Discovering why adults do not participate in formal adult education

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Thomas, R. Bradford
McElhinney, James H.
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Thesis (D. Ed.)
Department of Educational Leadership
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Institutions of formal education have a survival interest in the question of why most adults do not participate in more formal adult education. This study, using a descriptive approach, gathered evidence from 16 adults (8 males and 8 females) who had not participated in formal education in the past 10 years. The evidence gathered was used to answer the question, How do adults, who have not participated in formal education as adults, describe their reasons for not participating? The evidence was gathered from multiple individual interviews and two focus groups.Much of the previous research in discovering why adults did not participate in formal education has been done from the perspective of the participating adult. An examination of this previous research identified job related reasons as the prominent reasons adults gave for participation in formal education. Barriers/deterrents to participation were most often identified as lack of time and money; however, the study presented here found neither money nor time reported as important reasons for nonparticipation in formal education for adults.The informants in this study answered the question clearly. They did not participate in formal education for adults because they found no need for, or value in, additional formal education. Furthermore, they had no interest in exploring potential benefits.Some research on participation in formal adult education shows some adults who participated, did so for social reasons. The informants in the study presented here may have avoided formal education for social reasons, that is, a fear of failure in that context. All informants were satisfied with the way they learned needed skills and/or knowledge. Previous formal education, schooling, was not recognized as an important contributor to the informants' current or future adult lifestyles. Schooling, as described by the informants, was not credited with providing them with understanding, knowledge, and/or skills required to find employment or to support or enhance their adult lifestyles.Hands-on, and less often reading, were the methods employed by the informants and their peers. There seemed to be a threat to their self esteem if they were involved in formal adult education to gain skill and/or knowledge.