When a person decides to continue their education beyond high school, many times they will assume that this new education will be similar to the old education they received. The prospective student makes plans to do what they did before. After all, it worked then, so it should work now. This assumption of similarity leads many new adult students so far astray that they cannot modify their behavior, which means they will typically not complete their program of study, and will not receive the desired degree. All from a bad assumption.
The Cause of the Differences
The reasons high school and adult educations are so different stem from two distinct differences between the two styles of education: the source and the target. When you change the source of the education process, which is the beliefs and assumptions about the student, and the target of the education process, which is the desired level of understanding, it is not unreasonable that the process will change as well.
Adult education starts from a very different image of the student than high school. A high school student usually lives at home, with some level of support from parents. A high school student is also relatively free of responsibilities; very seldom does a high school student have a full-time job, a family, and a household to support. And a high school student is typically very inexperienced in running their own lives. Adult students tend to live on their own, with jobs and families and other responsibilities which must be balanced with school. Briefly, high school students are adolescents while adult students are, well, adults.
The goal of a high school education is to provide a foundational level of understanding of the world the student will be entering. High school classes are designed for a general population and to provide an understanding of the skills and knowledge that is needed for a new adult. Adult education is designed for a much more focused result, providing a more in-depth understanding of a particular subject matter. This focus means that other skills and other aspects of the student are ignored by the courses of an adult program of study.
Implications for the Student
An adult student must approach their courses with a different mindset, and a different set of behaviors, than a high school student. The adult student is given more control over their behavior, and more responsibility.
An adult student is responsible for making sure the work for the class is done, not the teacher. The student will be periodically reminded about missing and upcoming work, but the responsibility for getting the work done is the student’s, not the teacher’s. Many teachers will not allow for late work, or will penalize late work severely. And much of the work of adult classes is done outside of the class.
Classes in adult education cover more material in the same period of time. The teacher will often cover the material once or twice with the assumption that any student who does not understand will work outside of class to learn it and/or will come visit the instructor during office hours. While the adult can expect some repetition in the class, it will be significantly less than what they experienced in high school.
Adult students need to practice time management to a much greater degree than high school students. This need for time management comes from both the increased work load from the course and from the other facets of the student’s life. Adult students are assumed to handle this time management, and if they are having problems they need to seek the necessary help.
Finally, adult students are responsible for their own commitment to the course. High school teachers, given the adolescent nature of their students, are constantly working to get the student to understand why something is studied. This is much less important to an adult teacher; while an adult teacher may provide some justification for the study of certain subjects, the justification for being in school should already be present in an adult student. It is, after all, the student’s choice to attend.
Adult education is driven by the student, not the teacher. If a student has the motivation, then they will be successful.