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Subgroup 1

Motives and Barriers for Learning

Why do we participate in learning?

You can probably come up with a long list of reasons on your own, but as a lowly
student, your opinion doesn't count! Here's what some of the BIG GUYS have come
up with:
Houle: Houle divides adult learners into three separate learning orientations.
Goal Oriented learners use education as a means of achieving some other
Activity Oriented learners participate for the sake of the activity itself and the
social interaction it provides.
Learning Oriented learners seek knowledge for its own sake.
Houle admits that these are not "pure" types; the orientations can overlap.

Boshier, Morstain and Smart: Houle wasn't good enough for these guys--they
had to go out and come up with an even longer list of why adults participate in
learning (there's a lot of "list comparison" that goes on in educational research, isn't
there?). They came up with six factors for participation:

Social Relationships: make friends and meet others.

External Expectations: complying with the wishes of someone else with
Social Welfare: desire to serve others and/or community.
Professional Advancement: desire for job enhancement or professional
Escape/Stimulation: to alleviate boredom and/or to escape home or work
Cognitive Interest: learning for the sake of learning itself.

Note: Think critically about this! Cross notes that Houle is classifying groups of
people and Boshier, Morstain and Smart are identifying clusters of reasons. Houle's
looking at characteristic orientations that motivate learners and Boshier, Morstain
and Smart show multiple reasons existing within the same individual. The above
from: Merriam, S. & Caffarella, R. (1991). Learning in Adulthood. San Francisco:
Jossey-Bass, 83-86.
Brookfield: Careful with this one, this is actually my interpretation of what
Brookfield is saying. The typical adult learner is, "relatively affluent, well-educated,
white, middle-class individual" (p. 5). I take this to mean that people participate in

learning events because they are oriented towards learning--attaining more

education is something they value(and something they've been socialized to
value)--and they have the financial resources to do this. When we think about
participation we need to ask ourselves what counts as a learning event and how we
define participants--those who are already involved in learning or those who could
potentially be involved? If the middle-class organizes most of the learning events
that go on, who do you think the most likely participants will be? From: Brookfield, S.
(1986). Understanding and Facilitating Adult Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass,

Why don't we participate in learning?

Many have done studies on non-participation. The following researchers have
worked out ways of grouping specific barriers into categories

Johnstone and Rivera: Found two categories; External or situation barriers

and Internal or dispositional barriers.
Cross: Three categories; Situational barriers (depending person's situation
at a given time), Institutional barriers (all practices and procedures that
discourage adults from participation--like filling out those application forms
for graduate school), Dispositional barriers (person's attitude about self
and learning).
Darkenwald and Merriam: Add another category to Cross'
list; Informational barriers (person is not aware of educational activities
available). Above taken from: Merriam, S. & Caffarella, R. (1991). Learning in
Adulthood. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 86-90.

Note: All of the above-mentioned studies look at participation from a psychological

perspective, "If one looks at the social structure rather than individual needs and
interests, one discovers some very different explanations as to why adults do or do
not participate in adult learning activities" (1991, p. 94).
Recent studies have taken a more critical look at non-participation. Merriam and
Caffarella cite several newer studies in their 1999 edition of Learning in Adulthood,
one example is a study by Hall and Donaldson (1997) who looked at women without
high school educations. Early pregnancies, economic status, and the amount of
education of the women's parents all played a role in choosing not to participate.
Other factors included not having a support system and lack of time, information,
and child care. Hall and Donaldson also noted "lack of voice," meaning how a
woman feels about herself and how she can express herself (p.58).
Most of us can come up with many reasons for not participating in educational
activities, but as educators, we may be so used to participating in learning
ourselves that it becomes difficult to "think outside the box" sometimes. Merriam
and Brockett (1997) devote a whole chapter (the info below is from pp.187-200) to
the issue of access to adult education and list four major conditions that limit

Geographic Conditions: There is a great divide between urban, suburban,

and rural settings. Rural areas tend to have fewer resources for education. In
many industrialized countries, however, inner cities may be worse off than
some rural areas. Migrant and homeless people are also at a great
disadvantage for receiving access to education.
Demographic Factors: Age and sex influence who participates and who
doesn't. Young and middle-aged adults participate more than older adults--of
course, younger adults often continue learning for their jobs. But older adults
tend to have less education in general than younger people, and level of
education is a good predictor of who will continue to participate in
educational activities. The role of age could change significantly in the future,
however, in countries such as the U.S., where life expectancy continues to
One's sex can also determine if and how much one will participate in
education. Women tend to participate less than men and their participation is
qualitatively different from men's. But, this also overlaps with geographic
conditions--women in developed nations may participate as much as men. In
less developed countries, women often receive very little opportunity to
participate. Even in wealthier nations, men are still more likely to hold higher
and better paid positions than women, and are thus more likely to receive
further (and better) training.

Socioeconomic Conditions and Education: Those who have relatively

affluent backgrounds, tend to remain that way and also tend to participate
more in education. Those from less wealthy families participate less partly
because they have less money to do so, but also because they don't fit into
the system of education (i.e. they don't speak the same language, share the
same norms, etc.) which is built and maintained by wealthier people. Formal
education is also the kind of education that "counts the most," but it also
costs the most and has the most prerequisites--less well-off people may be
engaging in a variety of learning activities, but these activities don't count
since they don't earn the learners an "official" piece of paper.
Cultural Determinants: Minority groups all over the world tend to
participate less than majority groups. This can be due to majority groups
explicitly prohibiting the participation of minority people. It can also be that
belonging to certain non-majority groups can impact one's attitudes towards
education. As a member of a particular social group, you may not feel that
you can trust certain forms of education and may feel uncomfortable
participating in them. Additionally, immigrant populations tend not to
participate in educational activities as much as native-born populations.