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“You don't have to have college knowledge to know it all”: Meaning -making in a participatory adult education project

Sherry L Russell, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The purpose of this study was to explore the meaning participants made of a two and half year long participatory action research and adult education project, the Changes Project. Participating partners in the project were five adult basic education programs including a literacy program, two ESOL programs, a workplace education program and a college transition program. Project participants researched key issues impacting their learning needs and goals, and these included: Welfare Reform, Immigration Reform and the changing workplace. Participants in this study were ten adults from four of the adult basic education programs, and four adult educators who coordinated the program-based research teams. This was a qualitative study and the primary method used for data collection was phenomenological in-depth interviews. In order to be positive, contributing members of their communities and of society, adults must be active participants in making the decisions that affect their lives. A healthy and just society, a rich plurality, is one in which all of its members are participants in its creation. Many adults enrolled in adult basic education programs, however, feel outside, on the margins, and that they are not a part of these decisions. How can educational programs that serve adults support them in becoming more active participants? How can we create educational spaces that will help people who have historically been silenced or marginalized to develop their feelings of confidence, power and ability? This study explores these questions. In addition, this dissertation explores the tensions inherent in implementing and facilitating a participatory process. What does participatory mean? What does it look like? How do you facilitate a participatory process? This study also looks at the experience of the adult educators who participated in this project, believing that we cannot talk about educational change without also looking at teacher change. The results and recommendations emerging from this study are relevant for adult educators, participatory researchers, policy makers and activists engaged in legislation and action related to Welfare Reform, Immigration Reform, the changing workplace, and adult education.

Subject Area

Adult education|Continuing education

Recommended Citation

Russell, Sherry L, "“You don't have to have college knowledge to know it all”: Meaning -making in a participatory adult education project" (2005). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3163701.