This is an archive of the 2013 version of ocTEL.

The Curriculum of Adult Life

Adult life is a massive social space, filled with experiential learning.  Bohn equates adults’ experiences within the cognitive domain.  Many cognitive resources, including “locus of control, self-efficacy, problem solving, decision-making, judgment, analysis (sizing up a situation, sizing up people), creativity, cause and effect, trial-and-error are the essence of experience.” (Bohn, p. 26)  The lessons of adult life are learned formally and informally.  Formal lessons include our formal education; P-12, undergraduate, and graduate schools.  Also part of formal lessons are job training, trade apprenticeships, workforce development, religious, and community learning.  Informal lessons seem to be mostly learned individually by trial-and-error, by observation, and vicariously.

The hidden curriculum of adult life is also known as social mores.  These mores are called “rules-of thumb” by Bohn. (p. 26)  These are the unspoken rules that are “understood” by community, society, and culture.

Curriculum is defined by roles.  Each person performs multiple roles; parent, employee, partner, community member, etc.  This is also referred to as context.  Each role has its own content and own ways of socialization.  In my role as an IT professional the context of learning is very technical and sterile.  In my role as a parent, the context of learning is very much more informal, and trial-and-error.  My role as a graduate student is completely immersed in formal learning with a specific curriculum.

Content, context, community, and participation provide the environment for situated learning.  (Stein, 1998, p. 2; Stein, 2001, p. 422)  Situated learning (also called situated cognition by Merriam, Caffarella, and Baumgartner) occurs when the learning situation and the learning process are inseparable. (2007, p. 178)  Lessons in the hidden curriculum appear to be situated learning; the process of trial-and-error is itself situated learning.  Lessons learned by error might be more memorable than lessons learned by successful trial, because the failure of error creates a more emotional response.


Bohn, James. 2002.  Toward an Analysis of Adult Experience.  Presentation From 2000 Annual Midwest Research to Practice Conference in Adult, Continuing, and Community Education.  c.f. Glowacki-Dudka.

Glowacki-Dudka, M. (2000). Honoring Our Roots and Branches... Our History and Future. Proceedings of the Annual Midwest Research to Practice Conference in Adult, Continuing, and Community Education (19th, Madison, Wisconsin, September 27-29, 2000).
Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 
Stein, D., & ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education. (1998). Situated learning in adult education. Columbus, OH: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education, Center on Education and Training for Employment, College of Education, the Ohio State University.  

Stein, D. S. (January 01, 2001). Situated Learning and Planned Training on the Job. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 3, 4, 415-424. 

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Doctoral student in Adult and Online Learning; IT Director; Director of Distance Learning and Educational Technology.

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