Adult Learners Advising Community

The Adult Learners Advising Community serves advisors who spend a significant portion of their duties serving adult students. Through the sharing of information and experiences, our community assists advisors and administrators in understanding, addressing, and advocating for the unique needs of adult learners. Resources, found under the ‘More Links’ section on the right side of the page, focus on the following critical areas for adult learner success:

  1. support for their learning development;
  2. student and academic services convenient for adults;
  3. networking and community building opportunities;
  4. strategies for balancing work, life, and school responsibilities;
  5. motivation to complete their programs.

Who is an Adult Learner?

While there is no consistent definition of who is considered an adult learner, there are various factors to consider in determining how you or your institution want to define this student population. If conducting research or implementing a policy, the term should be defined for that particular use. Here are some of the typical characteristics that often apply to many “adult learners”:

  • 25+ years old
  • Students who do not fit the typical profile of the 18- to 22-year-old full-time undergraduate (Giancola, Munz, & Trares, 2008)
  • First-time college student 21+ years old (Davidson & Holbrook, 2014)
  • Returning to school after stopping out
  • Juggling school with work/family/life responsibilities
  • “Any student, regardless of age, who has adult responsibilities beyond college classes, and for whom those adult responsibilities take priority in times of crisis” (NACADA’s Advising Adult Learners Commission)
  • Students of any age who are “married, handicapped, racially or ethnically diverse, female, or part-time” (Kasworm, Polson, & Fishback, 2002)
  • Unemployed and seeking a new avenue in life (Varney & Peck, 2012)

Common terms to name this population include

  • Adult Learner
  • Non-Traditional or Post-Traditional Student
  • Adult Student
  • Returning Adults
  • Adult Returners
  • Mature Learners  

Two Things About Working with Adult Learners

According to members of this Advising Community, the following are two key needs to keep in mind when working with the adult learner population.
  1. Adult learners need the utmost flexibility from their advisors and institutions. 
    1. What methods are available to conduct advising appointments? 
    2. What offices hours are provided for your students? 
    3. What classroom options are available? 
    4. What course options do they have? 
  2. Adult learners need to feel like they are being respected and receiving good customer service. 
    1. How quickly and accurately do you respond to students’ needs? 
    2. Do you take the extra step to help an adult learner find information, ask more in-depth questions, and plan their curriculum? 

Adult Learner Advising Community Presentations:

Miller, E. C., Johnson, S. L., Jamieson, B., and Firestein, C. (2021, May 25).
Supporting Adult Learners Through COVID19 and Beyond: A Panel Conversation with Adult Learner Advising Specialists.

Zmija, D., Bushman, J., and Trela, P. (2021, July 27).
Adult Learners as the New Kids on the Block.