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Five Biggest Misconceptions about Adult Students

Five Biggest Misconceptions about Adult Students
As increasing numbers of adult students enroll in higher education, it is important for administrators to acknowledge and deconstruct the misconceptions they may have about this student population.

Higher education administrators seem to have a number of misconceptions about adult students in their programs. As a non-traditional adult student, I have experienced treatment based on these misconceptions by both the administration and professors, which make me think the misconceptions start at the administrative level.

The common denominator across these misconceptions is administrators do not have enough confidence in non-traditional, adult students. They also do not give these students enough credit for how much they can bring over from successfully navigating life in both the personal and professional sectors that would translate into them working as amazing students. If they continue to fail to recognize that life is often harder than education, they will never recognize the full potential adult students bring to their institutions. It is so important to know one has students who will push the class’s boundaries as well as their own.

The following are what I believe to be the five most significant misconceptions higher education institutions have about non-traditional, adult students.

1. Cannot Adapt or Ask for Help

The first misconception is adult students’ willingness and ability to learn and adapt, as well as their ability to get help when needed. When addressing this problem, we must first look at what non-traditional adults have been doing before they re-enter college. In the working world, adults are required to ask for help from their trainers or direct managers when they are unsure of something. In the same way, they apply this willingness to ask for help to their education.

2. Must Learn How to Learn

There are few adults who need any special teaching in their courses. The only difference would be for adults in online or distance education. They may have to learn how to efficiently and effectively use a computer as well as the Internet. But this extra help may not be necessary in other types of courses. Adult students don’t need special teaching techniques to teach them how to learn.

3. Cannot Learn in Different Ways

Another way administrators see adult students as a potential problem is by assuming they are set in their ways. This makes it difficult to accept that they can deal with all of the new information they will receive in their college courses as well as the amount of change they will have to make in their personal, educational and work lives. Most non-traditional adult students have decades of experience in just that. Many of them have families, friends and work obligations, if not more. Life for them is a constant juggling match where the rules are always changing. Ask any parents if they are set in their ways and they will immediately say no.

4. Too Intimidated to Participate

The fourth misconception is that adults will be too intimidated to challenge conventional thoughts and ideas in a higher education setting. Many administrators and professors are accustomed to dealing with students just out of high school. When adult students come into the classroom, they have a lot of life experience to question what they are taught and whether or not it is the best or most realistic idea. They already know many theories they are taught may not be practical or useful in the real world. Adults use their life experiences to put the ideas and thoughts they are exposed to in class to the test. This type of questioning enriches the educational experience of everyone in the class, including the professor.

5. Cannot Learn in a Self-Directed Manner

The final misconception administrators have about adult students is their ability to carry out self-directed learning. In fact, adults have self-directed learning capabilities, as they practice this form of learning in their everyday lives. Any new parent or someone who has just switched to a new job would be able to say that.

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