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Dr. John Holst

Associate Professor of Education (LLAED)

Phone: 814-863-3499

305E Keller Building
University Park, PA 16802


  • Learning and Performance Systems


  • Lifelong Learning and Adult Education
  • Comparative and International Education


John Holst is an Associate Professor of Education (LLAED) for the College of Education at Penn State. John Holst received his Bachelor’s Degree (1988) in US History from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with an emphasis on labor and women’s history, his Master’s Degree (1994) in adult continuing education from Northern Illinois University, with an emphasis on urban adult education, and his Doctoral (Ed.D.) degree (2000) from Northern Illinois University.  His dissertation was titled Social Movements and Civil Society: Implications for Radical Adult Education.    


John Holst entered the informal field of adult education in 1984 as a social movement activist by working in the student, labor, anti-Apartheid, and Central American solidarity movements. He entered the formal field of adult education in 1988 as an instructor of English as a Second Language in the community- and work-based adult education, first through an off-campus site of Triton College in Melrose Park, Illinois, and later through Malcolm X College in Chicago.  While teaching in factory lunchrooms, hotels, church basements, and government and non-governmental organizations, John became actively involved in the labor union of adult educators (AFSCME Local 3506) at the City Colleges of Chicago. 


In 2000, John became an Assistant Professor in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction at the University of St. Thomas (UST) in Minnesota. He stayed at UST for 17 years working in the departments of Curriculum & Instruction, Leadership, Policy and Administration, and Educational Leadership.  He was a core faculty member in the Doctoral Program in Critical Pedagogy and later oversaw the concentration in Critical Pedagogy in the leadership departments.  While at UST, John taught courses in curriculum development, critical pedagogy, social theory, international development, and qualitative research. 


He is the author of the book Social Movements, Civil Society, and Radical Adult Education (2002), the co-author of the book Radicalizing Learning: Adult Education for a Just World (2010), and co-editor of the book Antonio Gramsci: A Pedagogy to Change the World (2017). In addition, he is the author of over 30 book chapters, encyclopedia entries, and journal articles which have appeared in the Adult Education Quarterly, the International Journal of Lifelong LearningStudies in the Education of AdultsEducational Philosophy and TheoryJournal of Transformative Education, and the Harvard Educational Review. His work has been translated into Spanish, German, Turkish, and Italian. He was a Houle Scholar Fellow from 2001-2003, and his co-authored book Radicalizing Learning won the 2011 Cyril O. Houle Award for Outstanding Literature in Adult Education.


John’s current research builds on his previous research and interests in adult education and social change.  As such, he is working on case study research of a trade union school in Chile and developing a research project on organizations educating for leadership development among poor and working-class people in select cities in the United States.  While documenting contemporary approaches to radical adult education, this research also engages theoretical issues of the political economy of capitalism in the age of growing automation and precarity and the question of whether nongovernmental organizations can be sites for significant social change.  To this end, John continues to put the political economy and the work of Antonio Gramsci at the center of the theoretical frameworks he uses in his research.


Current Projects:

  • Adult Education for Social Justice Leadership Development among Low-income People: Case Studies from US-based Nongovernmental Organizations
  • Beyond NGOization: Challenging Neoliberalism in a Chilean Trade Union School
  • The Political Economy of Nongovernmental Organizations, the State, and Civil Society: A Gramscian Analysis
  • Paulo Freire, as Learning Theorist
  • Illich, Consciousness, and Revolutionary Transformative Learning
  • The Pedagogy of Abolitionism
  • Who founded Highlander?

Areas of Expertise

Age Levels


Education Levels

Adult Education

Educational Studies

Comparative Ed
Critical & Feminist Theory
Educational Theory
History of Ed

Individual Difference

Conceptual Change
Learning Processes

Methodological Research

Discourse Analysis
Historical Research
Interpretive Research
Qualitative Research

Social Issues

Comparative and International Education
Race and Ethnicity
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