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Teachers College, Columbia University
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Adult Learning and Leadership

In the Department of Organization & Leadership

Student Resources > Essential References

Essential References

A Bibliography of Essential References
for Scholar-Practitioners in Adult Learning & Leadership


Below are some essential references  for the field of adult learning and leadership that arguably cover a broad  scope of its theories and practices.   Each reference is followed by a brief description and/or comments  (provided by Leodis Scott, Ed.D. 2010) about its significance and place in the  field.  The references are presented in  APA (6th edition) format (with the exception of the ISBN).


  1. American  Psychological Association (2010). Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Sixth Edition. Washington, DC:  Author. [ISBN: 1433805618]

    This is the  authoritative reference to conduct citations and formats for various  publications.  The sixth edition is the  latest, but additional versions are expected to continue, so stay current.

  2. Brookfield,  S. (1995). Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher (Jossey Bass Higher and Adult Education). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. [ISBN: 0787901318]

    This book is a classic in the field  that focuses on the importance of critical reflection in teaching  practices.  Stephen Brookfield has  continued to publish more on this subject and many other works, which are  similarly interesting and equally relevant for practitioners.

  3. Caffarella,  R. S. (2001). Planning Programs for Adult Learners: A Practical Guide for Educators, Trainers, and Staff Developers, 2nd Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. [ISBN: 0787952257]

    Program planning and course design  are another component of adult learning.   This work introduces different models of program planning and the key  components for any practical and effective design.

  4. Creswell,  J. W. (2009). Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, & Mixed Methods Approaches, 3rd Edition. Thousand  Oaks, CA: Sage. [ISBN: 1412965578]

    As a scholar-practitioner,  conducting research is paramount.  This  work gives an overview of research designs and provides comparisons of the  different kinds of research that are considered qualitative, quantitative, and  mixed method.

  5. Dewey,  J. (1916). Democracy and Education: an introduction to the philosophy of education - The Original Classic Edition. New York, NY: Touchstone. [161382095X]

    This is a seminal work in the field,  and perhaps the most difficult to read and comprehend.  At the same time, it is the reason that makes  it a great work! There is always something new to learn from it and as one  learns more about the field, the more one begins to acquire profound meanings  about John Dewey’s views on education, philosophy, and democracy.

  6. Elias,  J., & Merriam, S. B. (2005). Philosophical Foundations of Adult Education (3rd ed.). Malabar, FL: Krieger. [ISBN: 1575242540]

    Although the field is widely  considered an applied science with practical applications, there are still  philosophical underpinnings.  This book  gives an overview of the philosophies of adult education.

  7. English,  L. M. (Ed). (2008). International Encyclopedia of Adult Education. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan. [ISBN: 0230201717]

    A comprehensive reference for  understanding the multiple terms used in the adult learning and continuing  education field around the world.  Each  entry is written by an expert on the subject who also provides additional  references.

  8. Foss,  S. K., & Waters, W. (2007). Destination Dissertation: A Traveler's Guide to a Done Dissertation. New York, NY:  Rowman & Littlefield. [ISBN: 0742554406]

    Some scholar-practitioners are  pursuing doctorate degrees and this guide is a practical resource for the entire  journey. This work provides a step-by-step approach to each stage in the  dissertation process, from proposal to defense.

  9. Graff,  G., & Birkenstein, C. (2006). They Say, I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing. New York, NY: W. W.  Norton & Company. [ISBN: 0393924092]
    An understated skill needed in the  field and entire publishing community is the ability to write  academically.  This short work provides  some of the common techniques used to accurately express the academic works of  others.

  10. Gray,  D. E. (2009). Doing Research in the Real World. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. [ISBN: 1847873375]

    If overwhelmed by other textbooks on  research design, this book is a clear introduction for the novice  researcher.  It gives quick explanations  about the differences between epistemologies, methodologies, and research  methods, simplifying some of the most confusing parts of understanding the  different kinds of research.

  11. Houle,  C. O. (1992). The Literature of Adult Education: A Bibliographic Essay (Jossey-Bass Social and Behavioral Science Series). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass [ISBN: 1555424708]

    This is an historical work that  places the field in an evolving progression of literature and  contributions.  Cyril Houle also have  written other classic works such as The Inquiring Mind; yet all of these  works reveal his passion for the field and with his invitation for others to  join and contribute.

  12. Jarvis,  P. (2004). Adult Education and Lifelong Learning: Theory and Practice. New York, NY: RoutledgeFalmer.  [ISBN: 0415494818]

    A prolific writer on the subject of  lifelong learning, Peter Jarvis explores the theory and practice of adult and  continuing education broadly and offers his own views about many contemporary  issues and debates.

  13. Knowles,  M., Swanson, R. A., & Holton, E. F. (2011). The Adult Learner, Seventh Edition: The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development (7th ed.). Burlington, MA: Elsevier. [ISBN: 1856178110]

    Malcolm Knowles is often described  as the father of adult education or for introducing the notion of andragogy (the education of  adults).  This work is the latest edition  of a classic work that describes distinctive characteristics of adults in terms  of education, learning, and experience.

  14. Lindeman,  E. (1926). The meaning of adult education.  New York, NY: New Republic. [ISBN: 1179159837]

    If you are one who  likes classics, this work is a good start to learn the principles of the  field.  Many a great quote of Eduard  Lindeman you will find concerning adults, education, and experience.    There is an available 2011 edition published  by BiblioBazaar Press.

  15. Marsick,  Victoria J. & Watkins, Karen E. (1990). Informal and Incidental Learning in the Workplace (International Perspectives on Adult and Continuing Education).  New York: Routledge. [ISBN: 0415031419]

    Today,  rapid change is a constant challenge in the workplace, and thousands of  individuals need to be involved in continuous learning. Traditional training  approaches, however, do not emphasize informal and incidental learning.  Furthermore, since informal learning is seldom designed, learning outside of a  structured experience may lead to mistaken or dysfunctional learning.  Strategies for improving informal learning are urgently needed. Victoria  Marsick and Karen Watkins respond to this need by taking a look at many  assumptions about workplace learning outside of the classroom and by proposing  methods to improve it. They develop a theory of informal and incidental  workplace learning based on current developments in training and human resource  development which they illustrate with case studies telling stories of adult  education and human resource development practice. Their recommendations for  the improvement of training which follow from these studies provide readers  with guidelines on how to apply the ideas presented here.

  16. Merriam,  S. B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. M. (2006). Learning in Adulthood: A Comprehensive Guide (3rd ed.). San  Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. [ISBN: 0787975885]

    This is perhaps the most  comprehensive work on the field, both past and present.  These authors are authoritative leaders  seeming to grasp much of the past, ongoing, and developing theories and  practices.

  17. Merriam,  S. B., & Simpson, E. L. (2000). A Guide to Research for Educators and Trainers of Adults (2nd ed.). Malabar,  FL: Krieger. [ISBN: 1575241420]

    One of the challenges for  scholar-practitioners in the field of adult learning is finding references  specifically dedicated to their field.   Most useful research guides comes from social sciences and psychology,  but not this work.  This book gives  detailed information for researchers in the adult learning field, which for  that reason alone; it’s a “must-have.”

  18. Mezirow,  J., & Associates. (2000). Learning as Transformation: Critical Perspectives on a Theory in Progress (Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series). San  Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. [ISBN: 0787948454]

    Jack Mezirow’s work on transformative learning is a signature  theory in the adult learning and leadership programs at Teachers  College-Columbia University.  This book  is a later contribution concerning the theory with a host of significant  contributors.

  19. Northouse,  P. G. (2012). Leadership: Theory and Practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. [ISBN: 1452203407]

    Enormous literature exists on the  subject of leadership, but the Peter Northouse book gives a clear description about  the many types of leadership. The book also serves as a source for leadership comparisons  and individual assessments across various contexts.

  20. O’Neil,  Judy & Marsick, Victoria J. (2007).  Understanding Action Learning (AMA Innovations in Adult Learning).  New York: AMACOM  [ISBN: 0814473954]

    As much as adult  learners can absorb in a classroom, they learn and retain a lot more on the  job. Action Learning, or AL, can be based on any of several different schools  of thought, and there is much debate as to which is ideal. The authors advocate  tailoring the best attributes of each approach to the specific purpose and the  learning environment. Drawing on theory from Self-Directed Learning, Learning  from Experience, and Transformative Learning, Understanding Action Learning  enables the reader to make an informed decision about which approach or  combination to use in his or her organization, and provides: * a theoretical  model that explains the different approaches to AL, and a framework for  identifying which approach to use * a focus on co-design in creating Action  Learning programs * practical tools, assessments, and exercises * illuminating  stories and case studies from the field Combining top-shelf research with  real-world experience, Understanding Action Learning is a crucial resource for  adult educators everywhere.

  21. Bresler, L.; Cooper, D. & Palmer,  J. A. (Ed). (2001). Fifty Modern Thinkers on Education: From Piaget to the Present Day (Fifty Key Thinkers) (Routledge Key Guides). New York, NY: Routledge. [ISBN:  0415224098]

    Another challenge of adult education  is its place in the broader concept of education including primary and  secondary (K-12), even post-secondary (undergraduate college).  This book gives an account of many thinkers  in the overall field of education and their perspectives.

  22. Paul,  J. L. (2005).  Introduction to the Philosophies of Research and Criticism in Education and the Social Sciences. [ISBN: 0130422533]

    Conducting research in education  requires an understanding of research paradigms and positions.  James Paul gives a current analysis of  different paradigms and offer more understanding about issues such as  quantitative versus qualitative research, or the principles of “education  science.”

  23. Pratt,  D. D. (1998). Five Perspectives on Teaching in Adult and Higher Education. Malabar, FL: Krieger, FL. [ISBN: 089464937X]

    This is an exceptional work that  explores the beliefs, intentions, and actions related to teaching  approaches.  This book, accompanied with  a self-assessment, provided an opportunity to understand teaching perspectives  of practitioners and fellow colleagues.

  24. Sheared,  V., Johnson-Bailey, J., Collin, S. A. J., Peterson, E., Brookfield, S. D., &  Cunningham, P. M. (Eds.). (2010). The Handbook of Race and Adult Education: A Resource for Dialogue on Racism (Jossey-Bass Higher Education).  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. [ISBN: 0470381760]

    Central to adult education is to  critically explore issues of race and racism; this work advances and promotes  these issues.  Take note of the editors,  because they have made additional contributions about issues often on the  fringes of common discourse, but are imperative for the advancement and  evolution of the field.

  25. Yorks,  Lyle (2004).  Strategic Human Resource Development. South-Western College Publishing. [ISBN: 0324071787]

    Human  Resources Development is written with the primary purpose of covering core and  emerging issues in Human Resource Development. The book's secondary purpose is  to offer a specific perspective on HRD, one that links the practice of HRD to  enhancing organizational strategy and developing performance capability through  learning interventions. This text begins with a strategic view of the  organization from a general management perspective as a driver for the HRD  function -specifically creating a focus on strategic learning and developing  performance throughout the organization. The goal of the text is to provide  learners with a framework to understand the role of HRD in the strategic  imperatives of an organization, the foundations of HRD practice, and stimulate  debate as to the role of HRD in today's organizations.