Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

Adult Learning: Towards a Framework of Participation

McLean, Lesley



This thesis explores participation in adult learning and focuses upon three key areas of interest: reasons for participation, the challenges of participation, and the enabling factors relating to participation. The purpose of the research is to expand understanding in order to enhance and improve learning support practice, through a study of a university based, professionally accredited, part-time, Master’s Degree programme in Human Resource Management, which serves as the research setting.
The study of participation in adult learning is a well-trodden path, beginning with the seminal work of Cyril Houle in the early 1960s. Since then, researchers have continuously sought to prove, disprove or adapt existing typologies. Research has focused on generating groups of single identified factors, motivational indicators and specific challenges influencing participation in adult learning. Specific models and frameworks related to the enablement of participation are identified as being missing from the participation literature, with reference to enablers existing only within the disparate literature relating to adult learning and its broader contexts and influences. A review of the key literature reveals a lack of a single open framework that considers the reasons for, the challenges to, and the enablers of participation across defined contextual dimensions, for the purposes of understanding the nature of participation. This research presents an original conceptual framework matrix, developed from this existing literature, intended to fill this gap. The matrix affords two key opportunities. Firstly, as a theoretical device by which to organise and review current literature in the field and secondly, as a means to identify, explore and present the dominant factors relating to participation in adult learning. To achieve this the matrix identifies the three key areas of interest: i) the reasons participants have for joining the learning activity; ii) the challenges they have faced in doing so, and finally; iii) the elements and influences that enable them to successfully participate in the learning activity. These areas are reviewed further across four dimensions of the participants’ life world, that of the psychological, the professional, the practical and the personal.
Utilising a critical realist ontology and a post-positivist epistemology the conceptual framework matrix is used to structure the research design. The study adopts a linear, mixed methods approach to collecting data using types of thematic analysis (quantitative and qualitative), achieved through the use of an online questionnaire and one-to-one interviews with the target population.
Viewed through the lens of the conceptual framework matrix, findings from within the research setting demonstrate that participants chose to engage with the learning activity as a result of a wide range of influencing factors. Reasons for participation were dominated by two of the dimensions, professional and psychological. Challenges to participation were found to be dominated by psychological factors, alongside issues of a restrictive learning environment and difficulties in achieving work life balance. The dominant enablers were people, deriving from all aspects of the participants’ life-world. To aid successful participation in the learning activity under investigation two key recommendations are made to the programme managers and facilitators: i) the facilitation and encouragement of communities of practice and, ii) the development of links between the programme provider and employers.
Further to this, this study suggests that, following further research to establish transferability and usability, the matrix has the potential to contribute to wider practice as an open, exploratory framework to be applied to a variety of different learning activities as a means of identifying areas of improvement or change.


McLean, L. Adult Learning: Towards a Framework of Participation. (Thesis). Edinburgh Napier University. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Jun 10, 2014
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Keywords Adult Learning; Participation; Motivation; Education; Higher Education; Professional Learning; Professional Qualifications
Public URL
Contract Date Jun 10, 2014
Award Date 2013-12


You might also like

Downloadable Citations