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Esther Prins image

Dr. Esther Prins

Professor of Education (LLAED)

Phone: 814-865-0597

305B Keller Building
University Park, PA 16802


  • Learning and Performance Systems


  • Lifelong Learning and Adult Education


  • Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy (ISAL)
  • Goodling Institute for Research in Family Literacy


Dr. Prins holds a Ph.D. in Adult Education from Cornell. Her research employs critical and sociocultural theories to examine literacies (adult, family, digital, health), adult basic education, rural adult education, and participatory approaches to education, community development, and research. In particular, her scholarship explores the "wider benefits" of adult education and how adult education reproduces and/or mitigates inequities rooted in race/ethnicity, class, gender, and immigration status.

Dr. Prins is the co-author of Teaching and Learning about Family Literacy and Family Literacy Programs (Routledge, 2022). She is currently co-editing a book on family literacy in non-Anglophone, lower/middle-income countries: Family and intergenerational literacy and learning: International perspectives (UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, 2023).

Her research has been published in numerous journals across several disciplines:

  • Education (e.g., American Educational Research Journal, Teachers College Record),
  • Adult Education (e.g., Adult Education Quarterly, International Journal of Lifelong Education, Studies in the Education of Adults),
  • Comparative and International Education (e.g., Comparative Education Review, International Journal of Educational Development)
  • Distance Education (American Journal of Distance Education),
  • Prison Education (Journal of Prison Education and Reentry),
  • Sociology, Community Development, and Planning (e.g., Rural Sociology, Journal of the Community Development Society),
  • Ethnic Studies (Journal of Latinos and Education),
  • Health (PLOS One), and
  • Methodology (Action Research, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education).

Dr. Prins has led or participated in research and evaluation projects funded by the Institute of Education Sciences, National Science Foundation, Smithsonian Institution, Spencer Foundation, Center for Rural Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, and William Penn Foundation, among others.


Selected honors and awards:


  • Graduate Faculty Teaching Award, Pennsylvania State University (2019)
  • Mildred B. and Charles A. Wedemeyer Award for Outstanding Scholar in Distance Education (with C. Kassab, B. Drayton, and R. Gungor; 2013)
  • Outstanding Researcher Award, College of Education, Pennsylvania State University (2011)
  • Imogene Okes Award for Outstanding Research, American Association for Adult and Continuing Education (with K. Schafft; 2010)
  • Outstanding Paper by an Early Career Scholar Award, Adult Literacy and Adult Education SIG, American Educational Research Association (2007)

Areas of Expertise

Age Levels



Equity and Diversity

Education Levels

Adult Education

Education Types

Continuing Ed
Family Literacy
Immigrant Ed
Minority Ed
Rural Ed

Educational Studies

Critical & Feminist Theory

Higher Education

Community Engagement

Individual Difference

Health Issues
Learning Processes

Methodological Research

Discourse Analysis
Interpretive Research
Multiple Methods
Qualitative Research

Social Issues

Civic Engagement
Comparative and International Education
Race and Ethnicity
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