Power dynamics in teaching and learning practices: An examination of two adult education classrooms

Juanita Johnson-Bailey, Ronald M. Cervero

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


The purpose of this research was to determine the ways in which power relations that exist in the wider social context are played out in the teaching and learning dynamics of adult education classrooms. The research design was a qualitative comparative case study of two courses taught by the authors in a university setting. Data sources included students’ evaluations, teachers’ observations, interviews with students, interviews with both teachers, and conversations with similarly situated faculty members. The themes of mastery, voice, authority and positionality found in previous research were used to organize the results. The results showed the many complex ways in which power relations based on race, class, gender, disability and sexual orientation played out across all four themes and how these dynamics directly influenced the teaching and learning process. The positionality of the teachers and learners, in particular the racial category of whiteness, emerged as a key power relationship mediating classroom dynamics. We suggest that the facilitation model of teaching does not account well for these dynamics and that further efforts are needed to better understand how societal power relations affect teaching and learning efforts and what responses adult educators can make to negotiate these issues.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)389-399
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Lifelong Education
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1998
Externally publishedYes


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