Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences

First Supervisor

Associate Professor Len King


This is a study of a case of adults entering tertiary study for the first time, and their mental life concerning their own self-performance, constructed across four instances. The purposes of the study were to identify some characteristics of the four participants’ covert behaviour during their learning in a course on Human Resource Development (1-IRD), to gain some insight into the conception of self-performance held by the participants and the attributions of this self-performance, to examine the approaches to learning held by each participant, and to contribute to closing the gap between adult education and educational psychology. Three consecutive three-hour learning sessions were videotaped for use with follow-up stimulated recall interviews. Four adult learners reported their interactive thoughts and feelings pertaining to self-performance in HRD. Transcripts of each of the participant's reported thoughts and feelings were prepared. Pre-performance interviews were carried out and the Attribution Style Questionnaire, which reports a person's explanatory style, and the Study Process Questionnaire, which reports a person's approach to learning, were administered. Self-report journals and field notes were also utilised. Data on participant covert behaviour were gathered and categorised according to an adaptation of an established content analysis system. Participant interactive thoughts and feelings were categorised, quantified and described. Other student covert behaviour, including causal explanations of behaviour, was analysed by qualitative means. Thoughts and feelings about self-performance ranked highly for all participants. While such thoughts and feelings were a mixture of positive and negative, quantifiably, positive thoughts and feelings did dominate. As well, thoughts and feelings about fellow students and learning the content also ranked highly amongst the myriad of thoughts and feelings reported by the participants. Qualitatively, common thoughts and feelings reported by the participants concerned group work, beliefs about learning, sell-performance and perceptions of the facilitator. Underlying covert behaviour was found to be quite individualistic with a desire for content relevance to the world of work to be one common thread. As well, all four participants reported external pressures to be an important underlying influence on performance. Post hoc, the study proposed a tentative theory that adult learners attending a tertiary course for the first time undergo two phases of cognitive and affective change during their early time in a substantial learning experience. The first phase was termed an apprehension phase wherein there is a myriad of thoughts and feelings about possible personal inadequacy. As the student gains more exposure to the learning experience, and develops a certain amount of competency, a realisation phase emerges in which confidence grows and learning accelerates. This two-phase process was compared with two other pieces of research that deal with a similar phenomenon suggesting an idea for future research. Implications for facilitators of adult learning as a result of the findings were also presented.