Do you need qualifications to progress in your job? Maybe you’re looking for a change in your career? Or perhaps you just want to try something new. Whatever your reasons, returning to learning in midlife can spruce up your skills and will lead you on a pathway to new ventures and new choices.
Returning to study
The concerns of returning to study as an adult can be overwhelming. But taking a refresher course to upskill in areas where you lack confidence is the best way to build an academic foundation as well as improve your competencies.
In fact, adult learning is a pivotal experience that can reinforce and polish up your current skill set to improve your career potential.
At the age of 42, with my life at a crossroad, I registered for a Creative Writing course which was running at my local college, for 10 weeks, every Friday morning. It was daunting at first being surrounded in the classroom by strangers and I thought they were all bound to be more talented at writing than me. We were encouraged to write about personal stuff, and some wrote poetry while others wrote stories. As I listened to my fellow students reading out their writing pieces, I was transfixed because they spoke so warmly and wrote so beautifully about their lives.
Some of them progressed on to study more advanced creative writing, but for me, it was enough at this stage just to have re-opened an old passion for writing and I gained some feedback on my long-forgotten skill. The course served to heal me at a time when I needed a distraction and something to focus on.
Learning as an adult was different, though: it mattered less than when I was in school, in terms of the outcome, but it meant so much more in terms of my personal growth.
Courses for Adults
There is great evidence that adults who keep learning enjoy better health, are more productive and have more secure and better-paid jobs, and are more active in civic life. No matter what it is you want to study, or what you want to achieve, with adult learning pathways, you can choose a course to suit you at your level and to fit in with your life.
On-site classes are an opportunity to mix with others who have the very same interests as you, who are pursuing their new passion for learning as well. Universities and Colleges have great facilities and so if you attend regularly, you can always grab a coffee and chat with fellow students, before or after class, and you’ll soon build a bond that will help you progress through your course. To find details of things going on in your area, such as classes or workshops, you can always have a look at local libraries’ message boards or councils and even at local papers news.
However, as the workforce continues to change, more adults are looking toward higher education via distance learning to stay competitive in the workplace. For many, the online classroom brings an opportunity for students to take a hands-on approach in their own learning by fostering new skill sets that can be immediately applied to their work.
What’s more, online schooling is not just for kids. One of the trends that emerged early in the coronavirus pandemic lockdown was adult learners seeking out ways to educate and enrich themselves while working and sheltering in place at home.
Amongst the best online learning platforms for adults, we can mention Coursera (nearly 2000 free adult education courses from some of the world’s most respected and prestigious universities), Udemy ( 100,000 online video courses with new additions every month), Skillshare (for students who want to learn visual arts, publishing and design with the added benefit of a community for support and networking).
Main learning areas
Whether you decide to learn online or at a local venue, know that the benefits of getting a qualification as a mature age student should be about acquiring professional credentials and competencies. Choose the best institute to achieve this, not the institute with the biggest name.
Here are some options:
- Digital skills: Microsoft Office and equivalent programs such as G Suite and iWork have become absolutely critical to work-life and home-life, and now you can find courses to cover the whole gambit of skills you need. There are classes on how computers work, how to use digital technology, how to surf and what to do if you want to write blogs. It can be baffling knowing where to start, but the course tutors will be on hand to help.
- Career based courses: As an adult you can still learn a whole plethora of professional skills from accountancy to HR, teaching to business studies, surveying to marketing. Some companies will sponsor your learning, others will want you to fund it yourself; but it’s always worth asking, just to see. Your employer might not know that you want to advance your skills so have that conversation with them, you never know where it might lead.
- Well-being and Leisure: Do you have a burning desire to learn a new language or find out how to make a film from scratch? Have you always wanted to refine your cookery skills or learn to sew and make crafts? There are plenty of courses these days locally and online, so you should be able to find a class to suit you.
Susannah, a friend of mine who recently finished studying for a Fine Arts Degree at University told me; “I always enjoyed art at school, but my parents wanted me to have a profession and encouraged me to study Maths, so I became an Accountant. I always felt like I didn’t fit in at work, I would doodle at every meeting and sometimes I would fill up my whole page with drawings. I took these to the University as part of my interview, along with my sketchbook, and it just went from there!“.
In reality, it is never too late to learn or to try something new and when we take the plunge it’s not as scary as it might appear to be. As the author, Doris Lessing once said: “that is what learning is. You suddenly understand something you’ve understood in your life but in a new way’.