Date of Award

Fall 2019

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Educational Studies

First Advisor

Christopher Bogiages


The purpose of this qualitative investigation was to examine, through the process of action research and design of practitioner inquiry, the experiences of students and teachers in an adult learning program in order to better understand the problem of adult learner perseverance. The program is located in a rural community in the Southeastern United States and serves adults ages seventeen and older who do not have a high school diploma. Often, these specific adult learners are saddled with barriers that prevent their success in our program, and adult educators face challenges themselves to find ways to support learner perseverance. The research questions that guided this study were: (1) What barriers have our students faced in their previous learning experiences, what challenges do they feel they are currently facing, and how have they possibly overcome those obstacles in our program? (2) Why are certain adult students more persistent and successful in our program than others?

The participants were four recent graduates of the adult learning program, four currently enrolled adult education students, and four adult learning instructors who attended or taught classes in one setting. Foundational theories of adult learning from Malcolm Knowles and Paulo Freire were used to analyze qualitative data collected primarily through semi-structured interviews. Three cycles of inquiry produced findings in the areas of motivation, engagement, and relationships. Student and teacher perspectives revealed important supports for adult learner persistence that can impact future practice as well as other adult learning programs with similar contexts.