This paper is based primarily on a suite of completed research in Australia into informal learning by older men in community contexts. Based on extensive survey and interviews, this suite forms part of the first prong of a proposed, new international comparative study of older men's(defined as over 45 years) informal learning across countries and cultures. The research into older men's lifelong learning was originally motivated by knowledge of the relatively low proportion of older men involved in adult and community education (ACE) settings in Australia. It was widely believed that older men were not interested and therefore not involved in learning. A number of research projects since 2002 in rural and remote Australian communities sought to look beyond what are conventionally regarded as education providers and closely examine whether and what learning takes place informally by older men who participate in community-based organisations. The research began with studies of men's learning in volunteer rural fire brigades, football and senior citizens clubs, land care as well as adult and community education providers. It led to as study of the learning role and function of rural fire brigades and emergency service organisations in small and remote towns across Australia. The research has most recently focussed on informal learning through men's sheds in community contexts. These workshops specifically for older men have recently sprung up and proliferated across much of southern Australia. What has emerged from the research is a picture of older men with a strong desire to socialise and learn, particularly with other men, in productive, informal contexts, wherever possible outside. Older men's experiences of learning as well as their lives generally have often been adversely affected over a lifetime by negative experiences of formal learning, starting with school. This paper takes what has been learnt from this suite of studies, pulls together some of the common threads, and places the findings against what is known from the wider international research literature about older men's learning. These include an examination of common motivations for older men to learn, common barriers, preferred pedagogies as well as some common valued outcomes. It seeks to determine whether what has been found from this research in Australian community contexts is similar to or different in what has been found other countries and cultural settings. Part of the paper includes consideration of issues associated with men's identities as they age as well as gender issues associated with learning. It also critically examines the role and legitimacy of creating learning spaces and organisations for men and older men in particular.
Adults in Australia have tended to return relatively recently to learning in patterns that are significantly different by gender. These patterns of gender segmentation for adults are particularly noticeable in the findings of recent research by the author into adult, community and vocational learning in small and remote towns in Victoria. The issues associated with such patterns form the basis of this exploratory paper.