Published on 2012/07/11

Designing Higher Education for Adults

Adult students face a distinct set of challenges when they enroll in higher education. It is the responsibility of institutions to try to make sure their adult learning programs accommodate some of those challenges. Photo by Jayneandd.

As an adult, higher education means achievement and learning to think at a higher level. It means learning to look at the bigger picture, being able to complement the knowledge you already have and grow your expertise in your field of study.

To my mind, one of the first important elements in this journey is the need for insightful instructors. These are professors who will help you understand more than just the theory of the curriculum at hand, but the reasoning behind the methods studied. They also have the expertise to foresee the trends of the industry, predicting where our industry is headed, and the guidance to prepare their students.

The institution’s capability to impart knowledge based on current methods of teaching, making use of all current and modern techniques, is also vital. These can help the student develop a better general understanding of the course and a concrete idea of the field of study. The delivery of the curriculum should be assisted with as many “on the job” scenarios as possible. This in my opinion gives the best understanding of real life experience. The formulating of material that can be used in real life scenarios can also aid and be crucial in the learning process.

As an adult program alumnus, I value my time and the time of others. Adult programs are not a traditional method or path of education, but nonetheless it is the means to an end. Moreover, it’s the way busy working people like myself can achieve a higher education. Therefore, accommodating schedules and thoughtful homework assignments need to be an area of concern for any institution offers adult programs. Thinking of the load and balance of life versus school is very important to any adult program student. Unrealistic deadlines or overloading of the student with research can be an issue, causing student burnout and possibly even dropout.

Mobility is also an important element of an adult student program. In planning your educational career it is important that all students understand the process and value of accreditation. Accreditation is the process whereby educational credits can be earned in school and used as a contribution to higher level qualification (e.g. Bachelor’s to Master’s).  Therefore, planning the “long view” is important. Be sure that both the courses and schools have similar accreditations within your selected educational pathway.

Earning any degree—even more so a Master’s degree—is an accomplishment that must be achieved with hard work and effort. However, when institutions don’t care about the needs of the student population who they are targeting for a specific program, they undermine the very essence of the adult program. The essence of an adult program, of course, should be to help anyone who is an adult with a full work load, family and particular life situations to achieve their goal of graduating.

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Readers Comments

WA Anderson 2012/07/11 at 9:09 pm

Your point on accredtiation and mobility is a very good one which I don’t think gets enough attention when we’re discussing adult higher education.

Many adults and non-traditional students rely on transfers and mobility to achieve their educational goals, and many are stymied in their attempts to move forward because of draconian rules regarding transfer credits and accreditations.

Community colleges need to establish better links with four-year institutions to ensure their students can transfer without having to repeat work, and everyone must do better to recognize achievements that are earned in a different regulatory environment.

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