Northwest Network - Spring 2013

Adult Education Programs: What you do and why

Sunday, March 24, 2013: 9:00 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Seattle Chinese Garden
6000 16th Ave SW
Seattle, WA 98106


Adult Education Programs are a very important even strategic, means for your organization to communicate the value it has for the community. This effort is realized by offering people the opportunity to learn about something of interest to them from your organization, while tying their interest to the mission and vision of your organization. The HPSO, as an example, pursues an extensive adult education program. It offers workshops, lectures, study weekends, and classes about garden design, gardening techniques, and a wide range of plants besides perennials. These adult education programs are linked easily linked to their mission “to nurture the gardening community” and their vision that horticulture make the world a better place.

Belinda Chin, in her morning presentation echoed this opinion of the role adult education can play. She educated us about the interpretive process and how to use it to help your organization develop and hone educational programs for adults which further your organization’s goals while building support of an interested community.


The term “interpretation” has very specific meaning to those in the field. “Interpretation is a communication process that forges emotional and intellectual connections between the interests of the audience and the meanings inherent in the resource.” This communication process can be used to guide the formation of individual classes and a whole adult education program.

Adult education programs are a form of interpretive program. They are overtly intellectual in their approach but well conceived they create an emotional, experiential connection with your organization and an appreciation of the value it has for the public.

When constructing your adult education program guided by the interpretive approach, Chin indicated, you follow a process described by the six letter acronym POETRY. The program should be: Purposeful, Organized, Themed, Relevant, and You.

  1. Purposeful: The adult education program should be designed to further your purpose, engaging people in fulfilling your mission. At Dunn Gardens, as an example, when classes are offered in mixed border maintenance, people can take home plants they divided in the garden and have a bit of Dunn in their garden. Not only do they learn gardening techniques, they learn why the plants in the borders fit into the Olmsted designed Dunn Garden, and they go home with a living connection to the garden.
  2. Organized: When setting up the annual series of classes you will offer, include a diversity of topics which have resonance in the community and further your mission. If you are not aware why your garden is a draw to the surrounding community, include a question about this in the end of class survey. Classes should also be organized so the participants can realize something successful be it a project or and insight. Organize each of the classes so that the topic is linked to the mission of your garden. Plan for and design a feed back survey to be completed at the end of each class to capture information you can use in further developing your programs.
  3. Enjoyable: People enjoy stories and humor. They also enjoy as sense of accomplishment, so having a project accomplished or a tangible gain in information about a topic help people have good memories of their class held in the name of your organization. The shorter the class, generally speaking, the simpler the presentation needs to be.
  4. Themed: Themes are blended into the topic of the class and used to link the topic to your mission and vision. To use the Dunn Gardens as an example once again, the discussion of perennial boarder maintenance might include information about the fact that Arthur Dunn, an avid gardener, planted the ancestors of the very Lilium martagon they are currently dividing. This plant was a favorite of Arthur Dunn’s. The message is that the E. B. Dunn Garden Trust is maintaining this living legacy and that, in this class, you are doing so too.
  5. Relevant: Offer classes that are of interest to the people you wish to be involved in your organization. Learn what people who participate in your organization and visit your garden have in common and what motivates their participation. Take into account topics of current interest to your surrounding community which are relevant to your mission and blend some such offerings into your regular offerings. Your organization and garden has differing meanings. Which of these is most significant to building audience and relevance for your organization? Understating this helps in selecting topics for your classes. Understanding the learning style of those that attend your classes also aids you in making your classes relevant. (The end of class surveys can help you ascertain your audience’s learning style.) You can gage the instructor’s approach to the audience so that people get the message.
  6. You: Your adult classes should be diverse in their content to appeal to a wider audience. However all class topics need to be made relevant to your organization’s mission and vision so they are “you”. At best your classes will give people an experience of participating in something important to your mission while enjoying themselves. This will bring them back and involve them further in helping you to realize goals that build your mission.

Chin shared a form designed to aid in developing your goals and objectives for an Adult Education Program. The form asks you to consider a number of items, they follow: theme; subthemes, if any; what the class attendees do while taking the class; type of outcome expected; extent of outcome expected; goal(s); objective.

She also shared a three-step process for developing a theme:

  1. Select a general topic and use it to complete the following sentence: “Generally, this class is about____________.”
  2. State your topic in more specific terms and complete this sentence: “Specifically, however, I want to tell my class about________________.”
  3. Now, express your theme by completing the following sentence: “After finishing this class, I want my audience to understand that ___________________________.”

In the afternoon the discussion focused on what people who develop the adult class programs might take into account when they create classes to reach out to potential constituents in an organization’s wider community. The key phenomenon discussed was diversity, particularly ethnic diversity. The number of people of color in the U.S. has no grown to over 100 million or about 34% of the population. This trend will continue and by 2042 the U.S. Census projects people of color will be over 50% of the U.S. population. By 2050, 24.4% of the U.S. population will be Latino. This evolution in the composition in the population of the nation gives all public organizations the opportunity to discover ways to reach out to recruit a multi-ethic participation of persons who have an affinity with your mission. Educational programs are one effective means of implementing such an outreach effort.

To implement such a strategy your organization needs to learn what the ethnic mixture is in your area and then figure out where you think there is a match of interests. This established you can add classes that you think might appeal to a multi ethnic group using the interpretive process to develop the class topic and content. This effort might lead to increased participation of groups previously ignored and aid you in serving and building a larger community.

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Last update: 18 February, 2018