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Part-Time Learner

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Subject: Adult education, Lifelong learning, Alexander Macdonald (Lib–Lab politician)
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Part-Time Learner

"Evening class" redirects here. For the novel, see Evening Class (novel).

Part-Time Adult Learner also Part-Time Learner (PTL) refers to a subset of non-traditional learner who pursues higher education, typically after reaching physical maturity, while living off-campus, and possessing responsibilities related to family and/or employment. Many are from a minority or disadvantaged group (disability, immigrant status, etc.).[1]

PTLs have access to numerous programs and fields of study to pursue. They can be enrolled in certificate, diploma, undergraduate (including after-degree) or graduate degrees, in credit or non-degree credit courses, all in a plethora of fields.[2] The multiplicity of characteristics reflected by PTLs makes this segment of the student population challenging to study. Caution must be practiced when defining PTLs, since there are many variations amongst them.

Distinguishing part-time learners

Caution must be practiced when defining PTLs, since there are many variations amongst them. As one researcher described, a PTL is:

"...the 29 year-old man with a wife and a new baby, who, at last perceiving that accounting is his niche, plods on over as many as eight years toward accreditation in that field... an ambitious senior school teacher who has set his mind on a school superintendency and seeks to advance his credentials. ...a member of a farmers’ union with a vision of what might be in agriculture who undertakes to grapple with economics in preparation for a leadership role... a restless 43 year-old wife and mother who gains relief from household demands through the study of ceramics or comparative literature or who takes refresher courses in nursing techniques in anticipation of her re-entry into nursing... an engineering graduate, success having placed him in managerial ranks, who is confronted with human problems for which his earlier professional training has not prepared him...a new Canadian for whom more rewarding employment or access to formal post-secondary education requires that he upgrade his skill in English as a second language."[3]

One method of separating the PTLs from the NTLs can be found by applying institutional criteria. Institutional criteria can be used to separate the NTL from the PTL however caution must be practised as criteria can vary between and within institutions. Part-Time status in Canadian Universities is dictated by the enrollment in a maximum and, occasionally minimum number of credit hours or courses. The University of British Columbia defines a part-time undergraduate student as one enrolled in less than 80% of the standard 30 credit-hour course load.[4] The University of Manitoba defines the part-time undergraduate student as an individual enrolled in less than 60% of the standard full 30 credit hour course load.[5] The Government of Canada National Student loans program defines a Part-Time Student as one who is enrolled in 20-59% of a full course load.[6]

Part-time learner population

PTL's have a long history in Higher Education. Some of the earliest universities including Takshasila and Nalanda in Asia and the medieval Universities in Europe were created by and organized for PTL’s.[7] In Canadian higher education, part-time enrollment demonstrated significant growth for the greater part of the twentieth century but has recently leveled off. The Trends Report (2007) reported that from 1976 to 1992 part-time enrollment “…grew by some 65 percent or 125,000 to a peak of 316,000 in 1992"(p. 13). Following 1992 participation of PTL's in Canadian higher education dwindled to 250,000 by 1997 and has stayed about that level since.[8]

PTL's compose a noticeable portion of Canadian Higher Education. Today there exists approximately 265,000 PTL's in Canadian Universities and University-Colleges (see University college).[8] The Trends Report in Higher Education Report (2007) purports that there are 815,000 full-time learners in Canadian Universities and University-Colleges. PTL's compose almost 25% of the entire student population within Canadian Universities and University-Colleges. Acquiring data on Part-Time Learners in Canadian Colleges would assist in providing a more accurate picture of PTL's in Canadian Higher Education. It would also be of great benefit to include statistics on PTL participation in other countries.

Challenges of part-time learning

Part-Time Learners are faced with a multitude of barriers in Higher Education that can be classified as attitudinal, institutional or situational.

An attitudinal barrier relates to the learner’s attitude toward negative experiences in the learner’s educational past which may prevent enrollment in further education.[9] Merriam, Caffarella and Baumgartner (2007) purport that some adult learners lack the confidence to pursue further education. Additionally, they may perceive higher education as reflecting the teacher-centred practises and exclusive pedagogy of their earlier schooling experiences.

Institutional barriers are policies and procedures that make attendance difficult or impossible.[9] Many universities still practise conventional admissions;[10] PTLs often hold unconventional educational biographies that can be difficult to compare and measure against traditional admissions requirements. PTLs have a variety of constraints and demands on their time and face challenges synthesizing a long term plan of action. Few PTL-oriented workshops,[11] inefficient dissemination of information regarding part-time learner programs.[12] Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) can help PTLs accelerate the completion of studies by granting credit through lifelong learning.

Situational barriers relates to an individual’s circumstances at a given time that can impede enrollment or attendance.[9] Situational challenges include financial costs,[13] scheduling conflicts and time-management. The expenses of tuition, textbooks, and evening snacks must be weighed against needs such as clothes and school supplies for children or family vacations. The scheduled classes must be able to fit within a schedule that accommodates work and family obligations. Time spent on school assignments cannot be so excessive that it detracts significantly from work and family responsibilities. Situational barriers should be considered prior to enrollment.

Motivations of part-time learners

Eduard Kindeman, father of adult education in the United States, said that the purpose of adult education is to "put meaning into the whole of life”. This holistic approach includes “wants, needs, desire, and wishes”. John Dewey said that "to find out what one is fitted to do and to secure an opportunity to do it is the key to happiness.” Exploration helps adult part-time learners the connection between education and career in their life journeys.

Further reading

  • Waniewicz, I. (1976). Demand for part-time learning in Ontario. The Ontario Educational Communications: Canada
  • Fisher, D. (1997). Learning the hard way: Part-time degree students and the University of Toronto. Toronto: University of Toronto, Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students.
  • Haughey, D., J. (1994). Towards a changing profile of the adult learner. In M. Brooke and M. Waldron (Eds.), University continuing education in Canada: Current challenges and future opportunities (pp. 124–132). Thompson Education Publishing: Toronto.
  • Schuetze, H., & Slowey, M. (Oct. – Dec., 2002). Participation and exclusion: A comparative analysis of Non-Traditional students and lifelong learners in Higher Education. Higher Education 44 (3/4), 309–327.

See also

Prior learning assessment and recognition (PLAR)


Additional citations

  • Andres, L., & Carpenter, S. (1997). Today’s higher education students: Issues of admission, retention, transfer, and attrition in relation to changing student demographics. Centre for Policy Studies in Education University of British Columbia. Retrieved October 12, 2007 from:
  • Billett, S. (1998). Ontogeny and participation in communities of practice: A socio-cognitive view of adult development. Studies in the Education of Adults, 30(1), 21. Retrieved September 15, 2008 from the Academic Search Elite database.
  • Campbell, D. (1984). The new majority: Adult Learners in the University. Edmonton: The University of Alberta Press.
  • Holt, N. (2003) Representation, Legitimation, and Autoethnography: An Autoethnographic Writing Story. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 2 (1) Retrieved September 18, 2008 from
  • Kozulin, A. (2004). Vygotsky's theory in the classroom: Introduction. European Journal of Psychology of Education - EJPE, 19(1), 3-7. Retrieved September 15, 2008 from the Academic Search Elite database.
  • Kroth, M. (2000). Life Mission and Adult Learning. Adult Education Quarterly, 50 (2). Retrieved September 18, 2008 from
  • McDonough, G. (2005). Moral maturity and autonomy: appreciating the significance of Lawrence Kolhberg's Just Community. Journal of Moral Education, 34(2), 199-213. Retrieved September 18, 2008 from the Academic Search Elite database.
  • Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R., S., & Baumgartner, L., M. (2007). Learning in adulthood” A comprehensive guide (3rd Edition). San Francisco : Jossey-Bass.
  • Rennemark, M., & Hagberg, B. (1997). Sense of coherence among the elderly in relation to their perceived life history in an Eriksonian perspective. Aging & Mental Health, 1(3), 221-229. Retrieved September 18, 2008 from the Academic Search Elite database.
  • Russell, C. (1999). Autoethnography: Journey of the Self. Experimental Ethnography. Retrieved September 18, 2008 from
  • Siegler, R., Ellis, S. (1996). Piaget on Childhood. Psychological Science, American Psychological Society, 7(4). Retrieved September 18, 2008 from the Academic Search Elite database.
  • Stydinger, N., & Dundes, L. (Spring, 2006). Over the Hill? A Nontraditional Undergraduate Student’s Uphill Battle. College Quarterly, 9(2). Retrieved September 16, 2007, from

External links

  • A guide to part-time learning in higher education in the UK
  • Alternatives to full time study
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