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Stephen Brookfield Stephen Brookfield

Stephen Brookfield

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Brookfield argues it is essential for adults to develop a “critical stance” and how adults can become critical thinkers in their family, work and personal lives and in relation to the mass media.  He defines six (6) principles of effective practice:

  1. Participation in learning is voluntary- Adults engage in learning of their own volition – it may be the circumstances prompting this learning come from somewhere else, but the decision to learn is the learner’s.
  2. Effective practice is characterized by a respect among participants for each other’s self-worth- This does not mean criticism should be absent from educational encounters. It does mean an attention to increasing adults’ sense of self-worth underlies all facilitation efforts.
  3. Facilitation is collaborative- This collaboration is constant, and is seen in the diagnosis of needs, in the setting of objectives, in curriculum development, in methodological aspects, and in generating evaluative criteria and indexes.
  4. Praxis is placed at the heart of effective facilitation- The term praxis comes from Paulo Freire. It refers to the continuous process of action, reflection, and experimentation. In this context “action” does not only mean physical activity – it might also apply to a mental model, or an attitude toward a problem.
  5. Facilitation aims to foster in adults a spirit of critical reflection- This comes from post-modern thinking. Everything should be questioned, everything held to be “true” needs to be recognized as temporary, provisional and relative.
  6. The aim of facilitation is the nurturing of self-directed, empowered adults- Such adults will see themselves as proactive, initiating individuals engaged in a continuous re-creation of their personal relationships, work worlds, and social circumstances rather than as reactive individuals, buffeted by uncontrollable forces of circumstances.


Influential Theories

Brookfield was influenced by Freire’s theory of conscientization; Jurgen Habermas’ theory of communicative action, but most critically, by the work of Jack Mezirow and his theory of transformational learning.


Similar or Related Theories

Most similar or related is Mezirow’s work.  Brookfield reduced Mezirow’s 11-12 step process to a five-step process by combining and refining several steps in the process.  His work provides a useful discussion of the configuration of context, learner, and process.


Theory or Research? 

Definitely a theory.  Part of Brookfield’s work questions whether andragogy is a proven theory or a set of well-grounded principles of good practice.   Brookfield’s work presents more a way of thinking and framing instruction as opposed to classic research.



“Stephen Brookfield disturbs and enriches the entire field of adult learning with brilliant teaching.”  Robert Kegan, Harvard University.   I agree.  Brookfield’s contributions alone to the field of faculty development improved significantly not only execution in the classroom, but advanced the discussion as to what constitutes “good” adult education.


Relevant Points

  • Learners should exercise control over all educational decisions – this needs to be a consistent element of self-directed learning
  • His later work focused on incorporating critical reflection into our roles as teachers through four lenses:  our autobiographies as teachers and learners; how students see us; how colleagues perceive us, and the theoretical literature
  • Critical reflection focuses on three interrelated processes; (1) how adults question and then replace or reframe an assumption uncritically accepted as representing common sense wisdom, (2) how adults take alternative perspective on previously taken for granted ideas, actions, forms of reasoning and ideologies, and (3) how adults come to recognize the hegemonic aspects of dominant cultural values and to understand how self-evident renderings of the ‘natural’ state of the world actually bolster the power and self-interest of unrepresentative minorities.
  • The ability of adults to learn how to learn – to become skilled at learning in a range of different situations and through a range of different styles – is an overarching purpose for those educators who work with adults

Interview with Brookfield

This overview was created by Dr. Karen E. Gardner with some additional materials added from Wikipedia. Download a printable version here: Brookfield Overview

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