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Adult education as experienced by the learners

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During the last decade, the issue of lifelong learning, which was once launched as a project of emancipation, has become more integrated into the labour market and employment policies of governments and international organizations such as the EU and OECD. The most important concrete result of this has been a rapid increase in adult education programmes and incentives for adults to join them. In some cases, these incentives almost assume the character of compulsion. The Danish Adult Education Research Project (1997-2000) has been dealing with the broad adult education systems mainly serving poorly educated and unemployed adults. The project has consistently sought to investigate current adult education from the perspective of the learners. Empirical activities have comprised observation of teaching sessions and daily life, and individual and group interviews of participants. Most adult learners approach education in very ambivalent ways. The majority of participants enter the programmes because they are more or less forced to do so, and not because of an inner drive or interest. In practice, they typically develop a variety of psychological defence strategies to avoid learning that challenges their identity and personal ways of thinking, reacting and behaving. In general, it seems to be basically characteristic of adult learning that: adults have very little inclination to really learn something they do not perceive as meaningful for their own life goals; adults in their learning draw on the resources they have; and adults take as much responsibility for their learning as they want to take (if they are allowed to do so). These characteristics are significantly different from general assumptions behind most educational programmes. Thus, such programmes are not fit to fulfil the ideals of lifelong learning, and often it would be better to move resources from educational arrangements to clarifying, guiding and motivating activities. Education should only take place when the learner has understood and accepted that the arrangement is in his or her own interest.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02601370304827

Affiliations: Roskilde University, P.O. Box 260, DK-4000 Denmark

Publication date: January 1, 2003

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