How can dialogue enhance the learning experience of older adults (45+) in higher education?

Chris McAllister, Grace D. Poulter

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


The proposed presentation represents an attempt to encourage discussion of on-going research into the interface between Critical Educational Gerontology (CEG) and Academic Literacies (AL) theory and their impacts on pedagogic practice in teaching academic writing. CEG encompasses critical social gerontology and feminist, political economic and humanistic discourses, thus creating a lens through which the complex obstacles faced by older adult learners in Higher Education (HE) may be viewed. An academic literacies (AL) approach confronts these complex obstacles by making the requirements of academic writing explicit; encouraging a dialogical approach which demystifies the essay writing process. We propose that the conflict created by uncritically accepted academic assessment practices can only be resolved when this is recognised and challenged through teaching framed around ‘dialogues of participation’ emerging from the confluence of these two theories. This has been particularly productive when applied to the teaching of academic writing to older adults engaged in Tertiary Lifelong Learning (TLLL). We have found that engagement in critical dialogue gives our learners a voice; this is particularly true for those whose previous educational experience may have been discriminatory, disrupted, disadvantaged, at odds with traditional educational practice or very diverse. For this group of students the challenges of academic writing can be the root cause of their alienation and academic failure. Our findings propose that although university teachers may frame their critique of student academic writing and consequent poor achievement around what they describe as structural, linguistic or technical transgressions, they are often criticising the ways in which their students use writing to construct and frame meaning. The presentation provides an analysis of our previous and past practices and qualitative research, indicating how we arrived at our current position. Our on-going research projects focus respectively upon (1) reinterpreting adult and TLLL theory and practice in relation to older lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) learners’ experiences and (2) the learner identities constructed for older adults currently engaged in TLLL in HE.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jun 2013


  • older learners
  • critical educational gerontology
  • academic literacies
  • dialogues of participation


Dive into the research topics of 'How can dialogue enhance the learning experience of older adults (45+) in higher education?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this