...entrust to reliable people... 2 Tim. 2:2


There are others in the pool: seismic shifts in adult education

by Dr. John Jusu, More than a Mile Deep (MMD - Entrust ministry partner) curriculum designer, Kenya

Seismic changes in learning expectations are changing views about adult education.

Immediately after graduate school and without much pastoral experience, I was asked to pastor a mid-sized church to allow an older gentleman with immense pastoral competence to seek accredited education. Recently the same church, after 25 years, wanted to hire a pastor. This time, the search committee resolved, “We are not going to hire anyone who cannot go into the pulpit and preach, not even if that person has a doctorate.”

Credential vs. competence

The seismic change in employer expectations, desiring competences more than qualifications on paper, may partly account for why adults go back to school. Adult learners go back to school wanting to learn advanced practices to keep themselves on the cutting edge, certify their experiences (gain a piece of paper) and improve themselves. But traditional institutions are oblivious to the differences between a piece of paper showing numbers of hours acquired in a discipline, and programs involving engaged, process-reflective learning. Employers are more likely to hire on the basis of real-life and real-time practice than on the basis of credit hours.

In the church, most adults want training to develop competences for ministry and not necessarily to obtain degrees. Adults develop competences through diverse school and non-school programs in areas such as leadership, management and pastoral ministry. For the adult learner, education is not just about going through a life cycle, it is life.

John and Tity Jusu
John Jusu directs MMD's Educational Service Unit (shown with his wife, Tity)

These desires have swelled adult enrollment in diverse programs to the extent of creating a second seismic shift—students are now mostly people who have raised families, established careers and are in some way contributing to nation-building. Oblivious to this shift, almost all literature describing individuals enrolled in higher education sees them as those who have just left high school and are beginning to establish careers. The reasons adults are coming back to school are ignored.

To properly engage with the adult learner, institutions must go beyond the “who”—developmental phases of learners’ lives —to “why”—why are these adults here?

As educational institutions begin to mesh the “why” with the “who,” they will be compelled to change their educational practices including teaching methods, scheduling of learning events and assessment practices. They will redefine access to learning opportunities from their current myopic understanding to a more realistic approach, enabling adults to enroll in courses at their convenience, whether in pajamas or three-piece suits. They will begin to provide learning experiences that give answers to adults’ questions in real time and context. Biblical education institutions will redefine the most important indicators of capability, competence and career success in pastoral training.

In light of these changes, teachers need to avoid dumping information into students’ heads, making them conform to irrelevant rules and regulations, forcing them to learn irrelevant materials in demeaning and dehumanizing ways. The system should help adults critically engage with their experiences, build insights from those experiences and transfer those novel experiences into new learning situations. It is also important to involve learners in deciding what they want to learn, how they will learn it and how they would like to be assessed. They need not resign their jobs to be full-time students. The school should use students’ job situations as laboratories for learning, aiding students in critically reflecting on their professional activities and experiences.

Non-formal training and MMD

Realizing that others are in the pool, our educational processes must integrate academic credentials and competences. Non-formal education is growing in popularity in Africa. But there is evidence that these non-school systems do not provide the high impact training required for adults to function well in their contexts. Many of these new systems offer skimpy, non-accredited programs, often run by incompetent people. It is as hilarious as it is worrying that some of these non-formal systems now consider themselves degree granting systems.

In 2002, the church in Africa realized this disconnect between credentials and competences. They birthed the More than a Mile Deep curriculum project to develop competence in the African church leader in four ministry areas—leading, preaching/teaching, discipling and counseling—while simultaneously allowing that leader to pursue sound accredited degrees.

MMD is designed to not remove the learner from the context. It helps the learner generate and discover answers to his or her own questions and issues through what MMD calls Action-Reflection-Action (ARA). Through this process of learning, the adult starts to generate the knowledge required to solve contextual problems.

MMD courses help the adult learner make the shift from knowledge consumer to knowledge constructor. The ARA process helps the learner apply critical reflection to activities performed to generate new knowledge or make creative use of previous knowledge. After several activities and reflection, the learner is required to produce a well-thought-out and integrated academic paper. This paper is assessed for academic credit in addition to visible outcomes.

For example; if someone enrolls in the MMD program with the aim of becoming a church planter, that learner must plant a church before graduation. He then provides a critical reflection paper on the process and results, for academic credit. Through this, the adult’s desire to connect experience with real practice is achieved and at the same time, the need for certification of that experience is also achieved.

MMD learners’ real-life experience, coupled with the academic credentials they can gain, are creating yet another seismic shift in ministry training in Africa.




This article first appeared in the Fall 2017 Engage.