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Part 1: Introduction

1.1: Program History and Overview

Welcome to Penn State's Adult Education Program!  Throughout this document the Adult Education Program will be abbreviated as ADTED. In an evaluation of adult education programs (1995) the Adult Education Quarterlyranked our program as one of the "top five most productive adult education institutes" in the field of adult education. Since then, we have increased our student body and faculty membership, expanded our program to include a residential Ph.D., both traditional and web-based master's degree programs, and continued to be strong in the area of research publications.  With an outstanding faculty, solid organizational support from both the College of Education and the Graduate School, and a rich diversity of part-time, full-time, domestic, and international students, the Penn State Adult Education Program is recognized as one of the leading graduate programs in North America.

The program currently offers three graduate degrees: a Master’s of Adult Education (M. Ed.) and two doctorates—a Ph.D. and a D.Ed. The M.Ed. is available via World Campus. The D.Ed. is available at University Park and Harrisburg. The Ph.D. is available only at University Park. The program also offers three professional graduate certificates: a Graduate Certificate in Distance Education (via World Campus), a Certificate in Family Literacy (via World Campus), a Graduate Certificate in HRD/Workplace Learning (at University Park) and a Graduate Certificate in Medical Adult Education (at Harrisburg).

Certificate in Distance Education: This 18-credit graduate-level certificate program is designed to help students improve their understanding of online course design and development; enhance their knowledge of distance learning environments, teaching, and evaluation; and, examine how the adult learner fits into distance education. Perspective students may pursue this certificate by taking courses online through World Campus. This certificate carries the Pennsylvania State Education Association's (PSEA)  ( Seal of Recognition, the highest level of endorsement that the association awards to graduate and professional development programs. Penn State is an Act 48-approved provider ( for Pennsylvania educators, so the courses in the Certificate in Distance Education program count toward professional development hours.

Certificate in Family Literacy: This 12-credit program brings experts in the field of family literacy together with specialists in early childhood education and adult education to offer a multidisciplinary and integrated approach to literacy instruction. Participants are engaged in learning how to support children’s emerging language and literacy development and enhance parents’ knowledge regarding their roles and responsibilities as their children’s first teachers. This online Certificate in Family Literacy program was created as a partnership between the Goodling Institute for Research in Family Literacy at Penn State and the National Center for Family Literacy to provide professional development that will make a difference for the student, their students, and the families they serve.

Certificate in Human Resource Development/Workplace Learning: The Certificate in Human Resource Development/Workplace Learning is an interdisciplinary program designed for individuals who are responsible for training and education within organizational settings (especially the workplace).  The program aims to strengthen skills in the areas of human resource development and workplace learning.  Certification is awarded to students who complete 18 credits. Courses are taken from each of the three programs in the Department of Learning and Performance Systems: Adult Education, Instructional systems, and Workforce Education.

Graduate Certificate in Medical Adult Education: This twelve credit graduate certificate in Medical Adult Education is meant to assist medical/health professional in increasing their knowledge and competence in educating adult learners in medical education/health science settings.  There are three courses required for the certificate (ADTED 460: Intro to Adult Education; ADTED 501: Foundations of Medical Education; and ADTED 505: Teaching of Adults.).  There is one graduate level elective course related to the candidate’s specific interest in medical/health education, determined and approved by the faculty members in charge of the Graduate Certificate in Medical Adult Education (Dr. Elizabeth Tisdell or Dr. Edward Taylor) of the Harrisburg campus. 

The remainder of the handbook describes the three degree programs. It should be treated as a supplement to the Graduate Degree Programs Bulletin. Interested students are advised to consult the Graduate Bulletin at: for a fuller picture.  Students are also encouraged to direct specific inquiries about the program to the following contacts:

University Park
Laurie Heininger
Program Staff Assistant
301 Keller Building
University Park, PA 16802
Phone: 814-863-2596

World Campus
Dirk Copland
Program Staff Assistant
303 Keller Building
University Park, PA 16802
Phone: 814-865-0473


Penn State Harrisburg
Program Staff Assistant
W331 Olmsted Building
Penn State Harrisburg
Middletown, PA 17057
Phone:  717-948-6321


The handbook is divided into seven parts. The remainder of Part I discusses the program’s mission and goals, distinctive features of the program and program emphasis areas, faculty, staff and students, and career opportunities for our graduates. In Part II, the admissions process and students’ initial progression through all three programs are described. Part III discusses graduate assistantships and fellowships for which adult education students are eligible. Part IV describes the graduate degree requirements for each of the three programs. Part V outlines the doctoral process. Part VI overviews graduation requirements and Part VII presents relevant appendices.

Section 1.2: Program Mission and Goals

Adult Education is a field of practice, research and scholarship.  It fosters an understanding of the different ways in which adults learn and different ways they may be helped to learn—alone, in groups, in the community, or in institutional settings. Students of Adult Education increase their ability to teach adults, plan adult learning experiences, conduct research regarding the teaching and learning of adults, and provide leadership in a variety of positions within the field.

The mission of the Adult Education Program at Penn State is to advance knowledge and improve practices regarding how adults learn in a variety of organizational and societal settings—both formally and informally, in residence and at a distance. Pursuant to its mission, the goals of the Adult Education Program include the following: (a) to further the disciplined inquiry of the field; (b) to prepare its future leaders; and (c) to develop educators/scholars in the practice of adult education.  The program’s mission and goals are reflected throughout its curriculum and teaching, its faculty and student’s research, scholarship and service, and the work done through its affiliated centers and institutes. Faculty and students engage in research and development activities within the broad field of adult education and in specific areas of specialization.  The resulting outcomes for students are:

  1. A sound philosophical conception of adult and continuing education and the opportunity to identify a personal philosophy of education and its concomitant values,
  2. An understanding of the psychological, historical, social, and human development foundations on which adult and continuing education rests,
  3. An understanding of the scope, development, and complexity of specific agencies and programs of the field,
  4. The ability to undertake and direct the processes of adult learning,
  5. Personal effectiveness and leadership through written and oral communications with other individuals, groups, and the general public,
  6. A personal zest for lifelong learning and a continually reflective practice for personal and professional development, and
  7. Skills in research methods and techniques that enable independent research along the lines of individual areas of specialization.
  8. In addition to the three degree programs already identified, the program’s mission and goals are also accomplished through institutes with which it is affiliated. They are:  the Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy (ISAL) established in 1985 and the Goodling Institute for Research in Family Literacy (GI) established in 2001.
  • The mission of the Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy is to advance the field of literacy through collaborative research, development, outreach, and leadership to improve practice, expanding access to high quality education and enriching the lives of individuals and families. 
  • The mission of the Goodling Institute for Research in Family Literacy is to improve family literacy education through research and its application to practice and professional development, and provide national leadership to support and maintain high quality, integrated programs for families with educational needs.


Section 1.3: Distinctive Features and Program Emphases

The program combines psychological and cultural-historical approaches to teaching and learning.  It embraces and examines diversity in its multiple manifestations (e.g. gender, race/ethnicity, class, sexuality, religion and nationality).  And it scrutinizes systems and mechanisms of power that challenge and/or sustain social inequities. The program also emphasizes interdisciplinarity; students are encouraged to seek out learning opportunities beyond the program, in supporting fields within the University. Two additional themes permeate our Ph.D. degree: 1) Globalization and Lifelong Learning; and 2) Comparative and International Adult Education.

The program is proud of its diverse faculty, student body and curriculum. There is diversity in academic interests, perspectives and methodological orientation (as represented in the different program emphasis areas described later) as well as diversity in social locations (nationality, educational background, ethnicity, class, religion, life experiences, and so on) of faculty and students.

A distinctive feature of the program is its focus on non-formal and informal learning. Most of the other programs in the College of Education at Penn State focus on, and draw their student populations from, formal educational settings (K-12, and colleges and universities). This is true even when their students are primarily non-traditional adults (such as is the case with Higher Education or Educational Leadership). The two other programs in the department in which Adult Education is housed (Instructional Systems and Workforce Education) extend their services beyond formal educational institutions into the workplace, and, like the Adult Education Program, their students are primarily non-traditional adults. A major distinction between our program and Instructional Systems or Workforce Education is our focus on non-formal and informal learning—in such contexts as the workplace, community colleges, adult and family literacy, community education and development, and distance education.

Reflecting the interests and expertise of the faculty, the Adult Education doctoral programs have four (4) emphasis areas. They are:

  1. Adult Teaching and Learning
  2. Distance Education
  3. Learning in the Workplace and Community
  4. Literacy for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Populations


Students are encouraged, but are not required, to declare a specific emphasis area. Students may combine emphasis areas. For Ph.D, students, an emphasis area has a minimum course requirement of eighteen (18) credits: at least 6 credits from Adult Education and at least 9 credits from one or more supporting areas outside of the program. For D.Ed students an emphasis area has a minimum course requirement of twenty seven (27) credits: at least 12 credits from Adult Education (ADTED Electives) and at least 15 credits from one or more supporting areas outside of the program (Minor or General Studies).

The program takes into account differences in students’ life experiences, including educational background and goals, work and family situations, and plans for future employment. The Harrisburg campus has predominantly part-time students who are employed full-time. Full-, and part-time students enroll at University Park: full-time is recommended, especially for Ph.D. students. At both Harrisburg and University Park, scheduling is arranged, as far as possible, to accommodate the employed student. All resident courses are offered late afternoons, evenings and weekends at University Park and on evenings and weekends at Harrisburg. World Campus courses are offered asynchronously, totally online. Courses are also offered in the summer sessions to make it possible for doctoral students to complete their course work within two calendar years.

Section 1.4: Program Staff, Faculty and Students

Program staff assistants (at Harrisburg and University Park) provide administrative and other forms of support to faculty and students. Full-time tenure track, part-time tenure track, and fixed-term (non-tenured) faculty, and an excellent group of affiliate and adjunct faculty members teach and advise our students, conduct research, and provide professional services to the field and broader community. To see the research interests and contact information for full-time faculty, go to and for affiliate and adjunct faculty, go to

Students enrolled in the program come from all areas of Pennsylvania, a substantial number of states and provinces throughout North America, and several foreign countries. Most applicants to programs have a previous degree in a professional field. Before enrolling in the program, all applicants would have worked in some aspect of adult education and many have had extensive managerial experiences. Examples of fields in which applicants would have worked before enrolling in the program include: the professorate, adult and family literacy, human services, nursing and health services, distance education, community development, human resource development and staff development, engineering, criminal justice, prison and correctional education, religious ministries, continuing higher education, continuing professional education, and cooperative extension. While coming from a variety of fields and disciplines, what applicants to our program have in common is an interest in the education of adults within their own professions.

The program caters to both part-time and full-time students at the University Park campus, part-time students at the Harrisburg campus, and students at a distance via the World Campus. More than half of our students are part-timers who work full-time. Those who commute to University Park usually live and work within a two-hour radius of the campus. Students enrolled at the Harrisburg campus typically commute to campus from a regional area bordered by Philadelphia, Baltimore, Bloomsburg, and the Blue Mountain area.

Section 1.5: Career Opportunities for Our Graduates

An adult education degree offers a broad preparation for numerous fields.  In common, adult educators work with adults in ways that usually involve teaching or administration in some form.  Career opportunities for our graduates include:

Adult Basic Education: educators, administrators and consultants for adult and family literacy, ABE and GED, and English as Second Language (ESL) through social agencies, government, correctional institutions, school systems, corporations, and community organizations.

Community and Economic Development: consultants to and directors of government agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and community and faith-based organizations (CFBOs) concerned with community and economic development; directors of community education in the public school system; providers of technical assistance, training and research in leadership and organizational development to NGOs and CFBOs; providers of entrepreneurial education, workforce education, career counseling, adult and family literacy, health education, religious education, and health and human services.

Distance Education: faculty, instructional designers, administrators and consultants in K-12 and higher education, government and international agencies, and training organizations, who provide educational programming at a distance

Higher and Continuing Education: college and university professors and administrators, faculty and administrators working in community colleges, and business and vocational schools, educators and administrators working with nontraditional students in the continuing education, outreach, or extension units of colleges and universities

Training: trainers and training consultants, human resource developers, instructional designers, and entrepreneurs who work in corporate, public sector, military settings, and local communities.

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: Admission to the Program and Initial Progression

Part 3: Graduate Assistantships and Fellowships

Part 4: Graduate Degree Requirements

Part 5: The Doctoral Process

Part 6: Graduation

Part 7: Appendices