International quantitative research on adult education usually focuses on the level of participation in various forms of education and its determinants (socio-economic status, age or attitudes etc.) The qualitative approach is dominated by the analysis of individual adult educational paths as an example of mapping educational or professional careers. In the presentation we investigate how orientations towards education among adults, the meanings they have personally given to their educational activity (in terms of the process of learning, motivations to learn, sense of agency), depends on early educational experiences.
Our analyses were conducted on the data from the qualitative research among adult learners who participated in informal education. It was carried out by The Educational Research Institute in 2021 using the in-depth interview method.
We do not treat the stories as objectified knowledge about the world and educational paths. More important are the ways and mechanisms people use to reconstruct the past. This is why we used the map as a tool to analyze the trajectories of the respondents and to organize the research material. We assume that one’s biography is essential for the process and quality of adult learning. We focus on the previous educational experiences of the respondents in terms of educational successes and failures. We want to find out to what extent they are significant for the educational trajectory of the respondents and are reflected in the current educational processes. We treat educational successes and failures not only as the achievement of the level of institutionalized cultural capital (the level of education) but also as difficulties in learning and relations with teachers and peers, frequent absences from school, lack of promotion, education interruptions and breaks etc. The key factor here, however, is not only experiencing failure or success, but specific reactions, patterns of action and coping with them, as well as support received from significant others. These experiences of the respondents have become important for us because it is the school that is the place of formal learning practices. Earlier experiences shape educational motivation, orientation towards rewards, build patterns of behavior and strategies for coping with success and failures. Finding oneself in the field of education- specific reactions to educational successes and failures depend on the family cultural capital, in particular embodied cultural capital and habitus .
The meanings that adult learners give to learning are different depending on those experiences. They vary from an instrumental approach related to economic efficiency, through learning treated as a sense of continuity in building the meaning of one’s own life, to learning as a second chance. Particularly in the biographies of people who have experienced social advancement, we can notice concentration on compensating for biographically experienced cognitive deficits. We can also notice differences in the course of learning depending on previous educational experiences and coping with failures, support or lack of support from significant others.