How to Be a Successful Adult Learner
How to Be a Successful Adult Learner
Feb 07, 2020

The best thing about learning is that you can participate at any age. Maybe you're looking for further knowledge to help you with your current job, or you want a new degree to facilitate a career change. Even if you're attending college for the first time, you can finish with high marks and plenty of accolades.

The academic world has changed dramatically since its inception, with the addition of new technology, bigger classrooms, unique disciplines and inclusive campuses. All of these transformations can be equally exciting and overwhelming, but adjusting comes easily over time. With the right knowledge, tools and perseverance, you can be a successful adult learner.

Tips for Nontraditional College Students

Before heading back to school, you can benefit from some tips to help you in rejoining the college life — or starting for the first time. Even if you've already enrolled in classes, it's never too late to heed some advice that will make the rest of your semester successful. Here are a few ways to make the most of your college career.

Create a Dedicated Learning Space

If you've ever tried to concentrate amid chaos, you know how hard it can be to work with distractions around. Creating a space specifically for your studies is often the best way to learn. It helps you maintain your focus and finish your assignments on time. 

This area can be any part of your home — the loft, basement, spare room or even a corner of the living room. Fill it with only the materials necessary for academics, like a binder, notebooks, textbooks and writing utensils.

The key to establishing this space is setting boundaries with your family. Let them know you need alone time whenever you go to your studying room. They'll keep the noise to a minimum, and you can knock out schoolwork in peace.

Keep up With Your Syllabus

This tip is crucial for both new and seasoned learners — keep track of everything on your syllabus. Teachers hand them out for a good reason, and they assist you in organizing your entire semester. You can avoid getting caught off-guard by deadlines and exams if you arrange your calendar to fit with the syllabus. Most professors change dates around, so don't treat it as if it's set in stone unless your instructor says otherwise.

Generally, this document also lets you know what supplies to get, like textbooks or lab wear. Buy these things in advance if you can, but talk to your teacher if you need alternate purchasing options.

Follow Effective Study Tips

Studying is a big part of academics, and you'll be doing a lot of it. Researching tips and tricks will help you figure out the best learning strategies for adult learners. It's essential to tailor your note-taking methods to the way you absorb knowledge. Do you retain more information with visual aids, or does listening to recordings help notes stick in your mind? Do you work best with a study partner, or do you need solo time to learn?

Learning how to study as an older student is not much different from the way traditional learners do it. You just have to decide what techniques work best for you.

Always Ask Questions

You can never ask too many questions in the classroom. If you need clarification on project specs, due dates or classroom schedules, ask someone. Don't be afraid to inquire about something that seems obvious, because there's likely someone else who thinks the same, but couldn't find the courage to ask. Plus, it's better to be safe than sorry with your education. Knowing what the professor wants from your assignments saves you from making time-consuming errors.

Exercise Your Financial Options

Financial matters give some students pause, but you don't have to let this stop you from following your desires. Check with your employer to see if they offer tuition reimbursement. They may cover a portion — or all of — your education. Some companies provide this if your major pertains to your job field. FAFSA is also available — and there's no age limit for applications. Scholarships and grants specifically for adult learners exist, so be sure to research your options.

If you've been in or currently serve in the military, you can use your GI Bill to fund your education. Other options for service members include college fund programs and military tuition assistance.

Communicate With Classmates

Sometimes your classmates can be your saving grace. If you're unsure about assignment specs or have gaps in your notes, they can lend a hand. Many students are more than willing to help a fellow scholar, especially if they know you're still acclimating to college life. Reaching out to people in your class benefits your learning and builds social connections. You can form study groups or collaborate on team projects.

A support system makes a world of difference when earning a degree, and your classmates can be part of that circle. All of you have the added benefit of being in the same class, learning the same material, even if your situations aren't identical.

Use Technology to the Fullest

Traditional classrooms weren't big on technology, but that's rapidly changing in today's academic landscape. Learn about what kinds of tech your professors are using and how you can use it. Blackboard and Canvas are staples of learning, whether online, hybrid or face-to-face. Many campuses provide iPads, Mac desktops or Chromebooks for learners to work with, so familiarize yourself with those devices. 

Refine your knowledge of the software your professors require you to use. Microsoft Office is everyone's favorite, but depending on your major, you may have additional programs to master.

How Learning as an Adult Varies From a Traditional Student

As an older student, your college experience will be quite different from that of younger pupils. Most adult learners wear a combination of hats — parent, spouse, active community member or employee. Surprisingly, these backgrounds can enhance your learning by giving you a different perspective of course concepts. Researchers have a name for this phenomenon — andragogy.


The andragogy theory states that adults learn differently from younger people because they obtain and use their gained knowledge in different ways. Most apply it to professional settings to hone their soft or hard skills. They prefer their learning to emphasize problem-solving, experiential methods and hands-on techniques rather than memorization. Overall, adults in college want educational experiences relevant to their personal lives.

Traditional students are fresh from high school and often lack life experience and maturity in the classroom. Some may be less serious about learning because of this. However, as an adult learner, you're using your time and resources to better yourself. You want to get the best education in exchange for the effort you're giving. As a result, you may find adult education is self-directed, meaning you'll take more initiative with completing coursework and planning your schedule.

Andragogy consists of a few core concepts.


  • Self-direction: Though the professor guides your studies, you may naturally adopt a self-directed role. Doing this can include taking opportunities outside of class to extend your learning, such as visiting museums or attending workshops.
  • Motivation: When you're an adult, you can virtually do whatever you want — which, for many people, includes going back to school. Everyone's reasons will be different, but the andragogy theory cites internal motivators as a primary cause. People seek education to boost their knowledge, self-esteem, career prospects and more.
  • Learning orientation: This aspect is more about the type of knowledge you receive than your learning style. Solving hands-on, real-world problems is the best way to learn as an adult student. You aim to improve your life through education, so your coursework should be relevant outside of the classroom.
  • Experience: Your life experiences inform everything about you, from your mindset to your favorite season. The same idea fits your schoolwork, especially abstract subjects like the arts. Having a different way of interpreting situations and concepts brings a lot of value to classroom discussions.
  • Readiness: Adults in college tend to be ready and willing to tackle whatever subject comes their way. While many younger people operate on a fast-paced rewards mindset, more mature individuals are more likely to practice patience. They know the ultimate reward — a degree — will eventually come.


Distance Education

Options for distance education are prevalent when you're an adult learner, and this often comes as online classes and hybrid courses. Full-time jobs don't always allow you time to pursue in-person lessons. Maybe you'd rather not commute to the university after a day of work. Or, perhaps you prefer the idea of online courses to help you adjust to face-to-face ones later. Whatever your reason is, distance learning fills in the gap.

You can apply to a college that's miles out of your area and complete a degree entirely online. Many online courses use Canvas or Blackboard, which are reasonably straightforward platforms. Colleges seeking new applicants emphasize their distance learning programs to draw in more adult students. Explore your options for distance education by checking out accredited institutions with your preferred major.

Work-Life-School Balance

Many full-time traditional students only have schoolwork and extracurriculars to focus on — others hold part-time jobs along with their studies. Nontraditional college students, however, tend to have full-time careers on top of their education. Balancing work with school presents unique challenges, but these don't have to discourage you. Develop practical ways to handle them.


  • Practice time management: Set aside moments for studying, tending to family matters — and relaxing. Some people forget to schedule self-care time and end up burning themselves out with too many responsibilities. Be aware of your limits — both time-wise and physical — when organizing your duties.
  • Stay in touch with professors: Your professors hold a wealth of information on their area of discipline and on college life itself. You're probably not their first older student, meaning they may have some advice on how to balance studies with personal situations. Building a rapport with them will also make it easier to get approval when you need special accommodations.
  • Take advantage of school resources: On-campus programs and student offices are there for your convenience — so use them! Every college has a student affairs office of some sort. You can receive help with registration, check out financial aid opportunities and connect with student groups. You may even find an organization for adult learners like yourself.
  • Define your goals: What goals do you have for your professional and academic careers? How do they influence each other? Knowing your objectives lets you establish your academic plan. If you know you need a specific number of hours to complete a course, you can schedule study and class time into your work and home life more efficiently.


Tutoring for Adults in College

Everyone needs guidance sometimes, and you may search for some outside wisdom if a homework problem is stumping you. At 24HourAnswers, we offer live sessions with credentialed online tutors to assist you with any homework or course-related issues. Our system is different from peer tutoring — with us, you're getting professional services from knowledgeable individuals. 

You can receive assistance with subjects such as computer science, engineering, law and many more. Since your tutors are adults like you, they'll know the best learning strategies to keep you engaged and receptive. You may also feel more comfortable talking with others who have a similar level of professional experience, which you don't always get with peer tutoring programs. You can learn study techniques among people who share similar mindsets.

Tutoring requests are easy to submit, and you have to option to upload any homework problems and relevant files. Sharing files with your tutor helps you both during the process. You'll get a faster response by attaching documents, and they'll have more information to work with when assisting you. If you've looked through our database and know which person you want to tutor you, you can personally select them. Otherwise, our system will choose for you based on the subject and knowledge level.

Our tutoring sessions are accessible to just about anyone and allow you to:


  • Upload documents in various file formats, including Word (.docx), PowerPoint (.ppt), PDF and TIFF.
  • Share your desktop with your tutor.
  • Use video and audio capabilities.
  • Access your tutoring session on iPhone or Android.


Even as an adult student, we realize you may not always have funds readily available, which is why you don't need a subscription to use our service. Only pay for what you need, with no additional obligation. Pricing depends on several factors, including tutor expertise and assignment difficulty. You can pay through numerous methods, including ApplePay, credit card and PayPal.

Improve Your Learning With Adult Education Online Tutors From 24HourAnswers

Starting college as an adult learner is a unique experience — you can master it by practicing patience and diligence. Lean on your support system, manage your time and schedule tutoring sessions whenever necessary. 

If you're looking for a tutoring service with knowledgable instructors and quick response times, you're in the right place! Send in your inquiries at any time of day, and you'll receive a quote from one of our experts. Fill out a form the next time you need online tutoring, or shoot us your homework questions if the assignments throw you for a loop.

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