The role of formal and informal adult learning in the adaptation processes of Mexican immigrants
Ashcraft, Nikki Leigh
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The purpose of this study was to understand the role of formal and informal adult learning in the sociocultural, economic, and political adaptation of Mexican immigrants in the state of Georgia. The research questions focused on the formal adult education and informal learning activities the immigrants have participated in since coming to the United States, the ways these learning experiences have contributed to their adaptation, and the aspects of the teaching/learning transaction which have supported their adaptation processes. Because adaptation is a long-term process, the life history method was employed. The sample consisted of five Mexican immigrants who had been in the U.S. from 5 to 25 years. Three life story interviews were conducted with each immigrant. The immigrants’ participation in adult education programs was observed. Some of the immigrants shared artifacts from their lives. Data were analyzed using two methods. First, the holistic-content method was used to construct a life history for each participant and to track themes related to the individual’s sociocultural, economic, and political adaptation. Then, the categorical-content method was employed to look across the five immigrants’ histories and to identify common themes. Data analysis revealed that the immigrants had engaged in a wide range of learning activities in the United States. These activities were learning the English language, attending GED classes, developing job-skills, acquiring business knowledge, learning to drive, preparing for the citizenship interview, and purchasing a home. These experiences contributed to the immigrants’ adaptation by developing their survival skills, enabling their participation in the labor force, increasing their physical mobility, and enhancing stability in their lives. Aspects of the teaching/learning transaction contributed both directly and indirectly to the immigrants’ adaptation processes. These aspects were American teachers who acted as helpers, course content, level appropriate instruction, instructional quality, student input into the learning process, student/student relationships, and the teacher/student relationship. The Continual Decision Adult Learning Participation Model was introduced. Two conclusions were derived from this study. First, the contribution of formal and informal learning to the adaptation processes of Mexican immigrants varies along sociocultural, economic, and political dimensions. Second, deterrents and motivators internal to the learning experience influence continued participation in learning activities.