Generative Knowing
Principles, Methods, and Dispositions of an Emerging Adult Learning Theory
Published: September 2022
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Published: September 2022

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Published: September 2022
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6" x 9"
Language: English

A 2023 SPE Outstanding Book Honorable Mention

Generative Knowing
explores the mystery of learning from the unknown in ways that reveal that learning is a dynamic phenomenon, encompassing both personal and societal contexts.

Dewey defines learning in terms of experience, reflection, continuity, and interactivity. When learning happens, it eventually solidifies into reliable truths that become a shortcut for taking action or making decisions—thus a habit of learning is formed and becomes rigid.

Generative knowing is an emerging theory of adult learning that seeks the not-yet-foreknown potential that waits to be uncovered in the richness of experience. The book delivers vignettes of different lived experiences of being and becoming, signaling multiple ways in which a person shapes and transcends traditional conceptions of self-other binary activating the power to respond to the ongoing complex evolution of self and society.

Generative Knowing seeks to accomplish four goals:

  • to offer a unique exploration of learning, positioned as response-ability that illuminates the relatedness of learning and complex, ambiguous, unsolvable challenges that are recognizable in society as social challenges (i.e. forced migration)
  • to present and distinguish an emerging theory of adult learning, generative knowing. Generative knowing emerged as a distinct learning disposition at the intersections of personal meaning making capacity (developmental psychology) encountering the characteristics of rising ambiguity (complexity sciences) and the lived experience of undergoing experience
  • to make visible and help others make the connections between generative knowing at a personal level and the complex, ambiguous unsolvable challenges in today’s society, and
  • to provide illustrations of what generative knowing entails, how it shapes personal and societal transformation and how that may support educators, facilitator activists and change activists to make space for generative knowing when complex challenges call for both personal and societal transformations.
Adult education as a field of practice is presently grappling with how adults learn in a world being recomposed by a global pandemic. Generative knowing—defined as ways of being and becoming that creatively activate potential—restores many rhythms of learning, helping readers gain fresh perspectives on how learning emerges from the unknown. The vital and personal stories in this book guide readers to walk in the territory of the unknown and to pay attention to the sensations of entanglements of self with multiple societal forces as a new way of learning.

Perfect for courses such as:
  Adult Learning Theory │ Adult Learning Theory & Praxis │ Adult Development │ Transformative Learning │ Phenomenology │ Narrative Inquiry │ New Materialism │ Creative Research Methodologies

Table of Contents:

List of Figures




1. Generative Knowing: A Nomadic Theory of Adult Learning

2. A Brief Review of Adult Learning Theory

3. Following the Phenomenon in Phenomenological Research

4. Luminous Darkness

5. A Single Story is a Dangerous Narrative

6. Mother Nature: Signals from a Different Plane

7. Generative Knowing & the Future of Work
   Ahreum Lim

8. The Dynamics of Generative Learning

About the Authors


NOTE: Information is subject to change up until publication date. 

Reviews & Endorsements:

"Drawing on lived personal experience, Nicolaides (Univ. of Georgia) presents a new paradigm for a transformational learning approach in adult learning theory. While citing many adult learning theories, theorists, and writers, she relies primarily on John Dewey, Jack Mezirow, and Gilles Deleuze. As director of the International Transformative Learning Association, Nicolaides is highly qualified to write on this topic, and her approach is very appropriate for the current adult learning environment. She has produced an important contribution to present-day adult learning theory and practice, appropriate for the fast and ever-changing adult learning environment. Most chapters contain a reference section, and the end of the book has a very useful index. This well-written and very lucid book will benefit scholars working on adult learning, adult education, and the philosophy of adult learning, as it speaks to the future of adult learning theory and practice. Graduate students in these areas will especially benefit from reading this short book's very direct, useful, and helpful insights. Ultimately, this is a valuable study for those involved in adult learning theory analysis and development."

W. C. Hine, emeritus, Eastern Illinois University for CHOICE, May 2023, Vol. 60, No. 9

“With cascading words, images, stories and meanings, and courageous vulnerability, Nicolaides weaves a phenomenological and DeLeuzian portrait of generative knowing that is both generative and phenomenal. The artistic use of language and story to look at how we come to know in the face of unprecedented complexity and ambiguity brings poetry to scholarship. Scholars of adult learning will recognize the power of this contribution to evolving adult learning theory. This book will be a classic among adult learning scholars.”

Karen E. Watkins, Professor Learning, Leadership and Organizational Development, The University of Georgia

“Overwhelmed and frequently shocked by the complexity, turbulence, and velocity of our lived experience today, haven’t we all stopped to wonder, how will we find a constructive way forward? Nicolaides’ stunning contribution to the field is an invitation to feel our way forward by growing new senses and new sensibilities. Generative Knowing is not an easy quick fix, but it is a summons to discover 'the door in every moment' to try something new, in our ways of being, relating, our ways of leading, and organizing ourselves. Reading it, I feel grounded and yet hopeful for what is waiting to emerge through us and our collective action.”

Rev. David C. McCallum, S.J., Ed.D, Executive Director, Program for Discerning Leadership

“Aliki Nicolaides’ masterpiece, Generative Knowing: Principles, Methods and Dispositions of an Emerging Adult Learning Theory, itself emerges from her own, her mother’s and her father’s lifetimes of literal nomadic experiences, yanking them from their Greek-Palestinian roots, to decades in Singapore, and then more decades in the U.S. Through painful revelations, she illustrates a theory and practice of nomadic learning for generative knowing. This practice cuts below the fog of cultural assumptions and traumatic forgetfulness—below learning for doing and learning for knowing—to learning for being and becoming. As our global society roller coasters toward rapidly increasing refugee dislocations, as well as pandemic, climatological, political, and economic disruptions, Nicolaides’ approach to learning will resonate for more and more of us.”

William R. Torbert, Leadership Professor Emeritus, Boston College, Author of "Numbskull in the Theatre of Inquiry: Transforming Self, Friends, Organizations, and Social Science"

“Aliki takes the conversation on adult learning to a much-needed new level. In reading this book one has an opportunity for understanding learning from a different perspective and to reflect on one’s own potential for insights drawn from one’s unawareness of how learning is influenced at the subconscious level. Based on a foundation of philosophies, multiple ontologies, and rich descriptions of Aliki’s personal experiences, this book provides a way into learning from experience existing beneath one’s awareness. I believe Generative Knowing is a necessary read for adult learning professionals and others as we enter an age of increasing ambiguity.”

Dr. Lyle Yorks, Professor Emeritus, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York

“A brilliant illustration through personal biography of articulating the intra-connectedness of reality in experience heretofore communicable largely via presentational knowing. An enactment of Eliot’s poignant, ‘The trilling wire in the blood/Sings below inveterate scars’—embracing ambiguity, pushing beyond the limits of a quest for certainty!”

Victoria J. Marsick, Ph.D., Academic Director, Adult Learning & Leadership, Department of Organization & Leadership, Teachers College, Columbia University

“The deceptive simplicity of ordinary words is harnessed by Aliki Nicolaides in this fascinating book in which she weaves a rich tapestry of adult learning theory. Through the variety of the warp and weft, a story emerges that gives full expression to the possibilities of adult learning. From East to West and through rich life experiences each strand is given its moment to shine and dance to become in the book a colourful woven tapestry of lifelong learning – eloquent, insightful, and unique.”

Dr. Ted Fleming, Associate Professor, Maynouth University, National University of Ireland, Maynouth

“This remarkable book is a call to action for the field of adult learning. Dr. Nicolaides models a response to this challenge by developing a robust theory of ‘generative knowing as ways of being and becoming, actualizing potential creatively by poking fissures of light in the territory beneath living experience’. These fissures of light that she sheds on her own personal and family histories beautifully illuminate the entanglement of phenomenology, new materialisms, and embodied learning. Through this journey she beautifully and convincingly constructs a ‘nomadic theory of adult learning’ - a way forward during these chaotic, ambiguous times toward more inclusive and just futures.”

Dr. Trena Paulus, Professor, Qualitative Methodologist & Research Technologist, East Tennessee State, Johnson City, Tennessee, USA

“Generative knowing is an appropriate conceptualization of adult learning for the 21st century, where we face many levels of individual and social complexity as well as the increasing ambiguity the global pandemic introduced and its ongoing impact on society, learning, and work.”

Elizabeth A. Roumell, PhD, Texas A&M University (Review excerpt from Teachers College Record, July 2023)