Posted by: DCox | August 12, 2008

Principles of Adult Education used in Mobilizing Non-literate Adults



Apsara relief at Angkor Wat
Apsara relief at Angkor Wat

I’m soon returning to Cambodia to once again strategize with NGO staff on how to do rural community development that will be sustainable.  Here’s a story from our last trip to Cambodia…


We coached the FH Cambodia staff, during our April trip, to be cognizant of some of the distinctives of how adult best learn.  As development workers, it’s important to keep these principals in mind when working with adults; especially with adults that aren’t literate.  


Adult education has coined the acronym “LePSA” to highlight some of these principals.  LePSA:

            Le – Learner centered.

The trainer concentrates on how well the learner is learning, rather than how well he is describing the topic.

Attention is always given to the learner. You have to understand the learner.

            P – Problem Posing.

Pose a problem. Use questions to help people reflect over those ideas for self-discovery.

Provokes thinking in the learner, create awareness in the mind of this learner so that the learner will see a need to have to change and be empowered to do it himself.

            S – Self Discovery.

Why do we have this problem? What can be done? Come up with solutions. Adults learn best when they are able to discover for themselves through their own experience and reflections.

          AAction Oriented.

Do! The learning is designed to motivate to do something practical and bring about change.


LePSA was rewritten by FH staff to make it more culturally relevant. They chose the word “Apsara” to create an acronym to underscore the same adult ed principals.


An Apsara is a female spirit of the clouds and waters in Hindu and Buddhist mythology. Frequently encountered English translations of the word “Apsara” are “nymph,” “celestial nymph,” and “celestial maiden.” [Wikipedia definition]

The Apsara is symbol that often is associated with Cambodia by its people.


Here’s how the Cambodian staff rephrased LePSA.  APSARA:

            A – All can learn.  (Learner centered.)

            P – Problem Posing.  

            S – Self Discovery.

          AAction Oriented.

RRedeeming message.  A liberating message that can empower change.  This idea originated with the FH staff to reflect their belief that the gospel brings wholeness.

AAll done.





  1. Some great insights into education. For many years there has been a theory of Praxis in education that focuses on what you are talking about, practical material that can be acted upon. It further talks about change in anindivdual and states that good transformational process utilizes Praxis as the learning on several levels, and most of all the practical application of the learning brings about change in a persons life.

    Much has been done with another theory called, Observe, Judge, Act (many offshoots of this model utilized in small christian community learning communities)
    Observe begins with the participants experience. What has been their experience of your target learning content. How have they encountered this in their life. This provides a base line of for the learner and all ows the particpant to have self-interest in the target content. Further it respects the participant for wisdom and knowledge that is already present. This is very important with adult learners, but I have found it to be equally important with adolescensts as well.
    Judge is the target content that you wish to present. This leads to a compare and contrast with already known knowledge. Often times the target content challenges behaviors of the participants and provides a format for prayer and resoning, leading to dialogue and the community to challenge itself with new information.
    I have always added another step called discern, or prayer. After being confronted with their own thinking and behavior with something new, I have them work through prayer and reflection excercises that basically ask for the discernment of God’s will in their life.
    The last section is act. Act on their new found knowledge. Apply the truth that they have found.
    There is a last bit, which is that it goes back to the beggining in a circle, the new Observe is to look at the action and evaluate, share the knowledge of the heart of the action and then around again with Judge and either a new action or an improvement on the previous action


%d bloggers like this: