Date of this Version
This research focuses on understanding people who have chosen to learn throughout their lives. A broad question guided this investigation: What is the rich, lived, lifelong learning experience from the individual’s perspective? This question allowed each participant freedom to explore and define issues he/she considered important relative to lifelong learning. Twelve lifelong learners from a wide range of backgrounds, ages, and experience were serially selected using maximum variation sampling. Most qualitative research uses a priori questions aimed at a specific topic, limiting participants’ discussion. In this study, however, grand tour questions prompted each participant to offer information about lifelong learning experiences. In-depth interviews revealed 16 thought categories including integration of life and learning, learning process, role, influences, major life changes, benefits, favorite topics, issues, view of self, and motivation to learn.
This constructivist research allowed each participant freedom to explore topics during several interviews which were documented by audio recordings and handwritten notes. Member checks during interviews assured the written description matched each participant’s perspective. A grand member check brought participants together to suggest edits and finalize approval of their perspectives, as written in the study.
Three outcomes resulted. First, the study compiled 12 learners’ unique and verified perspectives through participant profiles and a case study narrative. Second, despite sharing common traits with other learners, each learner integrated lifelong learning in a unique way. Organic descriptors, such as seeker, academic entrepreneur, new individualist, pragmatist, holistic thinker, creative compromiser, nonconforming introvert, restless idealist, and community leader, labeled participants and illustrated their self-integration. Third, a theory grounded in the lifelong learners’ common and uncommon traits was developed. The Inside-Outside Theory of Lifelong Learning Integration posits that, while there are similarities in learning processes and preferences among the study’s learners (i.e., inside traits), there are also differences distinguishing learning processes and preferences for each learner (i.e., outside traits). This study-specific theory helps facilitate recognizing inside and outside traits among any and all of the learners.
Advisor: James O’Hanlon