O'Brien, Jim (2012) What are the key motivational factors which encourage and sustain involvement in learning activities in older people? Masters thesis, National College of Ireland.
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This study set out to seek an understanding of what motivates older adults to engage in learning activities in later life, to investigate what benefits they feel they receive from this engagement and to also understand what barriers and obstacles they face in these efforts.
The literature review provides rich sources of data and information surrounding this area and a key theme of the studies done to date is the need to engage older people themselves in any research studies being carried out on this sector. This study has been completed using a mixed methods approach combining data from survey questionnaires along with in-depth semi-structured interviews with four older learners ranging in age from early fifties to over seventy. In that way this study has installed the older learner at the core of the process in order to ensure their voices were the ones being heard throughout.
Withnall (2006) argues that what is needed is “a new insight into how people make sense of their own attitudes to learning and how they have acquired beliefs and values about what education and learning means in the context of their own lives. Such an analysis would offer a distinctive perspective on the factors that might influence older people to continue or to take up learning activity”. This study has attempted to acquire that ‘distinctive perspective’ through the methods applied and in the analysis of the results, such that a clear answer to the research question can be achieved and possible directions for future research on this important cohort of Irish society be identified.
What emerges from this study is further confirmation of the multi-faceted nature of human motivation, particularly when attempting to measure it in terms of learning activities in older adults. Existing research has identified a number of key motivational factors at the centre of older learner’s reasons for engaging in learning activities in later life. These reasons include 8 the need for cognitive stimulation, for social interaction and for the feelings of enhanced self-esteem and self-fulfilment (as well as improvements in physical and mental well-being) that older learners experience when engaged in learning activities in later life. All of these factors were identified in this study and will be fully addressed and discussed in chapter 5.
The study has also highlighted a number of linked areas for possible future research such as looking at prior educational experience, both good and bad, and the effects this has on motivation and participation as well as looking at some structural barriers such as ease of access to appropriate courses and the methods and availability of same.
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