Catalysts and Triggers in Lifelong Learning

  • Sarah Graves

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis aims to understand the catalysts and triggers that influence engagement in lifelong learning amongst adult learners undertaking access courses in the South Wales Valleys. As they are conceptualised within this thesis, catalysts and triggers pertain to how returners to formal learning explain their encounters with environmental influences, personal circumstances and shaping events throughout their lives. Together they constitute two interrelated influences in the lives of returners to learning that, when analysed, offer insight into learner participation and reengagement. The initial part of this thesis draws on a broad range of adult education literature to clarify the context of lifelong learning from the historical development of adult education to present initiatives, while exploring the development of the geographic region this study is situated in to contextualise some of the wider influences that may impact upon individual learner’s reengagement. The latter component of the literature review draws together the previous research on more individual aspects of adult learner participation including motivation, lifespan development theory, learning careers work and research into learner trajectories.
    While much existing research is more functionalist in nature, failing to capture the perspective of the learners themselves, this research study eschews the deterministic conceptions of learner engagement by being situated within an interpretivist paradigm and focusing on deriving meaning from learners’ lived experiences. The work adopts an interpretive interactionist perspective with a focus on creating meaning in social contexts and how individuals approach formal learning on the basis of prior personal experiences. The empirical data is collected via interviews with local South Wales adult education tutors and group interviews with access to higher education students at local further education colleges, which are supplemented by critical life path documents completed by the students. Key findings, derived through a grounded theory approach, and contributions to the literature in this field centre around the rich individual experiences of learners and the development of a conceptual framework outlining the diverse personal influences articulated by the learners and the convergence of multiple catalysts and triggers resulting in a powerful range of emotions and learning community engagement. The originality of the work lies in the interdisciplinary approach, the methods employed and the insights it provides into the unique influences on these participants’ reengagement decisions in this context. The development of this framework constitutes an original contribution to knowledge as it has been constructed
    interpretively from the lived experience of learners, it offers greater contextual insight than existing models of participation and it focuses specifically on access learners and the context of the South Wales Valleys.
    Date of AwardSept 2014
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorDanny Saunders (Supervisor)

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