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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Experiment in instruction for adult science education Bagnall, R. G.


This study is an evaluation of the study-research group technique as it was applied to a program of liberal adult education in New Zealand. It is argued that techniques of instruction commonly used in the teaching of research-based subjects are largely unsuitable for the achievement of desirable learning outcomes in part time participants. Use of the techniques results in instruction being heavily weighted with verbal information and, in some cases, motor skills or middle-order intellectual skills. The resultant learning is of little practicable value to the adult students; a situation which is instrumental in the present poor state of science adult education. The thesis is developed that, to be relevant to the needs of adults, instruction in the sciences should concentrate on the development of a critical attitude to science, and of higher-order intellectual skills and cognitive strategies appropriate to systematic and scientific solution of problems. Prerequisite verbal information and motor skills should be learned only as they are required for the solution of a problem. The study-research group technique has been proposed as one which could, theoretically, meet these requirements. The program in which the technique was evaluated involved six groups of adult students. The research framework for the instruction was an environmental survey of an area proposed for development as a regional recreation reserve, research being directed toward the drafting of recommendations on development and management of the area. Each of the groups researched one of the following aspects of the area: history, geology, botany, freshwater biology, ornithology, and mammalogy. The evaluation instrument used was a post-course questionnaire. Items in the questionnaire elicited information on: participant personal attributes; socio-economic and educational background; preferred structuring of such programs; course entry motivations and realization of associated expectations; and responses about the extent to which the technique achieved the desired learning outcomes and conformed to generally accepted principles of good adult education (e.g. ensuring high motivation to learning; ensuring active involvement in learning). Particular analytic attention was given to an examination of the influences of participant background variables on the participant scoring of learning outcomes and adult education principles. Factor analysis was used to identify motivational and participational factors which were compared and related to group membership. Analysis revealed that the participants were disproportionately representative of the higher socio-economic and better educated sectors of the community. Nevertheless, on most participant background items, a wide range was represented in each group. The results of the evaluation support the premise that the study-research group technique effectively can achieve the intended learning outcomes while conforming to accepted adult education principles. It also was concluded that the technique provided for meaningful learning by individuals of widely varying backgrounds. There was, however, some evidence that participants who had studied previously in the discipline of their group, through university extension or the Workers Education Association, derived most benefit from the course. Meaningful motivational and participational factors were identified, and appeared to be complementary, rather than alternative, measures of participant attributes. Three such factors discriminated among group membership. The botany and geology groups, and the botany and freshwater biology groups were found to be most closely related. Participant preferences in relation to program structure, generally were closely identifiable with the practice in the program. However, some incongruence was found which could have had a negative effect on evaluation scores. This particularly derived from: the failure of the program brochure to indicate to some participants the extent of the time commitment expected of them; a general desire for more discussion between groups; an expressed preference of several participants for shorter meetings; and insufficient involvement of participants in decision-making within some groups. Of the seven general research hypotheses which were tested in this evaluation, five were confirmed. The failure to identify a close relationship between motivational and participational factors weakened the confirmation of one hypothesis, and the finding of some incongruence between participant preferences and programming practice weakened confirmation of the final one. It is concluded that the theoretical values of the technique generally are substantiated, but that additional, more objective and sequential testing should be undertaken of the technique in a range of programs using alternative methods.

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