(Published - 28 May 2019)
“Adult education as a field of study values learning from experience and collaboration. Our real-life experiences as educators are social in nature; thus social context as central to learning has gained importance in the discussions of learning in adulthood, which my own research investigated.”
That research, Psychosocial barriers to participation in adult learning and education: Applying a Psycho-Social Interaction Model, earned Myrtle Grace Adams-Gardner a Master of Education in Adult Learning and Global Change from UWC’s Institute for Post-School Studies (IPSS).
“As an educational practitioner I’m constantly reflecting on how we learn as teachers; our interactions with students; discussing teaching and learning with other professionals, trying new ways of teaching and doing, and how these experiences shape my own learning. My own experiences of learning to teach are important to ideas of adult learning and education.”
A conceptual framework was adopted in the study to contextualise and analyse the effects of socio-economic status on the adult learner’s decision and readiness to participate. Analysis of pre-adulthood and adulthood learning years identified psychosocial factors that emerged as barriers to participatory behaviour in learning.
“Adult learners’ perception of factors that are internal to their perceived control of their lives can be challenging to overcome when making a decision to participate in learning,” she says. “There are complex relationships between the psychological, and social barriers to participation - and understanding the nature of such barriers can enable policymakers, educators and adult learners to create strategies to overcome them, and to increase adults’ participation in adult learning.”
Some of those barriers, as the study revealed, include:
- Access to the right information
- Dispositional: low self-esteem
- Lack of confidence and motivation
- Lack of perceived support from family and educational institutions
- Not being open to learning new information
- Linkages between non-formal and formal education
“Perceptions to participation in learning are more than just financial cost for the disadvantaged adult learner,” Myrtle explains. “To increase student success, access should be linked to the social and psychological variables inherent in the socio-historical context of learners with diverse needs.”
The socio-economic context of the adult learner is to be viewed as a system of dispositions that govern how a person acts, thinks and orients him or herself in their social context.
Basic and Adult Education institutions can guide interventions to offer psychosocial support as part of educational programmes aimed at enhancing re-entry and uptake of further adult education. While adult learners acquire social competencies through accessing non-formal programmes, further learning support is necessary to overcome the social and psychological complexities needed to develop basic academic literacies.
The findings of the study indicate that educational planning can create deep connections for social learning in non-formal learning contexts. In order for adult learners to value education’s purpose and challenge negative perceptions towards learning, they require fundamental support systems and learning environments that will make them feel motivated.
“Irrespective of the adult learners’ socio-economic status, when there is an inherent motivation to participate in learning, the adult learner will be confident to seek out further educational opportunities and be open to learning new information.
“Access to the right information and services can support the adult learner in developing the necessary employability skills required to compete in society.”
The adult learner may not be aware of the available support that can be called upon when a decision is taken to participate in further education. Identifying psychosocial barriers can foster collaboration for a more supportive teaching and learning environment.
“Offering learning support services within formal, non-formal or informal learning environments can help foster a society that values life-long learning and education,” she remarks.
Adams-Gardner is particularly interested in critical pedagogy in online and distance education, especially with the ways that educational technology and instructional design make space for (or do not make space for) student agency and teaching practices.
Adult Education: A Life Of Learning
Myrtle’s own schooling has not been a straightforward path, as has been - and continues to be - the experience for many other learners from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“I attended five different primary schools and four different high schools during my schooling years, eventually settling in Woodlands, Mitchell’s Plain,” Myrtle says. “I couldn’t expect my parents to pay for university, so as a high schooler I started working in casual positions to save money for my studies - and I haven’t stopped working since.”
She completed her undergraduate studies at UWC, persisting through many adversities to achieve her goal. Shortly afterwards, she moved to Johannesburg, where she currently works as an Educational Developer at the University of Witwatersrand.
“As a young woman with no special privileges, my studies became a way of escaping a life of endurance and hardship,” she notes. “I have always felt close to the vulnerable and marginalised individuals in our society, and I was interested in how adults identify as learners - and what make peoples want to learn, and how they cultivate an attitude of life-long learning.”
Myrtle practices what she preaches, and walks the lifelong learning walk. Her work may have earned her a Master’s degree, but she will be taking a moment to celebrate her learning journey as a student - but only a moment, as she will register as a PhD candidate in 2020.
“In my discipline there is no time for not learning - and everything about learning excites me,” she says. “Discovering new meaning and making sense of what education’s true value is to society - and addressing issues of social justice and equality - that’s something worth living for.”