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UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Reframing the issue of participation in adult education : an interpretive study Stalker, Alma Joyce


This dissertation was concerned with why some adults participate in organized adult education activities while others do not. The specific research question was: What are the conceptions of the uses of participation in organized adult education activities held by those in the workplace who have attained a high school diploma or less? A comprehensive review of participation research literature revealed that since the 1920's participation research has been dominated by particular approaches and yielded consistent descriptions of the characteristics of those who participate and those who do not. People's reasonings beneath those findings have remained mainly hidden from researchers, however. In contrast, this research study explored its research question from a different focus, perspective and technique in the hopes of contributing to adult education researchers' understandings of the phenomenon of participation. It focussed on the heterogeneous nature of those who are less likely to participate and used an interpretive perspective and a qualitative technique. Phenomenography was the particular interpretive perspective used in this study. It is a relatively unique research approach developed in Goteborg, Sweden which yields conceptions—that is, categories of description which represent the variations in people's ways of viewing, experiencing or conceptualizing a phenomenon. A pre-tested, open-ended interview collected data about workers' conceptions. A survey-type questionnaire and printed materials about the organization and educational offerings provided additional information. The study identified respondents' conceptions about 1) the context in which the study was conducted (control of workplace opportunities, outcomes of work, impact of technology), 2) opportunities to participate in organized adult education activities and 3) uses of participation in organized adult education activities. In the process, it refined terms, uncovered new dimensions of the issue of participation and challenged traditional assumptions which have guided such research. Insights from this study were integrated into four major areas of relevance to the study of participation in organized adult education activities. These highlighted: 1) the important role of the workplace in forming workers' views of organized adult education activities, 2) the artifical tidiness of the participant/non-participant distinction and 3) three underlying themes which represented workers' focus on the individual, expression of satisfaction and recognition of symbolism. An agenda to direct future adult education research and practice was derived from those themes.

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