Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Designing and Implementing a Qualitative Evaluation Protocol for Non-Credit Life Long Learning Programs (1)

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Designing and Implementing a Qualitative Evaluation Protocol for Non-Credit Life Long Learning Programs (1)

Article excerpt

This study was undertaken to determine whether an evaluation model employing multiple methods of data collection and analysis might yield more useful information for improving lifelong learning courses than existing models. Major findings included: (1) learning satisfaction appears to be dependent on the instructional environment adults may be most comfortable with and; (2) the confidence gained in using computers, rather than skills acquisition, was the greatest benefit students derived from their participation. Findings from this study suggest the value of mixed methods evaluation designs for generating information that is useful for improving lifelong learning courses. Findings also suggest the need for much more research in this domain of inquiry.

Key Words: Noncredit Life Long Learning Programs, Mixed Methods Evaluation, Adult Learners, and Student Satisfaction

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In recent years, increased emphasis has been placed on the importance of lifelong learning in the United States. As Field (1998) indicated, lifelong learning is not another educational fad that cycles through society every few years. Rather, the growing presence of lifelong learning constitutes a cultural change. Such change is indicative of the realization that the greatest economic growth is experienced by those nations whose populations participate in a continual process of organized learning throughout their adult lives.

Miller (1990) reported that the growth in lifelong learning programs experienced in the United States and Canada are indicative of the continual changes in our society brought about by technology, and its increasing importance on the professional and personal lives of its members. He claimed these societal changes have profoundly affected lifelong learning programs as adult learners evaluate those programs that assist them in meeting their learning goals and objectives. How students evaluate their learning experiences, as well as how they apply what they have learned, could significantly impact the viability of lifelong learning programs.

McConochie and Claggett (1991) found that while concern for instructional quality and accountability has resulted in institutions evaluating their traditional courses and programming, these same institutions have ignored their rapidly growing lifelong learning programs. Despite enrollment growth that has surpassed that of their traditional programs, institutional administrators often ignore concerns about program quality, even though lifelong learning programs are often self-funded and therefore dependent on sustained or increased enrollment to remain viable.

Based on a review of key research, Nesbit (1999) noted that the field of lifelong learning and the education of adults have grown over the past decade; as the importance of learning new skills throughout one's personal or professional life has become more relevant and indeed more necessary. In fact, Nesbitt noted that participation in lifelong learning programs in Canada and the United States has approached participation rates of nearly 40% of the adult population in both nations. He also noted this increase is in contrast to the single digit rates recorded from 1960 through the mid-1990s.

Purpose

This research was conducted to determine whether and to what extent a mixed methods evaluation protocol might provide more relevant and useful information for improving the effectiveness of non-credit, lifelong learning programs than is typically produced using predominantly quantitative research design grounded in positivist imperatives. The study included research in student satisfaction regarding their interactions with program staff during registration; their satisfaction with the college's instructional facilities; and their satisfaction with instructional content and delivery.

As Sork (1981), Miller (1990), and Sims (1993) have indicated, little prior research exists on the relevance of the service provided to students in the areas of registration, facilities, and overall communication between administrators as well as students' participation in lifelong learning programs. …

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