Higher education continues to change, particularly in terms of the student body. In the past, colleges and universities were often populated by recent high school graduates who were training for their first jobs. Today, the higher education institution includes people in just about every phase of life. No longer are people expected to stay in the same vocational field, and schools are increasingly gearing their programs and services to older learners who are interested in new fields, career changes, and simply learning about unique subjects. Of course, it can be a bumpy road for some adults, particularly if they have not been in school for quite some time. While some of these adults may be confident when it comes to professional skills, it can be an intimidating experience to step onto a college campus. With that in mind, here are a few of the major challenges that are sometimes experienced by adult learners.
The school mode
For some adult learners, it can be a hard adjustment to get back into good academic habits. There are many adults who may be used to working hard in their jobs. However, reading textbooks and writing papers requires a different approach to task completion and it can be unfamiliar to the adult learner that is out of practice. In addition, some adults may be used to working hard at the office and then coming home to a bit of relaxation. For those that decide to go back to school, evenings and weekends may now be filled with classes, research, and projects.
Relating to classmates
Another challenge faced by adult learners is relationships with fellow students. While an increasing number of adult learners are heading back to school, there are still a lot of students who are 18-22 years old. Some adults may enjoy interacting with much younger people, but other adult learners may be frustrated by young students who do not appear to take their education seriously or do not spend their class time productivity. This may be a particular problem is the adult learner is paired with unfocused students in a group project setting. In addition, it can be hard to relate to the music, style, fashion, and vernacular of traditional college students.
Interactions with teachers
Many adult learners go back to school because they want to re-train and pursue a new field. If that is the case, they may have fairly high expectations and they may assume that their educational experience is going to be valuable. The challenge that adult learners may face is that they themselves know a lot of material about life and perhaps the subject matter in the class. If they encounter a class that is more theoretical than practical, it may be frustrating for them. In addition, if the adult learner experiences a young teacher that is relatively inexperienced and does not seem to have a grasp of the material, there may be some additional dissatisfaction.
As the world continues to change, so also the technology can make a major difference in a variety of settings. Many aspects of education have embraced technology as teachers and administrators use hardware in the classroom, Internet sites for research, and social networking tools for communication. For the adult learner that is not technologically savvy, this can be a hard transition, particularly if most of the students in the class seem to be able to handle the fast-paced technology.
Despite the adjustments that are often needed, many adult learners do just fine when they go back to school. Much of adult learner success can be attributed to attitude and preparation. The adult learner that has reasonable expectations and is willing to adapt their style to the environment may do very well. For those that may have a hard time transitioning, many schools have created support structures that are specifically designed for those that are returning to school after a very long break.