If you’re considering returning to school, you might be surprised to learn it’s not like it used to be. It’s better.

Even if you attended university after high school, returning as an (older) adult learner has a whole new set of benefits.

The motivation to return to school is as individual and unique as the learner themselves. Whether you’re motivated to advance your career, gain knowledge for a new phase of your life, put your life experience to the test, or grow personally through the discoveries of new concepts, theories and connections, learning as an adult can offer something not experienced in your younger years.

And while returning to school can be daunting, encompassing worries such as balancing family, school and career, and learning new technologies, the pros far outweigh any potential drawbacks.

Five reasons adult learners have the advantage:

1) New passion

In their book Life Launch – A Passionate Guide to the Rest of Your Life, Pamela McLean and Frederic Hudson explore the new and different chapters of life. And what a new chapter a return to school is!

Adult learners bring new purpose and motivation to learning, fuelled by passion, differing significantly from the often casual approach younger learners take to attending university. It’s that passion that drives adult learners toward their goals.

“Passion is a sense of energy for something”, McLean and Frederic write in their book. “Your passions are your internal energy source, the fire or determination you have for reaching some destination up ahead. They tell you why you are on this journey and what you want from life. They are your push and pull.”

2) Lived experience

Life experience gives you perspective that no amount of book learning can. All of a sudden, that assignment or exam doesn’t seem like such a big deal after the birth of your first child or your experience in the corporate world.

As an adult learner, you have so many more resources to draw upon. Those experiences can also help put classroom lessons into real-world context, with deeper insights that offer a richness to the course content.

3) More focus

Between family, career and school, you don’t have a whole lot of time to waste – so you don’t. Adult learners tend to be more focused and more invested in their learning, both financially and personally. And you know what they say about getting something done: give it to a busy person. With different priorities and motivations, adult learners spend less time procrastinating and more time focusing on the task at hand, and their future goals.

4) Learning differently

It’s no surprise that adults learn differently than kids. When adults choose to learn something, it’s because they see value in those things, such as advancing your career, learning a new skill or deepening your understanding of a subject. It’s your interests and ambitions that drive learning, not external motivations such as family expectations or a following a predictable life path.

There are several different theories that explore how adults learn, each providing insight into what motivates them, how to leverage their eagerness to learn relevant material, and their need to connect with experience. Adult learning instructors know how to capitalize on these differences.

5) Unexpected benefits

According to research published in the European journal Adult Education and Development, there are benefits of adult learning that go beyond what can be measured by labour market earnings and economic growth.

The study outlines how adult learning has positive outcomes and influences attitudes and behaviours that directly affect people’s well-being, showing positive correlations with health, intergenerational effects, and the reduction of poverty and crime. “It is shown that tolerance, open mindedness as well as civic engagement can be sustained and transformed by adult learning,” the article says.

Further, the research highlights several “soft” benefits, such as increased self-confidence, self-esteem and improved job satisfaction. “Specifically, the feeling of achievement has positive effects on individuals’ self-image, enhancing the psychological well-being and thereby strengthening their identity. Benefits such as higher earnings and employability as a result of participating in adult learning interventions influence well-being indirectly.”

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