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The adult educators: their education and their path​

The main task of adult education is to awaken the will to learn. The basic question of the adult educator, therefore, must be: How can I awaken the will in the other person? Awakening the will means awakening the three drives in us. These drives are always there, but usually dormant. Only our ego can awaken them. It is not possible to awaken something in us from the outside, least of all the will. All that can be done is to create an opportunity, a stimulus, a challenge, that will allow a kind of self-awakening to occur. This is a chief task of the adult educator.


Ultimately, however, it takes place through the self-engendered inner activity of the learner. Self-awakening might also be called “Learning how to Learn”. In other words, the real task of the adult educator is to teach adults the activity of “self-learning”. What gifts are needed for this purpose? To discover and develop these, the adult educator has to go on a path of discovery, or rather, of spiritual research.

The Learning Event

To start on this path, whenever insight occurs, whenever an important event takes place, or we achieve something fruitful, we need consciously to ask ourselves: “What is it that I have learned here?” We must then try to put the answer, when found, into words, so that is does not get lost. This means we are really doing a kind of learning review. It gives us the basis we need for researching the path we have been on, to arrive at this particular learning event.

The Learning Path

This path is often hidden, it a mysterious process. An observation, a conversation, a book, a walk, an illness, even an accident, may contribute to it. The learning path has a biography, and this biograpy needs to be understood. Biographical research into our learning path will develop the gifts in us to awaken “Learning how to Learn” (including the biography of the learning path) in the other person. In other words, it is necessary to become clear about the learning event first, then to become familiar with our own path. This must then be transformed into practical teaching forms.

Creating a Learning Situation

As a next step, this self-examination needs therefore to be made fruitful for other people. In our learning biography we will discover certain basic elements that together have reforged a large number of experiences into an ability. These basic elements have become the material with the help of which learning situations may be created – often in a very simplified way. The core of the adult educator’s arduous, long learning biography becomes a concrete and operational learning possibility for others.

Thus, many exercises have come about which are often very simple but which have a strong effect, because they are densified experiences. Many lectures are nothing but the communication of knowledge by lecturers who have not taken the trouble to go through these three steps, asking themsleves:

-   How and what was my learning moment?

-   What is the learning path I have gone through for this to happen?

-   How can the essential aspect of this path be made fruitful for others?

Following this path, our lectures will assume a different character – there will be less communication of knowledge, but more awakening of the will. Our aim is the latter, which, however, we can achieve only if we embark on this research path. Thereby we turn ourselves into adult educators. The numerous excellent artists, scientists and specialists will become adult educators, only if they have first made their own development and instrument for others.

from Coenraad van Houten, Awakening the Will: Principles and Processes in Adult Learning, Adult Learning Network, Forest Row, 1995, pp.105-6.



Steiner Education Centenary Revival

A booklet of specially selected excerpts from Rudolf Steiner's thoughts on education and the threefold social order. All proceeds are donations to the Education for Social Renewal Foundation. Click here to make an order. 

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