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Bridging the divide : scaffolding the learning experiences of the mature age student
Over the coming decade, increasing numbers of mature age learners are likely to be enrolling in higher education programs in Australia. To meet imminent higher education reform targets, the Australian federal government proposes “that by 2020, 40 per cent of 25 to 34 year-olds will have attained at least a bachelor-level qualification” (Gillard, 2009, p. 3). Mature age learners will inevitably constitute a significant portion of the anticipated enrolments, and for many, the decision to undertake formal study may be somewhat of a paradox as they come to terms with the tensions that arise when they straddle the ‘divide’ between old and new ways of knowing about themselves as learners. This ‘divide’ can be conceptualised as “living at the intersection of multiple worlds and multiple ways of knowing” (Alsup, 2006, p. 15), or similarly, as existing within a “liminal space” (Meyer & Land, 2005), a “not-so-sure” (p. 5) place of meaning-making in which personal transformation can occur. The borderland (Alsup, 2006; Gee, 2005) is an apt description for this territory in which the conceptualisation of new knowledge and subsequent new personal status can problematise the learning journey for the mature age learner. This can be particularly manifest in the learning experiences of the mature age learner who accesses university via an enabling program. For some, this decision marks the end of a long hiatus from formal study, and encountering the protocols, assessment regimes and other discourses of the university context can give rise to significant personal tension. However, as this paper will demonstrate, when enabling programs adopt particular pedagogical strategies that philosophically and theoretically link learning, teaching and high quality student outcomes, the learning experiences of the mature age learner can be enriching. One pedagogical approach that has demonstrated significant effect in supporting the educational journey of mature age learners is the Vygotskian (1978) concept of scaffolding, whereby learners are provided with support structures that fade away as the learner becomes more independent and self-directed (Dabbagh, 2003). This extends to encompassing emotional scaffolding (Rosiek, 2003). When scaffolding techniques underpin the pedagogical practices of educators in enabling programs, and the prior learning experiences of mature age learners are acknowledged and built upon, there is real potential for high quality learning and teaching outcomes.