A study of the universities of the third age in Hong Kong : an evaluation of elder academy model for the life long learning of older people

  • Ka Fai WONG

Student thesis: PhD Thesis (Lingnan)


Education aims at the development of knowledge and skills for its own sake and pleasure. People aged over 65 years currently comprise 11% of the Hong Kong population. Such aging population in Hong Kong constitutes a challenge to our society. To be adaptive to changes in the environment, especially in aging, more emphasis is placed on “lifelong learning” than on “lifelong education” for self-fulfillment Active aging is evidently supported as a solution to the impact of aging population. Lifelong learning is an important strategy for enhancing active aging. The provision and process of lifelong learning for older people can take several forms. Of these, the best known is the University of the Third Age (U3A). However, in Hong Kong, the number of well-structured lifelong learning models is limited. Among various U3A models, the Australian model is more suitable in Hong Kong. In 2008, the Labour and Welfare Bureau and the Elderly Commission launched U3A, named as the Elder Academy (EA), with local characteristics that fit the Hong Kong context. Initially 32 EAs were established in Hong Kong. In consideration of the limited studies on the lifelong learning model for older people, the current study aims to evaluate the local EA model for lifelong learning for older people in Hong Kong.

In the first phase of the macro level of evaluation, a documentary analysis was employed to examine various U3A models and 32 EA documents. Then, the in-depth interviews were conducted to obtain stakeholder perceptions on the local EAs. A total of 14 EA stakeholders, including 2 school principals, 2 teachers, 2 social workers, 4 younger tutors, and 4 older people, were invited to share their views about the characteristics for the local EA.

Phase 1 results identified the characteristics of local EA, such as the cross-bureau, cross-sector, cross-profession, and cross-age collaborations, the seed money, and an independent management committee. Local EAs have the ability to enhance the value of a “giving culture” and the positive image of the older people. They also provided platforms to train volunteers and health promoters, as well as to develop the new other learning experiences curriculum. In addition, it was found that Confucianism has an important impact on running the local EA model.

Together with older people’s feedback, the micro level of evaluation (Phase 2) was undertaken to evaluate the effect of the proposed teaching-learning style used in the EA model. In Phase 2, a multiple method, a quasi-experimental study and in-depth interviews were conducted with participants in the “lecture and practicum” group. The quasi-experimental study evaluated the proposed teaching-learning style employed in the Health Frontier Trainers’ Program on learning performance. A convenience sample was recruited over the course of a month. Up to 40 participants formed the “lecture and practicum” group, whereas 30 participants formed the “lecture-only” group. Pre- and post-tests on the learning performance were administrated before and after the programs were applied to both groups. Assessment scores after the programs were recorded, after which their mean scores were compared. In-depth interviews were also conducted. A total of 10 participants consisting of 6 older participants and 4 younger participants from the “lecture and practicum” group were invited for interviews. Data were collected to examine the perceptions of the participants regarding the program.

A statistically significant difference between the two study groups was found only in the change in the learning performance of the older participants. The older participants in the “lecture and practicum” group experienced a greater enhancement in their learning performance than those in the “lecture-only” group, thus, the proposed teaching-learning style was confirmed to be more effective toward the learning of older people. The proposed teaching-learning style included experiential-based learning, which emphasized the experiential nature of learning and interaction in the context of reality. Moreover, several themes were identified from interview data, such as developing knowledge and skills, enhancing intergenerational learning, bridging theory and practice, and perceived difficulty in the learning topic. These themes indicated that older people preferred experiential learning to lifelong learning.

In conclusion, the characteristics of the local EA model were identified. Experiential learning was found to be better than lecture-based learning. Based on these findings, the local EA could develop a preferred lifelong learning model for older people when the local EA model with local characteristics is combined with the element of experiential learning.
Date of Award2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Department of Sociology and Social Policy
SupervisorCheung-ming Alfred CHAN (Supervisor) & Keng Mun LEE (Supervisor)

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