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Careers in Lifelong Learning and Adult Education

Graduate degrees in Lifelong Learning and Adult Education are among the most practical - and adaptable - in all of higher education.


The M.Ed. and D.Ed. are both practitioner degrees, preparing graduates to apply their expertise effectively in a variety of specialized settings.

The Ph.D. is a research degree and prepares graduates to advance the theoretical foundations, empirical knowledge, and strategic role of adult education not only in the context of higher education but in relation to national and international goals of building civil society and realizing human potentials.

Students have the opportunity to work with faculty on organized research and outreach endeavors, which sometimes involve living outside the U.S. for several weeks at a time. Students may also co-author books, book chapters, journal articles, conference papers, and presentations with faculty.

Examples of opportunities to assist faculty with research include:

  • Initiatives of the adult and family literacy institutes at Penn State
  • Engaging in community capacity building projects in West Philadelphia and Grenada
  • Engaging in consciousness-raising projects with prisoners in central Pennsylvania
  • Planning regional and national adult education conferences
  • Assisting in teaching adult education courses online and in residence

Many graduates of our program become tenured faculty or administrators at one of the numerous universities in North America with strong departments of adult and continuing education. Many other graduates choose work as educational planners, policy-makers, and consultants in such varied contexts as a private businesses, government and public agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), non-profit organizations, churches and religious organizations, international organizations in many countries (South Korea, Zimbabwe, Barbados, Turkey, Malaysia, Taiwan, China, and Oman to name a few), and community-based groups or initiatives. Specialized areas of practice within the field of adult education include:

  • adult basic education
  • community education & organizing
  • adult & family literacy
  • professional and continuing education
  • distance education
  • human resource development
  • workplace learning
  • informal education
  • educational outreach
  • post-secondary education
  • religious education
  • social advocacy & action

 

Graduate Degrees and Certificates

The M.Ed. Program

The Lifelong Learning and Adult Education M.Ed. Program has partnered with the World Campus for the online delivery of the program. All M.Ed. students are advised by ADTED program faculty. The M.Ed. degree is geared toward students who intend to pursue careers in the professional practice of adult education. Graduates are qualified to provide leadership in one or more of the following domains of adult education practice: teaching and learning, curriculum and instructional design and development, program planning and administration, or curriculum and/or program evaluation. At the M.Ed. program website, you will find information about courses, costs, application procedures, contact information, and more.

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Doctoral Degree Programs

The Lifelong Learning and Adult Education Program at Penn State offers two doctoral degrees: D.Ed. and Ph.D.  Newly applying students should visit the How To Apply page for detailed instructions.  Students who have missed a semester and are Resuming Studies or Changing Majors need to complete the resume study/change of major form.  Please click on the following link to view dissertations lead by Adult Education faculty.

The D.Ed. Program

The D.Ed. is a practitioner’s degree, geared toward students who intend to pursue careers in the professional practice of adult education. Graduates are qualified to provide leadership in one or more of the following domains of adult education practice: teaching and learning, curriculum and instructional design and development, program planning and administration, or curriculum and/or program evaluation. D.Ed. students receive greater and more extensive preparation than M.Ed. students - thereby qualifying them to assume top-level leadership positions in the practice domains.

The Ph.D. Program

The Ph.D. is a research degree. Graduates pursue careers in research and scholarly work. Ph.D. students in the adult education program at Penn State share a common focus on ways in which Globalization, and Lifelong Learning movements shape specific adult education practices - in the home, place of worship, workplace, community, and wider society.

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Postbaccalaureate certificates

The Lifelong Learning and Adult Education program offer four professional postbaccalaureate certificates:

  • Adult Basic Education (via World Campus)
  • Distance Education (via World Campus)
  • Family Literacy (via World Campus)
  • Adult Education in the Health and Medical Professions (at Harrisburg).
Certificate in Adult Basic Education (ABE): 

The 12-credit certificate is designed for professionals who currently work, or wish to work, with adults or out-of-school youth who struggle with reading, writing, numeracy, and/or English language proficiency. The focus of the ABE curriculum is to deepen professional knowledge so that educators can more effectively teach adult literacy and numeracy and expand and strengthen adults' proficiency in literacy and numeracy; to enhance students’ ability to apply these strategies in their professional practice, and to advance the overall quality of instruction for students enrolled in adult basic education. The certificate includes three required courses and one elective, which allows students to tailor the program to their specific interests, such as ESL, program planning and administration, distance education, educational technology, or adult learning. Penn State is an Act 48-approved provider for Pennsylvania educators, so the courses for the Postbaccalaureate Certificate in Adult Basic Education may count toward professional development hours. Learn more

Certificate in Adult Education in the Health and Medical Professions: 

This 12-credit certificate is meant to assist medical/health professionals in increasing their knowledge and competence in educating adult learners in medical education/health science settings. There are three courses required for the certificate (ADTED 460: Introduction to Adult Education; ADTED 501: Foundations of Medical Education; and ADTED 505: The Teaching of Adults). There is one graduate-level elective course related to the candidate’s specific interest in medical/health education, determined and approved by the faculty members in charge of the Graduate Certificate in Adult Education in the Health and Medical Professions at the Harrisburg campus. Learn more

Certificate in Distance Education: 

This 12-credit certificate is designed to help students improve their understanding of online course design and development; enhance their knowledge of distance learning environments, teaching, and evaluation; and, examine how the adult learner fits into distance education. Perspective students may pursue this certificate by taking courses online through World Campus. This certificate carries the Pennsylvania State Education Association's (PSEA) (http://www.psea.org/) Seal of Recognition, the highest level of endorsement that the association awards to graduate and professional development programs. Penn State is an Act 48-approved provider (https://www.perm.ed.state.pa.us/) for Pennsylvania educators, so the courses in the Certificate in Distance Education program count toward professional development hours. Learn more

Certificate in Family Literacy: 

This 12-credit certificate brings experts in the field of family literacy together with specialists in early childhood education and adult education to offer a multidisciplinary and integrated approach to literacy instruction. Participants are engaged in learning how to support children’s emerging language and literacy development and enhance parents’ knowledge regarding their roles and responsibilities as their children’s first teachers. This online Certificate in Family Literacy program was created as a partnership between the Goodling Institute for Research in Family Literacy at Penn State and the National Center for Family Literacy to provide professional development that will make a difference for educators and the families they serve. Learn more