restricted access Best Practices in Adult Learning (review)
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Reviewed by
Lee Bash (Ed.). Best Practices in Adult Learning. Bolton, MA: Anker, 2005. 240 pp. Cloth: $39.95. ISBN: 1-882982-78-9.

As a follow-up to Adult Learners in the Academy (2003) that was intended for faculty and campus leaders, Lee Bash has addressed his latest effort to practitioners of adult higher education. He announces his purpose as sharing "with fellow adult educators some of the best practices I have encountered or learned about in my own pursuit of this topic" (p. xi). The book is indeed a book written by practitioners for practitioners and, according to Bash, represents "every type of institution" (p. xi).

The book certainly discusses several of the practices employed when continuing educators work with adult learners. But to claim that these practices are the "best" and represent "every" type of higher education institutions is an overstatement.

I also take issue with the claim that certain practices are equally applicable in all situations despite undeniable variations in a practitioners' circumstances and organization contexts. All but two of the 13 contributors work in private institutions (one for-profit and 10 not-for-profit), and most of these institutions have Carnegie classifications of either "baccalaureate" (3) or "master's" (7). [End Page 327] Therefore, I believe it is more precise to say that the book is about selected practices that practitioners have found to be effective when working with adult learners in their particular circumstances and institutions.

With this clarification of the book's scope, its contents can be considered more fairly and accurately. The editor has organized the book's 12 chapters into five major sections dealing with (a) foundations of best practices, (b) defining moments in adult programs, (c) faculty development, (d) application of technology, and (e) senior learners.

I found the placement of chapters in the foundation section somewhat odd in that two of the three focused on the concepts of multiple intelligence and degree completion. Certainly both are issues in adult programming in higher education, but they are hardly foundational concepts to "best practices." In contrast, the third chapter in this section was indeed foundational. It focused on concepts from program development and the influence of institutional culture on the implicit theory of action that guides and influences adult learning programs and practices.

The chapters on "defining moments in adult programs" focus on four topics—organizational partnerships, recruiting and admitting students, advising, and the value of an introductory course to orient adult learners to college and build their confidence as learners. Authors of chapters in this section relied heavily on their professional experiences.

The chapter on advising, however, by Sue Grunau of Baldwin-Wallace College, differed in its depth of treatment and her use of the professional literature and examples from a wide variety of institutional types (e.g., Chemeketa Community College, Harvard Business School, and the University of Phoenix).

The authors of both chapters in the section on faculty development and instructional effectiveness also drew heavily upon experiences at their respective institutions (University of Redlands and Simpson College) to address the topics of adjunct faculty development and maintaining instructional quality. Both offer a reflective and insightful look at how their institutions address instructional quality by integrating adjunct instructors into the life of their institutions, recognizing instructional excellence by regular and adjunct faculty, and monitoring teaching quality carefully using data from student evaluations and other sources.

Chapters in the fourth section continue the focus on program delivery and instruction by addressing the use of distance education technologies to reach adult learners. A highlight of this section is the chapter by Margie Martyn of Baldwin-Wallace College who reviews extant research on the use of computer-mediated communication (CMC) to create and sustain a sense of social presence across time and place to achieve desired learning outcomes. Martyn's extensive reference list and use of a table to summarize research on the relationship between instructional goals, types of interaction, and CMC tools were added bonuses.

The book closes with a focus on a topic that probably defines a future aspect of adult higher education: adult learners of the "Third Age," or persons over age 65. Charlene Martin of...