Role of spirituality in adult learning contexts
Brown, Laura C.
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The purpose of this qualitative study was to understand how adult learners perceive the influence of spirituality in their learning. To address this purpose, this study examined how adult learners defined spirituality, how adults perceived the role of spirituality in their learning, and the factors that influenced spirituality in the learning of adults. Data from semi-structured interviews and artifacts were collected and analyzed using the constant comparative method. The nine female participants represented five adult learning contexts: Adult Literacy, University/Four-Year Degree Programs, Continuing Professional Education, Technical College, and Religious Education. An underlying rationale for this study was to explore if spiritual experiences had commonalities or differences across different adult education contexts. The data revealed that even in religious settings where it would be expected that a spiritual lens would frame the learning, there was no difference from those experiences that occurred in other adult education contexts. The findings of this study indicate that these adult learners perceive the self as spiritual, and they hold strong beliefs in a transcendent Other. These perceptions and beliefs impact the connections they have with others. When these spiritual perceptions, beliefs, and connections are complemented by reverent instructors, hospitable spaces, dependence on a transcendent Other, and when the adult learners use their spiritual lens to interpret the content, they perceive that spirituality has contributed to their learning. These adults describe the role of spirituality as enhancing the learning of the content, facilitating transformational learning, and revealing meaning and purpose for their lives. Three conclusions were derived from this study. First, spiritual experiences are likely to occur for adult learners who view spirituality as the essence of self. Second, spirituality is linked to learning. Third, the nature of the instructor, the nature of the classroom environment and the spiritual world view of the learner can influence spirituality in adult learning.