Thoughts on being an adult learner

Just a quick post today, since I’ve got a lot of homework to do…

Earlier this week I was talking to a friend of mine who’s not too happy in her job, and she mentioned that she is thinking of going back to school.   I told her that going back to school is the best thing that I’ve done for myself in recent years – that being in school has been amazingly fun and validating.  I actually surprised myself with the enthusiasm of my response to her, and it got me thinking a bit about what it means to be an adult learner.

The first thing that I’ve had to come to terms with is that the majority of my fellow students are far younger than I am.  This is both a negative and a positive for me: the younger students are extremely enthusiastic, and most of what we are learning is new and exciting to them.  They also have more flexibility in the way they approach new topics in class; let’s face it, they are more open to change than an older student (even a fairly progressive one like me).

But then there is the positive side to being an older student, which for me greatly outweighs any negatives.  I’ve got several years of work experience in my favor, so that as I learn new topics I can immediately apply it to my career – a younger student who has never worked as a librarian cannot do that, for obvious reasons.  I love that the breadth of my experience allows me to consider our assignments from a higher starting point than if I had never worked in the field.  And for the technology class that I am taking this semester, I have the distinct advantage of having grown up alongside personal computers, so I have direct experience with some of the things that we’re learning right now.  For instance, this week’s video lectures are on the command prompt, and as I’ve been viewing them, I’ve realized that my classmates grew up using computers with a mouse, whereas I grew up using commands in DOS (ah, the good old days of the C prompt!) with VAX machines for email in college (I learned all kinds of cool tricks for using the VAX machines!).

And then there is the most lovely part of being in school after years of being in the working world: the immediate and definitive gratification of being graded on your assignments.  In the real world, I get formal feedback once a year at my job, in the form of my annual review.  Obviously, there’s also less formal verbal feedback over the course of the year, but it’s not written and precise in the way the annual review is.  So it’s been really cool doing assignments over the course of each semester and getting written feedback from my professors on those assignments.  And it’s even lovelier to get grades on classwork, something that just doesn’t happen in the real world.

Last but certainly not least, I love learning new things.  I love working my brain in ways that it hasn’t been worked since I got my last master’s degree.  Admittedly, this mental fitness program hasn’t left much time for my physical fitness program, but I’m working on adding physical fitness back into my daily routine (there just aren’t enough hours in a day, are there?).

Long story short, it’s pretty fantastic being in graduate school as an adult learner who is already established in the profession.  I’m learning so much, and loving the experience more than I can ever say.  My only regret is that I can’t take any classes in person, but rather am pursuing the degree online, since it would be fabulous to be in a classroom with all of these smart classmates of mine.  But that’s a small regret, and perhaps I’ll be able to squeeze in a face-to-face class at some point.

Yay to education!!!

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