This action research study investigates the outcomes and barriers to persistence for adult learners in a medical assisting program at a private Catholic college in central Iowa. The research compares the impact of a work-based learning track and a traditional learning track to understand how the differences in the learning track support adult learners' andragogical preferences, reduce barriers, and helps students graduate, persist, and pass their licensure exam.A review of the existing scholarly, theoretical, and empirical research suggests several optimal ways to deliver adult education and many alternative learning models designed to support adult learners’ unique needs and life experiences. Andragogical principles help explain the differences between adult learners versus children and their preferences and priorities that shape their orientation toward learning. These principles, combined with the experiential learning theory, offer theoretical support for developing alternative learning paths such as work-based learning. Utilizing a mixed-method action research design, 51 current students, graduates, and stop-outs provided feedback through a survey, and four individuals from the same respondent group engaged in a virtual interview. Students in the work-based learning track reported feeling better prepared for their licensure exam, had a more positive overall experience, and found the program less challenging compared to their counterparts in the traditional pathway. Additionally, institutional data was evaluated and adults in the work-based learning track had higher rates of persistence, graduation, and licensure pass rates. The study illuminates that combining education with on-the-job training in the form of work-based learning has significant benefits for adult learners when compared to a traditional learning track that dominates much of modern academia. The research findings highlight the importance of embracing andragogical principles when designing adult education specifically, their intrinsic motivation and orientation to learning. This is a strength of a work-based learning model as students can reinforce classroom learning with hands-on training, facilitating the cycle of learning through concrete experiences and active experimentation. The medical assisting work-based learning track also alleviates common challenges to student persistence, such as tuition costs, by involving employers in financing students' education in exchange for a work commitment post-graduation.
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