No Adult Left Behind

Malcolm Knowles (1913-1997), pioneer in adult education, titled one of his books, "The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species." And no wonder. Many people closed their books halfway through life; research on how grown-ups learn was in its early stages; teachers equipped to handle mature students were hard to find.

Today lifelong learning opportunities are plentiful and instructors well-versed in space age information delivery. Still, millions fail to take advantage. They need constant reminders of the pot of gold at the end of the adult education rainbow.

Five bright benefits come to mind. First is the prospect of a fatter paycheck. Job promotions go to smart people who keep up with the latest information and technology. It's just good sense to refresh and retrain for the workplace. New careers are created all the time so those who see what's coming and want to jump ship have got to be prepared with new certifications, diplomas and degrees.

Second is the enhanced self-esteem when you reach for new horizons, accept tough challenges and arrive at a whole new level. New learning is not a picnic but the joys of accomplishment are real. Your children are proud. Your neighbors are surprised and maybe just jealous enough to go out and do likewise.

Third is the freedom given to adult learners. The teacher is more facilitator than dictator. Adult students, unlike young kids, may be just as experienced as the person at the front of the room. Adult classmates share ideas and teach each other. Assignments may culminate in a group project or program rather than a graded exam. Memorizing facts is at a minimum; answers are not absolute.

True, there are some studies where exactness counts and tests are mandatory. But a quick Internet search turned up references to the use of adult education theories in highly regimented disciplines, such as nursing and medicine. Getting ready to pass state boards did not prevent creative teaching where students' views are respected and acted on. It is possible to combine traditional methods with adult learning styles.

Fourth is the shift of schooling to a 24/7 model and long-distance or online methods. Trade the classroom for your computer. Stay home and study in your bathrobe. Earn a degree without ever stepping on campus. Leave an email message for the professor at 3 a.m. With time and space constraints removed anyone who truly wants to go on learning can do so. Further, some class enrollments are open with start dates at your convenience.

Number five is making scholarship a habit. Education becomes second nature; it's who you are as much as what you do. People live longer now and their health stays robust. Folks dread the thought of 15 or 20 years after retirement with idle hands and minds. Luckily, such waste is out of fashion. Well known programs, such as Elderhostel keep people thinking, socializing and traveling. Grandmothers get their master's degree.

Invest in yourself. Empower your life. Jump start your future with strong commitment to lifelong achievement. Knowing these five benefits can wipe out all excuses.