In the first half of the 20th century, the term of adult education was first popular and spread in Europe. After the World War II, the rapid development of lifelong learning practice in Europe promoted the specialization of adult education (Aksakal and Kazu, 2015). Establishment of adult education institutions, an increase in research, publications and programs on adult education made adult education not only a special concept, but also a sport promoted worldwide, especially in Europe, adult education and learning became one of the important components of operation integration of the European Commission and other organizations. Until now most of the countries in the world are aware of the importance of adult education and have developed a series of policies or institutions to support and standardize their adult education systems (Dimitrescu, Sârbu and Lacroix, 2015). After World War II, the rapid development of adult education caused by some social conditions, for example, with the improvement of science and technology, industrial workers need to improve themselves for more knowledge and skills to meet the requirements of social production. And at that time the school education did not meet their needs. In this context, adult education gained rapid development. However, with the arrival of the Internet economy, the knowledge economy, as well as the differences of new generation of people in personality, ability and knowledge, people's demand for adult education will also change significantly, in the future, how to meet people’s new needs for adult education to continue to plays the positive role of adult education in improving their overall quality to meet personal material and spiritual pursuit to promote social and economic development has become au issue that educators who are engaged in contemporary adult education need to think about seriously (Kalenda, 2015). This essay understands the concept, characteristics and importance of adult education, based on analyzing future social demand for adult education to recommend on the development of adult education in future. First part presents the background and significance of the essay. The second part introduces the concept of adult education, followed by the characteristics of adult education, then, it presents the importance of adult education. Finally, it recommends on the future development of adult education.
2.1 Definition of adult education
There are many different researches on adult education, different researchers are from different perspectives to define adult education. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) (1997) are from the perspective of education objects of define adult education: “it typically begins at the end of full-time compulsory education for those countries that have a system of compulsory education. More specialization may be observed at this level than at ISCED level 2 and often teachers need to be more qualified or specialized than for ISCED level 2. The entrance age to this level is typically 15 or 16 years”. Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) points out that adult education is learning activities for people who are over compulsory school age and no longer attend school to meet their learning needs (Aksakal and Kazu, 2015). England and Wales Institute of Adult Education define adult education as all kinds of education offered for people who are old enough to work, vote, fight, get married and have completed a continuous learning (Fieldhouse, 1996). England and Wales Institute of Adult Education analyzes that objects of adult education are people who assume responsibility in a family and in a society, it emphasizes that the standard for a adult is psychological maturity, the mental resilience and the ability of assuming social responsibility of an education object must be basically mature, he should able to take the responsibilities to create wealth or provide labor for a family and a society (Fieldhouse, 1996). Based on the above theories, it can be concluded that adult education is a series of educational activities launched for physical maturity and psychological maturity objects.
Postan (2014), Neagu (2014) are from the perspective of education content to define the concept of adult education. Postan (2014) notes that considering from education content, adult education is a kind of content-specific educational activity. In developing countries, adult education is often regarded as a literacy education, which are activities to teach people basic literacy skills; while in developed countries, adult education is a complement for formal education, it is the activities of using leisure time to expand and enhance capacity. OECD defines adult education as follows: learning activities offered by adult education meet the learning needs of citizens at any stage of life, which include non-professional, professional, plain, formal, non-formal education with collective, social purposes. Neagu (2014) believes that adult education is social education based on real needs and future requirements of vocations and posts, it has different levels and various forms, it is implemented for incumbents throughout their life course and takes effect during a short period of time.
Hubackova and Semradova (2014), Németh (2014), Manolescu, Tâlvan, Bozon (2014) were based on the purpose of education to define adult education. Hubackova and Semradova (2014) hold that the purpose of adult education throughout the education process is to promote adults to enhance capabilities, acquire rich knowledge, improve technical or professional qualifications to help them to find a right direction of development, so as to promote changes in their attitude and behavior. Németh’s (2014) definition for adult education is through any way to improve the technical, professional quality level of adults, improving their knowledgeable and development in order to reach the level of formal education, or exploring knowledge and skills in a new area. Manolescu, Tâlvan and Bozon, (2014) comment that the purpose of adult education is to improve the quality of workers, improving work efficiency and economic benefits and improving living standards, at the same time to cultivate citizens with ideals, morality, culture and discipline to create a good social atmosphere and promote social stability, unity. Lindeman (1988) believes that adult education is a life unfold, cycle process, the purpose is to make people's lives have value, so that they will obtain full meaning of life, opportunity to perform their personal characteristics, opportunities to learn for new purposes. The above definitions for adult education reflect the main purpose of adult education is to improve the overall quality of adults, so as to promote political, economic and cultural development.
Understanding of the concept of adult education should be noted the content of the following two aspects. First, adult education has a multi-level, multi-faceted nature, none of the above opinions enables the different meanings of adult education can be fully reflected in a same concept of adult education (Barrantes and Yagüe, 2015; Margrett and Lee, 2015). The concept of adult education is not single but complex, which combines the concept of lifelong education, it is related to the contents of different disciplines of sociology, philosophy, management, etc., so the definition and understanding of adult education needs to be observed and analyzed from multiple perspectives (Margrett and Lee, 2015; Margrett and Lee, 2015). Second, it is worth noting that the concept of adult education is not static since the birth, adult education is a concept which still continues to be built and improved, to define it should take certain historical range into consideration (Barrantes and Yagüe, 2015; Cuco? 2014). Therefore, it must be based on the practice of the current development of adult education and integrate with educational philosophy of the times to understand and grasp the essence of the concept of contemporary adult education. Development of adult education in the 21st century has its own unique characteristics of the times, namely, the lifelong characteristic of the education, the individuation of the education objectives, the autonomy of the education process, the open characteristic of the education objects, the diversification of the education forms.