Learning choices : a grounded theory study of adult returners
This research is a grounded theory study of the learning choices of adult returners. For the purpose of this research, 'adult returner' has been defined as somebody who left school at the earliest opportunity who, after a period away from formal education, has identified a desire or a need to re-enter the system. Forty-three semi-structured, in-depth interviews and three focus groups have been conducted with a total of 58 adult returners at various stages of the returning process. Some adults had just started to think about returning to education, but had not identified an entry route, whereas others were progressing through their chosen entry route, whether in adult education, further education or higher education. A process of theoretical sampling and comparative analysis, whereby data are jointly collected, coded and analysed, was adopted for this research. Using this method, themes and categories were inductively generated from the data. Processes, rather than static accounts, were taken into account by conducting a number of repeat interviews. By doing this it was possible to consider how learning choices might change as adults progress through their chosen entry route. The aim of a grounded theory study is to develop a core-category and a number of related sub-categories. The core category for this research is 'parameters of choice' which describes how adults appear to have their choices framed by a number of parameters which effect the perceived degree of choice available to them. The related sub-categories which have been developed from the data are 're-balancing', 'self-assessment', 'becoming attuned' and 'awareness-raising'. By describing these categories and illustrating how they relate to each other, the research goes beyond other studies which consider easily identified and articulated influences on choice, such as those studies which look at barriers to participation. This research suggests that adults do not consider their choices to be blocked by barriers, but instead see their choices as being framed by a number of constraints. If their first choice is not possible, they will go on to consider alternatives within their existing parameters, or wait until these parameters widen. The research relates the findings to both theory and practice within the field of adult education and in relation to the notion of lifelong learning. In this way, the research serves to enrich at a theoretical and practical level the understanding of adult returners' learning choices.