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Adult Learning

The Adult Learning PhD Program is designed for people interested in higher education, workplace learning, community-based organizations or any setting where adults can be found learning.

The program is characterized by students who come from varied professional and personal backgrounds, are intellectually curious, and supportive of the other students. In interactive courses, students explore how adults learn and develop through an understanding of research, theory, and reflective practice. With a degree in educational psychology, our graduates use their knowledge of adult learning to advance their careers as college instructors, university professors, adult basic education teachers, leaders in non-profit organizations, training and organizational development consultants, and nurse educators.

About Adult Learning

General Goals

The Adult Learning program is designed to help participants:

  • Better understand adult learning in terms of its theoretical and conceptual underpinnings as well as its operation in practical situations;
  • Be further prepared for the increasingly changing demands of professional life and personal enrichment;
  • Enhance knowledge and skills in assisting adult learners with global visions;
  • Broaden ideas and competency to live and work within a knowledge society; and
  • Learn skills in order to make contributions to the areas of adult learning and educational psychology through presentations and publication of original research.

Key Features

  • Inquiry & Reflection. These are at the heart of the Adult Learning program.

    A learning community forms when students engage with each other and with faculty in scholarly activities that contribute to the body of knowledge about adult learning and one’s own professional practice.

  • Student Experience, Interests & Talents. These are considered in the application process and woven throughout the Adult Learning program of study. Many students in the program are employed or engaged with adult learners in a wide variety of contexts and/or settings. Their professional experiences contribute to a deeper understanding of the link between theory and practice.
  • Faculty & Peer Support. Advanced students are a valuable resource for newer students. Faculty and students often collaborate on projects and research; this work frequently leads to presentations at national and international conferences and publications in professional journals.
  • Flexibility. Students have the option to participate in Adult Learning on a full-time or part-time basis. Either way, the program flexibility meets diverse needs of doctoral students. Courses are offered in evenings, on weekends, and online to serve a wide variety of student needs.

Learning Outcomes

  • Academic Knowledge. Students will demonstrate a deep understanding of educational psychology and related fields and a broad understanding of various methods of inquiry in educational psychology. In addition, they will demonstrate competence in several methods of inquiry (qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods) and the ability to successfully guide their own scholarship.
  • Practical Competence. Students will demonstrate an ability to work effectively with adult learners in various settings. They will be able to plan, implement, administer, and evaluate programs for adult learners.
  • Reflective Inquiry. Students will demonstrate the ability to engage in critical thinking and reflection, both in terms of scholarship and practice.
  • Democratic Commitment. Students will demonstrate in their scholarship and practice a commitment to diversity and an understanding of the complex process of democracy and a commitment to pursue this process with a focus on access to quality education for all learners in their own professional work.
  • Professional Engagement. Students will demonstrate deep intellectual engagement with education, particularly the field of adult education as an area of scholarly inquiry. In doing so, students will belong to and participate in national/international scholarly associations and make evident benefits and contributions that result from these memberships.

Application Requirements

February 1 is the priority deadline for fall.

October 1 is the deadline for spring.

Transfer Credits

At the doctoral level, courses are not officially transferred although they may be used to meet degree requirements. To be considered for review, a transferred a course must:

  • Be taken for graduate credit.
  • Carry a grade of B or better.
  • Be a part of a graduate program in which the student had at least a B average.
  • Not have been used for a previous degree.
  • Be approved by the student’s graduate committee and the Dean of the Graduate School.

Advising & Graduate Committees

Upon acceptance, students will be assigned a temporary advisor. All students must form a graduate committee, ideally by the end of the first year of study. At this point, students may change advisors after identifying their interests and getting to know other faculty. The major professor directs the student’s dissertation and chairs the dissertation committee. The student and the major professor identify a committee of at least four faculty members. One member must be from an academic unit other than Educational Psychology and Research. Doctoral committees should be formed after the first year of study. Students with their advisors complete a program plan to guide completion of requirements. Check the Graduate Catalog for details of graduate study.

Financial Aid Information

Includes EPC GA Application form, departmental fellowships/scholarships, and links to other funding sources around UT Knoxville.

Some Current Adult Learning Students

Julie Hall, program director and assistant professor of radiologic technology at Roane State Community College, is in the coursework phase of her PhD. She came to the program with a background in public health, community health education, biochemistry, molecular and cellular biology, and radiologic technology. Her research focuses on self-directed learning and transformative learning.

Kristina Klamm, hall director at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is in the coursework phase of her PhD. She came to the program with a background in aeronautics and air traffic management. Her research focuses on visual qualitative research methods including photo elicitation, workplace learning, experiential learning, motivation, and veteran student college re-entry.

Traci Leonard works in Student Affairs at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and is in the coursework phase of her dissertation. She came to the program with a background in student affairs, human resources, and continuing medical education. Her research interests are adult undergraduates, veteran students, and former student athletes who return to complete degrees.

Ellen Haight McEwan, full-time student and graduate assistant, is in the coursework phase of her PhD. She came to the program with diverse experience in private industry, government, and nonprofits. Her research focuses on workplace and organizational learning, learning organizations, and complexity theory.

Connie Shih, instructor of graduate and professional studies, is in the coursework phase of her PhD. She came to the program with a background in instructional technology, counseling, and psychology. Her research interests include educational gerontology, mentoring, self-directed learning, and informal and transformative learning in popular culture.

Darrell Tullier, high school counselor is in his coursework phase of his PhD. He came to the program with a background in public education and community mental health. His research focuses on transformative learning and adult cognitive development.

Some Adult Learning Alumni

John Alunni, culinary arts teacher, came to the program with extensive experience in the hospitality industry. John plans to continue to teach at the college level and to work with students with special needs and their parents.

Valerie K. Ambrose, reading and writing instructor, came to the program having worked in developmental and adult basic education settings at community colleges. Her research focuses on adult literacy and social justice issues.

Jeff Beard is an instructional designer at Y-12 National Security Complex and adjunct instructor of TPTE 486 at University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He came to the program with a background in instructional design, curriculum development, and information technology. His research focuses on collaborative learning, critical reflection, e-learning, experiential learning, self-directed learning, and transformative learning.

Tiffany McGee came to the program with a background in athletic coaching, communications, and finance. She plans to pursue a career in organizational development and/or workplace learning.

Janel Seeley came to the program with a background in professional development and education. Her research focuses on collaborative learning and reflective practice.

Becky C. Smeltzer, technical services librarian at the University of Tennessee, Municipal Technical Advisory Service, came to the program with a background in instructional technology, library sciences, and music theory. Becky provides information services to municipal officials, as well as staff development programs and training to the MTAS staff. Her research interests are in community leadership, self-directed learning, and barriers to learning.

Amy D. Smith, staff development specialist, has a background in workplace training and a BA in sociology. Her focus is on workplace learning, particularly organizational development.

Kellee R. Vess, assistant professor of nursing, used to be a practicing nurse. Her research interests are positive psychology (particularly gratitude), self-directed learning, and collaborative research.

Mitsunori Misawa

Mitsunori Misawa
Associate Professor

Qi Sun

Qi Sun
Associate Professor

About the Master’s Degree Program

The master of science degree in educational psychology with a concentration in Adult Education is taught through the distance education program we call EdPsych Online. Information about the program can all be found at EdPsych Online.

Updated 11/15/2022