How Adults Learn Today

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Adult learners are primarily driven by three things: relevance, immediacy and convenience.


We file all kinds of data in our minds. And like filing cabinets, our brains get full and unorganized. Many adults have learned to function on a “need-to-know” basis. They focus on obtaining and retaining information if certain they will need to retrieve it at some point. In other words, they don’t want to waste time on information that has no relevance. In higher education, career advancement is the number one reason adults attend college. What they learn has to have relevance. I have often said that when teaching adults, “if it doesn’t matter to them, they won’t bother to learn it.”


It’s not just the kids who have grown accustomed to instant access to information. We all have quickly learned to download and watch movies and read books the moment we get the urge. While we all agree that there is nothing quite like the smell of a bookstore and the touch of actual paper, we turn to our Kindle or tablet for an immediate and less expensive option. Likewise, while we all know there is nothing like an IMAX with surround sound, we often turn to Netflix for an immediate and less expensive experience. Adults expect to learn the same way – fast. This is why learning on YouTube is outpacing college and universities worldwide.


Along with everything else on-demand, we now have life-on-demand. We have grown accustomed to life-work integration replacing life-work balance. The majority of adults understand that the great divide between personal life and professional life has become pretty thin. Today we parent our kids while we’re at work via text and Facebook, and we work the same way while away from our jobs. We parent from work and work from home. The question for adult learners today is not when we learn but how we learn. The when is a given – now. We need convenience to fit our now-oriented schedules that are no longer static, but are now dynamic. We scroll through our phones and tablets while in the stands at a soccer game, waiting in the doctor’s office, or catching some downtime between kid’s events.

In short, we learn what we need, when and how we want.

See how Vanguard University caters to the unique demands of the adult learner.  Contact Dr. Andrew Stenhouse, Dean of Vanguard University’s School for Graduate and Professional Studies