Motivations for older adults' participation in distance education: A study at the National Open University of Taiwan

Open Access
Liang, Jr-Shiuan
Graduate Program:
Adult Education
Doctor of Education
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
December 14, 2005
Committee Members:
  • Derek C Mulenga, Committee Chair
  • Gary Kuhne, Committee Member
  • Edgar Paul Yoder, Committee Member
  • Rayne Audrey Sperling, Committee Member
  • Learning motivation
  • Older adult learning
  • Distance education learning environment
The present study investigated the factor structure of motivation constructs as expressed by older adult learners and examined how these constructs correlated with older adults' socio-demographic characteristics, perceptions of the distance education learning environment, and student satisfaction. Furthermore, the study explored the relative contributions of each factor to student satisfaction. Given the exploratory and descriptive purposes of this study, a cross-sectional survey research design was chosen for implementation. The population under study was older adults aged 55 and above registered as students at the National Open University of Taiwan (NOUT) in the Spring Semester 2005. Older adults affiliated with one of the identified six regional study centers (Taipei, Taipei [2], Taichung, Tainan, Kaohsiung, and Hualien study center) were targeted as potential participants in this study. Motivation, as reflected in personal goals, was operationalized as the reason for older adult learners¡¦ participation in distance education. Motivation was measured using the Reasons for Participation Scale (Steele, 1984). The perceived learning environment at NOUT was measured using a modified Distance Education Learning Environment Survey (Walker, 2003b). The survey was distributed to a sample of 990 older students; 371 completed it (Mean age = 61). Study results revealed four major motivation constructs that attracted older adults to NOUT, namely, keeping up and fulfillment, intellectual stimulation, escape and social contact, and adjustment. Several similarities and differences exist between this study and past research. First, the motivations for older adults¡¦ participation in educational programs may be interpersonal and intrapersonal, expressive and instrumental in nature. Second, in discovering the primary motivation¡Xintellectual stimulation, this study confirmed the literature (Boshier & Riddle, 1978; Bynum & Seaman, 1993; Furst & Steele, 1986; Kim & Merriam, 2004; Lamb & Brady, 2005; Scala, 1996; Swindell, 2002; Swindell & Vassella, 1999) that cognitive-related motivation is the strongest reason for older adults¡¦ participation in educational activities. Third, it is also noteworthy that the social interaction component of a program may not be as appealing to older adults who choose distance learning over the face-to-face learning environment. Furthermore, the absence of degree-seeking motivation add further support to the belief that expressive reasons may be more important than instrumental reasons for learning in later life. The overall findings confirmed the assumption that the motivational dispositions an individual adopts are very sensitive to context and are influenced by how the individual perceives the environment (Ames, 1992; Ford, 1992). The learning environment at NOUT was perceived in terms of instructor support, student interaction and collaboration, and personal relevance. The factor of personal relevance appeared to be the most important predictor in explaining all four motivation constructs, and was the strongest predictor in explaining student satisfaction, followed by the factor of instructor support. It is the perceived distance education learning environment, rather than motivation dispositions and socio-demographic characteristics, which are a more powerful predictor of learning outcome. In other words, when older adult learners perceived a supportive climate within their learning environment and were able to relate the subject matter of the class to their personal lives, they tended to be more satisfied with the distance education provided by NOUT. A brief discussion of implications and suggestions for future research are provided.