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Looking to Learn: Investigating the Motivations to Learn and the Barriers Faced by Adults Wishing to Undertake Part-Time Study



2.1 Participation is an enormous topic in education, and understanding its meaning, the forms it takes, and the patterns within it is a perpetual challenge. This chapter discusses the approach taken to participation in this study and the ways in which that approach recognises some of the major challenges of the topic. I begin by describing the model of participation underpinning this study, using the work of Hertzberg (1966) and Maslow (Huitt, 2004). The following sections lay out a concrete framework for approaching participation (reflecting the policy context), and provide a brief overview of the criteria used to select the research included in this review.

A model of participation

2.2 The current study has required the development of a consistent approach to the topic in order to organise and make sense of the vast body of literature on participation. I have chosen a simple model that, nonetheless, helps to address many of the complexities of the topic. There are two underlying theories, both of which can be considered as belonging to the field of social psychology.

2.3 The first of these is the notion of a hierarchy of needs, as developed by Abraham Maslow (1954). Maslow's basic idea is that humans have two kinds of needs: deficiency needs and growth needs. The deficiency needs are the basic requirements for survival, including physiological needs such as food and water; safety needs such as being out of danger; belongingness needs such as being accepted by others; and esteem needs including being competent and gaining recognition. Only when the deficiency needs are satisfied can the individual move on to the growth needs, which include the need to know and understand, and aesthetic needs such as an attractive home.

2.4 Maslow's theories have two significant implications for educational participation. The first is that people will participate in education when their basic deficiency needs are taken care of. That is, they will be able and willing to learn when they have already obtained food, shelter and clothing as well as other survival necessities. This has interesting repercussions regarding people living in poverty, as it suggests that expecting people to learn their way out of poverty may be unrealistic-the very features that mark poverty, such as low quality nutrition and housing, may inhibit people from engaging in learning. The second implication is that vocational and leisure focused learning will appear at different places in Maslow's hierarchy. While vocational education may in certain circumstances be inspired by, and satisfy, deficiency needs, education due to interest in a topic will clearly fall into the growth need area. This creates a potential separation between participation decisions around learning for interest and learning for vocational or other direct advantage.

2.5 The second theory is based on the work of industrial psychologist Hertzberg (1966), who argued in the context of work that barriers and motivators for productivity were not at opposite ends of a single continuum (for example, lack of autonomy is a barrier, lots of autonomy is motivating). Instead he suggested that they were completely different sets of factors. His model calls one set 'hygienes,' referring to factors that have to be present to allow for a particular behaviour to occur (such sufficient autonomy to choose eating times will ensure productivity is not lost to hunger), and the other set 'motivators,' referring to factors that make that behaviour more likely when they are present (such as the ability to change working hours to suit the worker leading to more productivity).

2.6 In a work context, money can be seen as a hygiene. Increasing pay for workers does not, by itself, tend to increase productivity, but a decent rate of pay has to be in place to ensure that workers will be productive. There is a optimum level of pay that does not detract from productivity because of dissatisfaction yet is affordable by the employer. An example of a motivator might be the possibility of promotion. The lack of promotion possibilities does not necessarily result in dissatisfaction and demotivation, but having the possibility of promotion and a pay rise can provide a motivating factor for the workforce.

2.7 One of the important implications of this approach is that the desired behaviour is not taken as a default option, which people will automatically do when the barriers are removed. Instead it suggests that not only do barriers have to be removed, but positively motivating factors have to be provided as well. In the case of participation in lifelong learning, the model suggests that there have to be no insurmountable barriers to learning and also very clear reasons for learning. So, for example, having childcare on offer may be a hygiene for lone parent participation, but will not increase participation by itself. There would also have to be a motivator for participation, such as a guaranteed improvement in the family standard of living. The following table sketches out a few factors that could fall into each category, derived from the literature reviewed for this study.

Hygienes (factors that have to be in place for the possibility of participation)

Motivators (factors that will positively encourage participation)

  • Childcare
  • Affordability
  • Time available
  • Accessibility to learning (time and space)
  • Attitude to learning
  • Confidence in learning
  • Clear benefit to individual and family
  • Interest
  • Work demands (current or future)
  • Positive experience of learning
  • Maintenance of learning identity

Table 3: Examples of potential hygienes and motivators

2.8 From a policy perspective, this approach has the potential to be extremely helpful. It separates out the areas where barriers need to be removed (hygienes) from those where incentives must be created (motivators). However, there are still a number of areas where policy cannot have a great deal of direct effect, such as confidence in learning or positive experience of learning (factors that are probably closely related), and it may well be that long term cultural changes are needed to affect these aspects of participation.

2.9 This approach means that what are conventionally considered as 'barriers' will be more positively 'hygienes'-things that need taken care of. A further implication is that factors outside the remit of policy will drop out of the analysis since they cannot be represented as hygienes. For example, individual experience of education needs to be positive if people are to continue in lifelong learning (see chapter 5). This is not a factor that can be directly affected by policy, and it is also not possible to represent this as a hygiene within Hertzberg's model. The model, in effect, filters the relevant factors and leaves only those that can be addressed through policy decisions.

2.10 In the later sections of this report the idea of hygienes and motivators is applied in a systematic way to the particulars of participation. However, the general framework is summed up in the following diagram:

Figure 1: The participation pyramid

Figure 1: The participation pyramid

2.11 This diagram represents a general model of participation rooted within the two theories discussed, and shows that participation is dependent upon the three other layers. For any specific educational participation, the three lower layers become more specific. Basic needs have to be satisfied for almost any educational participation. Hygienes will still be relatively general, but will reflect some characteristics of the specific learning-for example, childcare may be an issue for an evening course but not for a course during the day when children are in school. Motivators will be yet more specific, needing to answer the question of why the individual should participate at the current time in the current course.

2.12 It is worth making a couple of comments. The first is that each layer is not as separate as it appears in the diagram. There will be some basic needs that are also hygienes, and some hygienes that are also motivators, but the basic framework is a useful way to represent the relationships between factors. The second comment is that this model contains no assumption that simply removing barriers is sufficient to bring about participation. While hygienes can be seen as the factors that have to be addressed to ensure there are no barriers, the model still retains motivation as a separate layer. It is quite easy to imagine circumstances where the hygienes are satisfied but the individual still does not participate in learning because there is no specific motivation. Participation in learning is not seen as an unquestioned norm, but a strategic decision on the part of an individual (Van Damme, 1999).

The particulars of participation

2.13 The classic categorisation of educational provision, codified in the International Standard Classification of Education of the 1970s, divides it into formal, non-formal, and informal types. Formal learning occurs in settings such as schools, colleges, and universities, and non-formal learning in settings with an explicit educational aim but more 'casual' approach. Informal education is the learning that takes place throughout our lives, in family and community settings, and in many ways can be considered as a private activity because no programmes or credentials are involved. An inclusive lifelong learning approach such as the current Scottish policy views all three types of learning as valuable and worthy of support. Informal learning, for example, can be encouraged through supply of resources such as the BBC website of public libraries. However, this study will only deal with formal and non-formal - that is the public - aspects of learning.

2.14 The difference between formal (school-based) and non-formal (workplace, community programmes, CLD) is more subtle, and is laid out in the following table.




  • Long-term and general
  • Credential based
  • Short-term and specific
  • Non-credential based


  • Long cycle / preparatory / full-time
  • Short cycle / recurrent / part-time


  • Standardized / input centred
  • Academic
  • Entry requirements determine clientele
  • Individualized / output centred
  • Practical
  • Clientele determine entry requirements

Delivery system

  • Institution-based, isolated from environment.
  • Rigidly structured, teacher-centred and resource intensive
  • Environment-based, community related.
  • Flexible, learner-centred and resource saving


  • External / hierarchical
  • Self-governing / democratic

Table 2: Ideal-type models of normal and non-formal education (Fordham, 1993)

2.15 In terms of participation such a typology has interesting implications. Participation will appear different in each of the two categories. The central question of this study concerns part-time participation, which certainly makes sense in the case of formal learning. In the table above, one of the characteristics of formal learning is that full-time attendance is the norm. This suggests that there is a need to be selective about what types of participation in formal learning are counted in order to make sure the emphasis lies upon part-time participation. For non-formal learning there is no full time engagement and any participation will fall into the traditional category of part-time learning. Therefore, the types of learning falling into the scope of this study are:

1. part-time engagement in formal learning
2. participation in non-formal learning

2.16 Some caution is necessary with this categorisation. While it makes sense from an institutional point of view to think of part-time and full time students as participating differently in education, one analyst was pointing out 15 years ago that:

The distinction between full and part-time students is in itself becoming more arbitrary and less clear. As increasing numbers of institutions adopt modular structures and credits are accumulated and transferred at further as well as at higher education levels, students can take on any workload and its associated credit-rating as they wish. (Sargant, 1991, p.17)

2.17 In other words, it is important to remember that the category of part-time student is a creation of institutional practices and policies more than any clear cut way of participating in learning. Some policies (such as hardship funds in Higher Education) may force students to view themselves in a particular way according to whether they are granted or denied access to support, but in general the lines are blurred. Within these limits, however, part-time versus full-time participation is a useful distinction to draw in terms of understanding the concrete decisions learners make about learning, and the resources they require.

2.18 The categories of non-formal and formal learning can be placed on one side of a matrix of learning used to organise discussion of the concrete implications of the hygienes and motivators identified in chapter 5. The other side of the matrix is made up of the specific groups who have traditionally been less engaged in learning.



Social Classes C2-E

Lone Parents

Older Adults

People w. Disabilities















Table 3: Participation Matrix

2.19 The matrix could have included other groups, such as women and visible minorities, but I chose not to include them for two reasons. There is little data on these groups, but more importantly, evidence consistently points to very healthy participation rates for these groups (see, for example, Slowey, 2004, Sargant, 1991). The groups included in the matrix are those that can be demonstrated to under-participate in adult learning. Indeed, much of the participation literature, and the majority of evidence cited in chapter 4, points to membership of those groups as a reason for non-participation.

2.20 Ideally, this study would produce well evidenced recommendations for each of these groups, and lay out the policy implications. Unfortunately, while some sections are very well evidenced, many have little or no data available at all. Generally, there is much more information on the general topic of 'participation by adults' than there is on the more particular topics. It is not possible to use existing research to support that kind of analysis. However, there is a fair amount of evidence on what the most common hygienes and motivators are for the general population, and my approach in this study is to begin by listing and categorising these. At that point, it is possible to address each of the under-represented groups on a logical basis by suggesting which hygienes and motivators are most relevant to, and pressing for, each group of potential participants. This is an attempt to extend the current data to other, more specific groups, and can be considered as an example of a research technique called 'generalisation to theory' (Mason, 1996).

Gathering the evidence

2.21 The evidence for the report is gleaned from a large-scale literature review of published documents on participation. However it is worth noting that there is surprisingly little written on participation that is both focused on individual decision making and strongly empirical. Most of the writing presents specific theoretical models, or constitutes a survey of the participation numbers, or argues for the desirability of increased participation from a policy perspective. There are not many studies that examine the concrete experiences of learners and try to draw conclusions about the mechanisms encouraging or preventing participation.

2.22 A recent discussion of research on widening participation suggested that there are three broad categories of research into access:

1. Macro-level studies of the evolution of modern higher education systems

2. Intermediate-level studies of specific policy initiatives aimed at widening participation

3. Micro-level studies of 'access' in terms of student experiences, progression, outcomes, and so on. (Scott, 2004, p.23)

2.23 Though all three categories have the potential to provide information on participation relevant to this study, the majority are likely to fall into the second category. Macro-level studies of higher education are unlikely to provide clearly evidenced suggestions for policy, and micro-level studies may be suggestive but have little claim to generalisability. The bulk of the information reviewed will be intermediate-level studies of specific policy initiatives. Unfortunately, this category is also least well represented in the literature.

2.24 There are also considerations of study quality to be taken into account. In order to be included as evidence in this study, literature had to meet the following criteria:

1. Published since 1990

2. Clear evidence of empirical base (which could be quantitative or qualitative)

3. Demonstration of appropriate analysis

4. Findings that are related to, and supported by, the data and the analysis

2.25 Restricting the studies included in this way helps to ensure the rigour of the report in terms of the evidence base and also provides a way to discriminate among the many thousands of publications on the topic. I have chosen 1990 as the cut-off year for studies because the rapid evolution of lifelong learning - and the policy context surrounding it - over the last few decades would make going any further back risky in terms of relevance. 1990 seems like a reasonable year to select as the approximate beginning of the lifelong learning era, being the date of the UNESCO World Declaration on Education for All.


2.26 This chapter sets out the approach taken in the study, including the theory of participation underpinning the analysis and the framework for setting out the findings. The model laid out here combines two theoretical approaches to suggest that participation results when basic needs are satisfied, hygienes are in place, and there is motivation for learning. Before moving on to look at the hygienes and motivators that have been identified for participation in adult education, and to discuss which of these are amenable to policy intervention, it is useful to review the general literature concerning who currently participates.