Top Strategies and Benefits of Adult Learning
By Ashford University Staff
We often think of learning only as it applies to school children and college students. School provides the knowledge, skills, and experience kids need to prepare for their careers and join the "real world." Once you've settled into adulthood and entered the workforce, the opportunity to focus on learning is long past – right?
Not even close. The truth is, adults (seniors included) stand to gain a lot by continuing to learn throughout their lives. Cultivating a dedication to lifelong learning is more than a fun and engaging way to occupy your time as you get older. Adult education provides tangible opportunities to improve your career, your quality of life, and even your health.
The Benefits of Adult Learning
It's easy to identify the obvious benefits of continuing education (like increased knowledge) but many working adults are motivated more by concrete results and practical advantages. For adults looking to make a career shift later in life, additional education and ongoing training can help you qualify for the job you've always wanted. In other cases, added credentials or technical skills can open advancement opportunities in a person's existing company or industry.
Even outside of formal adult education settings, learning has the ability to confer invaluable intangibles, like improved confidence, discipline, and motivation. Whether applied toward your current work, the job market, or your personal relationships and passions, these intangibles can enhance your ability to achieve your goals – plus, they never depreciate. In this sense, adult learning is one of the best investments you can make.
Adult Learning and Health
Learning for the sake of your career or personal life are certainly strong motivators. Still, the benefits don't stop there. Research suggests there are health advantages that come along with adult learning, particularly for older individuals. Practicing new skills and activities, especially those that require a high amount of mental engagement, has been shown to improve memory in seniors. Researchers speculate that by keeping your brain sharp in your later years, you may be able to delay "cognitive aging” (declines in mental acuity), and dependence upon others that are often associated with the twilight of life.
Strategies for Lifelong Learning
Ask people what the words "learning" and "education" bring to mind, and most will describe a physical environment, like a classroom or college campus. Because most children experience school in a classroom and traditional brick-and-mortar colleges provide a physical space for learning, it makes sense that these settings will come to mind first -- but lugging a bag full of books to lecture isn't the only way to learn.
In fact, there are three distinct forms of learning defined by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which are considered especially effective when used in combination with each other: informal learning, non-formal learning, and formal learning. Each of these forms of learning corresponds to a specific approach to education.
Informal Learning & Experiential Education
Knowledge and information are all around us. You don't need a textbook or concrete data set in order to learn. Opportunities for adult learning are available each day you're alive, and they can come in many forms. Experiential education teaches students how to learn directly from life – the people you meet, the places you encounter, and the actual situations you deal with on a daily basis.
Life circumstances that challenge or open your mind are excellent opportunities for experiential learning. Take travel, for example. Encountering new people and cultures can be both intellectually stimulating and emotionally rewarding. Exploring your world can open the door to new interests, passions, or hobbies, and then motivate you to learn new skills to support them. The person you strike up a conversation with at the train station could lead your life in an entirely new direction with a simple idea or piece of advice.
Experiential education is a kind of learning you can do any day, at any age. The next time you leave home to start your day, remember that you're not just stepping out into the world -- you're actually entering a classroom.
Non-Formal Learning & Practical Education
When it comes to keeping your mind in shape, think of your brain as a muscle. Like any muscle, your brain requires regular training and exercise to stay in peak condition. Practical education includes adult learning activities that are meant to challenge your mind, test your acuity, and expand your knowledge outside of a formal educational setting.
Brain teasers, word and number puzzles, and trivia games are all included in this category. Practical education also encompasses self-directed learning on topics that interest you, or skills you want to acquire. This can include simple Google searches, YouTube how-to videos, extensive study at the library, and active experimentation with different creative techniques. Problem-based learning and networking or social groups that focus on specific areas of interest also fit under practical education. Even your book club can count.
Practical education is about getting your hands dirty. While experiential education is more passive, practical education actively expands specific realms of your intellect, such as math, language, or subject-matter understanding. Just like each rep at the gym builds on the strength you already have, practical education requires practice to build on itself and pump up your brain. By incorporating practical educational strategies into your daily life, you can build a more muscular, agile mind that's finely tuned to your specific passions.
Formal Learning & Education
Formal education includes both online courses and more traditional forms of learning that most people have been exposed to at some point during their life. In fact, experiential and practical education tend to take a back seat to formal education from the first day of kindergarten to the day you receive your high school diploma. Formal education provides standardized, systematic, and intentional instruction from qualified teachers to help students reach specific learning objectives.
Brick-and-mortar colleges are considered formal educational environments, and today, online schools and universities have advanced to join their ranks. The evolution of digital learning means that nontraditional students, including working adults and seniors, now have access to more formal education than ever before.
The flexibility of online classes make it possible to sharpen your skills and mind in a formal educational setting when and where it works for you. Adult learners can work toward and achieve a specific educational or professional goal without adhering to the strict schedule and location requirements of a campus-based program – whether it's finally earning your college degree or taking your career to the next level with a certificate program or Master's degree.
You're Never Too Old to Learn
Many adults mistakenly assume that after a certain point, they're too old or too busy to continue pursuing formal education -- even if they recognize the personal and professional benefits of going back to school. The truth is, there are a growing number of adult education programs specifically designed to cater to students and working adults. Many community colleges offer adult learning programs, and reputable online college degree programs have made it convenient for lifelong learners to experience a robust, formal education.
Whatever your personal or professional goals are, making a commitment to lifelong learning is a key ingredient for your success. Explore the world around you by using the strategies outlined above, and discover how easy adult learning can be. The more you learn, the more you'll notice the benefits – in your job, your relationships, and even your health. With so much to gain, it’s time you put your curiosity to work. Learn more about continuing your education today.
Written by Ashford University staff