Adult Education

By Catherine McNulty

June 2, 2014 5 min read

A lot of people believe that education ends with college, but learning is a lifelong process. Continuing education is more important now than ever before. The job market is incredibly competitive, and the world has never been so connected. If you can't keep up, you will be left behind. So what's the best way to keep learning as an adult? And if you're a busy adult, how can you fit education into your schedule?

Almost everyone can benefit from continuing education. Professionally, it could sharpen your skill set and keep you updated on current technology. It also proves to your employer how engaged in your work you are and can make you more marketable. Plus you might gain new contacts and networking opportunities. Personally, it could introduce you to a new group of people who share an interest. And while many traditional colleges are now charging a premium to attend classes, never have there been more nontraditional options available.

The Internet has truly democratized the spreading of knowledge; all the knowledge in the world is there at your fingertips. There will always be traditional classrooms, but there is a plethora of educational resources that can be found online. Online classes offer a great opportunity to people who might not otherwise be able to attend classes. It also gives you the chance to engage with people who you might never have met under any other circumstance. While many people are still skeptical of degrees that are earned through online-only universities, every college has some classes available online. You may not even have to pay for them.

MOOCs, or massive open online courses, allow you to access some of the best classes elite universities have to offer -- for free. Because it is free, you are auditing the class and not actively working toward a degree. You will still get all of the course materials, but you are not held accountable in the way that students who have paid for the class at the university are. This means that it can be hard to stay motivated. A recent survey of a Duke University MOOC showed there was a 97 percent dropout rate. So MOOCs are best for people who can keep themselves on task and focused.

The offerings MOOCs can be a bit scattered, as well. A recent search of classes commencing soon turned up The History of Rock, Water Supply and Sanitation Policy in Developing Nations, and The Brain and Space. If you're interested in MOOCs, you can find out more information at https://www.coursera.org and https://www.edx.org.

If you're a bit more serious about online education or you want to actively pursue a degree or certificate for a class, pretty much every college offers paid online classes. This is great for anyone with children or who may have trouble getting to a scheduled class every week. You will have to apply to the college or university and be accepted to be able to take classes in this manner. Check your local colleges; many offer degrees and certificate programs for working adults.

Some things are still best experienced offline. While many people enjoy engaging in discussions on message boards, nothing can beat a lively, in-person conversation. Consider the type of class you are taking. An in-depth analysis of Emily Dickinson's poetry could easily have thoughtful discourse online, whereas learning a new language might be easier in a traditional classroom setting, where you can actively engage with fellow students.

And don't be intimidated to be an adult taking a class. Younger students will inspire and energize you, while you can bring a different perspective. No one should only interact with just people their own age.

Don't discount nontraditional ways of gaining knowledge, either. Every Apple store offers free classes in Mac programs, and other computer stores may, as well. If you're trying to learn another language, see whether there are any native speakers in your area and whether they are willing to do a language exchange. Want to learn to cook? Offer to work in a restaurant kitchen for no pay several nights a week.

Taking classes and gaining knowledge should not only be about furthering your career but also help you engage with the world around you and give you a better, more rounded life. Maybe taking a class in Norse mythology has nothing to do with your career or your life in general, but if it's something you're curious about, why not do it?

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