The Consumer Learner: Shifts in the Teacher/Student Relationship: Student as Customer

Document Type


Publication Date


Originally Published In

The Refractive Thinker®: Vol. VI: Post-Secondary Education

Page Numbers

Chapter 6


This chapter addresses the shifts which have led to the notion of the contemporary student as a customer. This work is an excerpt of Emerging Expectations of a Customer Service Mentality in Post-Secondary Education, a Pensiero Press (winter 2011) publication by Dr. Gillian Silver and Dr. Cheryl Lentz. The discussion concentrates on how, throughout the past two decades, the rise of the adult learning model has removed educational access barriers and enabled more individuals from diverse backgrounds—including women, minorities, full-time employees, and students returning to complete unfinished degrees. This multi-faceted transformation has provided myriad opportunities for those balancing the demands of family, work and community to experience intellectual growth and program achievement. Subsequently, certain variables have led to a cultural shift from a literature and conceptually centric focus to one in which students are becoming consumer learners. An understanding of learners consuming knowledge and the product of education symbolizes the diverse vantage points of the adult education community and the process of seeking, evaluating, applying, and challenging knowledge.

Three unique perspectives from which to consider the complex requirements of learners, the institutional demands for efficiency and cost-recovery, and the practice obligations of professional educators, are offered. Care has been taken to explore the environment in which the authors find themselves as a result of both their teaching and student experiences. The intention has been to do conduct this examination with balance and fairness, rather than prejudice or from the sensibilities of only one of the three partners involved in the institution-student-educator partnership.