This empirical research improves understanding of mature learner experiences and provides an appreciation of the effect that full or part time programme delivery has on this cohort in Irish institutes of technology (IoTs).
Many mature learners at IoTs in recent years returned to full time education for vocational reasons through government supported programmes, reflecting higher education institutions sensitivity to market needs (Zhao, 2010). IoTs are stronger than universities in terms of part-time flexible provision and also have a larger proportion of mature and disadvantaged entrants (HEA, 2014; Slowey, 2010). The ways in which external and internal barrier can effect transition to higher education (Yau & Cheng, 2013; Moro-Efido & Panades, 2010) are considered. Dewey (1938) argues that education can only achieve its end through individual experiences; therefore understanding and creating positive student experiences (Thomas, 2010) are paramount.
A phenomenological approach was adopted for this mixed methods enquiry. Quantitative data were gathered from the mature learner population (n=8,944) of five IoTs. Stratified random sampling was used to select one full and one part time participant for interview from each institute; interpretative phenomenological analysis was used to develop the key themes of their narratives.
The findings indicated that mature learners who were returning to education due to unemployment attended on a full time basis while those returning for personal development and career advancement attended part-time. Financial issues were of greatest concern for full time learners whereas time pressure were of greatest concern for part time learners. Full time students were seven times more likely to report having a very negative experience. Part time students were more likely to feel excluded from the wider community at their IoT, while full time students were more likely to feel excluded within their own class.