ERIC Identifier: ED275889
Publication Date: 1986-00-00
Author: Kerka, Sandra
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult
Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH.
Deterrents to Participation in Adult Education. Overview. ERIC
Digest No. 59.
This overview examines existing models and theories that attempt to
explain participatory behavior. Types of barriers or deterrents that hinder
participation are described. Finally, general guidelines and specific examples
of successful approaches to stimulating participation offer strategies to
address deterrents to adult education.
Three recent approaches attempt to combine dispositional, situational, and
environmental factors into composite models of participation. First, Rubenson's
(1977) Recruitment Paradigm emphasizes the perceptual components of the
individual's lifespace. That is, actual experiences, needs, and environmental
factors are less important in determining behavior than how they are perceived
and interpreted by the potential learner. Cross' (1981) Chain-of-Response Model
conceives of participation as a result of a complex chain of responses
originating within the individual. Internal psychological variables such as
self-concept and attitude toward education are critical determinants of
prospective learners' decision making.
The third recent formulation, Darkenwald and Merriam's (1982) Psychosocial
Interaction Model, illustrates participatory behavior as determined by a
continuum of responses to internal and external stimuli. The degree of
probability of participation is affected by such variables as socioeconomic
status, perceived value of participation, readiness to participate, and barriers
These theories and models imply that a variety of variables are associated
with participatory behavior. A number of researchers have explored the influence
of such demographic variables as age, sex, income, race, educational attainment,
employment status, and geographic location. Nondemographic variables affecting
participation are categorized as situational--associated with individual life
circumstances, particularly in terms of career and social roles;
dispositional--associated with values, attitudes, beliefs, or opinions; or
psychological--associated with individual psychological or personality traits.
CATEGORIES OF DETERRENCE FACTORS
However, the research evidence shows that these demographic and
nondemographic variables of and by themselves are not deterrents to
participation. Instead, these research findings demonstrate that (1)
"deterrents" is a multidimensional concept, encompassing clusters of variables;
(2) these variables are influenced by prospective learners' perceptions of their
magnitude; and (3) the impact of these variables on participation behavior
varies according to individual characteristics and life circumstances.
Synthesis of these findings suggests the following categories of deterrence
factors (Scanlan, 1986):
--Individual, family, or home-related problems --Cost concerns --Questionable
worth, relevance, or quality of available educational opportunities --Negative
perceptions of the value of education in general --Lack of motivation or
indifference toward learning --Lack of self-confidence in one's learning
abilities --A general tendency toward nonaffiliation --Incompatibilities of time
STRATEGIES TO ADDRESS DETERRENTS
General guidelines for addressing deterrents include the following (Cross,
--Ways of overcoming the powerful deterrents of poor self-concept and
negative attitudes toward education include providing educational opportunities
with low levels of risk or threat, reinforcement of self-concept, more positive
personal experiences early in the educational career, and the support of adults'
--Situational and institutional deterrents can be addressed by administrative
accommodations (alternative scheduling, extended hours for counseling), student
services (transportation, child care), and distance teaching.
--Effective communication of accurate, timely, and appropriate information
about educational opportunities must be targeted to the particular needs,
expectations, and concerns of the intended audience.
MARKETING EDUCATIONAL SERVICES
Traditional marketing concepts can also be applied to reach hard-to-reach
learners. Marketing can be a proactive means of attending to the multiple
variables affecting participation and the differential impact of these factors
on various groups.
The first important process in marketing is market analysis (Beder, 1980).
Components of this process are (1) market segmentation--dividing potential
participants into categories based on similar needs and expectations; (2)
clientele analysis--assessment of attitudes, values, and perceptions and
determination of the demand for programming; and (3) assessment of the
competition--analysis of the various opportunities and options available to
The second major component of marketing, program orchestration (Beder, 1980),
is achieved by establishing the appropriate marketing mix of price, product,
place, promotion, and partners.
PRICE. In terms of participation, program fees represent only one element of
price. Hidden costs such as food, travel, childcare, materials, and the
opportunity cost of loss of income must be considered.
PRODUCT. In addition to perceptions of the tangible (course, program, etc.),
participation is affected by consideration of the activity's total meaning to
prospective learners--the augmented product.
PLACE. Inaccessibility, cost, and previous negative experiences in a school
environment are deterrents that make selection of the location of educational
activities a crucial factor.
PROMOTION. Information about educational opportunities must also be designed
to change negative attitudes, enhance motivation, and provide value-added
incentives, such as stipends for job trainees or continuing education units for
PARTNERS. Joint sponsorship and interagency referral and cooperation can help
alleviate situational and institutional barriers.
SUCCESSFUL PROGRAM APPROACHES
The application of these strategies for overcoming deterrents among different
groups of hard-to-reach learners is illustrated in this section.
The major factors deterring reentry women from pursuing education include
poor self-concept, home-related problems, lack of awareness, cost, and
incompatibilities of time and place. Programs successful in helping reentry
women prepare for career or life transitions treat education as only one need
among many. Planning for this group should focus on raising self-esteem,
developing autonomy, helping women cope with role conflict and discrimination,
providing support services like child care, and establishing a learning
environment free of threat and considerate of the influence of prior
Among the deterrents most likely to hinder the elderly are personal
(particularly health) problems, questionable relevance of programming, cost,
accessibility, and social nonaffiliation. This requires programming that is (1)
direct, establishing linkages with the elderly community; (2) personal,
providing a supportive environment attendant to individual needs and sensitive
to physiological and psychological effects of aging; and (3) accessible, paying
attention to physical comfort, transportation needs, and scheduling concerns.
The Educationally Disadvantaged
The predominant barriers hindering the participation of this group are lack
of self-confidence, low self-esteem, and negative attitudes toward education,
compounded by language or literacy problems. Recruitment should focus on
community-based strategies, identifying problems important to the community.
Personal contact (such as door-to-door and word-of-mouth recruiting) and use of
existing social networks can influence these prospective learners' dispositions
Inaccessibility, lack of support services, cost, and job and family conflicts
often deter rural adults from participation. Successful rural adult education
must be considered an integral part of overall rural development, providing
advisement, counseling, and support services appropriate for the surroundings.
The Cooperative Extension Service, a model of successful rural adult education,
places heavy emphasis on use of local resources, facilities, and networks, and
solution of practical problems of immediate concern to its constituency.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Beder, Hal W. "Reaching the Hard-to-Reach Adult through Effective Marketing."
In REACHING HARD-TO-REACH ADULTS. NEW DIRECTIONS FOR CONTINUING EDUCATION NO. 8,
edited by G.G. Darkenwald and G.A. Larson. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1980.
Cross, K. Patricia. ADULTS AS LEARNERS. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1981.
Darkenwald, Gordon G. and Sharan B. Merriam. ADULT EDUCATION: FOUNDATIONS OF
PRACTICE. New York: Harper and Row, 1982.
Rubenson, K. PARTICIPATION IN RECURRENT EDUCATION. Paris: Center for
Educational Research and Innovations. Organisation for Economic Cooperation and