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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Study of interactions of adult learners with learning situations Shores, W. Louise


This exploratory study sought understanding of how adult learners and learning situations interact and how those interactions might be explained. With a constructivist, interactionist theoretical base, and interpretive, qualitative research methodology, the study was conducted in two parts involving different data sources -- field study and metaanalysis of prior research. 1. Observation of learning situations and interviews of participants were used to seek understanding of adult learner experience in its own terms. Analysis included comparison of multiple learners from the same observed situation, and of individual learners across situations. Elements of learners' experiences were found to include past experience, prior knowledge, purpose, attention level, emotional response, and perceptions. 2. With prior research as data, an interpretive metaanalysis was done to determine the evolving state of theory and findings in the field related to adult learners, situations, and their interactions. Sources of studies which were included in the sample were Adult Education Quarterly, 1979-1984, citations of those studies (ancestry), Social Sciences Citation Index (descendency), and Dissertation Abstracts International, 1979-1984. Characteristics of the learner analyzed in clusters of related studies included: (a) ego development, (b) autonomy, (c) adult cognition, (d) learning styles, (e) cognitive style, (f) age and academic ability, (g) developmental tasks, and (h) relevance and curiosity. Clusters of studies on learning situations were related to (a) Telecourse, (b) Lecture, and (c) educational orientation of teachers. Interaction between learners and situations were identified in clusters of studies on (a) learner participation in planning, (b) learner perception of teacher behavior, and (c) interaction between content organizers and prior knowledge. The Person Situation Process Model (Nystedt) was used as a consistent organizing framework for data in both parts of the study to enable integrative analysis of the two perspectives. The study was designed and conducted to provide a base for theory development and empirical research on adult learner/situation interaction. The present state of theory and research on this phenomenon was found to be rudimentary. Cumulative findings, theoretical foundations, and dialogue between proponents of competing theories were absent or rare. Conclusions from the integrative analysis of field study and research review data included: (1) that learner perceptions, and momentary states such as attention level and emotional responses, are important elements in the learner's experience and have received almost no attention in prior research, and (2) that individual adult learners exhibit unique combinations of characteristics, such as prior knowledge, past experience, and purpose, which are related to the ways they experience learning situations and which help to explain idiosyncratic responses.

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