Benefits and Losses: Non-Traditional Adult Learners Returning To Education

Harrington, Stephen Anthony (2017). Benefits and Losses: Non-Traditional Adult Learners Returning To Education. EdD thesis The Open University.



This study investigates the experience of seven non-traditional adults returning to education. All had won individual or group ‘adult student of the year’ awards. The main research question concerned the benefits and losses they experienced from returning to learning. Sub-questions investigated the benefits they gained by amassing and investing three forms of capital (identity, human and social), as well as their losses. A further sub-question investigated the contribution the research could make to educational practice.

This was a qualitative, interpretivist research, drawing on the auto/biographical narrative approach to ascertain the influence of the researcher’s educational experiences on the way in which the students’ accounts were organised and understood.

Using theme analysis, a model of the benefits and losses of learning was developed using data from interviews with the learners. Subsequently, a three dimensional, model was developed, identifying the outcomes of applying the forms of capital to three types of barrier to adult learning (dispositional, situational, institutional).

The main research method was analysis of the data in the light of the relevant literature. The findings were: that individual award winners’ experiences were predominantly positive, even when they did not lead to secure, well-paid employment; that group award winners were satisfied they had improved their culinary skills and knowledge of healthy eating; that social capital, acquired mainly through establishing new social networks, was the most valuable form of capital for securing better employment: that dispositional barriers were the most problematic and most likely to bring enduring losses for participants.

Further research was recommended in three areas: analysis of the content, form and delivery of basic literacy and numeracy courses; research into the employment situation of learners five years after completing their level one and two Access courses; investigation of why so few men enrol on basic skills courses.

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