Undertaking a formal learning programme can be significant for any learner, irrespective of age. For mature learners, challenges and successes can however be more acute, as they bring with them a range of experiences and aspirations. Acknowledging this inherent complexity, there are continued calls to ensure that the learning experience for such learners in Ireland remains meaningful, authentic, and reflective of their life stage. Admittedly most projects tend to focus on those in higher education, rather than exploring the experiences of older students in further education, and even then such work does not necessarily account for the inherent diversity in the 'mature' learner group. Older mature learners, often considered as those over 40, represent around two fifths of all learners in FE in Ireland. This study endeavored to capture the experiences of this particular group as they undertook their learning journeys through further education, so as to better understand their needs, aspirations, and motivations. Six participants, aged over 50, in an Irish further education college, participated in a phenomenological arts-based project, where they created ‘identity boxes’ that told the story of their re-engagement. The boxes then formed the central stimulus for in-depth interviews. Three distinct themes emerged. Resilience, in the face of past and present challenges, was key to their re-engagement. A sense of belonging and the supports that underpinned their experience was also evident, as was a clear sense of renewal, as they developed a reconstructed learner-self, bolstered by feelings of success, determination, and a focus on future paths.
Conor Mellon, National College of Ireland, Ireland
Karen Ryan, National College of Ireland, Ireland
Anna Barr, National College of Ireland, Ireland
Meera Oke, National College of Ireland, Ireland
Natasha O’Donnell, National College of Ireland, Ireland