Does age matter? Informal learning practices of younger and older adults

  • Laurie Vermeylen University of Calgary
  • Scott McLean University of Calgary
Keywords: Informal adult education, Adult learning, Self-help, Age differences, Qualitative research

Abstract

Conventional wisdom in adult education suggests that processes of life cycle change make for differences in the learning experiences of younger and older adults. Popular demographers argue that generational differences exist between those born in distinct historical periods. Outside the realm of higher education, there are relatively few empirical studies of the learning practices of adults of differing ages. In this article, we present the results of qualitative interviews undertaken with 134 readers of self-help books. Half of these readers were thirty years of age or younger. We found modest age differences in learners’ engagement with self-help reading. Relatively older readers were more likely to define explicit learning goals, engage deeply in the learning process, experience linear learning pathways, and express disagreement with authors. We conclude that the modest nature of age differences found supports a maturational or life cycle interpretation rather than a generational interpretation, and that learning processes are more similar than different among people of various ages.

Author Biographies

Laurie Vermeylen, University of Calgary
Laurie Vermeylen is a graduate student in the Department of Sociology at the University of Calgary. Laurie’s research interests include gender and family and she is currently working on her Master of Arts degree in which she explores the topic of parenting advice. Correspondence may be sent to lvermeyl@ucalgary.ca.
Scott McLean, University of Calgary
Scott McLean is Director of Continuing Education, and Professor of Sociology, at the University of Calgary (906 - 8th Avenue SW, Calgary, AB, T2P 1H9, CANADA). Scott’s work has ranged from teaching adult basic education to developing university extension programs in agricultural leadership and health promotion. Correspondence may be sent to smclean@ucalgary.ca.

References

Becker, C.H. (2009). Student values and research: Are millennials really changing the future of reference and research? Journal of Library Administration, 49(4) 341-364.

Bennett, S. and Maton, K. (2010). Beyond the “digital natives” debate: Towards a more nuanced understanding of students’ technology experiences. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 26(1) 321-331.

Bullen, M., Morgan, T., and Qayyum, A. (2011). Digital learners in higher education: Generation is not the issue. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology, 37(1) 1-24.

Burton, K. Lloyd, M. and Griffiths, C. (2011). Barriers to learning for mature students studying HE in an FE college. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 35(1) 25-36.

Field, J. (2013). Learning through the ages? Generational inequalities and inter-generational dynamic of lifelong learning. British Journal of Educational Studies, 61(1) 109-119.

Giancola, F. (2006). The generation gap: more myth than reality? Human Resource Planning, 29(4) 32-37.

Holyoke, L., and Larson, E. (2009). Engaging the adult learner generational mix. Journal of Adult Education, 38(1) 12-21.

Jarvis, C. (1999). Love changes everything: the transformative potential of popular fiction. Studies in the Education of Adults, 31(2) 109-123.

Jarvis, C. (2005). Real stakeholder education? Lifelong learning in the Buffyverse. Studies in the Education of Adults, 37(1) 31-46.

Jarvis, C. (2012). Fiction, empathy and lifelong learning. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 31(6) 743-758.

Joseph, G. (1996). Shopping for knowledge: An alternative environment for learning. Canadian Journal of University Continuing Education, 22(1) 7-19.

Jubas, K. (2012). Everyday scholars: Framing informal learning in terms of academic disciplines and skills. Adult Education Quarterly, 61(3) 225-243.

Jubas, K. and Knutson, P. (2012). Seeing and be(liev)ing: How nursing and medical students understand representations of their professions. Studies in the Education of Adults, 44(1) 85-100.

Kasworm, C. (2010). Adult learners in a research university: Negotiating undergraduate student identity. Adult Education Quarterly, 60(2) 143-160.

Keast, D. (2000). Studying part-time at university: from research to policy to practice. Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 30 (1) 57-88.

Kember, D., Lee, K. and Li, N. (2001) Cultivating a sense of belonging in part-time students. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 20 (4) 326-341.

Kliegel, M. and Altgassen, M. (2006). Inter-individual differences in learning performance: The effects of age, intelligence, and strategic task approach. Educational Gerontology, 32(1) 111-124.

Knowles, M. (1980). The Modern Practice of Adult Education: From Pedagogy to Andragogy, 2nd ed. (New York: Cambridge Books).

O’Shea, S. and Stone, C. (2011). Transformations and self-discovery: Mature-age women’s reflections on returning to university study. Studies in Continuing Education, 33(3) 273-288.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5) 1-6.

Sanchez, J., Salinas, A., Contreras, D., and Meyer, E. (2011). Does the new digital generation of learners exist? A qualitative study. British Journal of Educational Technology, 42(4) 543-556.

Sandlin, J. (2010). Learning to survive the ‘Shopocalypse’: Reverend Billy’s anti-consumption pedagogy of the unknown. Critical Studies in Education, 51(3) 295-311.

Sandlin, J., O’Malley, M. & Burdick, J. (2011). Mapping the complexity of public pedagogy scholarship: 1894-2010. Review of Educational Research, 81(3) 338-375.

Sandlin, J., Schultz, B., and Burdick, J., Eds. (2010). Handbook of Public Pedagogy: Education and Learning Beyond Schooling. New York: Routledge.

Stapleton, J., Wen, H.J., Starrett, D., and Kilburn, M. (2007). Generational differences in using online learning systems. Human Systems Management, 26(1) 99-109.

Stone, C. (2008). Listening to individual voices and stories: the mature age student experience. Australian Journal of Adult Education, 48(2) 63-290.

Stone, C, and O’Shea, S. (2013). Time, money, leisure and guilt: The gendered challenges of higher education for mature-age students. Australian Journal of Adult Learning, 53(1): 90-110.

Swain, J. and Hammond, C. (2011). The motivations and outcomes of studying for part-time mature students in higher education. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 30 (5), 591-612.

Thompson, G. and Devlin, L. (1992). Access by part-time students: A question of openness in Canadian universities. Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 22(3) 57-75.

Wright, R. (2007). ‘The Avengers,’ public pedagogy, and the development of British women’s consciousness. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 115, 63-72.

Wright, R. & Sandlin, J. (2009a). Cult TV, hip hop, shape-shifters, and vampire slayers: A review of the literature at the intersection of adult education and popular culture. Adult Education Quarterly, 59 (2) 118-141.

Wright, R. & Sandlin, J. (2009b). Popular culture, public pedagogy and perspective transformation: The Avengers and adult learning in living rooms. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 28(4) 533-551.

Yum, J., Kember, D. and Siaw, I., (2005). Coping mechanisms of part-time students. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 24 (4), 303-317.

Published
2014-02-18
How to Cite
Vermeylen, L., & McLean, S. (2014). Does age matter? Informal learning practices of younger and older adults. Canadian Journal for the Study of Adult Education, 26(1), 19-34. Retrieved from https://cjsae.library.dal.ca/index.php/cjsae/article/view/2837