An adult learner (North America) or mature student (UK) (sometimes also called adult student, returning adult, and adult returner) is a person who is 25 years and up who is involved in forms of learning. Adult learners fall in a specific criteria of being experienced, and do not have the high school diploma. Many of the adult learners go back to school to finish a degree, or earn a new one.
Malcolm Knowles's work distinguished adult learners as distinct from adolescent and child learners in his principle of andragogy. He established 5 assumptions about the adult learner. This included self-concept, adult learner experience, readiness to learn, orientation to learning, and motivation to learning.
- Delays enrollment (does not enter post secondary education in the same calendar year that he or she finished high school).
- Attends part time for at least part of the academic year.
- Works full time (35 hours or more per week) while enrolled.
- Is considered financially independent for purposes of determining eligibility for financial aid.
- Has dependents other than a spouse (usually children, but sometimes others).
- Is a single parent (either not married or married but separated and has dependents).
- Does not have a high school diploma (completed high school with a GED or other high school completion certificate or did not finish high school).
Not all nontraditional students are adult learners, as the term refers to the brain development of the person, but adult learners are considered nontraditional students. This can be due to the wide range of cultural, job, and educational backgrounds.
In the UK, a student is normally classified as a mature student if he or she is an (undergraduate) student who is at least 25+ years old at the start of his or her course, or in the Irish case on the first of January of the year of entry, and usually having been away from school for at least two years. The normal entry requirements for school-leavers wishing to start an undergraduate degree are often not applied to mature students.
In higher education
Adult students are frequently referred to as nontraditional students in higher education. Adult students are contrasted with traditional students, who are typically aged 18–22, attend full-time, live on campus, do not work, and have few, if any, family responsibilities. In 2008, 36 percent of postsecondary students were age 25 or older and 47 percent were independent students.
As opposed to a child or adolescent, adult learners typically have more life experience and their brains are more fully developed. When confronted with new knowledge or an experience, adult learners construe new meaning based on their life experiences and their more developed brains process these experiences differently than someone with a less developed brain (children and adolescents).
- Brookfield, S.D. (1991). Understanding and Facilitating Adult Learning: A Comprehensive Analysis of Principles and Effective Practices. 2nd edition. Jossey-Bass.
- Crimaldi, Laura, "Older residents follow Pathway to college", Boston Herald, Sunday, January 4, 2009. About students successes in the College Pathways program at ABCD Learning Works in Boston, Massachusetts.
- Galbraith, M.W. (2004). Adult learning methods: a guide for effective instruction. 3rd edition. Krieger Publishing.
- Rogers, Alan, "Non-formal Education: Flexible Schooling Or Participatory Education?", Springer, 2005. ISBN 0-387-24636-3
- Special Analysis 2002 - Nontraditional Undergraduates Archived April 16, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
- "Who is the Adult Learner? - Southern Regional Education Board". www.sreb.org. Retrieved 2017-06-21.
- Pascarella, Ernest T.; Terenzini, Patrick T (Winter 1998). "Studying College Students in the 21st Century: Meeting New Challenges". The Review of Higher Education. 21 (2): 151.
- "Yesterday's Nontraditional Student is Today's Traditional Student" (PDF). Center for Law and Social Policy. Retrieved 2010-08-09.
- Merriam, S. B., & Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. M. (2007). Learning in adulthood (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.