Since the late 1960s, people have talked about the rapid rate of change in our world. Since the 1970s we have become increasingly influenced by globalization, by digitization of data, by our endangered environment, and by ways in which technology asks us to communicate with each other and view the world. Whether or not we agree with what has been written about postmodernism in higher education (Pietrtykowski, 1996; Bloland, 1995; Prawat, 1996; Prawat, 1999; Luppicini, 2003), we can all sense that something is happening in our society. The political landscape includes globalism in our daily lives. Our work pace is accelerating, our lives are more chaotic and less controllable than they were a generation ago, the world economy has shifted. There is an increasing global perspective related to trade. The powerful role played by nature is sometimes ignored and the role played by technology is powerful but sometimes exaggerated. Web 1.0 was involved with massive knowledge dissemination and we talked about the knowledge-based economy. Web 2.0 allows that knowledge to be manipulated and used by individuals, and as a result we are moving toward mass customization of knowledge products.
21st Century Education
Throughout the world we are more focused now than we were a generation ago on an image that is portrayed to us through the media and on achieving that image through consumerism: “A consumer culture calls into question the assumption that the academy has a monopoly of knowledge. This de-legitimates belief in professors as experts, particularly as ultimate authorities on the subjects they teach.” (Bloland, 1995, p. 541) With that drive, education becomes more technocratic, and professional work becomes more production oriented.
What does all of this mean with regard to 21st Century education? Many social observers say that “postmodernism” is over. Others say it never happened. Many say that the concept of postmodernism is itself based on shaky assumptions. These observations may all be correct (even though they contradict one another). On the other hand, if we do not entertain new ideas about education and the systems in which it works, then how can we be accountable for improvement within the educational system? There is certainly more variety in higher education than the one room schoolhouse.
What is on the horizon in our approaches to learning? If learners will be coming to our institutions with different value sets and therefore different expectations, and if the market and the structure of education can shift, what might the future of higher education look like? How does the way we think about the postmodern world actually translate into actions in the academy? How will postsecondary education respond to the postmodern challenge? What is the nature of transformational and appreciative responses to this postmodern challenge within adult education programs and postsecondary educational institutions? As background, we offer several perspectives on these questions: the learning challenge for a postmodern world, an overview of adult learning theories, aspects of postmodern learning, and ways in which postmodernism influences the work of students, instructors and our models of learning. We then turn specifically to the primary components of the four models of adult education.