Adult education is a practice in which adults engage in systematic and sustained self–educating activities in order to gain new forms of knowledge, skills, attitudes, or values. The principles of andragogy flow directly from an understanding of the characteristics of adults as learners and can be recognized when we understand the characteristics of adults, and see the way those characteristics influence how adults learn best.

Teachers who follow the principles of andragogy when choosing materials for training and when designing program delivery, find that their learners progress more quickly, and are more successful in reaching their goals. The Canadian Literacy and Learning Network outlines the 7 key principles of adult learning. In other words, these 7 principles distinguish adult learners from children and youth.

  1. Adults cannot be made to learn. They will only learn when they are internally motivated to do so.
  2. Adults will only learn what they feel they need to learn. In other words, they are practical.
  3. Adults learn by doing. Active participation is especially important to adult learners in comparison to children.
  4. Adult learning is problem-based and these problems must be realistic. Adult learners like finding solutions to problems.
  5. Adult learning is affected by the experience each adult brings.
  6. Adults learn best informally. Adults learn what they feel they need to know whereas children learn from a curriculum.
  7. Children want guidance. Adults want information that will help them improve their situation or that of their children.

Environmental adult education is recognized as a “hybrid outgrowth of the environmental movement and adult education, combining an ecological orientation with a learning paradigm to provide a vigorous educational approach to environmental concerns” (Sumner, 2003).

In laymen’s terms, environmental adult education refers to efforts in teaching environmental issues and how individuals and businesses can manage or change their lifestyles and ecosystems to live sustainably. The overarching goal of this field of study is to educate global societies to live more sustainably.

Educators in this field of study consider environmental problems with a holistic approach that combines social, political and environmental concerns into community dilemmas….

Participatory methods allow learners to make connections between social issues and environmental problems. This connection allows adult learners to understand the core causes of major environmental issues and the resulting social inequalities. This method also allows educators to stress the importance of instilling environmental awareness so that learners do not forget their relationship with the natural world.

To summarize the methods of adult environmental education training, environmental adult educators strive to instil learners with:

  • a knowledge of environmental problems and their causes
  • the skills to engage in social activism to combat those problems
  • the attitude of respect and connection to the natural world
  • a desire to change current practices to protect the Earth

Environmental adult education generally takes place in a nonformal education setting. This means that the organized learning can take place in many forms including vocational education, literacy education and on the job training.


The relevance of North-South dialogue to the development of environmental adult education cannot be overemphasized. It has lead o an increased awareness of the subject matter in most colleges and universities especially as it concern the issue of environmental awareness and global warming.

The North–South divide is broadly considered a socio-economic and political divide. Generally, definitions of the Global North include the United States, Canada, Western Europe, and developed parts of Asia, as well as Australia and New Zealand, which are not actually located in the Northern Hemisphere but share similar economic and cultural characteristics as other northern countries. The Global South is made up of Africa, Latin America, and developing Asia including the Middle East. The North is home to all the members of the G8 and to four of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

The North mostly covers the West and the First World, along with much of the Second World, while the South largely corresponds with the Third World. While the North may be defined as the richer, more developed region and the South as the poorer, less developed region, many more factors differentiate between the two global areas. 95% of the North has enough food and shelter. Similarly, 95% of the North has a functioning educational system. In the South, on the other hand, only 5% of the population has enough food and shelter. “It lacks appropriate technology, it has no political stability, the economies are disarticulated, and their foreign exchange earnings depend on primary product exports.” Nevertheless the divide between the North and the South increasingly “corresponds less and less to reality and is increasingly challenged.”

In economic terms, the North—with one quarter of the world population—controls four-fifths of the income earned anywhere in the world. 90% of the manufacturing industries are owned by and located in the North. Inversely, the South—with three quarters of the world populations—has access to one-fifth of the world income. As nations become economically developed, they may become part of the “North”, regardless of geographical location; similarly, any nations that do not qualify for “developed” status are in effect deemed to be part of the “South”


The North-South Dialogue refers to the process through which the developing and newly independent nations of the “third world,” predominantly in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, engaged the industrialized countries of North America and Western Europe in negotiations over changes to the international economic system during the 1970s. This has affected the growth and development of environmental adult education around the world.

After World War II, many nations of Latin America became increasingly frustrated with U.S. trade and tariff policies. At the same time, nationalist movements in Asia and Africa helped lead to widespread decolonization. Membership in the United Nations had risen from 51 countries in 1945 to 100 in 1960 and 150 by 1979. The sudden influx of new countries changed the balance of power in the General Assembly and made possible the establishment of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, or UNCTAD, in 1964. UNCTAD created a forum through which the “southern” or “third world” nations could propose economic policies, engaging industrial democracies of the “north.” The term “North-South Dialogue” was used to distinguish this dynamic from the East-West conflict of the Cold War, and to stress the point that development issues were just as pressing as the ideological conflict between communists and capitalists.

Several factors increased the willingness of the industrialized nations to negotiate. One was the rising power of oil-producing countries in the Arab world, and another was the U.S. loss in the war in Vietnam, which demonstrated to both the world and the industrialized North that not even wealth and power were enough to guarantee military victory. Both of these issues drew Western attention toward the global balance of economic power. Additionally, the dialogue began in a period of relaxed East-West tensions, which meant that the industrialized world could give more attention to issues like development. The Newly Industrializing Economies, meanwhile, believed the entrenched international economic system benefited developed countries at the expense of the developing world. They hoped to facilitate a reorganization of the international economic system to rectify this imbalance.

The North-South Dialogue addressed issues pertaining to trade and tariffs, international finance, foreign aid, and the governance of multinational companies and institutions. During the era of dtente in the 1970s, when East-West tensions were more relaxed, there was a willingness among industrialized nations to cooperate. Even as dtente began to falter in the mid-1970s, the parties to the North-South Dialogue continued their discussions.


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  • American Geological Institute (2000). Update on the National Environmental Education Act of 1990. Retrieved September 27, 2008 from the American Geological Institute Web site: http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/neea106.html
  • Environmental Education (2008). The Modern Impetus for EE: The Tibilisi Declaration (1977). Retrieved September 27, 2008, from the Global Development Research Center Web site: http://www.gdrc.org/uem/ee/1-4.html
  • Haugen, C.S. (2006). Environmental Adult education Theory and Adult Learning Principles: Implications for Training. M.A. thesis, American University, in Proquest Digital Dissertations
  • Hill, L.H. & Johnston, J.D. (2003). Adult education and humanity’s relationship with nature reflected in language, metaphor and spirituality: A call to action. New directions for adult and continuing education, Fall 2003 (99), 17-26
  • Parker, J & Towner, E. (1993). Editorial: Learning for the future. Adults learning, 4 (8) 208-209
  • Sumner, J (2003). Environmental adult education and community sustainability. New directions for adult and continuing education, Fall (99), 39-45.
  • United Nations Environment Programme (2008). Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment. Retrieved September 27, 2008, from United Nations Environment Programme Web site: http://www.unep.org/Documents.Multilingual/Default.asp?DocumentID=97&ArticleID=1503
  • United Nations Environment Programme (2008). The Belgrade Charter adopted at the International Workshop on Environmental Education in 1975. Retrieved September 27, 2008, from United Nations Environment Programme Web site: http://portal.unesco.org/education/en/ev.php-URL_ID=33037&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.htm

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