What do you believe about teaching and learning?

When making curriculum decisions, an educator’s philosophy of teaching and learning is a major contributor to the decision making process.  Why do you believe it is important to develop a working philosophy of teaching and learning? 

Your philosophy of teaching will serve as a guide as you make decisions about curriculum, learning objectives, and instructional methods.  You must ask yourself “why” before you can ask yourself “what” or “how”.  It is also important to note that there is often a difference in what educators say they believe and what they actually practice.  An awareness of this difference will help you examine any discrepancies in what you believe and your actions.  By developing your working philosophy you will better be able to set guidelines, determine what is worthwhile, and ask better questions.  The table below outlines the five philosophies of adult education.  When identifying your working philosophy you must consider what you believe the purpose is, the role of the learner, and the role of the teacher.  Look at this table and decide what philosophy best matches your beliefs on teaching and learning. 


Liberal Adult Education 

Behavioral Adult Education 

Progressive Adult Education 

Humanistic Adult Education 

Radical Adult Education 


Stresses content mastery with the educator seen as the expert. 

Stresses the importance of environment in shaping desired behavior. 

Stresses the experiential, problem solving approach to learning. 

Stresses personal growth and self-direction in the learning process. 

Stresses the role of education as a means of bringing about major social change. 


Always a learner, seeks knowledge, theoretical understanding 

Takes an active role, practices new behavior and receives feedback, strong environmental impact 

Learner needs, interests, and experiences are key; have unlimited potential  

Highly-motivated, self-directed, assumes responsibility for learning 

Equality with teacher in learning process, create and change history and culture by combining reflection with action 


“Expert”, authoritative, transmitter of knowledge, clearly directs the learning process 

Manager, controller, predicts and directs learning outcomes 

Organizer, facilitator, guide; stimulates, investigates and evaluates the learning process 

Facilitator, helper, promotes but does not direct learning 

Coordinator, suggests but does not determine direction of learning, equality with learner inlearning process 


Lecture, dialect, study groups, contemplation, critical reading and discussion 

Programmed instruction, contract learning, criterion-referenced testing, skill training 

Problem solving, scientific method, activity curriculum, project method, cooperative learning 

Experiential learning, group tasks, group discussion, team teaching, self-directed learning, and discovery method 

Dialogue, problem posing, critical reflection, maximum interaction, discussion groups, exposure to media and people in real life situations 


You may have found it very daunting to develop your working philosophy from a blank slate.  For this reason, the Philosophy of Adult Education Inventory (PAEI) has been designed by Lorraine Zinn (1983) to begin the development of a philosophy on adult education.  Use the instrument as a starting point to understand where your beliefs fit in adult education.  The instrument can be accessed through link to the PDF file at the bottom of the page or the following website: http://www.labr.net/apps/paei/   Before completing the instrument reflect on what you expect your results to be.

Once you have completed the instrument, analyze the results and further develop your philosophy of adult education.  Ask yourself the following questions:  How are your results different from what you expected?  What was surprising about your results?  What might be the benefits of identifying with a combination of philosophies?  Is one philosophy more effective than others?  Do you believe your philosophy can shift as you become more confident in your ability to succeed as an educator? 

The University of Minnesota’s Center for Educational Innovation outlines the steps to writing your own philosophy of teaching and learning.  The tutorial on this website will take you through the steps of further defining your philosophy, organizing your ideas to create a working draft, and evaluating your philosophy based on a rubric for effective teaching philosophies.  This tutorial can be accessed through the following website:  http://cei.umn.edu/support-services/tutorials/writing-teaching-philosophy  

Zinn L. M. (1983). Development of a valid and reliable instrument to identify a personal philosophy of adult education. Dissertation Abstracts International, 44, 1667A-1668A.  (University Micro-films No. DA 8323851). 

Zinn L. M. (2004).  Exploring you philosophical orientation. In M. W. Galbraith (Ed.), Adult Learning Methods: A guide for effective instruction (pp 39-58). Malabar, FL:  Krieger