Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Educational and Personal Needs of Adult Learners in Higher Education: A Quantitative Exploratory Study

Lisa Moison, Fielding's School of Educational Leadership & Change

In recent years, there has been an increasing interest in determining the personal and educational needs of adult learners in higher education. This may be due to the rise in the number of students age 25 and over who have been returning to college (NCES, 2012). The purpose of this study was to survey adult learners on their personal and educational needs so university and college services could be improved to serve them. Another goal was to determine if self-reported needs of adult learners validated or refuted theories of adult learning. Data were collected from the Adult Learner Needs Assessment Survey (ALNAS) by American College Testing and the findings indicate that adult learners need help in five distinct categories: having associations with others, educational planning, life skills, career development, and managing family issues. The research suggested that some demographic factors were associated with particular needs. There was a statistically significant difference in the needs of several groups: widowers, students who had children, students who were continuing their education, students with an income level below $14,999, and women who expressed a need for help with associations with others. The findings did not show a difference in the needs of adult learners based on their ethnicity nor was there a difference in the needs of the learners between the ages of 23 and 61. The three main conclusions are that (a) adult learners have definable educational and personal needs as they return to college; (b) marital, job, income, and gender variables can be factors in identifying those needs, but ethnicity and age were not; and (c) the findings support theories of adult learning by Knowles, Cross, and Mezirow.

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