Comparing Two Works of Adult Education Literature Using Communicative Questions

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This paper will look at two pieces of writing in the adult education literature which give very different viewpoints on the role of experience in learning. The first piece is the article “Disney, Dewey, and the Death of Experience” by Jay Roberts (2005), which takes a critical look at the practice of experiential learning in the K-12 curriculum, and offers a framework for providing more meaningful learning experiences for students. The second piece, “Learning, Literacy, and Identity” by Lyn Tett (2005) explores the role of experience in shaping a meaningful curriculum for adult learners, and extensively draws on the example of a literacy curriculum for low-income adults in Scotland.

Specifically, this critique aims to examine the articles using the communicative questions established in Stephen Brookfield’s “Storming the Citadel” (1995). Communicative questions, according to Brookfield, ask us to look beyond simple issues of “form, style, and presentation”, asking what political influences are at work in influencing a writer’s thinking and in driving a piece to publication.

Finally, the critique will wrap up with an attempt to relate the critical examination of the works to my own practice.

The Brookfield Questions

Whose Voices Are Heard in a Piece of Academic Writing?

            Roberts (2005) focuses primarily on K-12 education. In fact, a search through the document PDF for the terms “adult” and “andragogy” turned up no results, while a search on the word “pedagogy” turned up five results. This is important to note since this was presented as a piece of adult education literature in ADTED 510 at Penn State. As such, it is probably fair to conclude that the voices of the K-12 field were given precedence over those of the adult education field.[MT1] 

            The Roberts piece draws much on the works of education theorists like John Dewey and William James, and specifically on the work of experiential education pioneer Kurt Hahn (p. 12). Roberts makes a painstaking effort to connect the work of these and many other writers and theorists in the education field in order to build his case, but draws only sporadically on real world examples. In fact, of the examples used, none tells a complete story or includes the voices of the learners. This is problematic since learners’ voices would lend additional credence to the ideas of social justice and democracy in education that Roberts espouses.[MT2] 

            In contrast, Tett’s work (2005), in addition to drawing from existing theoretical work, uses narrative and storytelling to support her conclusion that lifelong learning should be grounded in lived experiences, a common theme in adult education literature. The term “deficit model” is prevalent in adult education literature as well. Thus, the Tett piece can be said to be much more grounded in the theme of adult education, as well as offering stories as well as theory and logical construction to support her conclusions.

To What Extent Does the Literature Use a Form of Specialized Language that is Unjustifiably Distanced from the Colloquial Language of Learners and Teachers?

Roberts (2005) borrows heavily from the works of prominent educational theorists as noted above. Though he does use real-world examples, at no point does he tell a complete story, nor does he offer a real-world example of the types of experiential learning he espouses. To be fair, he does conclude by suggesting that teachers not be afraid to experiment and to use his ideas as a starting point for trying these experiences.

Tett (2005), on the other hand, writes a piece that is much more accessible to adult education practitioners. She uses some specialized language (“deficit model”) that is perhaps not immediately recognizable by all practitioners, but she more than makes up for this by providing a compelling story told in a manner that should be easily understood by practitioners.

Relation to My Own Practice

            Around the office, much of the critical discourse takes place around learning theories’ relationships with various technologies. It also takes place around theories of instructional design and distance education. Therefore, phrases like “transactional distance,” “Bloom’s taxonomy,” “gaming theory,” and “mobile learning theory” are common. Also, while the word “pedagogy” is prevalent, rarely if ever are adult education terminology like “andragogy,” “perspective transformation,” “praxis,” “deficit model,” etc., used in the workplace, nor are adult education theorists or prominent thinkers like Freire, Mezirow, and Horton discussed. This is perhaps problematic because of an organizational understanding that our primary customer is the adult learner.[MT3] 


Brookfield, S. (1995). Storming the Citadel. In Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Retrieved from 

Roberts, J. W. (2005). Disney, Dewey, and the Death of Experience in Education. Education and Culture, 21(2), 12-30. 

Tett, L. (2005). Learning, Literacy, and Identity. In T. Nesbit (Ed.), Class Concerns: Adult Education and Social Class, New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education (pp. 27-36). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.