LIFELONG LEARNING OF THE OLDER ADULT

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CHAPTER 3: RESEARCH DESIGN

INTRODUCTION TO AND RATIONALE FOR THE STUDY

This chapter specifies the aims and research questions of the study, and develops the rationale for the use of a descriptive research design using quantitative methods of data collection. The chapter describes the construction of the research questionnaires and the principles underlying their construction. The chapter concludes with a description of the analysis used.

PROBLEM FORMULATION AND AIMS

This study focuses on the learning needs of the older population, with particular emphasis on the role of the University of the Third Age in promoting lifelong learning. In the light of the need for the provision of lifelong education for older adults, as detailed in previous chapters, I have documented the evidence that suggests the benefits resulting from the provision of educational opportunities for older adults (Pinquart, 2002b: 90; Ryff, 1989; Seiffert, 2002: 9; Swindell, 1999: 235–247; and others).
The research aims and basis for the methodology have been introduced in the literature review. The content for the questions on the surveys emanated from the research literature on older adult learning. Swindell (1999) made a questionnaire available which he had used for his research. As this study differed from his, I only adapted three of the demographic questions for this study.
The following section clarifies the most important barriers to participation and the consequences to individuals and society of failing to provide learning opportunities to the older adult population. The latter have been introduced and documented in Chapter 2 of this study (Price and Lyon, 1982, cited in Kolland, 1993: 535; Lim, 1988; Anstey et al., 2002: 74).
Older adults comprise the fastest growing sector of the population in Australia. The state of Victoria has a total population of 5 million (ABS, 2004: 26–28), of whom 1,176,421 are 55 and over. As documented earlier, the development of U3As has been rapid over the past 20 years. In 2004 there were 53,456 members in Australia, and of them 17,258 were enrolled members of U3As in Victoria (U3A Network Victoria, 2004). This amounts, however, to only 1.47 percent of the 55 years and older population of Victoria, 24 percent of them male and 76 percent female. As McDonell (1995: 3) stated, “U3As have become Australia’s fasted growing educational movement.” While the growth of U3As has been remarkable, the total membership in 1998 only comprised about 1.5 percent of the total retired population of Australia; this could be significantly increased if some of the associated problems could be solved (McDonell, 1998b, cited in Dale, 2001: 791). Meanwhile, Swindell cites a lack of volunteers, tutors and administrators as the main deterrent to future growth (1999: 24).

Methodological Approach

There are generally two types of research approaches, qualitative and quantitative, that can be used to collect data in the educational field. For this study the quantitative approach has been used. The difference between the two approaches is stated by Patton (2002: 226): “Qualitative methods permit inquiry into selected issues in great depth with careful attention to detail, context, and nuance; . . . Quantitative instruments, on the other hand, ask standardised questions that limit responses to predetermined categories (less breadth and depth).” This study takes a quantitative approach. Quantitative data make it possible to measure a very large sample using a limited set of questions and facilitating comparison and statistical aggregation of the data, producing a broad, generalisable set of findings (Patton, 2002: 14). For quantitative research, validity is the important factor. Validity depended upon careful instrument construction in order to ensure that the instruments in this study, the two questionnaires, measured what they were supposed to measure.

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POPULATION / GENERAL DESCRIPTION OF SAMPLE

The target population for this study is older adults who are involved in lifelong learning at the Universities of the Third Age in Victoria, Australia. The accessible population from which samples have been drawn are the U3A members of two of the 68 U3As in Victoria and the presidents of the 68 Universities of the Third Age in Victoria.
Sample for the U3A Member Questionnaire
It would have been time-consuming, geographically difficult and expensive to conduct surveys of all U3As in Victoria. As a result, this study surveyed all members of two of the 68 U3As in order to collect quantitative data. The two U3As have a combined membership of approximately 1 000 individuals. “With both qualitative and quantitative data, the essential requirement is that the sample is representative of the population from which it has been drawn” (Cohen et al., 2000: 95).
The two participating U3As are representative of the broader target population (comprising all 68 U3As in Victoria). One is situated in the north-eastern area of the city of Melbourne, while the other is situated in the south-east, at a greater distance from the centre of the city. Both U3As have mixed membership as is the case in all U3As in Victoria. Before data were collected I presumed that the percentage of male and female membership would fall within the usual U3A membership ratio of about 24 percent malesto 76 percent females. As with other U3As, the membership numbers change from term to term or semester to semester.
In order to compare well with other U3As it was important that the samples for this research come from well-established U3As. Both of the chosen U3As were established more than ten years ago. Like most U3As, they have an extensive list of courses they offer on a semester or term basis. Both U3As conduct their courses in rented buildings for which they pay a minimum fee (one rented from the local authority, one rented from a TAFE). Some courses are conducted in other premises or even in private homes. The same applies to most U3As, as very few have their own premises (accommodation).
Among the 68 U3As in Victoria there are a few which are rather small and were not suitable for the research. Others have only existed for a very short time, and have a number of growth problems; they would also not have been suitable and representative for the broader target population of the study.
In addition to concerns about whether the universities chosen are representative, there were also two other considerations taken into account when choosing the sample. First, the U3As selected had to be willing to participate in this study and prepared to cooperate and endorse participation by members. Several committee members of some of the U3As with whom I had informal discussions were not enthusiastic about participating in such a project. Secondly, they also had to be accessible to the researcher. One U3A is about 45km from my residence and the other one is 20km. I contacted presidents and secretaries of both U3As before commencing with the study. They agreed that I could, at a later stage of the research, have discussions with them and their management committee in order to explain the purpose of the study prior to data collection. However, changes to the arrangements had to be made before the survey was eventually distributed. This included the original intent to discuss the survey with the committee, and a change in the supply of membership address lists; the details are provided in section 3.3.2.

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CHAPTER 1: BACKGROUND TO THE PROBLEM, PROBLEM FORMULATION AND AIMS
1. Introduction
1.1 Background to the Problem
1.2 Problem Formulation
1.3 Aims of Research
1.4 Methodology
1.5 Clarification of Concepts
1.6 Assumptions and Limitations of the Study
1.7 Chapter Division
CHAPTER 2: LIFELONG LEARNING OF THE OLDER ADULT
2. Introduction
2.1 Lifelong Learning
2.2 Models of Learning of Older Adults
2.3 Barriers to Participation in Lifelong Learning for Older Adults
2.4 Conclusion
CHAPTER 3: RESEARCH DESIGN
3. Introduction to and Rationale for the Study
3.1 Problem Formulation and Aims
3.2 Population / General Description of Sample
3.3 Overview of Research Instruments
3.4 Analysis
3.5 Validity and Reliability of the Findings
3.6 Possible Limitations of the Study
CHAPTER 4: RESEARCH FINDINGS
4. Introduction
4.1 Analysis, Results and Discussion
4.2 Member Questionnaire
4.3 President’s Survey
4.4 Further Discussion and Summary
CHAPTER 5: CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
5. Introduction
5.1 Overview of Main Findings
5.2 Recommendations for Improvement of Practice
5.3 Suggestions for Further Research
5.4 Possible Limitations of the Study
5.5 Concluding Paragraph
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AN EVALUATION OF THE ROLE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF THE THIRD AGE IN THE PROVISION OF LIFELONG LEARNING

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