Over a 35-year career spanning three countries, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States, Stephen Brookfield, Ph.D., has played a prominent role in shaping theory and practice within the field of adult education.
He has been a leader in research and scholarship in four major fields; understanding the practice of teaching and facilitation across a range of diverse adult educational contexts, understanding the rhythms of critical thinking as a form of learning and the dynamics of how best to develop this, understanding the development of critically reflective practice among adult educators, and applying the theoretical concepts of critical theory to the understanding of adult learning and education.
As an adult education specialist, Brookfield has developed a learning technique where he allows himself to observe and be taught from his own experiences as an adult learner and applies these observations to his thinking about students’ experiences of teaching and learning. He says understanding how students experience learning far outstrips the value of any particular approach or technique in becoming a better teacher.*
After 10 years as a Professor of Higher and Adult Education at Columbia University in New York, he now holds the title of Distinguished University Professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota. As a distinguished university professor, Brookfield’s role involves creating a high profile for the university through his practice as a teacher and dissertation supervisor, and his writing and speaking. Within the university he encourages faculty to move to a learner-centered approach to their teaching, and to model a cross-unit, interdisciplinary contribution to the scholarly life of the community. His time is split between writing, publishing, speaking, program development, faculty and professional development, scholarly and pedagogic mentoring, and teaching. He recently won the university's Diversity Leadership Teaching & Research Award and also the John Ireland Presidential Award for Outstanding Achievement as a Teacher/Scholar.
Brookfield’s achievements are best represented by the awards he has won, clear evidence of the impact his scholarship has had on the field of adult education. He is the only person to hold the distinction of having won the Cyril O. Houle World Award for Literature in Adult Education a record-breaking four times, and the only person to win both the Houle Award and the Imogene Okes Award for Outstanding Research in Adult Education for the same piece of work in the same year. Brookfield has been awarded two honorary Doctor of Letters degrees from the University System of New Hampshire and Concordia University, St. Paul for his contributions to understanding adult learning and shaping adult education. In 2001, he received the Leadership Award from the Association for Continuing Higher Education for extraordinary contributions to the general field of continuing education on a national and international level. In 2008 the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning awarded him the Morris T. Keeton medal for outstanding achievement in the field of adult and experiential learning.
*With additional sourcing from an interview “Sorting Out Experience” from the National Teaching & Learning Forum.
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