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Barriers to Adult Learners

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 3581 words Published: 16th Jul 2018

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Contents (Jump to)



Situational barriers

Institutional barriers

Dispositional barriers

Academic barriers

Employment training barrier

Cultural and socio-economic barriers





Courtney, S. (1989) “Adult Education is an intervention into the ordinary business of life–an intervention whose immediate goal is change, in knowledge or in competence. An adult educator is one, essentially, who is skilled at making such interventions.”

Who are adult learners? Adult learners are normally considered as the learners who are over the age of 25 years. They are normally referred as non-traditional students. Adult learners group has different abilities, wide range of educational backgrounds and cultural backgrounds. They have more responsibilities and experiences. In traditional education system, as soon as students finish the high school, they enrol in tertiary education. It can be a diploma or an undergraduate program. Adult learner typically doesn’t follow the traditional education system. “The adult education is also called “workforce education” (Mary Jo Self, Ed.D.)

Learning is a life-long process. It starts from the very first day of life to the very last day of the life. Most of the people think that, the learning or studying happens only in school or college life. This thinking may be more from the adults.

Adult learners will have many responsibilities unlike a fresh high school student. Most of the adults are full time workers and full time parents too. They always have many barriers to learn. These barriers can be divided into various categories. It can be physical barrier, attitudinal barrier or a structural barrier. It is true that adults always face some challenges that younger people don’t have to face. Some of the studies show that many adult women also face lots of barriers like early pregnancy, low socio-economic status and child care and many more as a barrier to learn. These barriers will be broadly discussed. A fundamental aspect to continuing higher education is identifying and overcoming of barriers to adult learning.

The main purpose of this assignment is identifying why adults are less in learning process. In this way, I will mainly focus on the barriers to adult learning. Later in the assignment, I will try to provide some ideas to overcome or reduce the barriers in adult learning.


A very basic aspect to continuing higher education is to identify and overcome the barriers to adult learning. “Adult learners are an increasing population in higher education. Between 1969 and 1984, the number of adults participating in education programs increased 79 percent” (Kristen M. De Vito, Eastern Illinois University). This group of students take learning as a serious work.

This group of learners share are large quantity of number students learning in an educational institution. Even though, the number adult learners are increasing day by day there are many barriers for them to learn and to become successful in their life.

The barriers to adult learning can be described as follows.

  • Situational barriers
  • Institutional barriers
  • Dispositional barriers
  • Academic barriers
  • Employment training barriers
  • Cultural barriers

Situational barriers

The situation barriers mostly occur with respect to a certain situation. Due a unfavourable condition in life, some adult do not want participate in learning. Sometime, these conditions make them frustration to go to an educational instate. This barrier is mostly working related or family conditions. There may be a huge number of responsibilities that one has to carry out at the same time. These responsibilities may be more important than going to an educational institute. Due to these unfavourable situations the opportunity to learn and to educate will be very much narrowed for those learners.

This barrier may include:

Busy work schedule: Most of the adults who are willing learn will be working to earn. Due the busy schedule in their work place, they may not get enough time to go an educational institution. Sometime, due to high living expenses, they may be working more than one place to earn. Their busy schedule may have no time to allocate for studying. The working men and women might have to face this barrier.

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Family and children: This barrier mainly may face to women. Most of the times, in many societies’ women are responsible for family and children especially. They have to look after children, feeding them, taking them to school or any other house works are mainly done by the women. This condition will even worm if a couple live alone because there may be no one or a few to look after the children. Men also have to face such a situation.

Financial problems: Many people stop studying after the high school due to financial problems. That is the one of the main reasons why people join workforce, to earn. Most of the times, adult learners do not earn enough money to spend for their tuition fee. This is very big concern for the most of the adults who want learn and most of the people stop their learning process at point. This is one of the biggest issues that adult learners might face in Maldives.

Lack of child care services: Child care centres will help people to move to jobs and as well as to study if time allows for them. But, sadly, this service is rare in many developing and underdeveloped countries. For example, in Maldives, hardly we have any childcare centre.

Transportation: This is also one of the conditions that people might face. If there is a good transportation systems people can travel from home to the place of study. Unfortunately, the transportation system may not be very systematic much rural area in the world or may be expensive to travel from one place to another.

In addition to above mentioned situational conditions, some other situations that put a barrier to learn are sensory or learning disability, lack of support from others like from family or employer.

Institutional barriers

Institutional barriers are the inconveniences faced from the educational institutions. This difficulty may be either the design of the course, method of delivering lectures or even sometimes administrative difficulties. Institutional barriers happen intentionally or unintentionally.

Some of the institutional barriers include:

Difficulty in paying tuition fees: Some of the educational institutes are very strict in paying tuition fees for them. Such institutions have very fixed dates to pay or a very short time line to pay the tuition fees. Due the lack of money or lack of time adult learners may face lots of barriers to pay the tuition fees. Some of the learners may quit the programmes because of this difficulty.

Inconveniences faced due to improper scheduling of the programs: There are cases that institutions often offer full-time programmes for the learners. This wills a big issue for the adult learners, since they are working to earn. Attending to a full time programmes will be impossible to an adult learner.

No courses are available to meets learners needs: This is again one of the obstacles that leaners might have to face. There may a very limited number of courses available in an accessible institution. There are no wide varieties of programmes available. This will cause adult learners to stop at a point.

Lack of necessary qualification to enter the programme: This is again another problem that adult learners or even regular learners might have to face. Since the adult learners are mostly involving in the work skill programmes, they have to stop at this point. Most of the adult learners may not want go back and study as a traditional students so that they can gain enough qualification to enter the programme of their choice.

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Location: The location of an educational institute also plays an important role to participate adults in learning process. In many cases, the educational institutes are located in developed areas. This will benefit only to those who lives in that area. If we look at the Maldives, most of the adults in atolls will face this problem because almost all the tertiary educational institutions are located in Male’. Though they want study they will not have enough access because of the location.

Dispositional barriers

Dispositional barriers are connected with the internal or personal factors that put a barrier to learn for adults. This barrier mainly talks about the learners’ attitude to learn. Many adult learners may have negative attitude towards learning. This may be due to age factor and/or may be fewer results are made in the past studies. Of course, if a person did not make a good result in their traditional education system then then most of the people will have a negative attitude to learn in future. This will affect their psychological aspects in learning. The age factor is also an important dispositional factor that can be described as a dispositional factor. People might think they are too old to go for an educational institute. They might ignore the fact that, “learning is a lifelong process”. There are some situations where the learner might be too sick to carry out the task of leaning. “Health issues emerged from our fieldwork as a major barrier for learners and potential learners” (Peter Bates and Jane Aston, 2004) .The availability of time is also an important factor. Due to busy of an adult, they might not have enough time to attend an educational institution. The adult are full time workers, full time parents and when they join for education they become full time students too. Not everybody has potential to study with this very schedule in their life. The personal affairs like job, child and family care are more important for them than learning. There is another problem that some adults might think, “they don’t require any more education.” This may because of peer pressure or how their peers are behaving. Moreover, just after the high school, some people will get a good job which will give a decent amount of salary. This is sometime a barrier for them to come back to learn. In addition to that, inadequate language skill or not having any interest for learning are the factors that will affect the adult learning.

Academic barriers

This barrier includes the needed skills for future learning. This barrier may include the lack of language skills which are very much important in learning process. This skill actually helps to access the information of any form. If the learners cannot access the information, how they can learn. The ability to play with the numbers is also an important factor. Of course, all will understand (if they are literate) basic mathematics. But numerical skills are important for further studies. Today is the information age. Every work is done by using internet and computers. So the basic skill in information technology will be very important. Inadequate skills in computer and IT will put a barrier for some of the adult learners. If a person of academically not good in his/her childhood and teenage, then that will still remain as a barrier for them even though they want goes for higher studies.

Employment training barrier

These are the barrier in the work place. This may include the factor like not supporting from the employer for adult learners. Moreover, the employer will give much preference to well educated workers for giving / sending for seminars, workshops and/or any other training programmes. The less educated workers will be left over most of the times. Very often, work place, women are given less preference than male while selecting for a training programme. This might create bad impression to learn by the women. The immigrants are also given less preference than locals for training programmes. Most of the employers might think that training women and less educated people will not bring much economic welfare of the employer.

Cultural and socio-economic barriers

Cultural barriers are basically the barriers due to culture. In some cultures, it believe that women don’t have to go for work and as well as for higher study. The belief that girls should marry at an earlier age will almost stop the girls to go for higher studies. The socio-economic status of the society will also play important role adult learners. As discussed above, in some societies, people will get marry at the earlier and get pregnant soon. This is a big barrier for adults specially women very often. In addition to that, large families, poor economic conditions and unemployment are also barriers to adult learning.


Helping adult learners to overcome the barriers is not an easy work or even not possible in some cases. The barriers that adult learners’ face will not be able to fix in overnight. To overcome the barriers, learners need long term support and working environment must need a change. Moreover educational institutes require changes in their administrative and curriculum issues.

The adult learners and employers need to create close relationship. With this relationship, the employers can help the learners to learn and create a positive environment for the learners. They may provide some more free time, and also can provide study leave for the adult learners. This will encourage them to participate more in learning process.

The institutions must be more flexible and understanding. Institutions have to recognise that adult learners are working people and/or looking after a family, so they cannot be compared as regular traditional learners. The rigid policies and regulations for traditional learners will not work for the adult learners. The rule and regulations must be flexible enough to meet the requirements of the adult learners. They require more help than the mainstream learners. Some flexibility with the adult learners may include, developing flexible policies on punctuality, attendance and schedule that are best suit for the learners so that adult learners can cater for their work and for their family.

As mentioned above, the demography is a great barrier for adult learners to participate in learning process. To overcome this, introduction of distance learning with the technological advances can be best used. In this way, the busy adult learners do not have to attend the institute campus. “Distance learning is an excellent method of teaching adult learners because they need flexibility to contend with competing priorities” (Galusha, Jill M, 1998). They can stay at home and can study on their own. Moreover, they can contact with their lecturers via technology using the appropriate portals established by the educational institute. This will reduce the barriers to transport. This also will solve the problems of strict attendance face by the adult learners. “Adults studying online have a higher GPA than traditional counterparts” (Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence, 2007).

Lack of information about the educational opportunities available for adult learner is a big threat for them. This threat need to be avoided so that adult learner have chance to participate in a program of their choice. For this, proper advertising of appropriate form should be selected. If all the information is available on internet, there may be many who cannot reach. Moreover, the employers can play an important role in spreading information. Just a notice for staffs will do more than we think.

The barrier within the working environment should be avoided even by using rules and regulation. The employer can arrange in such a way that the leaners can be released from the work to a certain extent to attend classes. Moreover, the training programmes should be arranged in such a way that all the required employees are benefited.

Moreover, to overcome the barriers the following actions can be taken:

  • Media campaign using different media to aware and encourage about adult learning. Give more focus on breaking the barriers related with culture.
  • The educational institutes can develop the programmes that are flexible to adult learners such evening class or part – time study programmes of flexible attendance. Flexibility in course completing time is very important.
  • Improving child care services to look after the children so as to help the learner to spend time in working environment as well as study environment.
  • Provide financial supports to adult learners using low interest study loans, paid leaves, or study allowances.
  • Accept that adult learners are busy learners who have taken the decision to join to your program. Celebrate their bravery and willingness to try.


Have you ever wondered why adults are still looking for the opportunities to learn? They seek out and learn new knowledge and skills. But there are barriers for adult learns. Barriers are found to be situational; which are mostly family and work related issues such as looking after children, busy work schedule and lack of support from the employer and/or from the family. Barriers are also found to be institutional: in which it occurs from the side of the educational institutes such as policies and practices related with adult learners. This can be inconvenient scheduling, rigid attendance, lack of proper course or lack of financial supports due to high tuition fees. Dispositional barriers are related with attitudes of the learners such as lack of confidence, health related issues or not wanting study furthermore, and weak performance in academic areas in past. The barriers can be academic; this happens because of not enough language and numerical skills. Some cultural and religious beliefs also put a barrier for adult learners to learn which is known as socio-economic barriers. With these barriers, the adult learners are increasing and scoring better than the traditional main stream students. So together with employers, institution and learners themselves have try to reduce the barriers to adult learning.


Ellu Saar and Eve-Liis Roosmaa (2010, 7th February): Overcoming obstacles to adult learning. Paper presented at Life Long Learning 2010 Final International Conference.

Houle, C. (1996).The Design of Education(2ndEd.)San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 41.

Simon Martin (2011), Barriers to adult learning and training in rural churches, The Arthur Rank Centre

Galusha, J. M. (1998). Barriers to Learning in Distance education. ERRIC

Bates, P & Aston, J (2004). Overcoming Barriers to Adult Basic Skills in Sussex. Falmer; Brighton: UK

Medscape.com (2009), An Overview of Adult Learning Processes, Retrieved from http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/547417_4

Chao, R. (2009), Understanding the Adult Learner’s motivation and barriers to Adult Learning,. Retrieve from http://www.academia.edu/

Kristen M. De Vito (2009), Implementing Adult Learning Principles to overcome barriers of learning in continuing higher education programs. Online Journal of Workforce Education and Development.

Sreb.org. 2014. Who is the Adult Learner? [Online] Retrieve from, http://www.sreb.org/page/1397/who_is_the_adult_learner.html

  • Aminath Nazeera


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