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P is for Participation


The Adult Learning Hub is delighted to highlight the work of this week's guest contributor, Dr. David Erickson. He a retired Counselling Psychologist, now residing on Vancouver Island in Canada, with over 40 years of clinical practice. He has worked in the areas of inpatient psychiatry, community mental health, university counselling, developmental disability, and pediatric and adolescent rehabilitation. He worked as a psychologist at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada (1982-2007) and then onto a private consulting practice (2007-2014). 

His doctoral dissertation examined participation in adult learning with particular emphasis on parent education. He shares with us, in this edition, the factors that influence how and why adults choose different forms of educational experiences. With the current pandemic and the explosion of online learning, he is keen to further examine the impact this has had on attitudes and behavior of those learning remotely.

Several years ago, as a psychology graduate student in Canada, I was questioning what factors influenced adults taking up a course of study in later life. Why was it that some individuals are continual lifelong learners? Why do another group of individuals rarely become involved or show little interest? Why do others begin in a process of learning and then drop out?

To proceed in my research, I studied eight individuals who were all at various stages of involvement in adult education from actively involved to not involved in any form of parent education. In reflecting back, I think that what I discovered was applicable to almost any form of adult education, in any given context, especially in today's society, with the rise of learning online and remote education.

To provide a theoretical focus for my research, I examined the Cross Chain of Response Model (COR) (Cross, 1981). She believed that participation in an activity begins primarily with the individual and moves to increasingly external conditions but can also flow in either direction. 

In my opinion, her model remains highly relevant today in providing clues as to what exactly contributes to (or inhibits) participation...

1. Confidence

Individually, she posited that those who are achievement oriented or who have a confidence in their abilities are more likely to put themselves in the test of a new learning situation than those who lack confidence. 

In the COR model, self-evaluation is the lead into participation and where the process begins. Any learner will benefit from encouragement and experiences that contribute to their sense of well-being.

2. Attitudes and prior experience

Attitudes towards education influence participation based on prior experience in learning situations such as in formal situations at school, especially if competition was emphasized. The attitudes of groups of which the individual is a member also influence the extent to which education is held as a value. The more positive the group is towards learning, the more likely the individual will not only participate but continue in the process.

3. Goals

Goal orientation is an important aspect of participation. To what extent does the individual have goals and to what extent do they see education as helping them move to meeting these goals. The more important the goal is perceived by the individual, the more likely they will involve themselves in learning. However, if the goal is not seen as particularly important or the likelihood of success is in doubt, motivation would decrease accordingly. Helping the adult learner articulate their goals is seen as important.

4. Life transitions

This plays a particularly an important part in seeking out education. It presents the individual with a period of change calling for a new adjustment. For example, the best time to teach a couple about child development may be when they are expecting their first child. In the same manner, when an individual loses his job, it presents as an opportunity to learn new skills to increase their employability. I think about the current world climate and a number of individuals who are in career transitions and seeking out learning opportunities as a result.

5. Barriers and opportunities

Barriers and opportunities need to be examined. If an individual gets to this point and is highly motivated, it is likely that they will be motivated to seek out special opportunities and overcome modest barriers. When I ran parent education classes, providing childcare was especially important in encouraging participation. Often parents would arrange transportation together which was also very useful. However, in 2021, as more families continue to spend more time at home together, the role of intergenerational learning plays an even bigger part in balancing parenting responsibilities and children's education. 


With my company The Behavior Toolbox, we're focused on building the existing strengths of families. It's our belief that families are trying to do the best they can but don't always have the information or supports they need. 

We developed our software to empower families and professionals. It contains practical strategies to deal with a wide variety of child and family concerns. Our main database of over 7000 strategies covers more than 100 different topic areas from anxiety, depression, developing friendships, managing anger, dealing with natural disasters, and refugee adjustment. The software is meant to be easy to use and requires little, if any, instruction. 

Throughout my career, and being a parent myself, I understand how overwhelming it can be with needing to sift through countless parenting strategies online, especially in the age of social media. This alone can prevent parents from feeling empowered. I've aimed to reduce the amount of information they have to go through to present advice they can trust.

A description of Dr. Erickson's software is at https://www.behaviortoolbox.com. It is being used worldwide in a variety of settings in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, and South America while his iOS apps are even more widely distributed. You can also contact him  here on LinkedIn if you are interested in getting in touch further.


Cross, K. P. (1981) Adults as Learners. Increasing participation and facilitating learning (1992 edn.), San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

The Adult Learning Hub is an app-based membership community, for adult educators & practitioners. We partner with numerous experts and organisations to promote adult learning around the world. If you'd like to contribute a blog article or share your expertise, please get in touch with us here and we will contact you within 48 hours.

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