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Adult Students in Higher Education: Classroom Experiences and Needs

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Abstract

This paper explores commonly expressed classroom experiences and needs of adult students who are participating in higher education primarily for career-related reasons while having other major responsibilities and roles. I will identify factors that affect their classroom experiences and needs and discuss implications for supporting their development in the classroom. I will argue that adults often have different classroom experiences and needs than full-time traditional students who enroll immediately after high school and who do not have other major responsibilities and roles that compete with their studies and involvement in on-campus activities and interactions outside the classroom. I will argue that these experiences and needs are not because of a deficiency, but are often related to the nature of their on-campus experience and their career-related roles and goals.
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College Quarterly
Summer 2015 - Volume 18 Number 3
Adult Students in Higher Education: Classroom Experiences and
Needs
Adam G. Panacci
Abstract
This paper explores commonly expressed classroom experiences and
needs of adult students who are participating in higher education primarily
for career-related reasons while having other major responsibilities and
roles. I will identify factors that affect their classroom experiences and
needs and discuss implications for supporting their development in the
classroom. I will argue that adults often have different classroom
experiences and needs than full-time traditional students who enroll
immediately after high school and who do not have other major
responsibilities and roles that compete with their studies and involvement in
on-campus activities and interactions outside the classroom. I will argue
that these experiences and needs are not because of a deficiency, but are
often related to the nature of their on-campus experience and their career-
related roles and goals.
Introduction
The participation of adult students in higher education has been
increasing in Canada (Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada
(AUCC), 2011, p. 24; Gorman, Tieu, & Cook, 2013; Gower, 1997; Kerr,
2011; Myers & de Broucker, 2006, pp. 33-38). Major programs and services
offered by institutions to support the participation and development of adult
students include continuing education (Kirby, Curran, & Hollett, 2009;
McLean, 2007), online learning (Canadian Virtual University, 2012; Contact
North, 2012), pathway, preparatory, and upgrading programs (Gorman,
Tieu, & Cook, 2013; Kerr, 2011, pp. 13-16), advising and learning support
services (e.g., University of Western Ontario, n.d., York University, n.d.,
University of Ottawa, n.d., OCAD University, n.d., Fanshawe College, n.d.,
and Seneca College, n.d.), credit for life and work experience (e.g., Prior
Learning Assessment and Recognition) (Conrad, 2008; Van Kleef,
Amichand, Ireland, Orynik, & Potter, 2007; Wihak, 2006), academic
orientation (van Rhijn, Lero, Dawczyk, de Guzman, Pericak, Fritz, Closs,
and Osborne, 2015), financial aid (van Rhijn et al., 2015, pp. 34-37), and
on-campus childcare (Friendly & Macdonald, 2014). In their review of
support services available to mature students in Ontario, van Rhijn, Lero,
Dawczyk, de Guzman, Pericak, Fritz, Closs, and Osborne (2015) observe
that there is not only “variability in the level of availability, accessibility, and
appropriateness of information for mature students within and between
universities and colleges” (pp. 14-15), but also that “while some Ontario
universities and colleges provide accessible and relevant information and
important resources to support student success and a welcoming
environment, others have not yet oriented to the needs of this discrete
group” (p. 22). It is frequently argued that many adults not only continue to
experience barriers to participation in higher education, but that they are
often underserved and marginalized on campus (Canadian Council on
Learning [CCL], 2007; Chao, DeRocco, & Flynn, 2007; Council for Adult
and Experiential Learning [CAEL], 2000; Fairchild, 2003; Gilardi &
Guglielmetti, 2011; Kasworm, 2014; Kasworm, 2010; UNESCO, 1997).
Research has provided a better understanding of the postsecondary
experiences and needs of adult students by identifying and addressing
common barriers to participation (CCL, 2007; Knighton, Hujaleh, Iacampo,
& Werkneh, 2009, p. 55; MacKeracher, Suart, & Potter, 2006; Schuetze &
Slowey, 2002), determining factors that affect retention and persistence
(Bean & Metzner, 1985; Cleveland-Innes, 1994; Donaldson & Townsend,
2007; Gilardi & Guglielmetti, 2011; Kasworm, 2014; MacFadgen, 2008;
MacKinnon-Slaney, 1994; Markle, 2015; Metzner & Bean, 1987; Sheridan,
2004; van Rhijn et al., 2015), and evaluating their academic performance
(Chartrand, 1990; Eppler & Harju, 1997; Graham & Donaldson, 1999;
Graham & Gisi, 2000; Kasworm, 1990; Kasworm, 2010; Kasworm & Pike,
1994; Metzner & Bean, 1987).
Research highlights that the adult student population is a diverse group
with diverse needs, experiences and goals. This paper will focus on the
experiences and needs of adult students who are participating in higher
education primarily for career-related reasons while having other major
responsibilities and roles. While further exploration of the implications of
research for evaluating and designing support services that promote their
participation and development is necessary, I will focus on how their
development can be supported within the classroom in light of commonly
expressed classroom experiences and needs related to having other major
responsibilities and roles and career-related goals as the primary purpose
of participating in higher education. My interest in this question emerged
from regularly hearing adults ask whether they should participate in a
course or program that consists mainly of traditionally aged students
because of the perceived possibility that classroom approaches may not
align with their needs and goals.
Adult Students and the Nontraditional Student Category
While the nontraditional student category is often used in a specialized
way to refer to underrepresented and disadvantaged students (CCL, 2007;
Chan & Merrill, 2012; Hyland-Russell & Groen, 2011; Kim, 2002; Schuetze
& Slowey, 2002), it is more commonly used in a general way to refer to any
student who is not a traditional student. The traditional student category
typically includes full-time students who enroll immediately after high
school, are between 18 and 22 years old, and who do not have other major
responsibilities and roles that compete with their studies (e.g., full-time
employment, parenting, and community responsibilities) (Pascarella &
Terenzini, 1998; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). The nontraditional student
designation is generally applied to students who are 25 years or older who
did not enroll immediately after high school, are not in their first cycle of
education, attend part-time, are financially independent, have other major
responsibilities and roles that compete with their studies (e.g., parenting,
caregiving, employment, and community involvement), and/or lack the
standard admission requirements of a program (Bean & Metzner, 1985;
CAEL, 2000; Choy, 2002; Kasworm, 2003b; Kim, 2002).
In light of the increasing diversity of student populations, maintaining
two primary student designations is becoming increasingly problematic. It is
frequently observed that there is an increasing number of students within
the traditional student age range who also have nontraditional
characteristics (e.g., they have dependents or are employed full-time).
Smith (2008) describes these students as “young mature learners” (p. 2).
Chao, DeRocco, and Flynn (2007) similarly observe that “not all non-
traditional students are adults” (p. 8). It is also frequently noted that there
are “delayed traditional students.” These students are “in their 20s who are
similar to 18 year olds in terms of their interests and commitments”
(Osborne, Marks, & Turner, 2004, p. 296). In light of this increasing
diversity, Bean and Metzner (1985) observe that “traditional and
nontraditional students cannot be easily classified into simple dichotomous
categories” (p. 488). Kasworm (1990) argues that “although the usage of ‘
discrete age-related categories’ may have utility in exploratory research,
these categorizations appear to confound and mislead the more specialized
and sensitive probing for variations, patterns, and categories of actions
across the spectrum of undergraduate population” (p. 364). Donaldson and
Townsend (2007) maintain that it is necessary to “move beyond old labels
(like traditional and nontraditional) to create a new language to reflect the
complex reality of today’ s undergraduate student body” (p. 46, emphasis in
original). Kim (2002) proposes that “research on nontraditional students
should be more accurately labelled as research on adult learners, reentry
students, educationally disadvantaged students, first-generation students,
or minority students” (p. 86). The mature student and adult student labels
are commonly used to refer to “nontraditional” students who are
participating in higher education primarily for career-related reasons while
having other major responsibilities and roles. However, because the
meaning of mature student and adult student often vary in research and
between institutions, common definitions will be discussed and related to
the focus of this paper.
Mature Students.The definition of a mature student often varies in
research and between institutions (Kerr, 2011; van Rhijn et al., 2015). In
Ontario colleges, students are generally considered mature students if they
are 19 years of age or older, have been out of secondary school for at least
one year, and either do not have an Ontario Secondary School Diploma
(OSSD) or equivalent or the required OSSD credits (Popovic, 2014; van
Rhijn et al., 2015). In Ontario universities, students are generally
considered mature students if they are 21 years of age or older and have
been away from formal schooling for a certain period of time, ranging from
one to five years (Minniti, 2012; Kerr, 2011; van Rhijn et al., 2015).
Other definitions of mature students closely correspond to the definition
of nontraditional students. For example, the Ontario Undergraduate Student
Alliance (OUSA) identifies six major categories of mature students that
reflects the common definition of nontraditional students: (1) “delayed
traditional students;” (2) “late bloomers, who have experienced a
substantial life altering event;” (3) single parents; (4) “individuals seeking to
improve their credentialing for their current occupation;” (5) “individuals
seeking to change occupations;” and (6) “people seeking personal growth
and development” (Minniti, 2012, p. 4). Similarly, MacFadgen (2008)
defines a mature student as “25 years of age or older with life roles and
circumstances that typically include financial obligations, family
responsibilities, work and community commitments, flexible enrolment
status, and varied educational goals and intentions” (p. 15). Unlike the
definition of mature students in many Ontario colleges, in this common
definition lacking the standard admission requirements of a program is not
a necessary characteristic of mature students.
Adult Students. The definition of an adult student also varies in
research and between institutions. The adult student category is commonly
defined as a subset of the nontraditional student category to refer to
nontraditionally aged students who are participating in higher education
primarily for career-related reasons while having other major
responsibilities and roles. Chao, DeRocco, and Flynn (2007) define adult
students as 24 years old and older who are financially independent and
“must juggle many responsibilities with school,” such as employment and
parenting (p. 2). In their definition, “although not all non-traditional students
are adults […] all adult college students are by definition non-traditional” (p.
8, parenthetical added).
Others do not include adult students in the nontraditional student
category. For example, Compton, Cox, and Laanan (2006) argue that “adult
students have particular characteristics that set them apart from
nontraditional students” and these characteristics “deserve our attention
and the recognition that these students are a distinct group” (pp. 73-74). In
their definition, adult students are 25 years old and over who are “more
likely to be pursuing a program leading to a vocational certificate or
degree,” “have focused goals for their education, typically to gain or
enhance work skills,” and “consider themselves primarily workers and not
students” (p. 74).
While there are different definitions of nontraditional students, mature
students, and adult students, all three are commonly used to refer to
“nontraditionally aged” students who are participating in higher education
primarily for career-related reasons while having other major
responsibilities and roles. In the following discussion, when I draw from
research that refers to nontraditional students, mature students, or adult
students, it is being used in that particular context to include adults who are
participating in higher education for career-related reasons while having
other major responsibilities and roles.
Adult Student Participation in Higher Education in Canada
The participation of adult students in higher education has been
increasing in Canada. Gower (1997) reports that between 1976 and 1996
the number of Canadians aged 25 to 64 who were full-time students more
than tripled (107,000 to 344,000). Gower observes that “this increase vastly
outpaced the rate of growth in the adult population itself. As a
consequence, the percentage of Canadian adults attending school full time
more than doubled, from 1.0% to 2.1%” (p. 32). In addition, a high
proportion of part-time undergraduate students are over the age of 25. The
Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) (2011)
reported that in 2010 “approximately 24 percent of undergraduate students
were studying part-time, and 60 percent of part-time students were over the
age of 25, compared to 13 percent of full-time students” (AUCC, 2011, p.
7). The Adult Education and Training Survey (AETS) reported that in 2002
36 percent of adult students between the ages of 25 and 54 were pursuing
a college diploma, 29 percent a university degree, 28 percent a trades or
vocational certificate, and 7 percent a registered apprenticeship (Myers &
de Broucker, 2006, p. 34). The 2005 Canadian College Student Survey
reported that almost 27 percent of the college population across Canada
were over 25 (Myers & de Broucker, 2006, p. 34).
At Ontario universities, approximately 12 percent of students enrolled
at the bachelor’ s degree level in 2008-2009 were 25 years old or older
(Kerr, 2011, p. 9). In 2013, 11.1 percent of applicants and 6.6 percent of
registered applicants who applied to an Ontario university not directly from
an Ontario secondary school through the Ontario Universities’ Application
Centre (OUAC) were 25 years old or older (Council of Ontario Universities
(COU), 2015, p. 27). The percentage of full-time students 25 years or older
in Ontario universities ranged from two percent (Wilfrid Laurier University)
to 21 percent (Algoma University) (van Rhijn et al., 2015, p. 27). The
percentage of part-time students 25 years or older ranged from 24 percent
(Wilfrid Laurier University) to 78 percent (Laurentian University) (van Rhijn
et al., 2015, p. 29).
In Ontario colleges, the College Student Satisfaction Survey reported
that in 2009 23 percent of first-year students were 26 years old or older.
Between 1999 and 2009, first-year students aged 26 and older increased
from approximately 15,000 to 28,000 (Kerr, 2011, p. 11). In 2014-2015,
Colleges Ontario (2015) reported that the average age of Ontario college
applicants was 23.4 years and the average age of non-direct applicants
was 25.4 years (Colleges Ontario (CO), 2015, p. 14). Of those who
registered, 67 percent did not enter directly from secondary school (p. 16).
The percentage of full-time students 25 years and older in Ontario colleges
ranged from 17 percent (Durham College) to 43 percent (Northern College)
(van Rhijn et al., 2015, p. 28).
Many adults who participate in higher education report having other
major responsibilities and roles (e.g., full-time employment, parenting, and
community responsibilities) (Bean & Metzner, 1985; Bristow, 2014;
Donaldson & Graham, 1999; Fairchild, 2003; Graham & Donaldson, 1999;
van Rhijn et al., 2015). In the 2013 Ontario Postsecondary Student Survey,
six percent of university undergraduate students reported caring for a
dependent child or having “caring responsibilities for adults in their life (i.e.:
an adult child with disabilities; an elderly parent)” (Bristow, 2014, para. 3).
While only seven percent of students surveyed were mature students
(defined as 26 or older), slightly over one in three (35 percent) of students
with dependents were 26 or older (Bristow, 2014, para. 4).
In the 2008 Access and Support to Education and Training Survey
(ASETS), reasons given for not being able to pursue further education and
training differed substantially between respondents aged 18 to 24 and
those aged 25 to 64. It was reported that between July 2007 and June 2008
almost twice as many adults (28 percent) than youth (17 percent) indicated
that family responsibilities was a reason for not being able to participate in
learning activities. 17 percent of respondents aged 25 to 64, as opposed to
11 percent aged 18 to 24, indicated that family responsibilities was the
main reason for not pursuing learning activities. Another common reason
given by adults was “needed to work” (25 percent) (Knighton et al., 2009, p.
55).
Adult Students in Higher Education for Career-Related Reasons
A substantial and increasing number of adults are pursuing higher
education to obtain, maintain, or advance their career, meet the
postsecondary education requirements of a job, and to increase their
income (Bean & Metzner 1985; Gower, 1997; Kinser & Deitchman, 2007;
Myers & de Broucker, 2006; Palameta & Zhang, 2006).
The AETS and ASETS highlight that many adults participate in higher
education for career-related reasons. Gower (1997) notes that in the AETS
for 1994 “regardless of their age or employment status, the bulk of adults’
studies were related to work rather than personal interest (by a ratio of 5:3)”
(p. 33). The AETS for 2002 reported that 53 percent of adult students in
Canada aged between 25 and 54 indicated that their reason for
participating in higher education was “to find or change jobs.” Other
reasons that scored high were “to do job better” (48 percent) and to
“increase income” (43 percent) (Myers & de Broucker, 2006, pp. 38-39).
In the 2008 ASETS, which “addresses issues relating to antecedents
and determinants to access to Post Secondary Education (PSE), including
the role of student financing and participation in adult education and
training” (Statistics Canada, 2009), 8.1 percent of Canadians aged 25 to 64
reported participating in job-related training. 16 percent were aged 25 to 34
(Knighton et al., 2009, p. 47). In the context of this survey, “education
consists of formal modes of learning and is defined as structured learning
activities that lead to a credential, specifically programs that combine
multiple courses toward the completion of a diploma, degree, certificate or
license” (Knighton et al., 2009, p. 7).
While adults also pursue higher education for other reasons (e.g.,
personal development, personal fulfillment, or personal interest), the
majority report participating for career-related reasons. Palameta and
Zhang (2006) observe that because of the demands of the knowledge-
based economy and highly skilled labour market, “the notion that formal
education is something one completes before entering the labour market
has become increasingly outdated” (p. 5).
The Postsecondary Classroom Experiences and Needs of Adult
Students
While the classroom experiences and needs of adults are diverse,
research indicates that there are commonly expressed classroom
experiences and needs of adult students participating in higher education
primarily for career-related reasons while having other major
responsibilities and roles. I will review this research and identify two major
factors that often affect their experiences and needs. Following this, I will
explore implications for supporting their development in the classroom.
I will argue that, contrary to Chandler and Galerstein’s (1982) positions
that “it appears that while adult students may require counseling and other
ancillary services, no attention need be paid to providing special academic
experiences [in the classroom] for mature students” (pp. 44-45), and
“provided students know what to expect, and what is expected of them, why
they attend class is irrelevant […] colleges seeking to recruit adult students
do not need to find out why students might want to return to college; rather,
they simply make clear what opportunities students will find at the college
should they choose to attend” (p. 48), adult students not only commonly
express different classroom experiences and needs, but knowing the
reasons why they participate in higher education is important for evaluating
and designing classroom approaches. I will argue that two factors—their
on-campus experience and their career-related goals—commonly affect
their classroom experiences and needs.
On-Campus Experience. The first major factor that commonly affects
adult students’ classroom experiences and needs is their limited
involvement in on-campus activities and interactions outside the classroom
(Bean & Metzner, 1985; Donaldson & Graham, 1999; Fairchild, 2003;
Graham & Donaldson, 1999; van Rhijn et al., 2015). Because of other
major responsibilities and roles, for many adults the student-institution
interaction occurs primarily, and sometimes only, in the classroom. As a
result, the classroom becomes the focus of adult students’ on-campus
experience and development (Donaldson & Graham, 1999; Kasworm &
Blowers, 1994; Kasworm, 2003). Broschard (2005) found that “while
traditional students may need a more rounded college experience that
includes more social and cocurricular experiences, nontraditional students
use the classroom as their stage for learning” (p. vii). In addition, Broschard
reports that “involvements that seem to be geared towards the classroom
such as academic and faculty involvement were rated higher by
nontraditional students [for intellectual, personal, social, and career
development]” (p. 110). Donaldson and Graham (1999) observe that “due
to the adults’ lifestyles, they engage the classroom and their student peers
in novel ways to accommodate for their lack of time on campus and in
traditional out-of-class activities” (p. 25). Fairchild (2003) notes that “rather
than being a life-encompassing, identity-building experience, such as the
one we hope to provide for traditional-aged students, higher education for
adults is one activity among many in which adults can participate to meet
other specific needs” (p. 12). In Kasworm’ s (2003) research, the classroom
was consistently considered by adults “the main stage for the creation and
negotiation of the meanings of collegiate learning, of being a student, and
for defining the collegiate experience and its impact” (p. 84).
The academic performance of adult students is generally not negatively
affected by few or no on-campus interactions and involvement outside the
classroom (Graham & Gisi, 2000; Kasworm & Pike, 1994; Lundberg, 2003;
Metzner & Bean, 1987). Broschard (2005) found that even though many
adult students have substantially lower levels of on-campus interactions
and activities outside the classroom than traditional students, “both
traditional and nontraditional [students] rate college contribution toward
intellectual, personal, social, and career development similarly” (p. 115,
parenthetical added). Adult students generally perform at comparable rates
as full-time traditional students who are involved in on-campus social
interactions and activities outside of classroom and who do not have other
major responsibilities and roles (Kasworm, 1990; Kasworm & Pike, 1994).
Graham and Gisi’ s (2000) research, which measured gains in intellectual
development, problem solving, scientific reasoning, and career
development of approximately 19,000 students, reported that adult students
“did as well or slightly better than traditional-age students across the four
measures of intellectual and academic outcomes” (p. 113).
In summary, research indicates that because the student-institution
interaction often occurs primarily, and sometimes only, in the classroom for
adults who have other major responsibilities and roles, the classroom often
has a central role in their on-campus experience and development.
Career-Related Goals. The second major factor that often affects
adults’ classroom experiences and needs is their career-related roles and
goals (Donaldson & Graham, 1999; Kasworm, 2003; Knowles, Holton, &
Swanson, 2015). Many adult students evaluate their classroom experience
based on the extent to which their career-related roles and goals are
supported. Knowles, Holton, and Swanson (2015) found that many adult
students are “life-centered (or task-centered or problem-centered) in their
orientation to learning.” They are “motivated to learn to the extent that they
perceive that learning will help them perform tasks or deal with problems
that they confront in their life situations” (p. 66). Donaldson and Graham
(1999) observe that “both the instructor and the instructional strategies
employed create or fail to create the climate in which in-class and out-of-
class learning and knowledge structures (both prior and concurrent) can
become connected” (p. 31).
In Kasworm’ s (2003) interviews of adult students, the classroom
experience was consistently evaluated based on “beliefs about the
relationship of college to their life worlds” (p. 84). Kasworm identified five
“belief structures” or “knowledge voices” of the value and relationship
between “academic knowledge” and “real-world knowledge” (pp. 84-85).
Academic knowledge “focused on theory, concepts, and rote memorization,
of book learning” (pp. 84-85) while real-world knowledge “directly focused
on the adult’ s daily actions in the world, knowledge that had immediate
application and life relevance, of learning from doing” (p. 85). Kasworm
found that perceptions of the value of, and the relationship between,
academic knowledge and real-world knowledge commonly affects how the
classroom experience is evaluated and the classroom approaches that are
considered effective.
Adult students with the first knowledge voice, the “entry voice,” focus
on being a successful student by learning academic knowledge,
memorizing course content, and getting good grades. Adult students with
this knowledge voice consider academic knowledge and real-world
knowledge “two different worlds with fundamentally different ways of
knowing and understanding” (p. 90). Because of their view of the
disconnect between academic knowledge and real-world knowledge and
their understanding that being a student primarily involves learning
academic knowledge, these adult students often do not readily connect
their classroom learning to their career-related roles and goals. Adult
students with the “entry voice” often value instructors who clearly organize
and present knowledge for memorization and who evaluate through tests
and essays (p. 87).
Adult students with the second knowledge voice, the “outside voice,”
focus on learning real-world knowledge. For these students, “college was
characterized as a culturally unique place with only fragmentary connection
and meaning to their world of adult life and work” (p. 90). While they “did
not believe it was appropriate to learn classroom content that was irrelevant
to their adult worlds” (p. 91), they engaged in it as part of the “academic
game” to earn good grades and a credential. Classroom approaches
commonly valued by these students include “in-classroom discussions,
small-group applications, case studies, projects, and other types of
activities that connected the students’ adult lives (and most often their work
lives) with the classroom knowledge” (p. 91).
Adult students with the third knowledge voice, the “cynical voice,” react
negatively to classroom learning because in their experience it is
disconnected from the real-world. They remain students, however, to get
“the ‘ societal ticket’ to preferred jobs or validation of their expertise for
promotions or job security or to resolve social pressures coming from either
work or family settings to get a degree” (p. 92). Knowledge that is valued
can be related to their real-world needs. Kasworm reports that “on rare
occasions, direct intervention and helpful assistance from a faculty member
helped such students locate relevant knowledge that met their real-world
needs” (p. 92).
Adult students with the fourth knowledge voice, the “straddling voice,”
value both academic knowledge and real-world knowledge. They
proactively focus on learning and connecting both knowledge types for not
only applying knowledge to their real-world involvements, but for also
“enhancing their conceptual worldviews” (p. 93). These adult students
commonly appreciate “active, collaborative, and applied instructional
strategies across both of these knowledge worlds” (p. 94).
Adult students with the fifth knowledge voice, the “inclusion voice,”
“actively sought intellectual in-depth immersion in the academic world” (p.
95). They value and integrate “thought and action across their life roles
outside the academy and their academic world” (p. 95). Adult students with
this knowledge voice “did not speak about types of knowledge; rather they
talked about layers, meanings, and contexts of knowledge; understanding;
and application across their adult lives and their intellectual pursuits” (p.
95). They value instructors who are “mentors and colleagues in the
intellectual knowledge sharing and creation effort” (p. 88).
In conclusion, research indicates that adult students not only often
have different experiences and needs in the classroom, but also that two
factors—their on-campus experience and their career-related goals—
commonly affect which classroom approaches are effective for supporting
their development. Despite the different views of adults on the relationship
between, and the value of, academic knowledge and real-world knowledge,
Kasworm (2003) reported that adults consistently expressed that “meaning
making was enhanced by instructors who integrated adult-identified prior
knowledge into the course content either by classroom interpersonal
engagements or by active or applied learning activities such as case study
projects” (p. 85).
Implications for Supporting the Development of Adult Students in the
Classroom
Pascarella and Terenzini (1998) note that college impact research has
“assumed a general homogeneity in the educational process” and that “this
assumption is reflected in beliefs and practices relating to effective
instructional methods (lecturing, for example, has been the overwhelming
method of choice for teaching students)” (p. 161). They (2005) observe that
the lecture-based approach, which is characterized by students taking a
largely passive role in the classroom and by the use of the lecture as the
main method of instruction, is “still by far the modal instructional approach
most often used in postsecondary education” (p. 101). CAEL (2000)
includes the lecture-based approach in the “traditions and practices that
prove ill-suited for adults” (p. 4) and identifies it as one of the “facile
assumptions” of higher education (p. 6). CAEL argues that adult students
are best served when faculty do “not limit themselves to the traditional role
of lecturer in the classroom” (p. 6).
In research by Bishop-Clark and Lynch (1998), 24 percent of adult
students in a traditional university thought that “lectures are geared toward
younger students” and 49 percent thought that “professors design their
classes for younger students” (p. 225). In earlier research, they (1992)
reported that while “younger students are more tolerant of impractical
examples,” “seem more content in a passive mode,” and “lecturing is more
often their preferred teaching technique,” adult students often instead
express preference for interactive and “hands-on” learning activities in the
classroom (p. 116).
In Kasworm and Blowers’ (1994) research, many adults indicated that it
is “not sufficient for a faculty member to lecture on course content” and that
“effective teaching and learning meant working with the students in
developing their understandings and making meaningful connections with
the content knowledge” (p. 104). They found that “many adult students
valued active instructional strategies beyond the class lecture” (p. 85).
Moreover, they report that “adult students who were in work environments
reported that varied instructional strategies aided them in making
knowledge connections and understandings,” such as “varied formats of
presentation, class involvement, and solicitation of students for constructive
feedback” (p. 85). Ross Gordon (2003) notes that “because adults
typically enter a learning situation after they experience a need in their life,
they are presumed to bring a task- or problem-centered orientation to
learning. This is in contrast to the subject-centered approach associated
with traditional, pedagogical approaches to education” (p. 44). Chao,
DeRocco, and Flynn (2007) observe that “traditional teaching methods,”—
which are characterized by “‘ chalk and talk’ lectures and textbooks that
assume the student to be passive, with little experience or expertise to
bring to the learning relationship”—“can not only demean and infantilize
them, but they do not acknowledge the real-life experiences and knowledge
that the students bring to class” (p. 17).
Brookfield (1986) stated that the lecture-focused approach is often
ineffective for many adult students because “there is no opportunity for
discussion, no time for questions, no chance for collaborative exploration of
differing viewpoints, and no attempt to make some links between the
learners’ experiences and the topic under discussion” (p. 9). Adult learning
is instead best supported when “praxis” is a focus of “teaching-learning
transactions” and “instructional design activities” (p. 9). Brookfield (1986)
defines “praxis” as being “involved in a continual process of activity,
reflection upon activity, collaborative analysis of activity, new activity,
further reflection and collaborative analysis, and so on” (p. 10).
In summary, while there is not a one-size-fits-all classroom approach
that supports the diverse classroom experiences and needs of adult
students who are participating in higher education for career-related
reasons while having other major responsibilities and roles, research
indicates that the development of a substantial portion of these adult
students is best supported when classroom learning is related to their
career-related roles and goals and when active, collaborative, and
interactive classroom approaches are employed.
Conclusion
This paper explored commonly expressed classroom experiences and
needs of adults participating in higher education primarily for career-related
reasons while having other major responsibilities and roles. As noted, my
interest in this question emerged from regularly hearing adults ask whether
they should participate in a course or program that consists mainly of
traditionally aged students because of the perceived possibility that
classroom approaches may not align with their needs and goals. I argued
that contrary to Chandler and Galerstein’ s (1982) positions that “it appears
that, while adult students may require counseling and other ancillary
services, no attention need be paid to providing special academic
experiences [in the classroom] for mature students” (pp. 44-45), and
“provided students know what to expect, and what is expected of them, why
they attend class is irrelevant […] colleges seeking to recruit adult students
do not need to find out why students might want to return to college; rather,
they simply make clear what opportunities students will find at the college
should they choose to attend” (p. 48), research indicates that adult students
not only commonly express different classroom experiences and needs, but
knowing the reasons why they participate in higher education is important
for evaluating and designing classroom approaches. I argued that these
experiences and needs are not because of a deficiency, but are often
related to the nature of their on-campus experience and their career-related
roles and goals.
In light of both the career-related goals of many adult students and their
limited involvement in on-campus activities and interactions outside the
classroom, I discussed implications for creating a classroom experience
that promotes their development. I argued that while there is not a one-
size-fits-all classroom approach that supports the diverse needs and
experiences of adult students who are participating in higher education for
career-related reasons while having other major responsibilities and roles,
research consistently indicates that the development of many adult
students is best supported when classroom learning is connected to their
career-related roles and goals and when active, collaborative, and
interactive classroom approaches are employed.
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Adam G. Panacci, graduated from the Certificate in Leadership in
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University of Toronto. He can be reached at adam.panacci@utoronto.ca.
Contents
The views expressed by the authors are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of The College
Quarterly or of Seneca College.
Copyright © 2015 - The College Quarterly, Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology
... At the same time, those who return to education report a range of barriers that impede their access to PSE and/or successful completion of their chosen programs (see for example, van Rhijn et al., 2016). Barriers are hard to categorize because adult students comprise a diverse group with wide-ranging needs, experiences, and goals (Panacci, 2015). ...
... Adult learners aged 25 to 64 differ from the typical learners aged 18 to 24 in PSE in various ways. Unlike youth, adults often enter PSE while juggling other major responsibilities and roles, such as parenting, caregiving, employment, and community involvement (Palameta & Zhang, 2006;Panacci, 2015). These roles compete with their studies not only in terms of time but also in terms of financial resource allocation. ...
... Rapid technological changes intensify the demands for workers to update job-related skills and acquire new credentials. As a result, more and more prime-age Canadians find it necessary to enter or re-enter PSE, primarily for career-related reasons (Panacci, 2015). ...
Technical Report
Full-text available
This study seeks to determine what can be learned from a specific newly-available data source about the characteristics of adults who return to education, and the barriers to learning they may face. This project has examined the characteristics of two groups of Canadian adult learners aged 25 years and over: ▪ those with labour market experience who took further learning, including comparing them to those who did not and more typical, younger learners, and ▪ those with an unmet learning need and want. It includes first a review of the recent literature, to better help inform the development and design of future government interventions – both at the federal and provincial/territorial levels. Then it attempts to use longitudinal data from Wave 1 (2012), Wave 2 (2014), and Wave 3 (2016) of Statistics Canada’s Longitudinal International Study of Adults (LISA) to generate a better understanding of adult learners and the barriers to education and learning they face. However, our analysis has found data on training, as distinct from more formal education, to be limited for this purpose in LISA and we are not able to answer all the questions we set out to. By exploiting the linkage between LISA data and other data sets, notably tax and skills assessments collected through the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), the research is able to explore the factors influencing the education and labour market pathways adults follow, the skills needs of adult learners and how these relate to their learning choices and outcomes.
... The typical impression of most institutions of higher learning (e.g., universities) is a campus filled with fresh post-secondary school graduates (i.e., conventional university students), who enrolled into full-time university programmes immediately after high school graduation (Panacci, 2015). Higher education (e.g., university) prepares students for the next phase of their lives, which is often full-time employment. ...
... A manifestation of the time constraints faced by adult learners is the significant reduction of time available for other on-campus activities and outside-classroom interactions as compared to conventional university students (Panacci, 2015). With adult learners mainly engaging with their institutions of higher learning during formal lessons, institutions catering to adult learners need to be aware and ensure that learning outcomes are achievable via formal lessons. ...
... Simultaneously, these institutions also need to innovate and engage adult learners beyond formal lessons, and yet work within adult learners' busy schedules. With these significant differences, institutional support for time-strapped adult learners would need to be different from responses to conventional university students (Fairchild, 2003;Panacci, 2015). ...
Article
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This article outlines the development and preliminary validation of the Learning Needs Questionnaire (LNQ). The LNQ is intended to provide information for optimising resources in establishing targeted academic support structures within institutions of higher learning with a focus on teaching. Owing in part to the lack of an instrument applicable to teaching universities with a diverse student population in Singapore, the LNQ sought to measure and provide information about moderators of student learning needs. Three stages were undertaken to establish evidence supporting the validity of the LNQ. Stage 1 saw the development of items based on feedback from university instructors, a review of relevant literature and expert judgement. Data was collected in Stage 2 as the LNQ was administered to students (N = 1178). In Stage 3, exploratory factor analysis (n = 589) and first-order confirmatory factor analysis (n = 589) suggested a four-factor model (perceived academic competency, time management, preferred tutor’s characteristics and use of technology) with a reduction of 41 to 33 items. A second-order confirmatory factor analysis suggested that the four identified factors could be associated with an overarching measure, though interpreting subscale scores presented a more plausible approach. Practical applications and limitations of the LNQ are discussed.
... This finding is in line with previous research (e.g. Panacci, 2015) suggesting that the struggle to manage competing roles (e.g. parenting, caregiving, employment and community involvement) has also been described as a major challenge for mature students. ...
... The impact of having children living in the household was observed only for stress. Research (Kossek et al., 2021;Panacci, 2015) investigating blurring boundaries between work, family and studies underline the burden of parenting, especially when the children are young. A current study by Yildirim and Eslen-Ziya (2021) showed that having children appears to be one of the most important predictors of the perceived effect of the pandemic, and the gender gap becomes significant for women academics with children. ...
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Full-text available
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, digital technologies for distance learning have been used in educational institutions worldwide, raising issues about social implications, technological development, and teaching and learning strategies. While disparities regarding access to technical equipment and the internet ('the digital divide') have been the subject of previous research, the physical learning environment of learners participating in online learning activities has hardly been investigated. In this study, the physical-spatial conditions of learning environments, including technical equipment for distance learning activities and their influence on adult learners in academic continuing education during initial COVID-19 restrictions, were examined. Data were collected with an online survey sent to all students enrolled in an Austrian continuing education university , together with a small number of semi-structured interviews. A total of 257 students participated in the survey during the 2020 summer semester. Our findings provide insights in two infrequently-studied areas in learning environment research: the physical learning environment for online learning and the learning environment in academic continuing education. The study illustrates that students in academic continuing education have spacious living conditions and almost all the equipment necessary for digitally-supported learning. According to gender and household structure, significant differences were found regarding technical equipment, ergonomic furniture and availability of a dedicated learning place. In their learning sessions during the restrictions, students reported low stress levels and positive well-being. The more that they perceived that their physical learning environment was meeting their needs, the higher were their motivation and well-being and the lower was their stress. Their learning experience was further improved by the extent to which they had a separate and fixed learning place that did not need to be coordinated or shared with others. The study contributes to the literature on creating conducive learning environments for digitally-supported online learning for adult learners.
... Among these students, there are a good number of female students who patronise institutions outside their home countries for a number of reasons. These students who come with diverse background can be considered as a group with unique needs, experiences and goals (Panacci, 2015). Studies have shown that apart from the core needs of satisfying personal and academic development, most of these students are pursuing higher education as a result of the current surge for knowledge-based economies which is characterised by the need for skilled expertise in the labour market (Palameta & Zhang as cited in Panacci, 2015;Bosch, 2013;Mudhovozi, 2011). ...
... These students who come with diverse background can be considered as a group with unique needs, experiences and goals (Panacci, 2015). Studies have shown that apart from the core needs of satisfying personal and academic development, most of these students are pursuing higher education as a result of the current surge for knowledge-based economies which is characterised by the need for skilled expertise in the labour market (Palameta & Zhang as cited in Panacci, 2015;Bosch, 2013;Mudhovozi, 2011). Fairchild (2003) further indicated that "rather than being a life-encompassing and identitybuilding experience", for international students, higher education is "one activity among many others they participate to meet specific needs" (p. ...
Article
Full-text available
Studies have identified that women enter higher learning institutions for personal enrichment and lifelong education. In spite of these benefits, societal perception and traditional roles affect women’s participation in formal education. This qualitative study sought to explore the experiences of female students on how they deal with their lifecycle roles as they access higher education outside their home countries. The study was conducted in a Kenyan university using seven graduate international female students. These participants were purposively selected for face-to-face interviews. Content analysis was used to analyse data based on similarities and differences. It was revealed that the female faced challenges such as psychological stress, financial problems and time constraints. They managed these roles through support from family and friends as well as the use of self-motivation strategies. It was therefore recommended that interventions geared towards the needs of these female students are developed by institutions who admit international students.
... Today, it is diverse in many ways: educational and professional background, aspirations, economic and social status, and age. Students are people with life experience which plays important role in their academic education (see Panacci, 2015) and, at the same time, remains a unique component that builds their adult identity (Whitbourne, 1986). Considering this component and age criterion of (full time) students, this stage of life can be described as the period of entering into adulthood or of emerging adulthood (Arnett, 2012). ...
Article
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... While some adult learners may be able to immerse themselves in some learning experiences, expecting no less in terms of the experience by conventional university students, other adult learners may face constraints and may not be able to spend as much time on their learning [11]. Studies have also shown that adult learners tend to learn through formal teaching and learning settings in the classroom, while conventional university students benefit from informal learning experiences from campus activities other than the formal teaching and learning settings [12]. The seemingly established profile of a conventional university student seems to be changing as well, and an example of such a change is that conventional students are spending more time working, in part to fulfil credits (e.g., work-study qualifications) [13]. ...
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... higher education institutions work to meet such needs (Caruth, 2014;Chen, 2014;Francois, 2014;Panacci, 2015;Springer, Kakas, & Gottschall, 2015). ...
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