Research Design
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This study represents an innovative research approach using interpretive qualitative methods and theoretically guided analysis.  Our research is based on in-depth interviews that allow respondents to describe their experiences in their own words.  A research design using qualitative methods is one of discovery rather than the confirmation of existing knowledge and is therefore well suited to our task.  Although we did not begin our research with hypotheses to be tested, our research was based on the following principles regarding adult education: 

Adult learners make educational decisions based on personal and social-historical values; thus, a contextual analysis that focuses on individual perspectives is imperative.

Adult learners incorporate their knowledge and experience of local economic conditions into individual educational decision-making strategies; an understanding of the local economy is thus necessary.

Adult learners and adult education providers frequently view and value educational experiences differently; it is therefore important to recognize the validity of these multiple perspectives on adult education.

The perspectives of adult learners are central to this study and the research design using qualitative methods emphasizes this centrality.  Fingeret (1989) points out “the traditional literacy education model places skills at the center and implies a hierarchical relationship between educators (who know the skills) and students (who ‘need’ to learn the skills)” (p. 5).  While such a perspective is common, it fails to acknowledge the important role adult learners play as rational consumers of adult education and literacy programs.

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Last modified: April 16, 2000