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In the past, adult education was viewed mainly as a means for adults who had never completed high school and there were few options available to adults who wished to obtain a high school diploma. There are now more avenues than ever for adults to complete their basic education. Courses that train adults to pass a basic GED test as well as literacy and basic education programs are readily available, many of them state sponsored.

Although basic educational needs still play an important part in current adult education, over the past twenty years adult education has taken on an expanded meaning. Society is now realizing the need for continued learning and education throughout life. In fact, some studies suggest that continuing to learn can have a positive effect on the way the brain ages. Not only are adults going back to college to complete their bachelorís or masterís degree, or to complete a second degree, adults are continuing their education purely to enhance their personal lives.

Adults often need continuing education to keep abreast in their profession. For example: changes in technology have increased the need for computer skills and changed the way companies market their products. This increases the need for adults to expand their knowledge base and more adults than ever are now returning to school in order to stay abreast of current technology and changes in the way business is conducted.

Adult education in the areas of technology and changes in business practices are often taught in the workplace, in secondary schools and in community colleges as extension courses or continuing education courses.

Changes on a global scale have also increased the need for continuing adult education. Employers often operate offices in several different countries, requiring many of their employees to be bilingual, which creates a need for continuing education in foreign languages. One of the fastest growing areas in adult education are courses in English as a second language.

In the 21st Century, more businesses are requiring their employees to have completed a college degree. Employees who wish to advance in a current job or take advantage of a booming job market cannot compete effectively without a college degree. This increased need for adult education on a college level has resulted in the expanding availability of on-line college courses.

To be effective, adult education must be taught differently than education for children. Adults have knowledge and life experience that must be taken into account. Adults also need a more practical approach to learning. Adults need to be able to apply the lessons to a real-world situation in order to learn effectively. Adults also are more goal-oriented than children and need a clear expectation that the lessons taught will help them reach a particular goal. This presents challenges to the educational system that are being successfully met by todayís educators through on-line classes, evening and weekend classes, and through training in the workplace.

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