bierema, 2014). Three aspects of the holistic model will be explored: (1) the need for holistic perspectives; (2) the opportunity to leverage MBS connections in adult learning; and (3) technology-facilitated tools to cultivate MBS awareness and learning, wellness, and health support. Examples are provided of how MBS perspectives can be used by learners and educators as well as the breadth of opportunities available through this frame.

Chapter 12: e-Learning Models: Distance, Mobile, Virtual, and Informal Learning

Because adults need to access learning during a wider range of times and delivery modes, technological developments have evolved many forms, including distance, virtual, and mobile learning. In addition to exploring the available technologies, this chapter provides many examples of effective instructional strategies and activities and presents opportunities to apply adult learning to the design, use, and delivery of distance, mobile, virtual, and informal learning.

Chapter 13: Psychology of Technology Use and Adoption

Roger's (1995) model of diffusion of innovation provided a foundation for understanding technology adoption that many researchers and theorists have built on. In turn, Turkle's (1995) work opened up the field of the psychology of technology. Vital illustrations and discussion of these concepts lead to strategies for implementing new approaches with adult learning.

Chapter 14: Conclusion: Emergent Research Opportunities

In conclusion, the book discusses new opportunities for theory, implementation, and research through an integrated view of different types of adult learning and guidance for research in the digital age through the model of researching of adult learning and innovation (MoRALI). Compelling questions are posed for future exploration.

A New Leader Emerges: Adult Learning in the Digital Age

The information age has tipped the pedagogy-andragogy scales during a time when few people were paying attention. Since it emerged, adult learning and adult education have been marginalized topics; however, recent developments in 21st-century technology make adult learning essential for survival. This book articulates how the continuous, rapid changes and adoption of technology in our personal and professional lives push adult learning to the forefront of adults' need for essential skills. Technology and Innovation in Adult Learning builds on Merriam and Bierema's (2014) introduction of this topic by providing additional practical insight, extensive examples, and advanced discussions.

Whether adults are at home or work; conversing with friends, family, or coworkers; or pursuing their daily routines, chances are many of their activities involve accessing technology. In fact, how many of us can remember a time when more than 8 hours passed and we did not check e-mail, text someone, update pictures and status in Facebook, or consult our handheld or online calendars?

The low cost, greater availability, and ease of use of 21st-century technologies have contributed to widespread adoption and dependence on cell phones, smartphones, tablets, laptops, computers, smart televisions, and more. Rather than technology use being relegated to techies only, since the 1990s we have witnessed tremendous popular adoption driven by advancements in user-friendly equipment and interfaces, or as many would say, gadgets and apps.

Constant changes in technology use and adoption provide opportunities for formal and informal teaching and learning and also for research, knowledge, and theory building. This book explores these many new horizons where 21st-century technology intersects with adult learning and creates powerful opportunities. Rather than simply discussing technology trends, this book systematically explains and illustrates how the adult learning field and practice can advance by leveraging these new innovations.


To Sharan Merriam for encouraging me to undertake this comprehensive task of documenting my years of work in instructional technology innovation for adult learners into a form that others can learn from and advance the field.

To Karen Eggeling, for artistic design and editing support, and Marcelo Julio, for literary research support.

Part 1



Checkout Challenge!

At the convenience store, Henry and Lucinda walked up to the counter with their coffee and pastries and were not greeted by the clerk; instead, she gestured them toward a large, flat screen monitor. There was a message on the screen, “Click to Begin.” Lucinda felt around the screen for a cord or computer pencil but could not find one.

She said to Henry, “I can't find the stylus.”

Before Henry could respond, the clerk came to their machine, simultaneously glancing at the growing line and Lucinda.

The clerk said, “Please, click to begin!”

Lucinda responded, “Yes, but there is no stylus.”

The clerk replied, “Ma'am, it's a touch screen; just tap it with your finger.”

Henry reached over and poked the screen. “Lucinda, we didn't think about it. It's just like at our bank.”

The screen lit up with bright colors and said, “Please swipe your items.”

Henry exclaimed, “Okay, that is different! Swipe, what do you think that means?”

Lucinda said, “I think maybe we are the clerks. Try holding the donut package over the screen, with the bar code facing it. Let's see if that works.”

Sure enough, Lucinda and Henry had used their adult learning skills to solve the day's first technology dilemma.

Whether we are waiting for a seat at a restaurant, shopping for groceries, visiting the doctor's office, or buying gifts online, when we examine our surroundings, we recognize scores of technology tools in use. From many users' perspectives, it seems as if these interfaces change so frequently that it is impossible to keep up with how to use them for their originally intended purposes. For instance, the many ways in which we use our cell phones today can be so distracting that one might wonder whether talking on the phone is an essential function any more.

The hand-cranked register and operator-assisted phone call are in the memories of only a few of us. Instead, people born after 1980 accept the rapid succession of new versions and generations of technologies as routine, even as the changes increase in pace demanding attention and mastery! From the touch-screen checkout terminal, to annual new smartphones and innumerable on-demand entertainment services, the confusion, choices, and demands that surround new devices are often overwhelming. Whether it is in our personal, recreation, or work lives, technology changes mean people have to constantly figure out different ways to reach their goals. It is a daily challenge to survive the constant onslaught of new technologies and related practices. Adult learning is the key to success in conquering this relentless wave of change.

Most of the examples presented at the beginning of the chapters are drawn from the context of adults' personal lives. However, the stakes and tensions escalate more quickly and to greater heights when related to workplace changes. Of course, those who adore technology, “techies” and “geeks,” thrive on such changes. Technology experts are interested, invested, and talented in using technology as well as finding new ways to modify and incorporate it. If you recall the events surrounding the frequent new iPhone releases, you will remember that its early adopters consider them pivotal. These debuts are so thrilling to techies that many will camp out for days at local electronics stores to be first in line to purchase and own the “latest and greatest” gadget.

However, the world is not solely composed of techies (and my partner says, “Thank goodness!”). Indeed, vast percentages of the population are not technology aficionados, and they may struggle, even dread, these incessant technology changes. Why? Because it means learning yet another device or program. Plus, the stakes are high in this challenge: They must master these new technologies in order to meet organizational demands and retain their income.

The crux of the matter is that new technologies not only force people to master new features and devices but also they require them to determine how to incorporate those technology capabilities in their work flow. Often, this latter requisite is not addressed in the little, if any, training that organizations provide. Instead, somehow, everyone is supposed to make the leap from technical skills to work-flow application. This constant call for critical connections is a major example of when people need to employ self-directed learning, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. Such independent learning has become a frequent part of life in the digital age because we need to operate these gadgets to communicate with our family and friends and to accomplish our work assignments.

This constant call for critical connections is a major example of when people need to employ self-directed learning, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.

Yet, as recently as 1980, in school, these same adults were trained to not only be dependent on their teachers for instruction but also to focus on routine learning. Dominant forms of instruction were rote memorization, work sheets, multiplication charts, and regurgitation of information exactly as the teacher transmitted it (Fink, 2014; Freire, 1972; Jonassen, 1994). Since that time, there have been several significant shifts of educational philosophy and instructional practice across grade school through college level (the P–20 continuum, as it is now called) (Elias & Merriam, 2004).

Fink's (2014) Creating Significant Learning Experiences is one of the most comprehensive approaches to classroom instruction and instructional design and builds on adult learning principles. For example, Fink's work effectively articulates the need for and ways of incorporating learner-centered instruction, learners' prior experience, peer learning, and strategies for using technology platforms. First published in 2003, this book introduced the model of integrated course design (ICD), which provided a welcome departure from the teacher-centered course design that had previously dominated higher education.

In the digital age, more schools have begun to focus on student-centered, peer-, and self-directed learning rather than teacher-centered instruction (Christensen, Horn, & Johnson, 2008; Conrad & Donaldson, 2012; Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2015). Since the technology revolution of the late 1980s, the need for and vision of these dramatic instructional changes have developed, and it has been an exciting, albeit at times frustrating, revolution to experience.

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have been a nationwide effort in the United States to explicitly connect critical thinking, problem-solving, and self-directed learning skills to independent learning, yet state to state these standards have been unevenly communicated to students because of several obstacles. According to Kober and Rentner (2011), challenges to successful CCSS implementation include insufficient resources, unclearly stated CCSS implementation guidelines, the shifting focus on mandatory state tests, and so on. It is evident that such conditions create an unstable foundation for refocusing the national educational system.

In the adult learning field, there are a variety of theories that encompass the skills and orientation that adults need in order to be successful in the digital age. Self-directed learning, informal learning, and lifelong learning are just a few of the areas that adult learning practitioners and theorists understand well. However, within the broader literature and technology adoption and practice, adult learning is seldom mentioned.

The Lifesaver

If one considers the many ways in which technology has pushed adult learning to the forefront of our lives in the digital age, it is surprising that the phenomenon has gone largely unnoticed by most people, including experts in the field. This book presents a thorough introduction to the opportunities for leveraging adult learning within the digital age. It presents what we know about helping adults be most successful in addressing technology-related learning.

In the virtual sea of the digital age, adult learning becomes a very real lifesaver!

How exactly can adult learning be an effective lifesaver for technology learning dilemmas in the digital age? This book's approach is to explore and discuss several strands of adult learning knowledge and craft strategies for effective independent learning; specifically, the proposed approaches and strategies will leverage informal and formal learning, self-directed and peer learning, and transformative and online learning to provide ways to learn and thrive in the digital age.

A wide range of possibilities exist, but we have to pause to consider what we know about adult learning and how to aptly apply it to the challenges and opportunities that the digital age presents today and will continue to do so tomorrow. This approach is a dynamic, generative, and open-ended one. It is dynamic because it enables us to create different ways to respond to the challenges. It can be described as generative because many times new strategies and ways of thinking or problem-solving continue to emerge. And it is certainly open-ended because its very premise is that it can be used to consider and address all the new demands and needs that the digital age continues to provide.

The next section introduces six key opportunities that technology has created for adults and adult learning. Included is an overview (a primer of sorts) that introduces each of these orientations to adult learning and the digital age: andragogy, motivation, self-directed learning, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, diversity and multicultural skills, and transformative learning. In Part 2 of this book, each of these topics will be the focus of its own chapter and discussed in greater detail.


Andragogy is a constellation of characteristics identified and popularized by Malcolm Knowles, who defined the term simply as “the art and science of teaching adults” (1980, pp. 43–44). Knowles recognized that compared to the techniques used to teach younger students, adults use and thrive with a different approach to learning. Knowles distinctly identified that andragogy was not a theory but instead a conceptual framework, “assumptions” (Knowles, 1989, p. 112), which could guide the development of theory, practice, and research (Knowles, Holton, & Swanson, 2005).

However, the key characteristics of andragogy (Knowles, Holton, & Swanson, 2005) align well with 21st-century experience of adults coping with the digital age:

Adults need to know why they engage (or need to engage) in learning.

Adults are self-directed and autonomous.

Adults may use their prior experiences as a resource for learning.

Adults are ready to learn when learning emerges from real-life situations (i.e., their social role tasks, responsibilities, etc.).

Adults are motivated to solve problems and immediately apply learning that relates to their context.

Adults have strong internal motivators, although external motivators can be leveraged.

Andragogical principles provide an entry point for reframing our thinking about learning in adulthood and in many contexts. It also provides a foundation for understanding lifelong learning, which emphasizes the endless scope of our ability to learn as adults. More than ever we see examples of how learning occurs continually across one's life span through continuing learning and informal learning. (We will discuss these terms in detail soon.)

In the digital age, learning knows no boundaries because it is no longer restricted to specific time frames, spaces, or domains. One can see the principles of andragogy needed in just a few of the following examples:

Workplace learning: training sessions to learn new policies, equipment, and software

Community education: stained-glass design classes at the arts center (also could be classified as arts learning)

Continuing education: online, on-demand noncredit classes in new business software at the local college (On-demand means one can download the modules when you are available to learn, not according to prescribed session dates.) (also could be classified as technical learning)

Higher education: certificate program in entrepreneurship at the local college

Recreational learning: swing dance at the community center

Spiritual learning: meditation classes via a holistic wellness podcast

Consider the need for new learning when young adults are hired for their first professional career position. From office or technical applications to human resource applications (e.g., personnel forms, insurance designations, tax withholding, leave, travel, etc.) and job-specific requirements (e.g., equipment to perform your job responsibilities), there is a steep learning curve that is not usually included in their formal education. However, the learning does not stop there. By mid-career many adults are entering their third, fourth, or fifth occupations and by that point might have returned to college for an additional credential, degree, or certificate. And, yes, the technology platforms have changed several times during those 10 to 20 years of these adults' careers. New career objectives, new technologies—lifelong learning has continued.


In the digital age, the continuous, rapid changes in the technology of our lives motivates most adults, whether they know it or not, to pursue lifelong learning. Adults now learn throughout their life span and in a multitude of settings: from the workplace to their personal lives. Contrary to past practice, adults' learning efforts are much less confined to formal education or training seminars. Instead, adults engage in many forms of learning through their lives.

Cognitive psychology and research explain that motivation has intrinsic and extrinsic aspects (Bandura, 1986; Weiner, 1972). For example, as adults seek to communicate with family, they must conquer the details of new technology along the way. Parsing the differences among intrinsic and extrinsic motivations is not always simple on the surface; however, a telling distinctive is the urgency of the motivation.

Much learning in the digital age is related to the internal desires of the individual to reach a goal. Therefore, these efforts would be classified as internal motivations. Wlodkowski (1993, 2011) has provided a foundation for understanding and leveraging motivation in adult learning. Regardless of age groups or contexts, tapping the power of motivation for informal and formal learning is one of the major keys for conquering the many challenges of the digital age.

For example, during the later career stage, adults experience more changes in work responsibility demands, expectations, and they are happening more quickly because of changing conditions and new technologies. Even in the “golden days” of retirement, adults may epitomize diverse educational motivations and lifelong learning as they continue to learn new or different strategies, seek information on topics related to health, and use new technologies as they engage in recreation, personal development, and entertainment (Merriam & Bierema, 2014). A theme popularized in many movies and books shows that some mature adults even explore new careers (“encore careers” or “dream careers”) in their 60s, 70s, and beyond (Elcott, 2010; Jelenko & Marshall, 2007).

How did this tremendous change happen? Why would adults invest in and bother to continue to learn? Fundamentally, what is the motivation for most adults to be lifelong learners? It may be simple but certainly essential. In order to successfully function in the digital age, adults' intrinsic motivation includes a paradigm of continuous learning and mind stretching (Selwyn, Gorard, & Furlong, 2006). This paradigm not only extends across the life span but also needs to be independent and self-directed.

Self-Directed Learning

Characteristics of self-directed learning (SDL) were delineated by Tough in 1971 and expanded on by Knowles in 1975. The foundational principles of self-directed learning are that adults identify, plan, and implement their learning independently. This process includes identifying their own learning needs, resources, and strategies (Tough, 1967, 1971, 1979; Wang & Cranton, 2012).

Brockett and Hiemstra (1991) provided a widely recognized definition of SDL, which described how individuals hold the central and primary role in their learning. Moreover, this deeper understanding of self-directed learning included the many choices and actions that the learner controls, such as the means and time line for identifying a topic of learning, gathering information, deciding what is relevant, analyzing new information, and forming new understandings by determining analyses, interpretations, and applications. Brockett and Hiemstra (1991) also developed a theoretical framework for SDL and applied it to different settings.

Mezirow (1981) proposed 12 core concepts that needed to be included in the development of SDL among adults. Later research by Suanmali (1981) confirmed eight of these SDL core strategies. Although the adult learning field has continued to use and test these strategies in the formal cultivation of adults' self-directed learning, mainstream P–20 education has not recognized the need until very recent years.

Frequently, adults in the digital age engage in learning when they have no instructor or guide. They must figure out how to accomplish their goal, which may be anything from printing a document to using the rental car global positioning system (GPS) to learning enough Cantonese to navigate their vacation needs, and so on. Furthermore, they must determine how they are going to learn the skills or information they need. There are many different variations of these examples; together they confirm the strong connection between everyday learning situations and the SDL model. The digital age is replete with SDL demands.

Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving Skills

Included in the SDL process are critical thinking and problem-solving skills. As people face new situations and technologies, they must determine how to create their learning pathways. Critical thinking has been defined in many ways, and valuable insight is offered into thinking about what critical thinking is. Pithers and Soden (2000) provided what has become a popular definition: “Critical thinking in any area involves being able to pursue one's questions through self-directed search and interrogation of knowledge, a sense that knowledge is contestable, and being able to present evidence to support ones' arguments” (p. 239).

Regarding its origins, general consensus is that awareness of critical thinking was first articulated by Socrates, whose approach to questioning was based on the premise of exposing unexamined beliefs and assumptions. Bloom's (1956) taxonomy helped educators categorize different thinking strategies and provided examples of each. Krathwohl's (2002) popular revision of the taxonomy identifies the levels from basic to advance as remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating (synthesis). Critical thinking enters Bloom's taxonomy sequence in the analyzing stage.

In this age of technology innovation, when discussing critical thinking with educators and adult learners, descriptions such as the following are effective to illuminate key concepts:

Critical thinking includes being able to sift fact from fallacy, asking hard questions about information and situations that go deeper than the basic facts. These questions may include examining motivations, purposes, assumptions, values, and so on. However, by using critical thinking skills, people are able to better determine the value and meaning of information, which leads to more sound decision making.

Among other skills, successful problem-solving builds on critical thinking skills. In order to solve problems, not only must one have basic content knowledge but also be able to pose questions and extract information from a given situation. In the digital age, questioning prior assumptions is an essential element of problem-solving for new solutions. The following scenario describes such a situation:

Last week, 35-year-old Marvin Manischewitz had been awakened every morning at 7:15 am to telemarketing phone calls. At first, he was confused about why a major computer company would have customer representatives call every household in the country, but then over the next several days he figured out it was a hoax. Now, once again, he was able to sleep to 7:45 am and begin his day in peace. How had Marvin determined the calls were not legitimate? He had used critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

The first day of the bogus phone calls, his wife was in a panic because she had answered the phone. He was still mostly asleep when he heard her saying, “I don't know if we have a service plan on the computer or not. My husband is sleeping. Do you know this is Saturday, sir?”

“Gladys, please hand me the phone.” But when he received it, there was only a dial tone. “Let's go back to sleep. Maybe catch another 40 or 100 winks?”

When the phone rang again on Monday at 7:30 am, Marvin told the caller, “This better be very important, or the FCC will be talking to you.” After he listened to about three minutes of the urgent plea to start his computer, follow the instructions, download a patch, and clean off a virus, Marvin said, “I have no intention of doing so until I look into this further; good-bye.”

Later that morning Marvin did a search for phone scams, virus detection, and the current year. Sure enough, he found almost the exact script the caller had been using. He read the background on it and noted the article was from a blog. He looked for online references to the phone scam in newspaper articles and international news sites. Sure enough, he found an Associated Press article on the topic, which confirmed the other postings he had been reading. No need wasting time with these phone calls anymore. Now, going into the online account for their phone service, he knew he could block a phone number from there.

In the digital age, adults frequently use problem-solving skills in the course of their daily lives, recreation, and work. The need for problem-solving is in part because many of these activities are supported by globally distributed technology and are more complex than they used to be. For Marvin, he could not use prior strategies, such as calling the Better Business Bureau, because so many exceptions exist to what they monitor. Instead, he used some basic technology skills and leveraged them with critical thinking, posing questions about legitimacy and authorship. Once he had finished his investigation as to the validity of the phone calls, he then developed a strategy to stop their intrusion. In the digital age, effective critical thinking and problem-solving skills have become the bedrock of success, and in this case, a better quality of life. Adults need to be adept at challenging their assumptions, considering different possibilities, and synthesizing new understandings in order to navigate the many situations they encounter.

Diversity and Multicultural Skills

In our list of critical opportunities for adult learning in the digital age, diversity and multicultural skills will complete our discussion. Considering the growing diversity of our population and the transparency of global communication, daily life, and work of individuals in the digital work, there are a plethora of multicultural experiences to be had and many forces at work to create our new global world. Not only have demographics shifted (for example, in the 1950s, the US workplace was less diverse by race and gender) but also it was more difficult to conduct international communication, partnerships, and therefore trade. New, scalable, and widely adopted technology has been largely responsible for the changes in the scope of business and communications. When technology innovation was too complex, it could not spread to nontechnical users. However, as the technology platforms and hardware became more user-friendly, more efficient, and less expensive, companies could expect more long-distance clients and partners to have them.

With more international communication emerged the need for organizations and employees to understand and serve different cultures and languages. Thus the multicultural and cross-cultural skills materialized as urgently needed core competencies in the 21st century.

In the previous scenario, Marvin needed many skills to explore the online resources and investigate the phone caller. However, he also needed to be cognizant that the caller might not even be in the United States and could be an offshore service. Understanding the potential international scope of his issue led him through a comprehensive investigative process.

Global citizenry is a newer term for this area of diversity, but it is a very familiar concept. It is the humanistic perspective of respect for people similar and different from you. Certainly, people vary greatly in the degree to which they have needed to exercise their global citizenry skills in the past. However, now we communicate transparently with people around the globe via instant messaging; e-mail; social media; business networking; online learning; and open resources such as MOOCs, MUDs, and MOO program language (i.e., massive open online courses [MOOCs], multi-user dimensions [MUDs), and MUD-object-oriented [MOO]). Living in the digital age, we need to be global citizens so that we are able to understand and address the needs of our multicultural world.

A Different Sort of Experience

By the time my sons were 14 years old, they had good friends in Scotland and Germany whom they exclusively knew through online media. This situation reminded me of when I was that same age and I had a pen pal in France. One of the big differences in our global experiences is that I communicated with my French friend once every few months (we could not afford air mail all the time), whereas my sons not only typed messages weekly but also occasionally spoke together over the computer. To this day, I have never heard my pen pal's voice; I wonder who she was.

Global citizenry in the digital age is ubiquitously needed in our communications and encompasses an entirely different scale of involvement. From picking up the phone and communicating with a telemarketer from India on the other end, to understanding the restrictions experienced by Islamic students in our children's classes, the world is smaller indeed. Chapter 9 will explore each of these key concepts in great detail.

Transformative Learning

The final area to be discussed as essential for adults to be successful in the digital age is transformative learning (TL). TL becomes a powerful perspective and skill set for adults to understand and cope with life in the digital age as they navigate unknown conditions, technologies, conditions, and expectations (Cranton, 1994, 2006; King, 2005, 2009; Mezirow, 1978, 1991; Mezirow & Associates, 2000). Both theoretical discussion and research have driven the development of TL (Cranton, 2006; Freire, 1972, 1973; King, 2005, 2009; Kitchenham, 2008; Mezirow & Associates, 2000; O'Sullivan, 1999; Taylor & Cranton, 2012). The approach that is being applied to this work is a holistic one, based on values and beliefs that the beneficial TL focus is one that includes the needs and potential of the whole person.

The TL model is also a stage model. The literature is full of discussions about the TL stages, including their number and nature. Yet, many researchers agree that TL includes adult learners navigating 4 to 11 stages (although not necessarily in an exclusive order): (1) encountering a “disorienting dilemma” (Mezirow, 1978); (2) examining one's feelings of guilt or shame; (3) critically assessing beliefs, values, or assumptions; (4) recognizing that others have navigated the discontent, process of transformation, and change; (5) testing new ways of thinking; (6) planning a course of action that reflects the change; (7) acquiring the knowledge and skills needed to enact the new plan; (8) testing new roles for their fit; (9) renegotiating relationships and negotiating new relationships as needed; (10) developing greater competence and confidence in the new roles and relationships; (11) incorporating the new perspectives, habits of mind, or worldviews into one's life by taking action (King, 2005, 2009; Kitchenham, 2008; Mezirow & Associates, 2000; Snyder, 2008; Taylor & Cranton, 2012).

The connections of these stages to the digital age are plentiful. Consider the disorienting dilemmas encountered that require extensive time investments and problem-solving. Those times when it is so difficult to cope with demanding issues and changes may be prime situations for transformative learning. In the same vein, consider the diverse community of our schools and workplaces. Whenever there are struggles in understanding or navigating cultural differences, there exist potential turning points or accelerators of transformative learning. However, at any given point in time, one's openness, readiness, and circumstances greatly influence whether one begins that journey of TL.

Considerations and Complications

In the course of discussing adult learning and the digital age, one cannot forget that there are many issues that must be considered beyond technical troubleshooting. For instance, growing concerns include technology-related ethical considerations, examples of which are ethics, plagiarism, identity theft, cyber theft, cyber forgery, live video surveillance, wearable technologies, and the changing nature of relationships in online spaces.

However, the academic and popular literatures depict a broader scope of concerns:

Technology or cyber control and the psychology of computation (Turkle, 2005)

The effect of technology and the Internet on neurodevelopment and intellectual and cultural history (Carr, 2011)

The impact of technology on our community and relationships (Maushart, 2011)

The nature of our identity and our relationships with these inanimate objects that dominate our time (Lanier, 2010; Turkle, 2012)

The potential of a different philosophy to establish users in control (Powers, 2010)

Perhaps not surprisingly, several of these specific books have dominated the nonfiction lists of best reads in recent years. This trend is further evidence that the general public understands not only the proliferation of technology adoption but also the existence of the very real, related issues. My point is that none of these thorny, persistent issues will be effectively addressed and fully explored without the adult learning skills discussed in this chapter. In order to succeed in the digital age, one needs to be invested in adult learning. The activities that are included in each chapter of this book provide focused opportunities for readers to explore that chapter's topics. The different strategies I incorporated in these activities promote critical reflection, questioning, analysis, thoughtful application, meaning making, and more. Ultimately, the activities provide time and space for readers to pause, consider, and develop their personal and professional connections with the reading.

Activity 1.1 Journal

Keeping a journal is beneficial to critically reflect on, interact with, and identify possible applications of the readings. True to the nature of this book, however, I suggest readers consider creating something different than a traditional paper journal or diary. Instead, leverage the tools of the digital age and access the many possibilities for reflective journaling. Consider the range of formats, media, and complexity available.

Benefits of keeping this journal include opportunities to do the following:

Document your personal and professional growth.

Articulate, verify, and appreciate your learning journey.

Scaffold digital age skills and improve your use of digital resources for reflection.

Develop new instructional ideas.

Focus on your well-being and development.

Create a digital self-history.

This list provides suggestions for developing a continuing reflective journal that offers space for contemplating and considering the implications of this book on your personal and professional lives. Select the items that work for you, add anything else you need; however, the main point is to plan and begin your journal so you can participate in the chapter activities and gain the most from your reading experience.

To begin, review the first list and select one or more modes of journaling. Next, consider the “scope of distribution” list and decide which choice best fits your needs. The lists are suggestions; you may certainly use any medium you prefer or a combination of methods.

Nature or Form of Reflective Expression

Written: on paper, local computer, online, or another medium

Verbal: digital recording recommended for archive purposes

Graphic design: computer-based art, painting, sketching, graphic novel, and so on

Musical: instrumental or vocal recordings

Movement: role-plays, dance, drama recordings

Scope of Distribution of Your Journal

Private (locally kept files or documents)

Small- or large-group (read and discuss the book with a small group or in a class)

Public (create a public blog to post your reflections)

If you