There is one thing I see in the many adults I work with who go back to school. That is that they are so driven to succeed in their studies.
That is no wonder. They take precious time from work and their family life and invest that in a study that may take 4 years to complete.
The question I often hear is: how can I become better at learning? How do I use my study time more efficiently? And can I even do this studying at my age?
These are important questions. They need our immediate attention.
Is Age A Disadvantage When Studying?
Age doesn’t have to be a disadvantage to study. You can be just as good of a student at age 50 as you are when you were 18. In fact... your age, knowledge, habits, and ambition may be a huge advantage when studying as an adult.
It is true that our brain performance (link) peaks at about age 22. Decline sets in at age 27. Mental decline may even start at age 30! Luckily, this is not in everyone as fast. Most mental decline starts between ages 50 and 70.
Does this mean that your age is a disadvantage for studying?
In fact, imagine the benefits you have. You have so much knowledge already. Your motivation is probably a lot higher because you have a clear goal. Plus, you have the resources to take deliberate action.
Personally, I think this all makes clear that studying at age 40 or older is no limiting factor in getting a degree. You will be so much more focused in your studies. Sure, time can be a limiting factor. But again, you have focus. This means in less time, you can do more.
But… in case you don’t feel confident enough, here are 6 ways to improve your learning.
6 ways to improve learning for adults
Here are 6 ways to help you study smarter as an adult. You don’t have to use all of them. Pick one that suits you most, and use that. Experiment and see what happens. Report back to me and we can tweak what helps you the most.
The 6 ways to make learning more effective for adult learners:
- Connect new study material To Current Knowledge To Improve Learning
- Apply What You Learned In Your Work To Study Smarter
- Use Your Goal To Stay Motivated When Learning
- Use Your Habits To Improve Your Learning
- Learn To Let Go Of Preconceived Opinions!
- Don’t Be Afraid To Make Mistakes Or Even Fail
Let's dive into each one of them.
1. Connect new study material to current knowledge to improve learning
You have a vast amount of knowledge that you accumulated over the last decades. This is a wonderful place to start learning new things.
Make sure you connect new information from your books and lectures to what you already know. Unconsciously this is something you do already. Do it as deliberately as possible. It makes understanding and memorizing so much easier.
For example, go back to your memory, work experience, and other events that happened in your life when you learn something new. How does this new information relate to past knowledge? Find the connection and you will memorize and understand the information faster and easier.
2. Apply what you learned in your work to study smarter
When you learn something new, there is a good chance you can apply what you just learned in your work. This way, you make it easier to see what the results are of what you study. You also get some practice with the new information.
Being able to do this is a big advantage over traditional or young students. They probably do not have this opportunity.
3. Use your goal to stay motivated when learning
You know why you are studying. Make sure you connect what you learn, to your goal, and to your why.
Do you find it difficult to get started studying? Or do you have trouble finishing the last 4 pages of your daily studies? Go back to your source of motivation. This will help you to finish your studying for that day.
It will also help you to continue doing this for perhaps even a couple of years.
It will also help you during those difficult moments when you are studying late at night. Or when you can not be with your family because you have an essay to write… Draw motivation and strength from your WHY and your GOAL.
By the way, this is a great plus you have over young students. They may not have a clear WHY (other than "this sounds nice to study"). You study with a distinct reason.
4. Use your habits to improve your learning
When you have an honest look at your life, you will see that most of the things you do, are done out of habits.
The way you get out of bed, go to work, do work.. they are all made easier because you master your habits. (or perhaps your habits lead you there...)
This is something we can use. When you learn how to create a few new and simple habits, you will be studying like crazy!
A few habits to try could be:
Really think about your habits and how you benefit from them. They can be terrible enemies, but they often turn out to be the best partners in studying!
5. Learn to let go of preconceived opinions!
You probably have many opinions on many (many) topics. That is great, but in learning new things… they have a crucial role. You have to be able to let go of what you believe right now, and you must be able to change.
This means you have to let go of preconceived opinions. These will hold you back in learning smarter.
Whenever you find a topic difficult to understand, figure out if this has to do with your opinion. Do you for instance have a strong bias against the topic? Have you had experiences in the past that are now blocking you in learning about this?
If so, you have a wonderful opportunity to grow! Do some self-reflection. When possible say goodbye to that opinion. And even better, form a new opinion that is supporting you in studying.
Instead of saying "I am old and I have a bad memory", you start a more fruitful opinion saying "I have knowledge and drive that will help me master my studies faster".
6. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes or even fail
When you get older, mistakes may feel even more uncomfortable. Perhaps you should remember that learning to walk was done by many times falling. Speaking a new language is done by practicing and failing (and learning new things).
Every time you fail, you have an opportunity to learn.
That is why I often ask my children: What mistakes did you make at school today? Most of the time they proudly tell me they did not make any mistakes. That leads me to softly say “oh, that is too bad. That could have been a good learning moment.”.
Often they are happy for not making mistakes.
I dare you to make more mistakes (advice not just for my children, but especially for you the reader!). Mistakes bring out a learning situation. Benefit from that!
Fail forward, and enjoy how you grow!
How I improve learning on a daily basis in my own life
So these are 6 things adult learners can use to become better at learning.
The way I use these ideas is simple. I study daily. In fact, this is what I do at the beginning of my day. Then, I use the information I studied in my writing, when creating training, or when coaching people.
I use what I studied. I implement. I write about it. I share it with other people.
And that is how I get better, not only in studying but also in expanding my knowledge.
Conclusions on: how Can adults improve learning
Like I said before, you don’t need to implement many changes at the same time to improve your learning. In fact, I would recommend you don't.
What I do recommend is that you get started with one of the ways to improve learning as an adult. The first one I would start with is updating my habits.
By creating a study habit, you make it easier to start studying and to continue. Study as early as possible. This way you are done with it. You may even have studied before other people in your home wake up!
My question for you is simple: What will you change to improve your learning?
I look forward to hearing from you!