Adult learning is something that most of us do not even have the time to consider, never mind undertake. The thought of going back to college, preparing assignments, and slogging over course books is at best laughable. Nevertheless, what are the benefits of returning to education?
When considered carefully, the benefits may outweigh the hard work. Yes, there is a price to pay, but it might be considered a fair one given the positive results to be reaped. Is education a life-long journey or a final destination?
If we regard education as a destination, then we may assume that one day our learning will end. This might be true for some. For example, in the case of formal education it may be argued that no further learning will take place unless it is in a formal scholarly environment. Most people end their education at upper school. Some might go on to read at university, and a few will carry on with postgraduate studies. From there on, only a small number will take up Doctorate research. It is probably fair to regard PhD studies as the end of the academic educational path for the large majority of the population.
There are a number of valid reasons for this. Modern high-pressure demands, and long hours at work do not permit us the luxury of enough spare time for anything more effort sapping than a few hours of weekly socialising. Our weekends become precious time-cocoons for topping up with our sleep, meeting up with friends, and catching up on essential chores. Having fought the supermarket crowds on Saturday morning the last thing on our mind would be a module book with learning activities. Sadly, Monday morning comes too quickly, and by Wednesday, we get that Friday feeling again. The perpetual cycle of work – weekend off, work – weekend off, keeps repeating itself, until one day we find ourselves being woken up far too early by our young family additions. Therefore we go from school onto higher education, before suddenly and imperceptibly work and domestic responsibilities take over our lives. How about our personal development though?
Our bodies tend to slow down as we get older. Joints start to hurt, and muscles do not have the same strength as they did when we were younger. The brain is like a muscle, which needs to be constantly exercised to avoid suffering from atrophy. Language learning, and other brain challenging activities, might go some way towards preventing dementia. Would those brain connections reduce if we stop keeping our brain active? ‘Building and preserving brain connections is an on-going process, so make lifelong learning a priority’, (Harvard Health Publication, 2010). Our brain is what helps us remain independent, and able to formulate our own opinions, so that we can derive to our own decisions. This is why it is important to keep our brain active and healthy. It is the epicentre of our existence. Therefore, it is very important to keep challenging our brain if we want to maintain a good mental state of health well into our golden years.
There is more to healthy brainpower than doing the occasional puzzle. Just like any training regime, it requires discipline. A structured programme with set goals will return more results than fits and starts with random activities. Degree studies or an evening college course will present you with a set curriculum and a framework of studies to follow. It will also set you targets to aim for and achieve. Some colleges and institutions offer you courses on how to return to education, to ease you back into the classroom after years of abstention from learning. The other important factor is interest. Enrolling on a course that you want to learn more about, will make it a fulfilling past-time rather than a chore.
For example, learning a language that you use often will be easier compared to one that you will never speak. How about considering your personal interests?
Thirst for World War knowledge can be a latent passion for history. Sports activities could be turned into a sports degree, or a physiotherapy qualification. The latter could then open up the path to a new career, and even the opportunity to become your own boss. Another benefit to studying is that you can convert hours of mindless TV watching into creative, and self-development activities. In other words, adult education will help develop new skills, present new options, and ensure that the mind remains healthy.
‘I am too old for all that studying,’ you might say. If you think you are too old, then consider the achievements of Bertie Gladwin. He left school at the age of fourteen with his interest in learning totally sapped by his teachers, who lacked the modern training in educational support. He has recently graduated and is even considering going on to do a PhD research paper. What is unusual about Bertie you might ask? Bertie is ninety-one years old. ‘The World War Two veteran struggled with computers and regularly deleted whole essays by mistake,’ (Hughes, 2012). Bertie’s words 'I wanted to keep my brain active and learn more about something that had always interested me’, ought to be an inspiration, whenever your study motivation is lacking.
Some people may have the motivation and the ability to manage their time, but fear the new fees that came into effect in September 2012. The first step is to speak to your chosen university or college. Most institutions have put in place a fee-paying programme to assist their students. You might also be eligible for a grant or a bursary from the government. As a parent, you could also qualify for help with childcare costs whilst you study. A good place to start your enquiries into eligibility is on line at www.gov.uk/grant-bursary-adult-learners (Gov.UK, 14 February 2013).
I would like to tell you about my experience with the Open University, and the positive impact is having on my life. I decided to return to academia in 2012. I matriculated with the Open University to read English Language and Literature, BA(Hons). I chose this degree as it has been a life-long passion of mine, and it will equip me with a number of transferable life skills, in reading, writing, and critical textual analysis. These activities can be taken for granted as they are performed on a daily basis. I wanted to go that extra mile though, and become an expert in them. The reasons I chose the Open University were simple. Firstly, I valued their long-standing experience in helping mature students achieve their goals. Secondly, I was attracted to their tried and tested long-distance training methods. Finally, I was impressed by their worldwide reputation in delivering a respected learning and development degree package. How would an assignment on Wordsworth or Brontë prepare you for a career other than teaching English?
The essay-preparation element of the course gradually builds competency in the craft of writing and document presentation. The range of topics and texts covers a number of cultural encounters, which is progressively expanding my appreciation of today’s multicultural and cosmopolitan society. This deeper understanding of our world, can only but help develop better relations and human interactions. Finally, from a personal perspective I now derive even deeper comprehension when I read, even for pleasure. Literary tropes, nuances, and themes are becoming clearer, which enables me to achieve more out of any text. In turn, writing for pleasure is becoming a more meaningful activity as I use each experience to build and improve upon my existing skills. Who knows which doors this development, new knowledge, and eventual qualification might open up?
In summary, there are many compelling reasons why adult education is an investment of your free time. In terms of the mental health benefits, it can be argued that it offers more stimulation than watching TV, by putting you through a beneficial brainobic cell-developing programme. It could be the professional break you have been looking for.
Do you think that new qualification will present new opportunities for a better future?
Harvard Health Publication , 2010, 7 Ways to Keep Your Memory Sharp at Any Age, on line at: http://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/7-ways-to-keep-your-memory-sharp-at-any-age
Hughes, T., (21 May 2012), I'm just a late bloomer': Britain's oldest student graduates with a degree in military intelligence aged 91, Mail on Line at: (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2147643/Bertie-Gladwin-Britains-oldest-student-graduates-degree-military-intelligence-aged-91.html).