Volumes of research exist which explains adults’ participation in adult education. Research suggests that adults participate in adult education for a variety of reasons. Nonetheless, adults also face a variety of barriers to their participation. Whether in a traditional or distance education format, adults may confront barriers to their learning. Now that technology plays such an important role in adult learning, new and returning adults may find additional barriers. Some barriers are within learners’ control. On the other hand, institutions can take measures to eliminate other barriers and enhance learning.
Adult Education Participation
Numerous researchers have conducted studies to explain why adults participate in adult education (Boshier, 1971, 1991; Boshier & Collins, 1985; Morstain & Smart, 1977; Fujita-Stark, 1999; Hawkins, 2007). In general, job enhancement/professional development is cited as a motivation for participation. Other motivations have included a love of learning, social interaction, social stimulation, and enhancement of communication skills, just to name a few. However, the context of learning also impacts motivations. For example, in her study of childcare workers, Hawkins found that they not only participated for enhanced job performance, but they also participated to improve childcare programs. In an examination of African American churches, Isaac, Guy, and Valentine (2001) reported that spiritual and religious development, support in facing personal challenges, and family togetherness motivated adults to participate in church-based educational programs. In a study of soldiers, Covert (2002a, 2002b) found that they participated to prepare for their transition to civilian life, to get a credential, and for self-efficacy enhancement. Some motivations of older adults’ are consistent with that of their younger counterparts, yet others are distinctive. For example, they participate to keep up with new technologies and information, to be fulfilled, to learn new skills, intellectual stimulation or a love for learning, to escape boredom, for social contact or interaction with others, and to pursue new interests or hobbies (Mulenga & Liang, 2008; Sloane-Seale & Kops, 2007). Adults have a variety of reasons for participating in adult education. Some are consistent among adult learners. However, some are unique based on the learner and the context. Although some adults may be highly motivated to participate in educational activities, others are confronted with barriers that impede or deter their participation.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Deterrent: A negative or positive force that works in combination with other forces that impact participation. (Darkenwald & Valentine, 1990, p. 30)
Immediacy: The psychological distance between a communicator and a receiver. (Aragon, 2003)
Barrier: An “absolute blockage” (Darkenwald & Valentine, 1990, p. 30) which prevents an adult from participating in adult education.
Fortitude: Mental and emotional strength in facing difficulty, adversity, danger, or temptation courageously.
Knowledge: Acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles, as from study or investigation; general erudition
Distance Education: A learning situation whereby a student and instructor are separated physically or geographically. The “transmission of instruction from one location to multiple locations via telecommunication technology that is either synchronous . . . or asynchronous.” (Zirkle, Norris, Winegardner, &Frustaci, 2006, p. 103).