Doing school and doing school differently: The perspectives of five adult learners on their past and current educational experiences

Alisa Ann Belzer, University of Pennsylvania


This study is designed to look at how adults construct and make sense of their learning experiences across their life spans, and how those life experiences interact with their perceptions of a non-traditional General Educational Development (GED) program. This question grows out of my work as a practitioner when I heard many adult learners' learning histories and was struck by their desire to share them with others and with their potential to be informative to the field. There have been a number of calls for research aimed at understanding better who the adult learners are that come to literacy programs. While some research has been done in this area, much of it has focused on their literacies. Little has explored adult learners' previous experiences with school. Such research becomes especially important in programs that strive to be learner-centered and participatory because such adult education experience usually contrasts sharply with earlier experiences. Therefore, conflicts in experiences, beliefs, goals and expectations can ensue between learners and practitioners. This study gathered detailed learning histories from five women participating in a non-traditional GED program. Through open-ended interviews, the women discussed their previous and current educational experiences and were encouraged to analyze and critique these experiences. The findings center on the fact that while the women clearly perceive and often appreciate the differences between their earlier educational experiences and their experiences in the program, they do not always trust that non-traditional learning activities will help them meet their goal of passing the GED test--a very traditional assessment. There is ample evidence that at least part of their doubt is based on the fact that they use their previous experiences with very traditional, teacher-driven schooling to evaluate a learning context that is very different. The implications of this finding suggests that learners and teachers need a variety of ways to explore their assumptions about learning and find innovative ways to accommodate differences in expectations and beliefs. Such activity may support adults in adapting or adding new frameworks for considering their educational experiences.

Subject Area

Adult education|Continuing education|Language arts|Literacy|Reading instruction

Recommended Citation

Belzer, Alisa Ann, "Doing school and doing school differently: The perspectives of five adult learners on their past and current educational experiences" (1998). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9829860.