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Planning Programs for Adult Learners, 2nd Edition

By Rosemary A. Caffarella
403 Pages
ISBN: 0-7879-5225-7 (paperback)

Reviewed by

Janice D. Schultz

San Diego State University


The appearance of Rosemary Caffarella's book, Planning Programs for Adult Learners, 2nd Edition is timely for me: I am concluding my first year as Lecturer Associate at the San Diego State University Center for Teaching and Learning. Caffarella aptly describes many of the experiences I have encountered while planning instruction for undergraduate students as well as professional development programs for colleagues. "Planning programs for adults is like swimming in the ocean," she writes. "Some days the ocean is calm and welcomes people with open arms . . . on other days, the ocean provides challenges for even the best of swimmers" (p. 1).

The notable subtitle for the book is "A Practical Guide for Educators, Trainers, and Staff Developers." According to the author's preface,

This book is intended for both novice and experienced people who plan education and training programs for adults in a variety of settings. It is targeted primarily at people who either have or aspire to obtain full-time or part-time positions as adult educators, trainers, staff developers, human resource developers, or performance improvement staff. (p. xxi)

The author begins the book with basic definitions and identifies the five primary purposes of education: "to encourage growth, to assist with practical problems, to prepare people for current and future opportunities, to assist with change for desired results, and to examine community or social issues" (p. 10). This opening reminds me that keeping a clear view of a program's purpose is crucial for success.

Caffarella then moves quickly into a description in Chapter Two of a "flexible interactive model for program planning." She illustrates the model with a concentric circular graphic that includes twelve spokes radiating inward towards the goal of flexible interactive planning. These spokes represent the twelve tasks involved in planning, which Caffarella identifies as follows:

  • Discerning the context
  • Building a base of support
  • Identifying program ideas
  • Sorting and prioritizing program ideas
  • Developing program objectives
  • Designing instructional plans
  • Devising transfer of learning plans
  • Formulating evaluation plans
  • Making recommendations and communicating results
  • Selecting formats, schedules and staff needs
  • Preparing budgets and marketing plans
  • Coordinating facilities and on-site events
    (p. 21)

Caffarella's model is based on seven major assumptions (p. 25-28), which can be characterized as follows:

  1. Educational programs focus on what the participants actually learn and how this learning results in change.
  2. The development of educational programs is a complex and not necessarily sequential interaction of institutional priorities, tasks, people, and events.
  3. Program planning is contextual in nature: social, economic, cultural, and political climates will have an impact on individual program planners.
  4. Both preplanning tasks and last-minute decisions are necessary when planning programs.
  5. Effective planning requires respect and honor for diversity and cultural differences.
  6. Individual program planners work differently and there is no single method of planning education that ensures success.
  7. Program planners are learners, too; reflection and evaluation will strengthen individual abilities.

As previously described, Caffarella's graphic representation of this model hints at the dynamic nature of program planning and provides an alternative to more linear, step-by-step models. Interestingly, however, the author follows the model and graphic with a sequential checklist highlighting key aspects of each planning task (p. 21) This introductory checklist is further developed and repeated in the last chapter to summarize the author's key points (p. 369-373). Caffarella's graphic initially appears different than many typical feedback-loop models for process improvement. However, as in other model designs (e.g., concentric circles, process flow-charts, or checklists), the goal is to improve education programs continuously.

Caffarella's discussion in Chapter Three about identifying personal beliefs and maintaining high ethical standards prompts reader reflection. This segment reminded me of three central points made by Parker Palmer in The Courage to Teach (Jossey-Bass, 1998). He states that "good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher," "good teaching cannot be reduced to technique," and "good teachers possess a capacity for connectedness" (p. 10-11).

The author also explores organizational context. She writes,

Organizations are constantly changing. Political and economic climates are ever fluctuating, and sometimes even volatile. There is growing diversity among people who plan and attend education and training programs . . . discerning the context, which is both a skill and an art, is a major component that planners address as they design educational programs. (p. 59)

According to Caffarella, understanding the context means being knowledgeable about organizational structure, political factors, power relationships, cultural factors, and organizational symbols. Her commentary about power relationships is enlightening: she asserts that the ability to negotiate for successful collaboration is paramount for successful program planning. As the author notes, two positive uses of power are certainly "to provide top quality and accessible programs and to challenge the status quo" (p. 72). Chapter Five then provides helpful insight about building and sustaining partnerships for the most effective program planning. Caffarella sees many possible collaborators, including a) potential and current learners, b) supervisors of potential participants, c) mid- or senior level managers of sponsoring organizations, and d) other stakeholders with a vested interest in the educational outcome(s) (p. 84).

Overall, Caffarella's sixteen chapters are loaded with useful information, and she illustrates and strengthens her ideas with realistic scenarios, numerous exhibits, and workbook-style exercises. Chapters Nine through Eleven were my personal favorites. In these 100 pages I discovered much practical and immediately applicable information not only for program-planning functions but also for any classroom context. Like most seasoned teachers I am familiar with the difference between program objectives and learning objectives, yet a deeper notion of connecting instructional plans with "transfer of learning" plans was a newer perspective for me. According to Caffarella, "Transfer of learning is the effective application by program participants of what they learned as a result of attending an education or training program. It is often referred to as the "so what" or "now what" phase of the learning process" (p. 204).

Each chapter concludes with highlights and worksheets the author calls, "Application Exercises." As she explains in the preface, the exercises are intended to help readers "in applying the material covered in each chapter to their program planning situations" (p. xxiii). Using a faculty development workshop session I was planning, I completed the exercises in Chapters Nine through Eleven as a kind of practical usefulness test. The tools definitely sharpened my focus on content and clarified my instructional alternatives. The Chapter Ten Application Exercises facilitated my thinking about what encourages and what impedes the transfer of learning (p. 222-223). For example, before the program, I identified a group interaction technique for use during the workshop. While rather tedious, the Application Exercises stimulated ideas and enabled me to anticipate some challenges that I might otherwise have overlooked. Committing evolving plans to paper seems less flexible than the author's proposed interactive model suggests, yet the tools nudged me towards more concrete and specific planning. Using the sample tools also provided the advantage of having more detailed plans recorded.

Caffarella's information in Chapter Eleven about evaluation and assessment reminded me that I sometimes fail to link all three of these crucial endeavors--objectives, transfer of learning, and evaluation-- together at the beginning stages of instructional planning. The author summarizes recent writings about major pitfalls of program evaluation and also includes some convenient evaluation formats as exhibits. I especially appreciated her suggestion regarding informal evaluation strategies: carefully observing participants during a program and listening to learners' comments yields valuable formative information.

The last quarter of Planning Programs for Adult Learners is probably most useful for educators working in professional development areas. For example, the final chapters explored several important questions, including

  • How can program results be effectively communicated? (Chapter Twelve)
  • What scheduling issues arise with various program formats? (Chapter Thirteen)
  • What are budget and marketing plan considerations? (Chapter Fourteen)
  • How are facilities and meeting room arrangements best utilized? (Chapter Fifteen)

Caffarella's careful attention to the settings and facilities of a program underscores the importance of recognizing and providing appropriately equipped venues to optimize learning objectives. Adult learners especially are sensitive to setting as a part of the context for learning.

Approximately three hundred references and a handy subject-author index conclude this book. There is much to be gained by a thorough exploration of Caffarella's work. Since the book is not specifically and exclusively targeted at higher education, some CSU faculty readers might find the contents a rather indirect route to teaching improvement. However, colleagues with professional staff development responsibilities will certainly be rewarded with many new insights, ideas, and tools. Whether the ocean of education planning is rough or calm, Caffarella's book may help keep readers afloat. Therefore, I recommend it to other enthusiastic swimmers!

Posted July 18, 2002

All material appearing in this journal is subject to applicable copyright laws.
Publication in this journal in no way indicates the endorsement of the content by the California State University, the Institute for Teaching and Learning, or the Exchanges Editorial Board. ©2002 by Janice D. Schultz.

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