The experience of learning for the sake of learning in adulthood: a phenomenological study

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

This study used the phenomenological method to investigate the structure of the experience of learning for the sake of learning in adulthood and the meaning of that experience for the individual who undergoes it. Using a modification of Barritt, Beekman, Bleeker and Mulderij's (1983) descriptive phenomenological approach, a four step analysis of protocols was conducted. First, descriptions of the experience were obtained from ten nominated adults, ranging in age from 35 to 74. These protocols were phenomenologically analyzed for emerging elements and common themes to develop individual descriptions. These descriptions were then integrated into the fundamental description, all of which were validated by the co-researchers.

The results of the research indicated that learning for the sake of learning can best be understood by seeing its horizon, process, and resolution. The horizon of the phenomenon is comprised of three factors: the opportunity to learn, the area of interest, and the desire to learn. The learning experience is initiated and continued because the learners enjoy the experience, are curious about something, and feel called lo learn.

The primary focus is found in the process, not the resulting knowledge. The learners “follow the flow" of the experience, learning whatever seems appropriate at that time, whatever challenges them. The aim is not to reduce but sustain or increase the challenge. The resolution of this experience is open-ended. As an individual learning experience brings satiation, learners seek to encompass more questions in a wider or new area of interest. This indefinite nature, coupled with the rewards, form a spiral which constitutes the horizon for and lures them to the next learning experience.

Implications for adult educators, society, and learners are discussed. While this study delves into the nature of the experience itself, further research may investigate the type of people who engage in this learning experience and/or the conditions within which it occurs.