University of Worcester Worcester Research and Publications

Experiences of mature women students on a vocational foundation degree: how do they engage in heutagogy?

Carr, Sarah (2021) Experiences of mature women students on a vocational foundation degree: how do they engage in heutagogy? PhD thesis, University of Worcester.

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A significant proportion of students in higher education are mature women returning to study after a break from formal education. They often have family and work commitments, and their learning experiences and support needs can be very different to those of students entering higher education straight from school. However, there is a lack of visibility about how such students engage with learning as part of their complex lives. This research sought to shine a light on this under-researched group of students.
This research formed a study of one cohort of mature women students on a vocational foundation degree course offered by NCT (formerly National Childbirth Trust) with University of Worcester. Using a sequential multiphase design as part of a qualitative approach to mixed-methods, data were collected using online surveys and semi-structured interviews over two years. Quantitative data was analysed using Excel and provided descriptive statistics to offer context and snapshots of the participants’ attitudes and approaches to learning. Interview transcripts were analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis to develop understanding of how participants made sense of their lived experiences on their journeys as learners studying and then moving into practice. The qualitative data and analysis constitute the main focus of the study.
A critical engagement with the literature was carried out, exploring studies that had relevance because they focussed on participants with similar characteristics to those in the present study, or participants with similar roles, or participants on courses that were similar. Theories of adult learning were explored and heutagogy was highlighted as having relevance for learners in the 21st century digital age; it formed part of the conceptual framework for the study. This theory of adult learning combines various elements including collaboration with communities of practice, self-efficacy and self-determination, motivation, nonlinear learning, use of the internet and reflective practice. As most participants were student mothers, and their mothering roles shaped their learning, the research used a matricentric feminist phenomenology to tell their stories and explore their experiences.
The findings paint a picture of how students built on their previous learning experiences, how they approached learning as critically reflective learners taking responsibility for their independent study, and how their life situations and their studies interrelated in ways that were different for other groups of students, particularly school leavers and mature men. The unpredictability of their lives as student mothers could make studying particularly difficult; support from like-minded peers who understood the challenges they faced in combining their roles and responsibilities was crucial. Taking steps to increase awareness of these challenges for other people involved – families and partners in the domestic sphere, and course providers and tutors in the academic sphere, for instance - could help facilitate better experiences of learning for similar students.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information:

A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the University’s requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, University of Worcester, 2021.

Uncontrolled Discrete Keywords: Self-determined learning, Heutagogy, Mature women students, Student mothers, Adult learners, Higher Education, Lifeload, Matricentric feminism, Phenomenological Analysis (IPA)
Divisions: College of Arts, Humanities and Education > School of Education
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Depositing User: Janet Davidson
Date Deposited: 10 May 2022 07:56
Last Modified: 10 May 2022 07:56

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