Studying as an Adult: What you need to know

Congratulations on your decision to return to study. This will be an amazing and rewarding road ahead. However, there may be a few challenges to face if you haven’t been in school for years, you’re returning to study after raising children, or you’re swapping careers. If you understand these challenges before they crop up, you can deal with them more effectively.

Unrealistic expectations

This is something that is incredibly common and one of the main reasons mature-age students drop out, according to Tania McGowan, Managing Director of O’Neill Kinesiology College.

“I have noticed in my students that as we get older, we seem to develop unrealistic expectations of the learning process. When we’re younger we tend to give things a go or just ask for help, and seem to accept that we aren’t going to get it the first time,” she said.

“We forget that learning takes time. Nobody can learn a new skill overnight. For some things, it may be enough that we pull out a textbook and repeat what we have learned. But learning a skill such as Kinesiology means you need time and patience to master that skill.”

She compares it to driving a car. Nobody pulls out the manual on how to drive a car and then knows the ins and outs of driving a car afterwards.

“You have to keep practising over and over to get better,” Tania explained. “This is the same with study — you can’t think your way into mastering a new skill.”

It also strikes people who are keen on finding a new career direction. They feel under pressure to find the “one thing” that will make them happy and fulfilled. In doing so, they make themselves stressed and feel like they’re running out of time.

Never compare

It has been said that comparison is the thief of joy. This is something Tania sees affecting students regularly — especially women who have returned to the workforce after a long stint out.

You might see others in the class who:

  • Seem to already know a lot more about Kinesiology
  • Appear to pick it up faster
  • Understand more about studying and/or writing
  • Just ‘know’ how to get assignments done

And it’s natural that you’ll start to wonder if it’s you and think:

  • You’re less intelligent
  • Maybe the course isn’t for you after all
  • You’re too old to learn something new
  • You’ve been out of the education system/workforce too long and things have changed

If you’re feeling like this, you’re not the only one. But what most people don’t understand is that they are usually way off when judging how other people are feeling. We tend to underestimate the negative emotions of others and overestimate the positive emotions. Basically, we think others are in a far better position than us.

Other students may seem like they’re ‘getting it’ but it may be that they’re staying quiet because they don’t understand either. Or maybe they have done more reading and studying the night before so they seem to be connecting the dots faster.

There was a telling study about women returning to the workforce after raising children. One common theme that emerged was all the women involved expressed a significant lack of confidence in their intellectual abilities and academic performance. It often turned them off trying to further themselves.

What helped them overcome this negativity was to acknowledge their personal areas of expertise and see how it had contributed to their intelligence. And not just academic intelligence but emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is incredibly important in Kinesiology. You need to get a good feel and read for people, so don’t discount what child rearing and running a household have done for you.

Are past experiences pulling you down?

We may not even remember negative school experiences but they could still be lurking in the back of the mind, Tania said.

“The thought of being in a classroom triggers the stress response and we want to escape. On some level, we’re reminded of those experiences of being told we’re stupid or having a mean teacher.”

“Or you might remember school as something to be endured. But our classrooms are fun. There are ways to learn that are fun, and learning doesn’t have to be something that you force yourself to do,” she said.

It’s all fear

Tania said rather than persevering when a learning roadblock crops up, many people tend to panic and run away.

“This is when they start to make excuses like ‘I don’t have time’ or ‘I don’t have money’. But really, everyone has the time and money if they really want something. It’s all down to fear. It’s an ego response,” she said.

“Your physical survival hasn’t been threatened but the ego has. So people go to learn something new, they get challenged and the ego survival mechanism gets triggered and they think they have to get away.”

Recognise the fear for what it is and try to push through it. However, if it really is money or time issues, see the staff who may be able to help restructure things for you.

Learning tips:

  • Never compare. This is a pointless exercise that will only make you feel bad. It doesn’t matter what others are doing — only compare yourself against your own performance and focus on getting better from there.
  • Be realistic. It doesn’t matter if you’re older, wiser, accomplished in your former field or you were a good student in your school days. It may take you time to adjust, and is the norm rather than the exception.
  • Get organised. If you’re juggling study, a family and maybe even work too, you’re bound to feel under pressure. Try doing things as early as possible to make sure you have enough time, and you can seek help if you’re struggling. And, if you need a computer or certain materials, make sure you have these early and allow time to familiarise yourself.
  • Ask for help. O’Neill Kinesiology College provides one-on-one help for students who may be struggling: if you need a payment plan, don’t understand a particular topic, need study tips, or require a readjusted schedule to fit in studies with your family life.
  • There are so many others in the same situation as you. So before you fall behind or perhaps even pull the plug on your course, make sure you have a read online for study tips that might help you.
  • Learning styles. Find the style — visual, auditory or kinesthetic — that you respond to best. We all use the three to varying degrees, but you may find one works particularly well for you. Sometimes just presenting information in a different way can lead to a major learning breakthrough.
  • Take notes. There are studies that show we remember things better when we write things down, rather than relying on memory or typing onto a laptop.
  • Move towards fear. Do not let fear dictate your life. Often people are so close to the finish line when they quit. Persevere and don’t place limitations on your own life.

Finally, understand this is a transition stage in your life and it may feel stressful or overwhelming at times. This is okay and perfectly normal. So look forward and enjoy your new direction.

O’Neill Kinesiology College understands the needs of both career-changers and parents returning to study (or even parents who are also career-changers). Enquire about our courses today by visiting or calling us on (08) 9330 7443.

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