Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Vivian L. Gadsden


This study examined adult learning practices in adult learning-focused postsecondary institutions.

Using semi-structured phenomenographic interviews, course observations, and site observations at two Midwestern adult-focused postsecondary institutions, this year-long study applied an intersectional sociocultural framework toward understanding adult learning practices, with emphasis on their characteristics, goals, and influences.

Results of the study suggest that all participants specifically chose their institution based on perceived alignment with their ages, learning styles, and schedules. They also suggest that students’ challenging personal contexts contributed favorably to students’ decisions to enroll. Students generally attributed institutional factors with posing the biggest challenges to their learning engagement, course planning, and completion, rather than their often significant personal obstacles.

Participants also emphasized the sacrifices necessary to prioritize time for college in their complex schedules. They described the experience and impact of college-related stress on their professional and personal lives, yet they affirmed college as their highest priority despite these challenges. They also described avoiding shortcuts in their coursework, often prioritizing time-consuming approaches to deepen and challenge their learning.

Supplementary practitioner interviews indicated divergent perspectives on students’ commitment, motivation, and use of time. Many characterized their students as spending insufficient time on or insufficiently prioritizing their college education. However, contradictions within their perspectives also suggest a positive association between their specificity student-related talk and more nuanced or affirmative perspectives on student lives and learning.

Findings extend existing research on adult undergraduate learning practices, most importantly in the context of adult learning-focused institutions. They also provide directions for future research on adults’ learning practices, choices, and academic literacies, with implications for informing adult-focused instructional, tutoring, and advising practices and policies.