The Challenges Facing Adult Learners Returning to Education

by | Sep 25, 2023 | 0 comments

Making the decision to return to education as a “mature student” (which is what we call adult learners in Ireland) is a big one. If you have made that decision, signed up to your course or program or even started already, can I say a huge congratulations to you for making this investment in yourself.

Adult learners returning to education are faced with some unique challenges, but it is not all doom and gloom.

I don’t think it will come as a surprise to you that probably the single biggest challenge facing adult learners is the availability of your time. If you attended college or further education in your late teens and twenties most of your time was for yourself. While I am aware this is a generalisation and an assumption but for most young adults their key responsibilities might be a part time job.

For adult learners this may not be the case. While this again may be generalisation, but many adult learners may have full or part time jobs as well as caring responsibilities, be that of young kids or elderly relatives. Now throwing studying, exams and assignments into the mix can feel overwhelming.

However this does not have to be the case.

One of the keys to success is planning. At the start of every month, plan for the month ahead. Included in this plan should be:

  • Work responsibilities and commitments
  • Relationships commitments
  • Family responsibilities and commitments
  • Social commitments
  • Education commitments such as classes, assignments, group work, exams, and study time.

The purpose of this plan should be to get a bird’s eye view of the month ahead.

Then move onto your weekly plan. At the start of each week, again prepare a high-level plan of what your week looks like. Where can you assign some study into the plan for the week ahead. If this is only 25 minutes here and there, that is ok. It is what you do with the 25 minutes that counts.

For example, if you have an assignment due in a few weeks, make a list of the journals you want to read. In each 25 minute study period, set yourself the goal of reading the journal and writing some notes or reflections. This is only one example, but the key is to studying smart not hard.  Consider what challenges you face this week and how can you overcome these challenges.

For each day, set out your daily plan. Consider, what learning goals you want to achieve in the day. That might be as simple as “I want to understand research carried out by XXX in a particular journal”. By setting the simple learning goal you are much more likely to hold yourself to account and achieve that goal. If you don’t achieve the particular goal you have set yourself for a study, be kind and compassionate towards yourself.

If you need support with planning, check out my reflective study journal here

As your time available will be challenge, it will be important to put boundaries in place. If you are spread too thin, this will have an impact on your mental health and well-being. In the words of Jane Fonda “No, is a complete sentence”. If you are asked to do something or go somewhere, it is ok to say NO!

Always ask yourself the following question..

If you are saying yes to this, what are you saying no to? More often than not, you are saying no to yourself.

While the time available to you might be challenge, as an adult learner you are bringing your life experience to the table. I often think back to when I attended third level in my late teens and early twenties. I did not have the life experience or confidence. This in turn impacted my ability to critically assess or evaluate a task or a problem or whatever was required of me. I would have spent a lot of time thinking about what the right answer should be! I imagine as an adult if I went back now and did the same degree, I have a totally different view of the world. That would only work in my favour.

If you are an adult learner and you are looking for some support, check out my other blog posts or else email me at and we can have a free 30 minute chemistry call to see how I can support you.