Trends: Accommodating the Adult Student’s Schedule

My grandfather worked for the same company for over 30 years. After five years, he was promoted to a supervisor. His skill set plateaued for the remainder of his career. It wasn’t until after he retired that they implemented computers into the company. Ironically, it wasn’t until after then that he and my grandmother purchased their first computer and enrolled in class to learn to use it.

My father has had many jobs from helicopter pilot to security guard to government employee. With each change, there was some level of educational requirement. He admitted that heading back to school was not easy, especially when he was often the only older student in the class and the education was limited to night classes at the community college.

A 2011 article from The Atlantic describes the changes taking place in the higher education demographics. Citing statistics from The National Center for Education Statistics, the findings revealed that, at the time, there were 17.6 million undergrads enrolled in higher education (in the US). Based on that number:

  • 15% were enrolled in four-year programs
  • 43% were enrolled in two-year programs
  • 37% were enrolled part time
  • 32% worked full time
  • 38% are over the age of 25

The changing landscape in the workforce, technology and the economy set the stage for education requirements. Changes in these factors create new trends in adult education. One key change is the increase in certificate or diploma programs. Programs that are shorter and accommodate busy schedules of the adult student.

Attending school at an older age can be difficult with time restraints, family and career responsibilities. Education facilities that are trending towards making learning more accessible to the adult student are spearheading the change in the education as we know it.

New Insights: The Generation Gap in the Classroom

I attended pastry school later in life. Being 25 at the time, there were only one or two students older than myself. But since I had more life experience than the younger 75% of my class, I lumped myself in with the “older” students. I’m familiar with what it’s like to be an older student in the classroom.

In the year that I have been teaching, I’ve experienced classrooms full of many generations with varying degrees and varying degrees of life experience. Teaching so many different age groups, I find, can be challenging. There are days that I’m stepping far outside the lines of my definition of teacher.

I teach pastry which is a trade that involves a lot of hands on learning, yet there is also a fair amount of theory to teach. It’s hard to trouble shoot a fallen soufflé if you don’t understand the science behind the ingredients and baking reactions. In the hands-on portion, there is a lot of multi tasking, time management and time constraints – all of this equals a lot of pressure.

Although I don’t believe in the categorization of the cohorts, I do recognize patterns. The younger students prefer to work in teams, are tech savvy, and are focused on grades; however, they can often struggle with timing, problem solving and communicating (face to face). The older students see successes in the latter areas that the younger students struggled with, but struggle with technology and testing.

With all students, I find myself doing a lot of coaching, guiding and comforting.

In an article I came across “Teaching Strategies for Adult Learners,” Doherty recommends some teaching strategies for adult learners. His strategies are summarized by

  • Respecting the adult learners’ experience
  • Being supportive
  • Accepting and addressing technology gaps
  • Respecting the adult learners’ time
  • Thinking outside the box

The recommendation I take from the article is to include personal growth in the final grade. I think this can help with students of all ages to focus on the positive aspects of their learning experience.