Crossing borders, breaking boundaries : Research in the education of adults
Identifying groups of learners through the use of learning strategies
Rita C. Kolody, Medicine Hat College, Canada Gary J. Conti, Montana State University - Bozeman, USA Suzanne Lockwood, Montana State University - Northern, USA
Since the classic work of Houle (1961), two distinct strands of research have emerged in the field of adult education. The orientation, focus, philosophical basic, and methodology of these two strands has been different. One strand has focused on the programme planning element of adult education. Its concern has been with formal programmes and those who participate in them. Research findings from these studies have direct applicability by administrators interested in establishing a flourishing adult continuing education programme. Houle's learning orientations have served as the conceptual basis for this line of inquiry and much of the inquiry has centred around the work of Boshier (1971) and his Education Participation Scale. While much of the research has focused on those who participate in the formal programmes, some has also investigated the non- participants (Scanlan and Darkenwald 1984). Regardless of the exact audience being investigated, this line of inquiry tends to ask research questions from a psychological perspective and relies on quantitative methods to measure the degree of participation. The other strand focuses on the individual learner. Rather than being preoccupied with the learner's participation in formal educational programmes, researchers in this camp have been intrigued with the concept of self-directed learning and with how adults learn in a variety of informal, real-life situations. Drawing heavily on sociological concepts, this group is grounded in phenomenology and pays special attention to the context in which the learning is taking place. The research methodology of choice for this group is qualitative in nature and individual development and empowerment are the outcome goals for learners in this approach. This group prefers to use the verb 'learning' rather than the noun 'education'. Members of these two strands ask fundamentally different questions in the field of adult education, and the field is stronger because of this diversity. The groups differ in almost every aspect, one difference being that the participation-focused group has had a clear conceptual model upon which to base their inquiry. This has been Houle's learning orientations with the three orientations toward either goal, activity, or learning purposes. The learning-focused group has not had such a typology around which to organise its research. However, that may now be changing. Collectively, recent research in the area of learning strategies has yielded evidence of five distinct groups of learners that exist in most learning situations and that cut across most demographic variables. Thus, these findings have the potential of providing a typology for learning similar to the typology which Houle's learning orientations provided to participation researchers.
comparative in nature to investigate the relationship of learning strategies to a variety of educational and demographic variables. Royal College. The second part was descriptive and was approached inductively. This study solicited a broad population from several diverse public community colleges in order to gather a disparate data set in order to describe the learning strategies used by a large group of adults in order to determine if patterns existed in how they learn. Yabui (1992).Regardless of the type of setting. Since five distinct groups of learners were identified by this quantitative process. metamotivation. This stage of the research was approached deductively. McKenna (1991). Building upon a learning strategies study initiated at Medicine Hat College (Conti and Kolody 1995). critical thinking. researchers such as Hays (1995). These interviews elicited responses from the participants that described their learning patterns and preferences and that related their learning to actions of teachers. To help name and describe these clusters. Strakal (1995). learners use various strategies to accomplish their learning needs. Monitoring. Learning strategies are the techniques and skills that an individual elects to use in order to accomplish a specific learning task . these schools included Grande Prairie College. five Canadian two-year community colleges agreed to co. 28 group and 23 individual interviews were conducted. individual and group interviews were conducted to collect supplementary qualitative data to further assist in describing the clusters. and Red Deer College. Each of the five areas consists of three specific learning strategies: Meta-cognition � Planning. Reward/Enjoyment. Such strategies vary by individual and by learning objective (Fellenz and Conti. Meta-motivation Attention. Methodology This research project consisted of two parts. Since the recent development of the Self-Knowledge Inventory of Lifelong Learning Strategies (SKILLS). Learning strategies were measured with the Self-Knowledge Inventory of Lifelong Learning Strategies (SKILLS).
. This valid and reliable instrument consists of real life learning scenarios with responses drawn from the areas of metacognition. and resource management (Conti and Fellenz 1991). The multivariate technique of discriminant analysis was used to determine if the groups could be discriminated from each other based upon the interactive effects of the various learning strategies. Most of the previous studies had in this area utilised populations that had a specific focus.operatively conduct this study with the technical assistance of the adult education staff from a US university. In addition to Medicine Hat College. Keyano College. Memory Organisation. and Adjusting. and Confidence. Groupings which were hypothesised as potentially having an influence upon how people used learning strategies were imposed upon the data. Mt. Individual and group interviews were held with each cluster of learners. Moretti (1995). Canada. Hill (1992). memory. The purpose of this study was to expand the investigation of this growing area of study by examining and describing the learning strategies by adult learners at two-year colleges in Alberta. analysis of variance and discriminant analysis were conducted.. and Conti and Kolody (1995) have found that various groups of learners can be distinguished by the learning strategies which they use. Cluster analysis was used to identify the groups which inherently existed in the data (Conti 1996). 1989.. 7-8). The first part was causal.
both forms were used in this study. Data were collected by administering SKILLS to a representative sample of students at each of the five participating colleges in Alberta. Its strength lies in its ability to examine the person in a holistic manner (Conti 1996). Klecka 1980). Critical Use of Resources.5% were male. and 29. Generating Alternatives. The sample included 1. and Conditional Acceptance. and each college was randomly assigned one form of SKILLS. and Use of Human Resources. the individual learning strategies. and age.84. Discriminant analysis was used to analyse the relationship between learning strategies and various demographic and educational variables. Engagers (236). Each of the five distinct groups of learners have explicit preferences for learning strategies and learning is enhanced when teaching strategies and learning environments are congruent with the prominent learning strategy specific to that group. Critical Thinking 23.External Aids.5% were female. demographic and educational information was gathered to further analyse the relationship between these factors and learning strategies. and Resource Management-Identification of Resources. and Memory Application. programme. All the group means were near the middle of this range: Metacognition 23. only weak differences were found when the learners were grouped in the areas of gender. At each college a local research assistant from the faculty identified a sample which was representative of that college. each of these analyses explained only about 10% of the variance that could be explained beyond mere chance. Discriminant analysis is a multivariate procedure which is used to discriminate between different groups of people by placing them into groups and investigating if they can be distinguished by a set of discriminating variables (Conti 1993. which have a range of 4 to 12. SKILLS has two forms of six scenarios. From these.9.9. 70.2. Based upon quantitative analysis using analysis of variance for each of the learning strategies and the other demographic variables when the learners were divided into their clusters and based upon the interviews. However. Consistently.04 to 8.1. Additionally. As learners in this study reflected
. no single learning strategy area or specific learning strategy was predominant. and Networkers (199). learning strategies as measured by SKILLS were not useful in discriminating similar groups of learners in the Canadian two-year colleges. Findings The overall profile for the students throughout the province revealed a divergent group of learners. Cluster analysis is a multivariate statistical procedure that seeks to identify homogeneous groups or clusters in the data (Aldenderfer and Blashfield 1984. Memory 24. these fairly equal sized clusters were named Navigators (259). Cluster analysis produced a solution with five clear and distinct clusters of learners. Unlike Hill (1992) who found a meaningful discriminant function which distinguished the group of learners at Montana's tribal colleges with the lowest grade point average from the group with the highest grade point average.5. cluster analysis was more successful in explaining the data. Critical Thinkers (223). Likewise. Likewise. respondents pick four scenarios that are most meaningful to them. Monitors (266). had little divergence with means that varied from 7. Metamotivation 22. Chapter 1). and Resource Management 25.143 learners who ranged in age from 17 to 71. Critical Thinking-Testing Assumptions. The possible range of scores for the learning strategies areas is 12 to 36.
They Test Assumptions to evaluate the specifics and generalisability within a learning situation. these learners are most successful and are able to best monitor their learning progress when visual models and standards are provided as a basis for comparison. This group also uses the Memory strategy of using External Aids such as lists to reinforce memory. this process includes using appropriate rather than available resources and contacting experts or other secondary sources. The Navigator cluster contains the highest number of university transfer students along with the students with the highest grade point average.upon the specific preferences for their group. Teamwork and group projects that focus on process as well as product can also reinforce the learning strategy of reward/enjoyment required by these learners. Specific to this group. It is composed of learners who rely heavily on the meta-cognition strategy of Planning. Critical Thinkers are those students who make heavy use of the Metacognition strategy of Adjusting their learning process as well as the Memory strategy of Memory Application. As these learners instinctively generate alternatives. schedules. Monitors are the learners who most often use the Meta-cognition strategy of Monitoring as they review plans. Because learners in this group place little importance on memorisation. which involves using mental images or other memories to facilitate problem solving. The Engagers are the passionate learners who love to learn and learn with feeling. and the teacher. which includes dialogues. they Generate Alternatives to create additional learning options. and compare their progress to accepted standards or models. they offered insightful recommendations for teachers. They also frequently use the Memory strategy of Organisation to structure or process information so that the material can be better stored and retrieved. and networking to integrate others into the
. its members know how to locate and use the best information. This group is also higher than other groups in its preference for the Resource Management learning strategy of Identification of Resources. teachers can enhance learning by communicating expected learning outcomes and by providing outlines. Since this group learns best when they are actively engaged in a meaningful manner with the subject matter. The Networkers frequently use the Resource Management strategy of Using Human Resources. these focused learners chart a course for learning and follow it. discussions. they are best evaluated with open-ended questions and problem-solving activities. thus. These learners also use the Meta-motivation strategy of Attention such as avoiding distractions and setting time aside for learning to stay focused on the material. This groups relies heavily on the Metamotivation strategies of Reward/Enjoyment to anticipate the value to one's self for learning or having fun with the learning activity and of Confidence to reassure their belief that they can complete the learning task successfully. Thus. and deadlines. This group also relies heavily on all the strategies in the area of Critical Thinking. This group contains older students who rely heavily on the Resource Management strategy of Critical Use of Resources to help in the learning process. learning is enhanced with opportunities for hands-on learning and experimentation. and they are open to Conditional Acceptance of learning outcomes while keeping an open mind to other learning possibilities. Provision for individuality and creativity in completing assignments and projects is the key for successful learning for Critical Thinkers. check to see if they are on task. the environment. educators should provide Engagers with opportunities that encourage learning projects based on individual student interests. As structure and organisation is crucial to the success of these learners.
Two of the four discriminant functions produced by the analysis each accounted for over 50% of the variance that existed in the data. Kolody and Schneider 1997). Using Air Force personnel at the
. Interaction is the key to learning for this group. In this function. distinct groups do exist of learners who have particular preferences for different patterns of learning strategies for attacking learning problems. Numerous discriminant analyses were conducted to explore hypothesised differences in known groups of learners. multi-variant techniques such as cluster analysis which allow the data to expose its own patterns are more productive. The second function. As these learners make heavy use of human resources. Discriminant analysis was used to identify the process that distinguishes the five clusters of learners from each other and to generate a formula for placing individuals in the groups (Conti 1996). others gained their security in learning by having the proper learning resources. the clusters from this study were reproduced (Conti. This first function was named Locus of Control for Learning. Data from 422 financial planners in the United States were combined with the data set from this study and the clusters were recalculated. Thus. no strong patterns were found. The discriminant function produced by this analysis was 95. Using nursing students in Montana.08% of the variance. Conclusions This study adds to the growing literature base on learning strategies and contributes to a deeper understanding of patterns and divergence in adult learners. and discussion of opposing or different viewpoints. which described another process that discriminated the groups from each other. The second function was named Structure for Learning. teamwork. The process that discriminated the groups from each other in the first function was an internal versus external view of the learning process by the learner. and the second one accounted for 56. They also make heavy use of the Memory strategy of Memory Application such as using mental images or other memories to facilitate problem solving.03% of the variance. the Metamotivational strategies of Confidence in learning and Reward/Enjoyment with learning were contrasted with the Resource Management strategy of Identification of the best learning sources. paired Attention by focusing on the learning materials and Planning the best way to learn against the strategies of Memory Application by using techniques such as mental images and Conditional Acceptance of learning outcomes. The first function accounted for 62. Although some differences were found among the learners. Likewise.143 learners in their correct clusters. Clearly. The inability to find differences using discriminant analysis suggests that imposing sense upon the data through preconceived groupings is not the best way to uncover differences in uses of learning strategies by disparate groups of learners. this is a 75.social and political processes of learning.5% increase over their chance placement of 20%.5% accurate in placing the 1. although 37% more variance was introduced. this function distinguishes between those with a preoccupation with what needs to be learned and how this is going to be accomplished and those who have mental flexibility with the learning process. teachers can enhance their learning by including guest speakers and media to present expertise in various subject areas. Lockwood (1997) found four groups of learners. other studies with more specific populations have produced results similar to this study. While some learners emphasised their own motivational factors for learning. Instead. The findings from this study are supported by other learning style research being conducted at the Center for Adult Learning Research at Montana State University. so educators should provide an environment that allows for brainstorming.
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