Barriers to Learning


To explore some conceptual frameworks used to identify barriers related to adult participation in learning activities and educational opportunities

3 Barriers to Adult Participation in Learning (Cross, 1981):
  1. Situational--those that arise from one’s situation or environment at a given point;
  2. Institutional--those practices and procedures that exclude or discourage adults from participating in organized learning activities; and
  3. Dispositional--those related to the attitudes and self-perceptions about one-self as a learner

Primary Sources:

Cross, K.P. (1981). Adults as learners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Cross identifies three main barriers to adult participation: situational, institutional, and dispositional. She uses a chain-of-response model to highlight how individuals respond to internal and external variables associated with participation in learning activities.

Scanlan, C. L. (1986), Deterrents to participation: An adult education dilemma. Information Series No. 308 ERIC Cleavighouse on adult, career and vocational education, Columbus, Ohio. Sponsoring Agency: Office of Educational Research and Improvement (ED), Washington, DC.
The article examines dispositional, situational, and environmental factors contributing to adult nonparticipation in organized learning using Rubenson’s Recruitment Paradigm, Cross’s Chain-of-Response Model, and Darkenwald and Merriam’s Psychosocial Interaction Model.

U.S. Department of Education. National Center for Education Statistics. (1998) Adult education participation decisions and barriers: Review of conceptual frameworks and empirical studies. Working Paper No. 98-10, by Tim Silva, Margaret Cahalan, and Natalie Lacierno-Paquet. Peter Stowe, Project Officer. Washington, D.C. retrieved January 15, 2007 from **** .
The paper provides a comprehensive review of all conceptual frameworks, models, and empirical data regarding adult participation and barriers to education.

Conceptual Frameworks to be Explored:

Chain-of-Response Model (Cross, 1981) asserts that adult participation in learning is not an isolated act but results from a complex chain of personal responses to internal and external variables that either encourage or discourage participation in learning.

The model examines how the psychological variables of self-perception (A) and attitude toward education (B) influence personal values, goals and the expectations for participation in learning activities (C). These expectations are affected by life transitions and experiential variables throughout various stages in life (D). Opportunities and barriers (E) and the availability of information (F) determine whether an individual will participate in learning activities. Although the Chain-of-Response Model captures the complex interaction between an individual and his or her environment, the model does not account for the effects of personal and social history on participation in learning activities and education.

The Interdisciplinary, Sequential-Specificity, Time-Allocation, Lifetime Model (ISSTAL) provides a more comprehensive understanding of the broader psychological, structural, and cultural contexts affecting adult participation in learning. This model attempts to incorporate all relevant variables to present an interdisciplinary understanding of adult participation in learning. The model considers external contextual variables, social background and social role variables, personality traits and intellectual capacities, attitudinal dispositions (values, attitudes, expectations, and intentions), retained information (images, beliefs, knowledge, and plan), and situational variables (immediate awareness and definition of the situation) (Smith and Theberge, 1987, p. 6).

Websites of Interest:

Barriers to Learning and Development:

Life Long Learning Barriers:

Barriers to Participation from the UK:

Addressing Barriers to Learning:
Surveys to Map What a School Has and What it Needs **
Making Your Teaching Inclusive
Tips for Making Your Teaching Inclusive (provides online videos of students discussing barriers to learning)

Statistics from Canada on Memory:

Barriers to Distance Education:

Bibliographical Data for Barriers to Learning:


Choose three articles in preparation for class on February 15, 2007. Variety is the spice of life, so consider choosing articles from different headings.

General Barriers:

Situational Barriers:

Institutional Barriers:

Dispositional Barriers: