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What does it mean to be an adult learner?

Published Bernice on Thursday, April 22, 2021

Adult classes in Malta

Returning to education is not an easy decision for anyone, however, a necessityn or most.

Since the 1970s the notion of lifelong learning remains steadfast within our professional lives. Gaining momentum during the 1990s, higher and further education became accessible to mature students (+21 years) wishing to re-engage with education across a variety of professional disciplines (Bentley, 1998). The idea that education was available for “everyone wherever they are, however old they are” reinforced equality of education (Green, 2002). Whilst this brought opportunities for those in need of keeping abreast with the progressing knowledge economy, the necessity to increase exiting levels of learning and skills has become a conventional response to economic uncertainty, societal pressures of digitisation and globalisation. As a result has meant we will all have to consider at some point, the notion of becoming an adult learner in light of remaining employable.

“The capacity to learn is a gift; The ability to learn is a skill; The willingness to learn is a choice” - (Herbert, n.d.)

During the past thirty years, there has been a considerable amount of research documenting the lived experience of the mature student. Not only has this changed the demographics of students attending higher education, but it also means institutions have attempted to respond to the diverse needs of mature students. In the UK alone, in 2019/20, 37% of all undergraduate and 50% of all postgraduate entrants were mature students (House of Commons, 2021).

Research suggests that the lived experience of a mature student is different when compared to a younger student. Mature students are more likely to choose part-time courses, reflecting the need to juggle external responsibilities such as families and employment. More recently, we have seen an increase in female entrants, mature students amongst Black, Asian and mixed backgrounds. Indicating an increase in accessibility amongst marginalised cohorts. Whilst this is progress and we champion the strides taken towards minimising the existing gap of equality, there is however much more to be done.

Despite mature student demographics, the retention rate for mature students remains higher when compared to younger student drop-out rates. Furthermore, mature students are less likely to graduate with a first or upper second class degree, than their younger counterparts.
Indicating those mature students potentially find it difficult to stabilise the “work-life balance”, in this case, the “work-life-education balance”. Therefore, institutions can and must strive towards listening to the needs of mature students, whilst offering an accessible suite of applicable support services. Their lived experience of education is influenced by the role in which their chosen course plays within their lives. Education is both time and task orientated, therefore demands students full engagement, application of knowledge, skills and competencies. Having said this, mature students themselves must be informed of the demands and responsibility for their learning, before embarking on a course. At Avanza, we listen to our students. In doing so we offer a vista of student support services, specifically tailored to support the learning and educational needs of our students. The intention is to ensure we provide an optimal learning experience for our mature students to advance in their personal and professional lives.



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