and Lifelong Learning:
Choices and Experiences
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In recent years, a number of commentators have shown
how various forms of change - economic, cultural, technological
and demographic - have been used to promote the concept of lifelong
learning as that which takes place from 'cradle to grave'. However,
in practice, a range of different analyses have been moulded together
to produce a persuasive discourse which has been influential in
stressing the need for lifelong learning policies to support economic
competitiveness. Indeed, a close analysis of a range of reports
and major policy documents related to the development of lifelong
learning in the UK reveals a strong priority accorded to vocational
education and training. Although there is some general rhetoric
about the importance of developing a learning culture which would
encourage personal independence, creativity and innovation and
some emphasis on the family and community as sites for learning,
a coherent philosophy of lifelong learning has not been developed.
In particular, older people who are post-work are generally excluded
from the debate.
As a result, we have little knowledge of how older
people themselves define and understand learning and education
in later life, of the value they place upon it and what outcomes
learning might have in the context of their lives. At a broader
level, there are questions to be asked concerning the implications
for social and educational policies in general in respect of a
stronger emphasis on learning in later life.
Aims and Objectives
The aim of the study is to develop a new theoretical
perspective on lifelong learning by emphasising the role of learning
in the post-work period of life. The objectives are:
To formulate and to test a conceptual model
of the causes of, and pathways to, involvement in learning
activities, both formal and informal, in later life.
To assess any outcomes which involvement
in learning activities, both formal and informal, may have
for the quality of older people's lives.
||To develop innovative research strategies
which will integrate both older people and researchers themselves
into the research process.
||To inform and influence local and
national lifelong learning policy formation, implementation
and practice through systematic dissemination of research
findings to both potential research users and relevant interest
groups; and to involve them in the interpretation of the implication
of findings at all stages.
The primary research focus will be on the collection
of different types of qualitative data although it will also be
necessary to collect some quantitative information concerning
the background and circumstances of older learners. The identities
of both researchers and researched will be incorporated into the
ways in which findings are scripted, presented and disseminated
through feedback to research subjects, checks on validity and
invitations to comment at each stage.
Initially, a series of focus groups with older
adults currently taking part in formally organised learning activities
will be conducted in order to develop a model about the role of
education and learning using a life course perspective. This will
be tested through a detailed questionnaire-based survey to 100
older people, half of whom are known to be following a specific
learning activity. In order to obtain a deeper understanding of
the experience of learning and the meaning this has for older
people's lives, a series of semi-structured interviews will be
carried out with a sample of half the respondents using a fieldwork
team of older people themselves. This will be supplemented further
by a series of learning diaries to be completed anonymously and
kept over a three month period. The diaries will be subjected
to content analysis to illuminate how learning is viewed in the
context of these older people's lives.
The study will contribute empirically derived data
which will inform national and local policy debates about lifelong
learning, particularly in respect of appropriate provision of
learning opportunities for older people. This is especially important
at a time when the most recent government initiatives indicate
a growing realisation that access to learning opportunities may
also offer wider non-economic benefits. It will also offer a distinctive
perspective on an issue which is central to understanding social
inclusion in later life and its links with quality of life. Through
its methodology, the study will also raise awareness of innovative
ways of involving older people themselves in gerontological research.