Sandra Kerka

Document Type


Publication Date



Digest 185

Publication Title

ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education


Popular education is a form of adult education that encourages learners to examine their lives critically and take action to change social conditions. It is "popular" in the sense of being "of the people." Popular education emerged in Latin America in the 1960s-1970s; Paulo Freire is its best known exponent. However, its roots may be found in the French Revolution, in workers' education of the 1920s-1930s, and in such movements as the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee (Beder 1996; Jeria 1990). The goal of popular education is to develop "people's capacity for social change through a collective problem-solving approach emphasizing participation, reflection, and critical analysis of social problems" (Bates 1996. pp. 225-226). Key characteristics of popular education are as follows: everyone teaches and learns, so leadership is shared; starting with learners' experiences and concerns; high participation; creation of new knowledge; critical reflection; connecting the local to the global; and collective action for change (Arnold et al. 1985; Mackenzie 1993). This digest describes popular education methods, addresses challenges, and offers some insights for adult educators.