"Adults participating in learning"

West, Linden Reginald (1985). "Adults participating in learning". MPhil thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000fcd1


This thesis explores the theme of adults participating in learning with reference to social groups who are largely absent from adult education. This is done by refining four propositions through a literature review and some case studies. The first proposition is based on the idea that participation should be understood within the context of a person or group's general pattern of social participation while the second relates the development of learning to an individual or group's belief that control over significant events is possible. The third proposition focuses on the content of learning and that this should consist of reflection and action on social constraints to personal wellbeing. The final proposition examines the suggestion that learning is enriched when participants control what is done.

These ideas have been neglected in the literature although there is evidence that participation in learning is best analysed as an element within social class relationships. The case studies involve in-depth interviews with working class participants in four projects. These interviews indicate that learning should be understood in highly personal as well as institutional and relational terms. It is suggested that a theory of participation in learning needs to incorporate personal and socio-psychological perspectives as well as sociological. Equally it is not easy to develop an alternative approach to sustained learning from thinking about, and acting on, social constraints alone. Participant control is difficult to establish since people need confidence and personal legitimacy as well as skills and knowledge before learning can become more 'dialogical'. Nonetheless it is concluded that the forms of participation which maximise the potential for learning should be democratic in nature.

The thesis ends by discussing some practical implications. These include approaches to social organisation and curriculum development. Difficult questions are raised about values underlying the organisation of adult learning which cannot be avoided in research.

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