When Philosophy Meets The Corporate World Of Learning Professionals

Adult Education Philosophy For Corporate Learning Professionals

How often do you hear the use of the word "philosophy" in the corporate world you inhabit? Idealism, wisdom, ethics, and values, all of which are concepts from a bygone 6th century BCE, seem to have lost their meaning in our 21st-century world. On the contrary, how about revisiting the philosophies of adult education and integrating them into your own philosophy of practice as a corporate learning professional? The intention is to invoke and not revive classical practices, as they still hold true even today. In fact, right at this moment, you might be operating using a philosophy of practice because we all have beliefs about what we should be doing in a learning event or classroom; however, we might not be critically aware of it or may not be able to articulate it fully.

What Is A Personal Philosophy Of Practice?

Our philosophy is embedded in both what we believe about teaching and learning, and in what we actually do in practice. A personal philosophy is like a personal constitution that is based on correct principles and is rooted in your ethics and values. Your philosophy is what guides what you want to accomplish as a result of your practice.

  • Use your current philosophies of practice to challenge yourself.
  • Recognize the rationale behind your past and present actions. Why you do what you do and the way you do it.
  • Reflect on how your philosophy guides your practice and how your practice guides your philosophy.
  • Do not base your institutional or programmatic decisions on assumptions or factors such as the popularity of a particular teaching strategy, stated learning objectives, or attractiveness of instructional materials.
  • Instead, use your philosophy to guide your decision-making and actions when planning, executing and evaluating learning activities and interventions.

Recognizing Your Philosophies Of Practice

Philosophies of adult education and learning fall into these broad categories:

1. Liberal

The liberal school emphasizes on developing the intellectual power of the mind. Intellectual, moral, and spiritual upliftment is of the utmost importance. The educator is the center of authority, an expert and the transmitter of knowledge, who clearly directs the learning process.

Keywords: liberal arts, critical thinking, traditional knowledge, academic excellence

2. Behaviourist

The importance of the environment in shaping the desired behaviour gains importance. The educator is the controller who directs the learning outcomes and designs the learning environment to bring about the desired behaviour.

Keywords: standards, competence, accountability, feedback, reinforcement, performance

3. Progressive

Stresses an experiential, experimental and practical problem-solving approach to learning. The learner experience and problem-solving activities with which they engage take center stage. The educator organizes and guides the learner experience, and stimulates and evaluates the learning process.

Keywords: problem-solving, transfer of learning, active inquiry, collaboration, practical-experience based

4. Humanist

This philosophy believes in personal growth and self-direction in the learning process. This theory is based on the assumption that humans possess boundless potential. The educator becomes a facilitator who promotes learning and serves as a resource for learners.

Keywords: autonomy, self-directedness, interpersonal communication, feelings, teaching-learning exchange

5. Radical

The radical approach emphasizes that the role of education is to bring about political, social, and economic change and education should be used to combat oppression in society. The educator is a provocateur who does not control but suggests the direction for learning. Consequently, the teacher-learner relationship is equalized.

Keywords: autonomy, social action, commitment, transformation, consciousness-raising, praxis, empowerment

Next Steps

Take the Zinn Inventory to discover your primary and secondary philosophy. Remember, there is no right or wrong philosophy. They are not meant for you to make judgements about your beliefs. Use the inventory to reflect on your own beliefs, and how your beliefs influence your decisions and actions. Your philosophies should also give you insight into how well suited you are to your work environment. Retake the inventory from time to time to observe any changes in your orientation and to reflect on the reasons and outcomes of the changes. Also, think about how your current philosophy will evolve in the digital age. How can you adapt and apply your current beliefs, values, and actions to an environment that is getting increasingly technological and reshaping the digital learner?


Tisdell, E. J., & Taylor, E. W. (1999). Adult education philosophy informs practice. Adult Learning, 11(2), 6-10

Zinn, L.M. (1983) Philosophy of Adult Education Inventory. Available at https://www.labr.net/apps/paei/