Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Adult, Career and Higher Education

Major Professor

Dr. William Young, Ed.D.

Committee Member

Dr. Rosemary Closson, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Dr. Edward Fletcher, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Dr. Jeffrey Kromrey, Ph.D.


adult learners, motivation, continuing learning, self-directed learning


Houle conducted one of the first studies about adult learner participation. In 1961, Houle wrote The Inquiring Mind, which describes three distinct learning types: goal-oriented, activity-oriented, and learning-oriented learning. For more than fifty years, The Inquiring Mind has been read, referenced, and reviewed. Several scholars during the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s have added dimensions to Houle’s typology including: Sheffield (1964); Burgess (1971); Boshier (1971); Houle (1983); Gordon (1993); and Brockett and Donaghy (2011). What is missing in the current research is that no one has synthesized all of the literature and directly asked learners of today if the typology is still relevant, or if additional dimensions are needed for relevancy.

Houle’s typology has been widely applied to various adult learners and not just non-credit adult learners. This study was conducted to explore if Houle’s typology could be applied to credit seeking adult learners in contemporary doctoral programs.

The participants were doctoral students in the College of Education at a large urban research university. Results of this study concluded that participants were representative of Houle’s three learner types (goal-oriented learner, activity-oriented learner, and learner-oriented learner). However, these doctoral students did not seem to require as many social interactions as Houle’s non-degree students.

Additional findings indicated that participants were role models, had a desire to contribute to society, gained self-confidence, sought self-fulfillment, and used acting as a role model to their children as a motivator.

Seven themes found through this research were goal-oriented learning, activity-oriented learning, learner-oriented learning, role modeling, contributing to society, self-confidence, and self-fulfillment. All the themes seemed to be very prevalent among participants except for activity-oriented learning.

One implication of this research is the importance of incorporating motivations into program planning to help adult participation in both credit and non-credit programs. Further research might be conducted with multiple universities and with participants seeking advanced degrees in varied disciplines.