A framework for understanding adult learning and education—Griff Foley

Contrasts models of professional education—“front end loading” of knowledge, skills, abilities, theories that practitioners were thought to need before beginning to practice vs. “practitioner-centered” model that assumes that practitioners continually construct their own understandings of their work which can be enhanced by theory or other critical perspectives that are useful to their work. Foley says that everyone already has frameworks that they use to make sense of the world and the job of adult educators is to critically examine and develop these frameworks to make our practice more effective. Foley clearly privileges informal theory or “reflection-in-action” where practitioners’ informal theories and tacit knowledge, gained through actual practice, are made explicit through reflection then tested through action and are again reflected on and then refined in action in a never-ending (or what should be a never ending spiral (the action-reflection spiral diagrammed on pg. 11). I like the idea that Foley draws from Usher and Schon’s work that “practitioners do not apply principles, they try to find their way through complex and ambiguous situations.” (14) I also like that Foley recognizes the place of formal theory from a variety of disciplines as away of critically reflecting on actual experience, not as an intellectual exercise or a set of templates to follow unquestioningly or that exist in the world in a pure form. Foley also lays out three paradigms or frameworks—scientific or positivist (rationally observe-hypothesize-test in “objective” manner), interpretive (liberal progressive idea that knowledge is “subjective and socially constructed” by individuals) and critical (radical and revolutionary idea that knowledge is constructed and controlled not only by individual subjectivity but by social and cultural systems of varying levels of power).

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