Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

PHD - Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

John H. Ciesluk

Second Advisor

Stephen Gould

Third Advisor

Jacy C. Ippolito


Instructors in higher education may have a limited knowledge of ways adults learn and develop. That lack of theoretical understanding may have inhibited the pedagogical practice of faculty in the undergraduate classroom. The purpose of this study was to explore how university instructors described their understanding of adult learning and development in undergraduate settings, and to identify factors that influenced the design and implementation of instructional practice as reported by undergraduate faculty. The study employed an explanatory sequential mixed methods research design. An online survey collected quantitative and qualitative data from 95 university instructors in Northeastern Massachusetts. Follow-up interviews were conducted with ten survey participants to garner additional qualitative data. Consistent with analysis procedures for phenomenological research, significant statements were extracted from surveys and interview transcripts and sorted into concept codes that were categorized and analyzed for emergent themes, resulting in six findings. These findings suggested that the majority of university instructors had minimal training in and understanding of adult learning and development theory. Instructors, however, did not identify understanding of adult learning and development theory as a requisite of effective practice. Rather, instructors were confident in their abilities to support students in learning course content and applying that content in real-world contexts. University faculty demonstrated an interest in employing instructional practices that supported students in understanding new content and concepts. Further, instructors identified experiential learning, coupled with real-world problems, as ways adults learn and develop in the undergraduate setting. Such methods were employed by faculty if they perceived themselves as effective in the implementation of those practices. Professional dialogue, critical reflection on teaching experiences, and student feedback were identified as factors that contributed to the design and implementation of lessons in the undergraduate classroom. Cultivating a professional climate of safety and trust supported adults as they fully engaged in learning experiences. Key recommendations encourage university administrators to examine professional learning structures in K-12 schools. Formalization of learning communities in higher education can support instructors in the deprivitization of practice, engagement in professional discourse, and individual and collective reflection. Investing the time and resources necessary to foster and nurture such conditions can result in institutions of higher education evolving into communities of learners.



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