The “adult learner” or “mature student” traditionally had been defined as those individuals going to college later than the age of 18 for their bachelor’s degree but enrolling like a typical undergraduate student – someone living on campus, etc. However, over the past twenty years, the definition of an adult learner has been changing — most adult learners today are considered adults who are going back to school with a family or job or other demands in life.
For undergraduates, the terms “traditional age and non-traditional age” are used more and adult learning can be at any level of education. Most adult learners are individuals who juggle many items of life while attending classes and pursuing a degree. They generally have life experiences that affect their views on education in the classroom; they often challenge what they are learning; and they are also generally self-motivated and self-directed. Adults sometimes are worried that they have been out of school too long to return to any sort of tertiary education. In reality, however, they tend to be very motivated and often succeed in a program with a better overall educational experience.
I really like this definition of an adult learner:
“Adult learners are lifelong learners who generally are 25 years or older, and/or have additional responsibilities such as family, career, military, or community, and are seeking a degree or other educational offering (credit or non-credit) to enhance their professional and/or personal lives.”
Angela L.E. Walmsley, Ph.D., Associate Dean – Academic