Non-traditional students are the new majority. Around 75% are over 24 years old, often juggling families and jobs with their studies, and usually commuting to school if not studying online.
But just because the majority of students are like you, that doesn’t mean making the decision to go back to school as an adult learner is an easy one. Maybe you have a full time job, children to take care of, or other dependents. With responsibilities like these, it may seem almost impossible to succeed as a student, but it’s not. People manage to do it every day. Read our tips to find out how you can, too!
1. Make a Schedule and Stick To It
Creating a study schedule will help you to make the best use of your limited time. A properly designed schedule will keep you focused on your study goals by helping you to identify and avoid time wasting activities. You can see clearly how much time you have for allotted tasks therefore reducing the chances of you feeling overwhelmed by it all.
Make sure to write down the days and times when you will log in to class and complete your specific assignments. But don’t try to do all your study in one sitting each week. The latest neuroscience research shows that breaking up your study time into small chunks will increase your learning and retention. For instance, three 1-hour study sessions spread through the week are better than a single 3-hour session.
2. Study Wherever You Can
Yes, it can be helpful to identify a space which will be dedicated to studying. It can help you feel more organized. It doesn’t have to be a whole room, it could be a corner of your living room or bedroom, with a small work area set aside with somewhere to keep your books and notes. Look for ideas on Pinterest – we’ve collected a few for you here.
But also take the opportunity to study whenever and wherever you have the opportunity – inside, outdoors, in a cafe, in a park. Listen to audio while you commute. Share your learning when you chat with classmates. The brain is very good at learning on the fly during daily life and cognitive science has shown that varying the place where you study increases the cues associated with what you’re learning and makes it independent of any particular location. You don’t want to have to go back to a specific study space to recall the information you’ve learned!
3. Create an Accountability Network
Winning and being successful begins with accountability. It is hard to sustain success without it. “Accountability” might sound a bit serious but all it means is making commitments and keeping to them, in the eyes of someone else. So here are some tips to help you feel accountable for your study and your results:
- Tell your family and friends about your goals and share what you are doing. If someone says they don’t believe you can succeed, then make it your goal to prove them wrong! (One of our favorite quotes is from Walter Bagehot who said, back in the 19th century: “The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.”)
- Post the dates of key events and interim milestones in your program around your house/car/office on notes that you and the people around you will see all the time.
- Set your smartphone alarm for the times you have set to study and act on each reminder.
- Set up a wallchart to track your progress towards completion, like a fundraiser chart. Keep it visible on your wall and fill it in as you progress and complete milestones.
- Regularly ask your instructors for feedback. Ask questions like: “How am I doing?”, “What do you think I most need to focus on right now?”
- Set up a regular weekly or monthly phone call or café meeting with a supportive friend, relative or classmate. Use it as a check-in and to give them an update on how you’re doing against your goals.
If those ideas make you feel a bit uncomfortable, that’s good. That is the feeling of accountability at work! And who knows, by involving your family and friends you might just inspire one of them to go back to school too!
Happy studying – and check out our next blog article in this 2-part series, which has three more great study tips for adult learners.