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Adult learning study tips- Nine tips

Updated on November 28, 2012

If you are an older adult learner returning to school for the first time in many years, the experience can seem daunting and overwhelming. You might feel rusty about studying and a bit insecure about doing well. Here are some tips to help you succeed on your academic journey.

Know your learning style

One solution to this problem is to understand your different styles of learning. This will help you manage information, so you can best leverage your strengths and best manage your time.

Many of us are either visual, auditory, or hands- on learners. Most of us are visual to some degree and have the other learning styles in different combinations. If you are visual, you like to see diagrams and demonstrations. If you are auditory, you process information by listening and remember what you hear. Some people are hands-on: they learn by doing. Many of my trades profession students are like that. They don't like long lectures. They just prefer how to be shown the most practical aspects of a task and then get to work.

No single learning style is better than the other. We all have a blend of unique abilities and strengths. Some of us,though, might be dominant in one particular style. Some people like to learn using an organized routine. Others are quick studies: they can zero in on what is needed. In times of stress, your dominant learning style will take over.

Know yourself

Are you a are morning person or a late bird. Some people do their best work before the sunrise. Some people like burning the mid night oil. I personally did my best work on papers first thing in the morning when my mind was clear. I liked to do my reading in the evening. Do you prefer routine? Do you need to study at the same every day? Or do you just try to fit the learning in around your life?

I did lots of my reading on the subways of Toronto as I shuttled between teaching jobs. It was difficult to study at the same time each day, but I had my study days, where I could devote large blocks of time to my courses. And then there were my teaching days. It's important to set the rhythm of your studying so that it matches your life, and lifestyle, and then stick to it. In the end, there is no substitute for consistency and persistence.

More practical tips

Designate a study area in your home: You will need a space for books, papers and computer system, perhaps even a little office space or office corner. It needs to be separate and distinct and not mixed up with your laundry or your cooking. Sometimes going to the same library regularly, can be a great substitute. I had three regular places for studying: a home office, a university library, and a cafe that served great coffee.

Participate in class discussions: This is a must in an online course since the discussion forums will form a core part of your learning. If you are in a classroom course, do the reading before class and come prepared to participate in the discussions. You will get more out of your time in class if you do. Whether in class or online, allow yourself to learn from your peers as you participate. In an online course, this is particularly easy since discussions are static and archived. In classroom courses, you may be asked to do group work. Your peers will have valuable information to share with you if you're open to it.

Let your teacher know when you need help - This is hard for many students. Older adult students might especially fear looking stupid in front of others or in front of an instructor who could be the same age as them. I have been both ends of this dilemma. I have had students my age or older who are a bit embarrassed to ask for help. I also sat in a web design class once with people half my age, and were it not for the fact that the instructor was somewhat bold enough to look over my shoulder, I would have floundered. I asked him lots of questions after that.

So ask the instructor. You will establish a connection, and benefit from the dialog. If you are online, also do not be afraid to send an email query to the instructor or tutor. They are there to answer your questions, and that one moment of clarification can make a huge difference on your assignments.

Use your life and work experience - As an older learner, you have experiential knowledge from your work and life experience which can help in your assignments and your interactions with your classmates. Maybe you have had team leading experience from work. This will make you skilled at doing group work (many assignments are done in groups in college or university). I have seen older students function as great team leaders, and perform group work with professionalism and flair.

Don't underestimate or over estimate yourself - Don't let your insecurity get the better of you. It is only too easy to talk yourself out of doing an assignment or to sabotage your progress. Just keep going. Enlist the support of your family or friends. On the other hand, you may find some tasks and topics more challenging. Know your limits. Give yourself the space to digest these and accomplish what needs to be done. I could never take any part of my studies for granted and just coast, and I often had to schedule more time than I thought necessary because the learning required more close work.

Take yourself seriously

Going to school as an older adult learner definitely poses a lot of challenges. You are no doubt doing a juggling act between work and family obligations, and navigating the emotional stresses of being in a learning environment as you exercise new mental muscles. Be gentle with yourself. Know yourself, and know your learning styles. Participate, set a routine you can live with, set realistic goals and don't under or over estimate yourself. Once you learn your particular quirks and figure out what works for you, you will find your later in life learning journey to be most rewarding. And you will do well! My older students are usually the most successful in my classes.

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  • Rhonda_M profile image

    Rhonda Malomet 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

    WE all need to be reminded of these from time to time

  • forall profile image

    forall 5 years ago

    Interesting tips, not only to older adult learners. Voted up!