Myths About Adult Learners

As you know, Dr. Patti and I are adult learners. We support projects that encourage anyone to gain new knowledge and ideas and contribute new solutions to new problems. We spent many years in the workforce before returning to school.

Chasing A Dream

For many years, Dr. Patti and I held on to our dream to get a doctorate. Sometimes I wonder how we held on for so long. For me, it was a challenge I wanted to pursue. Maybe it was the ultimate intellectual exercise, maybe I wanted to understand research, maybe I wanted to learn how to be a good writer.

We had no idea if we would achieve our dream. We just knew we had to go back to school to make it happen…

Myth As A Negative Tool

Recently I read an article about the myths of adult learners. I never heard of these myths before now. But myths evolve from random and unproved beliefs. They are like rumors that just keep hanging on.

Myths are generally negative and can be a tool to keep people boxed in. For example, some myths about adult learners are:

  • “I have to quit my job to go back to school.”
  • “I can’t afford to go to school.” 
  • “I’m too old to go back to school. I’m too old to learn.”

This last myth is very popular — I hear this one from people working in the same job for 20 years, and think they’ve lost their ability to learn anything new.

Here’s another myth: Adult students are nontraditional students. But according to the National Center for Educational Statistics nontraditional students are the exception and not the rule. About 50% of all undergraduate students are nontraditional. This makes sense if you think about the number of veterans returning to school.

Advocates for Nontraditionals

You can see the negative messages in all these myths. They can be a tool or an excuse for not doing something you might really want to do.  Another article advocated for changing the educational system to support more nontraditionals.

These nontraditional qualities are determined by demographics: More adults have jobs, families, and are part time students. The myth that only 18 to 24 year-old students are in college is outdated. Slapping a nontraditional label on adult students is a disservice. College administrators, faculty and students think of nontraditionals as being a step behind younger students.

Reframe and Rename

The article suggested that four-year and ivy league institutions re-frame their services to attract more nontraditionals. Ideas include flexible scheduling (more evening classes), student services (career transitioning), and developmental education (student challenges in college and beyond).

The problem remains with the institutions themselves, not the students. According to the article, many nontraditional learners are in the pipeline for underfunded community colleges, or expensive for-profit schools.

Maybe nontraditionals should be renamed contemporary learners or leading-edge learners.

Umbrella on Hand

Of course, learning is a personal choice. I suggest that you follow your heart. Life is too short to listen to myths that focus on what can’t be done.

Avoid nay sayers and people who want to rain on your parade. Keep your umbrella on hand!

Learning is not limited to age or intellect. Sometimes it really does come from the heart. Only you will know what’s best for you. At least give yourself a chance and do something for yourself.

There is no question that you’ll have to make sacrifices and set new priorities when you return to school. But if you want an education, just do it.

The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.
~~~Gustave Flaubert~~~


Dr. Bessie


Author: Dr. Bessie DiDomenica

Food Policy Researcher • Public Policy Wonk • Sustainability Advocate • Academic Writer • Public Speaker • Teacher • Social Entrepreneur • Associate Editor

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