Being an adult learner can be challenging. No matter whether you’re trying to change industries, or catch up with the modern world, the learning process can make you feel like a fish out of water. But there are advantages to being an adult learner, and one of the most important ones is that you want to learn, and you have a goal that drives you. No one is making you learn and what you get out of it is up to you. But sometimes it’s not easy.
Sometimes the effort you make doesn’t get the results you want. You may find yourself struggling to grasp a new technology, a new language, or a new way of doing something. Trying to make the new information click and stick might take a few tries. Studies show us that you won’t learn if you are stressed out, so with all that life experience of yours, take a deep breath and relax. Children learn to walk when they stop being afraid of falling.
Beyond some of these simple truths, one of the most important things you can do for yourself as an adult learner is to set up a learning environment you can thrive in. Sounds easy, right? But it’s critical to understand how you learn, and identify what techniques will enable you to thrive, and what kinds of environments will support your learning needs.
What’s your learning style?
A Google search will point you in the direction of some accepted theories about learning styles, and then turn around with data blowing holes in these same theories. But there’s enough that is useful here for us to begin.
For example, there’s the popular VARK model (created by Neil Fleming) or Multiple Intelligences (based on research by Howard Gardner). Classroom teachers use both as guidelines to help understanding student learning styles. These approaches are relevant to the adult learner, too. Let’s take a quick look at them, and remember that our learning style is something that is unique to us. If one model doesn’t work, try a different approach and see what works for you. With the VARK model, learners are divided up into categories of “visual, aural, reading/written, and kinesthetic.” The Multiple Intelligences goes even further, with at least eight or nine different “types” of learners. A key to navigating this complexity is to remember that as adult learners, we bring life experience to the learning table. To have insight about a learning environment that helps us thrive, we need to reflect on earlier experiences. Start by thinking about the last time you had a “eureka” moment. Analyze what triggered you to process the information in the way that you did, and look for a patterns in how you respond to information and insight.
You may find that the tools you have for learning aren’t the ones that suit you best. So try a new “style” of learning, even if it makes you uncomfortable at first. For example, it could be that you have more of an auditory style. Writing down notes on paper might not the best way for you to retain information. Try recording your notes and listening back to them. Or supplement your classes with video recordings of lectures related to your topic. Make sure you’re using Youtube or the TED Talks site to your advantage. For visual learners, explore the world of animated tutorials related to your topic. Also check out OpenLearn from The Open University. And when you’re learning something like a new language, flashcards are a tried and true method for memorizing new information. But remember, they may not work for everyone!
Trying out a new style!
What if you like to absorb information through reading and writing? Add to your learning experience by taking notes when you watch a video tutorial. Meanwhile, social learners benefit from study groups either online or in person. Try reaching out to your fellow students, and set up a group yourself. You might even be a “tactile” learner—someone who learns new things by getting your hands in there!
Setting up your ideal learning environment
Once you understand your learning needs, you’ll have a better idea how of to adapt and create a supportive learning environment. Since the pandemic, most educational has moved online. While this is great for some people, it also means that many of us have more distractions than ever before. Think of how our home lives have merged with our work and educational lives. It’s important to find ways to minimize distractions in your learning environment, and it is equally important to “unplug” mentally when the day is over. Mental fatigue is real, and if you want to get the most from your educational opportunities, you must take the time to rest. With remote learning, how you set up your environment will play a large role in your ability to mentally unplug. Whether it’s a separate room or a corner of your living room, a space dedicated to learning should minimize distractions and encourage mental and emotional wellness. This can be as simple as being near a window with natural light, and
surrounded by plants. At the end of your day covering a computer with a fabric or putting your laptop or device away will help.
Tips on focus and distractions:
- Noise cancelling headphones, earplugs, or headphones tune out your environment and help keep your focus on work.
- Sit up straight! Remember to breathe from your diaphragm. Ergonomic chairs and desks help, but the most important detail is to make sure that your shoulders are not crunched, that your back is straight, and that your feet are flat on the floor.
- Structure your goals for each day. Break down how you will meet your deadlines. Stopwatches and timers can help people who get distracted easily. If you’re someone who easily forgets important tasks, set an alarm clock on your phone or desktop with a note.
- Breaks are important! Studies show that taking a break every 90 minutes for 5 to 10 minutes to stretch and move your body greatly improves focus and attention. 5 minutes of basic yoga will reduce your stress, improve blood circulation and improve your physical comfort. Being physically comfortable makes it easier to keep your focus.
- Create healthy boundaries with anyone you share your home with, so that they respect your study time; class hours and try not to disturb you. A Shoji Screen—a Japanese room divider—or even fabric around your workspace are a good visual reminder for others not to bother you.
- Sign out of your social media apps and be strict with yourself. Turn off phone notifications during your scheduled study or class time.
How to make remote learning work for you
- Determine early on what your personal and professional goals are.
- Make an effort to be engaged. Turn your camera on, and say at least one thing during a meeting. Utilize chat options, and find collaboration tools for working together.
- Break up content and conversation into small and manageable doses!
- Find a way to quiz yourself regularly about what you’re learning.
- Find a balance between synchronous and asynchronous learning.
- Be available, but set good boundaries. This can mean booking off time in your calendar for yourself and your learning journey.
- Communicate to your colleagues and instructors about when you will be online or off. And discuss what type of communication you prefer, and on what platform.
Despite all the challenges, it’s important to remember that as an adult learner, you have some considerable advantages. You’ve made it this far, and you plan to go further. That kind of self-awareness, and your readiness to set and monitor your goals when it comes to learning will pay dividends as you make the transition to new learning opportunities and a new career.
– This article was written by April-Anna.