Situational barriers to learning

Updated February 21, 2017

For children, barriers to learning are many: physical problems with vision and hearing, various learning disorders, emotional and social issues, behavioural problems and communication issues. However, discussions about situational barriers to learning usually centre on adult education, which is voluntary and where issues of participation and non-participation can be considered. For adults, situational barriers to learning pertain to the person's particular situation: responsibilities to home or job, lack of financial ability to cover costs and lack of time to attend classes.

Home/Job Responsibilities

Most adult learners are young to middle-aged and already employed. Many are married with children. As such, one of the major barriers to participating in educational programs is time/energy commitments to childcare, home or a job. Work responsibilities can eat into time needed for either traditional (classroom) or distance education. Taking care of a sick child can easily cut into time needed for study.

Costs of Education

Lack of sufficient money to cover educational costs constitutes another major barrier to participation. While student loans are available and not difficult to access, many adults are reluctant to take on additional debt. Distance education can be much more affordable financially but still beyond the ability of some to pay. Those students who believe the education will improve career advancement and future pay are the most likely to both participate in education and take on debt.

Time Management

Whether the education is traditional or online, good time management is essential for adult students. Time for classes and studying must be carved out of an already busy schedule for most adults. Scheduling for classes, webinars, faculty phone calls and reading/writing requires juggling work and family commitments. Lack of time for education is one of the barriers to learning cited by many adults when surveyed about participation in learning programs.

Computer Training

While most students now have access to computers and hardware/software training to become technologically-proficient, lack of specific computer training remains an issue for prospective adult learners. Getting on the Internet is one thing; performing all the sophisticated tasks involved in distance education may be another. Particular training in software used in distance education programs is necessary for a comfort level of use for many adult students. Many educational institutions provide additional training in their proprietary software through online tutorials for new students.

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About the Author

Patricia Neill began writing professionally in 2000, spending most of her career as managing editor of “Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly.” Neill published political satire at and other libertarian websites. She also has an essay in “National Identification Systems: Essays in Opposition." Neill holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Nazareth College of Rochester.