Why and how to consider studying as an adult

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There are many reasons why people consider furthering their studies as adults. Some did not have the opportunity to pursue tertiary education straight out of high school. Others may not have felt the urge to study at that point. For many people, the impetus comes from a changing working world and the desire to keep their skills up-to-date to pursue career growth opportunities, to up-skill before returning to work after a break, or to challenge themselves and learn something new.

What to consider before studying as an adult

Atelisha Harilal, Head of Student Recruitment and Marketing at JSE-listed higher education provider, STADIO, says before embarking on adult studies it’s important to understand your reason for doing so, which includes what you hope to achieve (career advancement, fulfilment, a change in career, etc.). 

“You also need to assess the availability of resources, including finances and your time,” she says. 

“Then you can think about where you want to study that will offer you the best experience that suits your lifestyle and needs. Making the time to study as an adult is challenging, especially if you’re already working and / or have family commitments. It can be a challenge to find the time and energy to dedicate to studies, so the support you receive from an institution becomes critical to your success.”

This is especially true for adult learners who are particularly attracted to the flexibility that distance learning offers.

“As an adult learner, the rigors and demands of a contact learning programme, which often include a set timetable for your day and most of your time spent on campus, may not suit the current demands of your day,” says Harilal. “We don’t all have the option of taking off two years to study a full-time post-graduate course. Distance learning is something that can build around your own day that’s asynchronous, so you’re not tied down to any period and it doesn’t matter the times you’re available this week are not the same ones you’re available next week. You can build your education into your life, as opposed to building your life around your education. There’s also no need to spend time and money commuting to campus.”

Ensure access to support

While many institutions promote their virtual learning platforms, Harilal says it’s important to understand what support is available in navigating these platforms as many adult learners have never had to grapple with a virtual learning environment before. “Back in the day, correspondence learning meant you got a box of learning materials and assignments with self-addressed envelopes and you would do the work and submit the assignments without ever really interacting with a human being,” she says. “The learning environment has changed completely since then and there’s no need for students to feel isolated or alone. There needs to be a sense of connection and encounters with academic experts, support staff and peers, who can guide you and support you through the experience.”

Harilal refers to a “learning community”. “A good educational experience should be a world-expanding experience where your knowledge of the world around you grows not only because of the subject material, but also because of the other people you encounter in your journey that help to broaden your horizons.”

It’s also important to have support from other key people in your life, including your employer or family members. Having an honest conversation about your plans and the support you will need is a good starting point in accessing it.

Prioritise your development

Harilal says that employees often make the mistake of leaving their career development path to their line managers, instead of proactively taking control of it themselves. “A proactive approach is important and is far more likely to take you where you want to go than waiting for your manager to suggest that you study,” she says. “Have those key conversations with your manager or HR to express that you want to learn more, that you’re open to mentorship, coaching and further study. Explain how you want to develop yourself and make suggestions in terms of the studies you want to pursue. This is not only more likely to garner support (in terms of time and even financial resources), but it also ensures you’re taken notice of when succession plans are made; when people look at who can be developed for leadership.”

Companies are mandated to invest in employee training and development, and they can benefit from employees’ enhanced skills, so Harilal advises having the conversation early on to garner maximum support.

For more information on STADIO’s range of distance learning programmes, visit the STADIO website.