Adult learning in a non-western context: The influence of culture in a Senegalese farming village

Date of Completion

January 1998


Anthropology, Cultural|Education, Adult and Continuing|Education, Educational Psychology




In Senegal, as in many other developing countries, adult education programs still have very limited effectiveness. One of the reasons for this limited effectiveness is that few studies have been conducted to explore adults' own approaches to learning. Educators generally refer to learning models that have been developed from research with Western populations living in non African different cultural contexts. There is, therefore, a need to understand adults' ways of learning in other contexts, in particular, in African contexts such as rural Senegal.^ Major Western studies on adult learning are based on the humanistic assumption that there a natural tendency for adults to learn if an appropriate environment is provided (Maslow, 1970; Rogers, 1983). From this assumption, theories have been developed on adult learners' characteristics (Cross, 1981; Knowles, 1970), on adults' life situations (Jarvis, 1987; Knox, 1980; McClusky, 1963), and the learning process and learning behaviors (Freire, 1970a; Mezirow, 1981; Tough, 1979). Although these theories help define the adult learning domain in a Western cultural context, there is a little evidence that they generalize to different cultural contexts such as Senegal.^ The study was conducted in Senegal to explore adult farmers' traditional learning practices. The general research question was to know who are the adult learners, and what, how and when do they learn? Ethnographic study was used as the instrument to conduct the study directly in a village (Hammersley, 1990) with characteristics like those of the average rural, Senegalese village. Data analysis was performed by using open and axial coding techniques.^ The study showed that the social environment, embedded in traditional culture has a strong impact on learners' characteristics and learning behaviors. Learners' characteristics are those ensuring conformity to the community's social norms. What to learn is most determined by the learner's social functions in the community. How and when to learn are among the established social norms. ^