What About The Third-Agers?: A Study Of Participation In Informal/Non-Formal Learning By Older Adults

Vulkan, Eleanor Mary (2004). What About The Third-Agers?: A Study Of Participation In Informal/Non-Formal Learning By Older Adults. EdD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000e8c2


Set in the context of an ageing population where longevity is often presented as a problem, this study aims to examine the participation of 60 - 90 year-olds in learning outside the formal sector and to contest the prevailing negative image of older people as non-participants in education. A survey of the literature illustrates the ageist attitudes prevalent amongst some educationalists and demonstrates how older people are often marginalized from the social and economic process, not necessarily by active discrimination but more by oversight and omission, their educational needs being largely ignored. The research seeks to understand the meanings older people give to education and to illuminate the processes by which some, even if only a few, come to learning in later life.

Calling for the inclusion of older learners in educational provision, the Carnegie Inquiry into the Third Age (1993) hinted that learning in a social context, with participants involved in planning their own learning, was a constructive way forward for this age group. A life history approach is used to compile learning biographies of twelve members of a self-help educational organisation, the University of the Third Age. Tracing the routes that have brought these people to learning in later life, the study examines their motivations to learn at different life stages and demonstrates how decisions to participate or not participate are conditioned by a complex interplay of reactions to social, cultural and historical events. Many of the current generation of older people constructed their lives against a background of limited initial education, economic depression and the disruptions of a world war, all factors which would seem to predict nonparticipation in learning. Yet many thousands of this generation are participants.

The study examines the role of learning in the lives of older people and seeks to understand their reasons for choosing to participate in a specific type of informal or non-formal learning where participants take responsibility for their own learning.

Viewing alternatives

Download history


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions