UBC Theses and Dissertations
Learning activities in later life Clough, Barbara Stolze
Learning Activities in Later Life Learning is a lifelong affair. Learning is critical across the entire life course for adults facing the potentials and problems of an extended life; learning is crucial for a society adjusting to the economic and social pressures of a rapidly aging population. How can adult educators respond to these challenges and become effective catalysts for learning activities in later life? One important, preliminary step involves understanding participation in learning activities from the older adult point of view. To date, however, adult educators only have a partial view of participation in learning activities in later life, a view clouded by narrow definitions of education and learning, and limited by concepts of traditional educational programs. The purpose of this current study was to explore participation of adults over the age of 55 in a broad range of learning activities and to examine the relationship between their participation and selected personal and sociodemographic measures influencing participation. A questionnaire consisting of a checklist of 71 learning activities and sociodemographic questions was distributed to 1228 adults over the age of 55. Responses from 332 respondents were analyzed using SPSS/PC+ (Ver. 3.0). On average, older adults reported taking part in 35 learning activities over the past year. Respondents reported participating in these learning activities for an average of 14 hours per week. Respondents who reported greater participation were more likely to be female, younger, more educated, and in better health. Those reporting greater participation also reported more reasons for participation, more sponsoring agencies for their learning activities, and were more likely to belong to community and professional organizations. Older adults reported certain changes in their learning activity choices since age forty. Active people remained active in later life although they restructured their learning activity choices. They restructured their learning activity patterns by increases in attending senior centres; watching Public Broadcasting System (PBS), Knowledge Network and other educational television; reflecting on life events; and, learning about health and nutrition. The most important learning activities reported by respondents reflected the significance of nonformal and informal activities: reading books or plays; watching Public Broadcasting System (PBS), Knowledge Network and educational television; reading newspapers and magazines; travelling; talking with family and friends; and, attending senior centres. The principal sponsoring agencies for learning activities in later life were senior centres, media, and oneself. The primary reasons for participation were growth and socially-oriented: keeping one's mind alive, gaining knowledge or skill, and meeting or being with friends. The leading barrier to participation, being too busy, suggested an active lifestyle for many later life learners. Other barriers were transportation, money, location of the activity, and health status. A factor analysis of participation in 71 learning activities produced 13 factors which accounted for 48% of the variance in participation. Major factor groups clustered around themes of Volunteer Involvement, Recreation, Home Life, Self Development, Spiritual Enrichment, Wellness, Language Arts, Crafts, Leisure, Expressive, Outdoors/Nature, Hobbies and Reflection/Reading. Current definitions of learning activities for older adults are too narrow. The findings from this study demonstrated the diversity and breadth of learning activities engaged in by older people. Participation in these learning activities is not necessarily bounded by rigid age barriers, educational background or income. This study challenges the relevance of narrow views of participation based upon traditional, institutionally-based programs and identifies a complex web of predominantly nonformal, informal, and self-directed learning activities in later life. Collaborative efforts among older adults, community leaders and adult educators will promote interdependent, positive lifestyles in later life and encourage the development of more accessible educational resources for older learners.
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