Adult Education Majors Guide

What Does it Mean to Study Adult Education?

Adult education is the teaching or training of adults. This education can take place in a variety of settings. As an adult educator, you may teach large classrooms of students at the college or university level, or small groups of adults in a corporate setting. Adult educators may even find themselves working with students on an individual basis.

An adult educator typically has some education and/or work experience in a specific field. A Teaching & Education degree with a majors in adult education builds upon their education and work experience, qualifying them to not only to work in their particular field, but to teach skills in that field as well.

Adult educators encourage and enable adults to further their education. If you think you may want to pursue a major in this field, you should enjoy teaching, have strong interpersonal skills and work well with diverse populations.

Learning about adult education most often takes place in postsecondary schools, such as vocational schools (also known as technical colleges), colleges and universities. It’s also happening more and more often online. Courses can cover topics such as adult growth and development, adult psychology, and program planning and development.

Teaching in a postsecondary setting usually requires at least a college degree and strong knowledge of a particular subject. Your prior education and work experience often determine the specialties you can teach. For example, a person with a college degree in finance who earns a graduate degree in adult education may go on to teach university courses in accounting.

Adult educators have sprung up in corporate environments as well, teaching employees how to perform their duties. A company’s human resources department usually oversees this position, often referred to as “corporate training.” Trainers build and deliver professional development programs to employees. These may cover a wide variety of topics, from general business concepts to company specifics.

Types of Adult Education Degrees

Degree programs in adult education equip you to teach adults in the setting and field of your choice. Most adult education degrees are master’s degrees or higher, building on more generalized education degrees and experience at the undergraduate level. Some undergraduate adult education programs do exist, however.

Online degree programs in adult education have become increasingly widespread as working teachers and educators seek to boost their credentials without losing income by taking time off work.

Associate Degrees in Adult Education

Associate degrees in adult education are rare and focus primarily on the vocational education industry. They generally include courses in human behavior and adult psychology. An associate’s degree typically takes two years to complete.

The associate degree is often used as a stepping stone for a bachelor’s degree, since few career opportunities exist for adult educators without a bachelor’s. However, vocational educators often begin their careers with only an associate degree and work experience in their field. For example, a person with experience as a welder may earn their associate degree in adult education in order to teach welding at a vocational school.

Bachelor’s Degrees in Adult Education

A bachelor’s degree in adult education typically includes courses on communication, curriculum development, and theories and practices of adult education. Generally speaking, these programs take four years to complete. A bachelor’s in adult education should not be confused with a K-12 teacher education program, as it does not certify you to teach in an elementary or secondary school. Adults and children learn in different ways, and what you learn about one may not translate to teaching the other.

What Can You Do With a Degree in Adult Education?

Colleges, Universities and Vocational or Technical Schools

The majority of postsecondary educators teach at the college or university level. A postsecondary educator with a graduate degree in adult education typically holds an undergraduate degree in a particular field of expertise and often has some work experience in that area as well. For example, a person with an undergraduate degree in accounting might work for a few years as an accountant and then pursue a master’s degree in adult education. With this combination of experience and education, he may then pursue a career as a teacher of finance or accounting at his local university.

Colleges and universities typically require that their instructors hold at least a master’s degree. Higher-level instructors, such as professors, will typically hold a PhD in the subject they teach. In the world of postsecondary education, the higher your education level, the more career options are available to you.

Colleges and universities offer significant potential for advancement. With a master’s degree, you may start out as an instructor. As you reach higher levels of education, you may advance to a professorship or even take on a position in the administration. Teachers and administrators at colleges and universities enjoy relatively flexible schedules, but must occasionally teach night or weekend classes. In addition to classroom responsibilities, adult educators must attend staff meetings and perform administrative work.

Colleges and universities often expect their educators to conduct research in their primary field and publish their findings. They can sometimes use their three months’ summer vacation to conduct extra experiments or spend time on research. Many professors also use this time to teach additional courses in order to earn more money.

Vocational schools, also known as technical schools or colleges, are postsecondary institutions that typically teach skills that will help students in a particular job, such as welding or small engine repair. These schools offer opportunities for adult educators as well. To teach in a vocational or technical school, job experience in a specific field is important, as well as recognition in that field through certification or licensure. For example, an individual with experience as a welder and an associate degree in adult education is a good candidate for a position as a welding instructor.

Although vocational schools may not always require a master’s degree or a bachelor’s degree, formal education plays a major role when schools hire new teachers. In addition to teaching, schools expect instructors to stay current on trends and new techniques in their specialty. Schedules are typically flexible, though night or weekend courses may be taught here as well.

Education Administration

Education administrators oversee a variety of educational institutions, ranging from day care centers to universities. Universities typically require administrators to have a PhD, although a master’s degree is sometimes sufficient at a childcare center or at a secondary school. Education administrators typically begin as teachers. They leverage their classroom experience, along with their education, to excel and advance in their careers.

Administrators govern the school and supervise the staff. They should possess strong communication skills and the ability to work well with a diverse staff and community. Administrative positions require a year-round commitment, and often involve attendance at nighttime meetings and events.

Administrators at a college or university often spend most of their time handling managerial duties, including fundraising, budgeting, and personnel development. At this level, administrators might hold college degrees in many different fields. A formal degree in adult education can make a big difference to an administrator who wants to advance her career to the next level. Most high-level university administrators hold a PhD, and have experience teaching college students.

Examples of university and college administrators include department chairs, deans, and university presidents. Most universities make hiring decisions on a career-ladder basis. For example, department chairs may advance to positions as deans, and deans can become college presidents.

Corporate Training Specialists

Training managers and training specialists typically work for a corporation’s human resources department (or come in from the outside as consultants). They create and execute on-the-job training programs for employees. These programs may include basic employee orientation, as well as more complex programs such as teaching employees how to use new software.

While training managers and specialists come from a wide variety of educational and work related backgrounds, they all must possess strong skills in teaching and program development. A bachelor’s degree is usually required, as well as some work experience.

Government programs that are teaching job and life skills to underserved populations often employ training managers and specialists. In these cases, training managers may be responsible for working with the client to determine what type of training they require, and seeing that they receive it. Programs can be as varied as the clients they serve, from literacy skills to basic budgeting. Although these positions require varying levels of education, most require at least a bachelor’s degree.

Adult Education Certification, Licensure and Associations

Although no universal adult education license exists, your county or state may require a certificate or a license in your specialty in order to obtain a teaching position. Particularly in a vocational setting, you may be required to hold a license or certification in the courses you plan to teach. For example, many states require a teacher of cosmetology to hold a valid cosmetologist’s license in order to start a position as a cosmetology instructor.

Therefore, be sure to keep up with any required continuing education programs in your chosen specialty. In addition, check with your local authorities about keeping any necessary licenses current.

Other Associations and Certification Bodies:

Article Sources


  1. “Adult Literacy and High School Equivalency Diploma Teachers,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 8, 2014,
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