What Is An Adult Learner?

The adult learner (or mature student) is someone who is working (full-time), has a family, and really wants to study again. This can be because he or she wants to get a better job, change careers, or feels more knowledge helps them in their current job. 

In short: we are talking about a person who has many financial and social responsibilities but who is also willing to invest in themselves to create a better future. 


What Are Adult Learner Characteristics 

Now that we have a clear picture of an adult learner, it is time to see what makes them so special. Besides being brave enough to take on a new role in life, there are characteristics that really set them apart from traditional students.

The positive characteristics that set adult learners apart from traditional learners are clear perspective on life, self-motivation, life experience, and responsibility. Negative characteristics are: being less open-minded to learning new things, and a low self-image when it comes to studying. 

word cloud what is an adult learner

Sure, age is something different. Where a traditional learner is between 0 and 25 years young, the adult learner usually is over 25 years. 

But the biggest difference I think lies in the way the adult learners view themselves and their learning. 

Perspective on Life

As a full-time working person with a family, the adult learner doesn’t have time to waste. He wants to go through the study materials and move forward. 

They are people who are really goal-oriented. How is that in your approach to learning? Do you also focus on the outcome of your studies?

An adult learner wants to get that degree to pursue a new career or get a better job in their company. Adult learners often are very practical. They don’t need to be four years in school to study something. They are in there for the result. 

For example, they are not there to learn about statistics in general. They like to learn how to apply statistics in order to become more efficient in work or understand processes better.

High Self Motivation

Another trait of adult learners is that they don’t need that much motivation. They know why they are doing this training or get this degree. 

They are leaving something very valuable on the table in order to study. They are using their family time to study. This means you probably not waste their time 🙂

Traditional or younger students often don’t have the responsibilities mature students have. The adult learners have to earn money and take care of their homes. Younger students hopefully have someone to do that for them.

Less Open-Minded

Because of all the experience adult learners have, they do have some negative traits. They can be less open-minded. This makes it harder for them to take in new information. This is probably due to accumulated knowledge in them. This makes them think more about the consequences and the impact of what they learn. 

Feeling Insecure About Studying

A final negative trait is that they may have an unrealistic feeling of their memory. 

From the thousands of talks I’ve had with adult learners, this is a really big problem. Questions like: “Can I follow along with the group? This is a very big problem for many adult learners. It is one that you should really be clear about towards yourself. 

You got admitted to your (dream) school. This means other people believe you are a good fit.

Now in your head, make sure you listen to that voice! Stop listening to the insecure little child that is also there. This child doesn’t know about the world!!! Stop feeding it the wrong information. 

Strong sense of responsibility

Another positive characteristic that most adult learners have is they are really self-guided. They don’t need that much assistance. As working professionals, they know how to solve problems. They take responsibility. That helps them in their self-study as well. 

Life Experience

And the final important characteristic is that they have a lot of experience. You don’t need to tell them how things work. They know that from their work or other life experiences. 

So there you have it, important characteristics adult learners have which are usually not that strong in traditional learners. 


The Returning Learner, Why Do They Do It?

Adult learners often have very clear, yet varying reasons to get back to school. 

The most important reasons adults return to school are deepening knowledge about their work, career improvement, career change, or simply finish a study they once started but had to quit because of circumstances.

Some people will start studying to become better at their work. They need additional knowledge. 

Another reason could be that in order to advance their careers, people go back to school. Perhaps they need some sort of management training to grow in the company they work. 

The third reason is something I often see as well. People want to change careers. For example, they started out as a factory worker. Over time they felt their interest in computers and programming became stronger. That is why they want to start studying coding or mathematics to find a new job/career.

And the fourth reason is one I really like. There are many people who wanted to study when they were younger, but their circumstances did not allow this. So they had to go to work. 

Now is the time for them to finish their degree or finally start studying what they always wanted to study. 

There you go, many people have different ideas about studying. The most important aspect is… they take control over their future by going back to school. They put in the hard work and they improve their lives. 

Why Is Andragogy An Important Word?

Andragogy… did you ever hear about this before?

The word andragogy is derived from two Greek words. Andr (meaning MAN) and agogos (meaning LEADER). So andragogy literally means Leading Man. Andragogy focuses on methods and principles for helping adults study. 

The concept of andragogy was developed first by German educator Alexander Kapp in 1833. It was later popularized by Malcolm Knowles. 

You probably heard about pedagogy, which is the science that focuses on teaching children.  

The field of andragogy focuses on methods and principles for helping adults study. 

As you may understand, there is a big difference between adult students and traditional students. I wrote more about that just above this section. 

What’s next for you, the adult learner?

There are many reasons people go back to school again. I am sure you have yours. 

The most important thing you should do is this:

Stop questioning yourself! The moment you got into your school, you can be certain you can get your degree. 

There will be all sorts of problems along the way. Remember: you are an adult learner. You bring the best of both worlds when it comes to studying. You have a clear goal, prior knowledge, and you are self-guided. Just imagine you were this way when you were in high school! 

I often thought about this and how it would have changed my life, having this focus and knowledge…  I would have had so much more (personal) time. My grades would have been better as well.

If you haven’t done so… take that leap and get studying.

Remember, I am always here with guidance, tips, and tactics. And I am here to encourage you. I know you can do this. Let’s do this together!

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