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Motivation in adult education: a problem solver or a euphemism for direction and control?

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Adults' motivation to participate in continued education is of immediate interest, as lifelong learning is now considered as the solution to the pressing problems of increased levels of unemployment, not least among unskilled workers. Many theories concerning motivation and adult education maintain that individuals are innately motivated to learn, and conclude that motivation problems result from various dispositional, situational and structural impediments. If such barriers are removed, adults will be naturally motivated to educate themselves. This article argues against these theories and maintains that motivation should not be regarded as something residing within the individual. It is rather a construct of those who see it lacking in others. A critical reading of the literature shows how motivation theory stigmatizes people held ‘unmotivated' in that the theories ascribe motivation problems to the individual, while assuming the basis upon which the problem is formulated for granted, and making those who formulate the problem invisible. Instead of a problem solver, motivation becomes a euphemism for direction and control. This article suggests that motivation should be seen as a relational concept, rather than as residing within the individual. Adults' motivation, or lack of this, is best understood in relation to those who formulate the problem. Instead of asking what motivates adults to study, research should focus on who states that this is a problem, and why, and the reasons for this conclusion . This approach makes the operations of power visible, and demonstrates how the discourse of lifelong learning, as a necessary political response to economic and technological determinism, constructs adults as inadequate.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Jönköping University, Sweden

Publication date: July 1, 2006

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