Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame – John Dewey

The American philosopher John Dewey (1859 – 1952) was one of the leading educational thinkers of the twentieth century. He’s another educator who had a deep and lasting impact on adult education. It’s difficult to do justice to his wide-ranging ideas in a short blog so this just gives a flavour of some of his work. Other people might want to expand on it or add their perspectives?

John Dewey

Education for democracy and society

Dewey championed the idea that education is for the collective benefit of society as a whole as well as for individual students. He believed that education should enable people to take an active part in a vibrant democracy and that teaching methods and curriculum design should support this, although he thought that learning processes were more relevant than curriculum content.

The influence of experience on learning

Dewey introduced a theory that linked experience with learning, based on ideas that he described as ‘continuity’ and ‘interaction’.

He promoted the idea that we learn something, positive or negative, from every experience in our lives and then store the memories, constantly accumulating more and more learning. He described this as continuity.

Dewey suggested that the specific nature of people’s past experiences and prior learning shapes their responses to any new situations, creating personalised interpretations of any current experiences. He referred to this as interaction.

He deduced that people might experience any current shared situation in very different ways depending on their previous personal experiences and individual learning. Anyone who has ever discussed their opinions about a novel and wondered if other people had read the same book will have experienced this in practice. The range of reactions to situations can become much more exaggerated in groups of adult students who have had varying life (and educational) experiences.

It’s important for educators to understand these theories. We can’t change students’ past experiences but we can try to understand them. We can use our insights to improve the learning environments so that our students’ new experiences are as positive as possible for each of them. We can encourage students to be open to different viewpoints. This has a direct bearing on the way we might think about issues of equality and diversity in our curriculum, teaching, learning and assessment – and in life in general.

There’s more information on Dewey and further links at

Responses to the ‘Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame’ idea

There are some very interesting and thoughtful responses my last blog and Andria Birch added a thought-provoking video of a talk by Donald Clark at It’s well worth watching it for an insight into the impact of new media on teaching and learning. Using Benjamin Blooms’ approach, it might be useful to consider how significant Clark’s analysis is for the prospects of more traditional models of teaching and learning?

I linked the last blog with the ‘Adult Educators in Action’ group on the LinkedIn website, where additional recommendations for the Hall of Fame include Myles Horton, Malcolm Knowles, David Boud and others. Here’s the link.

Any thoughts on how Dewey’s approaches might influence teaching, learning and assessment in today’s adult education – or other thoughts or suggestions prompted by the ‘Hall of Fame’ ideas, including the increasing use of technology in learning?


Alison Iredale has written a guest blog following on from this one at

About Ann Walker
Adult education and lifelong learning specialist and campaigner. LinkedIn:

3 Responses to Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame – John Dewey

  1. I really like John Dewey as he believed in teaching kids things when they are ready to learn a concept. Everyone learns at a different rate and not necessarily by age or grade level. Be patient I am am trying to figure out how to work my new blog. One of those things I am just starting to learn to do.

  2. The following blog, “Educational Thinkers Hall of Fame –
    John Dewey WEA Director for Education’s Blog” indicates the fact that u comprehend precisely what you r writing about! I actually absolutely agree with your blog. Thank you ,Steffen

Thoughts, comments or links to other resources? Click here to add.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: