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Older Adults Offer Promising Outlook for Online Education

Updated on July 24, 2013
drmiddlebrook profile image

Dr. Middlebrook, former university professor, is a fiction/non-fiction author (pen name Beax Rivers), and virtual writing coach and trainer.

What's Age Got to Do with It?

Oh yeah, it's got just what you need. A way to earn a respectable degree at home, on your own turf. Why, you can come home from work, kick back and put your feet up, or put in a load of laundry and get dinner on, and you can still get to class without a breaking a sweat. You can even go to class wearing that hot little number you like to sleep in and no one will mind at all. In fact, most will encourage it. After all, the providers of online/distance education aim to please and will do all they can to to satisfy you, because what they really want is for you to go all the way with them—without leaving the comforts of home.

It’s going to college via online/distance education, and it’s getting older, better, and hotter every day, with age. And if the predictions are correct about older segments of our nation’s population, the country may be poised for even more growth in college enrollment from them. What this means for providers of distance education is many more reasons to reach out to a population that now represents, according to the U. S. Department of Education, only four percent of the 17 million students enrolled in degree-granting colleges and universities nationwide. And what it means to older Americans is that they have more avenues than ever for the pursuit of education, training, or lifelong learning opportunities.

Youth Lovers May Have to Court Older Prospects

The expected shortage of new workers age 16 - 24 in the U. S. by the year 2020, could cause a need to replace them with older adults. And that means there may be a great need for further education and training of adults who may desire new careers or advancement at existing jobs.Even though, in the academic world, policies and practices still favor “traditional age” students, age 18-21, who are financially dependent, our government’s Occupational Outlook Handbook projects that the youth labor force (workers age 16-24) is decreasing from 13.6 percent in 2010, to 11.2 percent in 2020. With this being the case, it is likely that many educational institutions will need to reach out to older adults to reach desired enrollment targets.

It also means adult students (those older than age 24) will likely continue to be an attractive and fast growing segment in American higher education for many years to come. Many of these adults will be seeking distance education providers as alternatives to traditional schools due to the demands on their time related to work and/or family, or to the needs of a more mobile and more physically active retirement-age population.

It’s More Than Size That Matters

Other important facts reported in the Occupational Outlooks Handbook included that over 60 percent of the U.S. population between the ages of 25 and 64, in 2004, had no post-secondary education credentials. That, along with the fact that demographic shifts are expected to worsen the gap between qualifications and job demands, explains why there is an expected shortage of 9 million qualified workers in our country by 2014. Adult learners over the age of 24 currently comprise about 44 percent of U.S. post-secondary students, but the facts show that many millions more need post-secondary credentials to compete for jobs and achieve personal financial stability.

Some researchers are predicting that these significant large-scale demographic changes are likely to affect the workplace for many years to come. The changes, along with the increasing tech “readiness” of the population, is providing a basis for predictions of continued growth among many of these population segments for enrollment in online/distance learning. Some of the changes which could exert impact on the continued attractiveness of online/distance education to adult students include:

  1. Women, minorities, and new immigrants are being viewed as a potential “pool” of replacements for younger workers. This could mean employers and prospective employers may have to invest in training, retraining, and education for workers in these groups. Some of the older workers will already have degrees and advanced degrees, while others may want to attend college for the first time.
  2. Older adults desiring credit for what they know. Opportunities exist for companies qualified to evaluate/assess the value of prior learning and other career-related services older adults may need prior to moving into higher education, or to entering or re-entering the workforce. These prospects will expect employers to be concerned about creating avenues of access, both formal and informal, to educational and informational channels designed for career and personal growth. This could lead to more employers initiating relationships with providers of distance education.
  3. The need to “personalize” work and life transitions. No one gets a manual about how to age gracefully, resourcefully, or successfully. Therefore, life-planning tools and resources must be in place to educate aging segments of the adult population about issues related to aging and managing life transitions. Distance learning techniques and technology allow easy "customizability" and may offer the ideal “fit” for a variety of different learning needs and styles.
  4. Lifelong Learning. Some will be seeking learning simply for the sake of learning, along with those wanting to satisfy self-centered concerns for career and personal satisfaction. Rewards other than those related to work and/or pay include: Learning as a way to have something to do, and using education/learning as opportunity to meet new people and connect with others.

A Trend with Stamina and Endurance

For many years to come, these demographic and work force changes are expected to open new markets for non-traditional education and non-traditional modes of delivery of educational services. As this occurs, the job market should see an increase in competition for older workers. In addition, employers are expected to seek methods of training and retraining the workers they already have in order to maintain costs while keeping a competitive advantage. Again, distance education offers them a potentially effective and cost efficient way to accomplish this objective. Whether they're being courted by employers or online/distance education providers, for many older Americans, it will be nice to feel desirable and wanted, once again.

You may also want to read the following articles by this author:

Need Training or Skills Development to Get Promoted or Change Jobs?

Is Online or Distance Education Right for You?

Three Major Concerns Cited by Students of Distance Learning

Are Online/Distance Education Schools Destroying Quality Education in America?

© 2012 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD


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    • drmiddlebrook profile image

      Sallie B Middlebrook PhD 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      Thanks Kelly. I think most "on ground" schools now have good online components, so I believe the future holds great possibilities for completely online schools. There was a time, recently, when going to school online had such a "stigma" attached to it that many wouldn't even consider it. Now that brick-and-mortar schools offer online courses and even degree programs, people are having to change how they view it. Now, I think competition will drive up the quality of offerings online.