There is still a lot of study required in the field of adult learning before it is fully understood - there are many preconceptions about how adults learn and how they can fit studying into their own schedules. With that in mind, there are many myths to dispel, as the subsequent strategies end up hindering adult learners in their education process. First, adults are not innate self-learners due to their voluntary choice to attend adult education, and they do not take inherent joy in the process (Brookfield, 1995). Often, adult learners are just as stymied by the education process as their younger counterparts; the fact that they choose to attend it later in life merely indicates a desire to learn, not the inherent capacity. This is exacerbated by the increasing time demands on adults in their thirties and forties, due to the responsibilities of the workplace and the family.
As an adult learner, one of the most important difficulties to overcome is a lack of time. Compared to young adult and teenage learners, the number of responsibilities an adult learner faces is exponentially larger. Often, the presence of a full-time job, a spouse and children can suck up time normally allotted to study; this makes it harder for adult learners to have the amount of time to study that is normally permitted to college students of a younger age. Adult learners in a military context have it even harder - compared to the civilian's relative freedom to intermix a work and personal life, taking time to study where they like, a military officer has a nearly constant commitment and responsibility to their duties and their superiors. Regardless of the context, it seems as though adult learners have more of a hard time than most finding the time to study. As such, steps must be taken to create incentives and schedules for adult learners that can allow them to more effectively manage their time. This would dramatically improve study skills and overall performance in adult education classes.
Adult education often has a very low retention rate, for the reasons mentioned above. The voluntary nature of adult education can make the option for education seem much less viable and important, considering the other, seemingly more pragmatic priorities the adult has to deal with. One major reason adults stop their higher education is because practical responsibilities force them to put their role as a student to the side for awhile. Another reason is that adults often feel removed from the rest of the higher education community, whether by the use of online education to learn from home or a tendency to be segregated from normal college populations if attending physical classes (Kerka, 1995). If a method for retaining better study skills and creating time to study was created for adults, then adult learner retention would dramatically increase.
In order to facilitate better study skills and time management, a number of factors must be addressed. First, adult learners must carefully examine what their existing education experience to date has been like - what their strengths and weaknesses are, and their level of success. This allows them to examine what their education abilities were like when they were younger, which gives them a decent barometer for determining how they might perform now.
Adult learners must be encouraged to create a schedule that will fit in the appropriate amount of study needed to get the desired grades in their adult education courses. First, the existing amount of time available to perform any kind of activity should be discerned. For example, in a given week, assuming eight hours of sleep - a generous figure for military adult learners - that leaves sixteen hours a day to remain active. For an entire week, that makes one hundred and twelve hours a week of active time. After that, the adult learner should create hour-by-hour schedules of their day, including the minimum time required to perform all absolutely required tasks required by either home or military service.
Once all practical time commitments are discerned, next comes time for study. Given the allocated number of hours available, at least 1-2 hours of study should be allotted every day regardless of whether or not classes are in session that day, or if there are assignments to complete. This would allow the adult learner to keep in the habit of studying, and never letting it fall out of the routine of the day. It may be helpful to some adult learners to vary the time and material that they study, to prevent themselves from getting bored and abandoning their learning. Going over previous assignments and learning how long it took the learner to study that subject can give them a general idea of how much time is needed to study in general - this allows them to parse their time more accurately.
Another option for adult learners in learning study skills is the KWL Strategy, which plays heavily in establishing a mindset for good study skills and time management. KWL stands for (Know, Want, Learn), and creates a greater motivator for learning specific things. With this motivation, adult learners are more willing and encouraged to make their education a higher priority in their use of time. This strategy involves creating a table of three columns, in which the adult learner describes what they already know about a subject, and what they want to know. After the class or assignment is complete, the learner then fills in the third column with what they learned. This provides a concrete, physical means of demonstrating and organizing information, and also offering the adult learner something to complete. By synthesizing the data in this way, an adult learner will motivate themselves to learn (Materna, 2007).
Adult learners in a military context have a unique challenge to face, due to the added commitment. One time management skill that must be found is to use whatever available downtime is allotted to catch up on study. If necessary (or possible), the instructor could be made aware of the student's unique time commitments, and further assistance could be rendered in the form of extended assignments or independent study. This may free up the time-taxed adult learner to learn at a pace that they can realistically manage. What's more, military personnel may be given incentives or appropriate time off active service to study, given the right context (Galbraith, 2004).
As an adult, juggling the responsibilities of life with family and military service can be quite difficult. This is made more pressing with the addition of adult higher education and all of its responsibilities. With the help of proper time management techniques and the like, it is possible for adult learners to learn the study skills necessary to benefit from their education in the way they intended. Visualizing education goals (finding out what they want to know and moving toward that goal) allows for greater emotional incentive and a more satisfying reward for their trouble. Furthermore, organizing time around what available windows there are to study allows every necessary task to be finished, while still permitting free time to work on adult education. These strategies, when personalized to fit the individual learner's schedule and goals, can do wonders toward getting them the most out of their education efforts.
Brookfield, S. (1995). Adult Learning: an overview. in A. Tuinjman (ed.) International
Encyclopedia of Education. Oxford, Pergamon Press.
Galbraith, M.W. (2004). Adult learning methods: a guide for effective instruction. 3rd edition.
Kerka, S. (1995). Adult Learner retention revisited. ERIC Digest 166: Columbus, OH.
Materna, L. (2007). Jump start the adult learner: how to engage and motivate adults using
brain-compatible strategies. Corwin Press.