Adult Education in Practice: The Case of Emerging Adults

Let’s consider a concrete example of what’s been written so far about adult education. To summarize, the earlier posts discussed that there are different ways of organizing content in adult religious education, from basic to more advanced. Second, I presented that adult education must meet the developmental – intellectual, emotional, spiritual, religious, and physical needs – of adulthood across the adult lifespan.

What does this mean in practice? To offer a concrete example, I want to share some ideas about working with one age group of adults. It’s one you may not be familiar with: emerging adults.

In the last twenty years, psychologists have been discussing a new developmental category of adulthood: emerging adult.  An emerging adult is no longer a teenager but is not yet a young adult. Emerging adults tend be between eighteen and thirty years old. Because of lengthy educations, delaying marriage, job insecurities, there is an unsettled quality in this developmental phase. When researches asked men and women in this age group the about these and other issues, the most common answers were “yes and no.” Yes, I want to be married, but no I am not married, nor have I found the person yet. Yes, I want to find my career, but no I keep changing jobs. A young adult, in this understanding has answered the questions but is merely relatively at the beginning stages, for example, newly married, in a job for a relatively longer period of time. As with other elements of adult development, this stage of growth is more about changing social roles rather than changing physical or cognitive qualities.

Knowing this and more about emerging adults (I highly recommend reading about various stages of adulthood), a parish or diocesan ministry can begin to develop programs or events that meet the particular needs of this period of life.

Given the unsettled pattern in emerging adulthood, with all the “yes and no” answers to questions, a program could be created to work on issues of discernment and decision about life choices. Most emerging adults (and even many of us older adults) were told they “could be anything” in life. Certainly an empowering message, but within the message is potentially the problem of avoid “settling” or “choosing” the path or direction. With supposed unlimited possibilities, choosing can be painful. “What if I make the wrong choice?” is the nagging interior question. If so, avoid choosing; “keep the options open.” An adult education program, a retreat, could look at the choices that we make, how we make them, finding the positive dimension of the choice. An adult education program could use texts from the Bible, lives of saints, and spiritual writings as sources to study, find inspiration, and stimulate conversation. This same approach could be done with emerging adults to discuss issues of marriage, vocation, and their engagement with the world around them: Church, community, and beyond.

Naturally, while older adults certainly face decisions in life, once they have answered the emerging adult questions, resolving issues of career, marriage, etc. the questions and issues change. So, emerging adults, young adults, middle aged adults, and senior adults each have their distinct questions and concerns. Those responsible for ministering to adults in a parish, organizing adult education programs and events, should be spending time getting to know the needs of these stages in order to develop programs that meet particular needs.

In the next and final post on adult education, the focus will be on resources and organizing a program.