New study captures the voices of adult learners and highlights 13 actionable steps to support their learning endeavors

4 recommendations to improve adult learners’ experiences


New study captures the voices of adult learners and highlights 13 actionable steps to support their learning endeavors

A new study captures the voices of adult learners and highlights ways higher education institutions can help them navigate unique challenges and provide needed support now and in the future.

Between August and October 2020, the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Urban Education Research Center (UERC) and The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) conducted 18 focus groups with faculty, administrators, and adult learners from 16 institutions of the Kansas City Scholars Postsecondary Network. The study, made possible with support from The DeBruce Foundation, included 82 faculty, staff, and administrators, as well as 61 adult learners.

The study was conducted to address two research questions: How has COVID-19 specifically affected adult learners? And, how can higher education institutions address their needs during this unique time?

After analyzing the data, the research team included in the report four key recommendations with actionable steps–13 steps in total–for implementation.

These key recommendations, drawn from focus groups during a pandemic, offer institutional leaders across the country not only immediate guidance but also will help postsecondary institutions improve future practices long after the COVID-19 crisis subsides.

“Higher education is a way for many adults to expand their education-to-career pathways,” said Robin Smith, senior director at The DeBruce Foundation. “By understanding what unique challenges exist for adult learners, particularly during the pandemic, we can help identify solutions to remove barriers.”

1. Establish faculty development and technological training for faculty, staff, and adult learners. This includes funding and supporting faculty development and training and supporting staff and faculty on how to use and manage technology.

2. Make timely and consistent decisions about course delivery and fees. Steps include keeping fees consistent and stable and providing consistency in course delivery.

3. Establish clear communication paths and ensure that communication addresses the target audience, such as targeting messages to the appropriate audience and encouraging advisors and faculty to engage with their adult learners.

4. Be mindful of mental health and stress levels of faculty, staff, and learners. Engage with faculty and staff on an ongoing basis, and provide a means for adult learners to engage remotely with professional counselors.

“For adult learners, COVID-19 has been another life obstacle in a myriad of other challenges they regularly face and overcome,” noted Dr. Scott Campbell, vice president, Partnership Development, CAEL. “We hope the recommendations from this research are helpful and can be put into practice to lighten the burden for adult learners and best position them for future success.”

“While these recommendations were developed during a pandemic, they will improve institutional practices and service to adult learners in any environment,” said Dr. Royce Ann Collins, associate professor, K-State, Consultant – Lead Researcher, UERC.

Dr. Beth Tankersley-Bankhead, President and CEO of KC Scholars, shared that “learning about how to best support adult learners, who are juggling so many things while completing a degree, serves as a helpful resource. To now have practical ‘lessons learned’ focused on supporting adult learners during the pandemic – and lessons provided by adult learners who are living the experience – takes these findings to the next level. Adult learners, campuses supporting adults enrolled on their campuses, and programs focused on supporting adults will find helpful advice in this report.”

“Adult learners had different needs than traditional students during the pandemic. We were able to provide adults with laptops for maximum participation in distance learning,” said Lisa Stoothoff, vice president of Academic and Student Affairs/Dean of College, Donnelly College.

Material from a press release was used in this report.

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Laura Ascione

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