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Does higher education seem like a foreign culture to you?

You have expectations
as you register for and take classes,
as well as work through your program in higher education.

Higher education also has expectations of you!
It has its own rules, patterns, and culture. There are important differences between private and public schools, community colleges and universities, liberal arts and research institutions, graduate schools, etc.

Key concepts in higher education
include disciplines/departments, scholarship, research, verbal orientation, tenure, collegiality, academic freedom, etc. Take time to understand the culture of higher education.

Significant groups include faculty and students,
administrators and trustees, alumni, and even larger communities and legislators. They all are important resources. Staff also are there to help you, and wait for you to appear so that their services and centers can help you succeed.

Do you wonder about your skills
in finding your way around this strange land of higher education?

As an adult learner, you

  • tend to be self-directed
  • have a rich reservoir of experience that can serve as a resource for learning
  • are frequently affected by your need to know or do something
  • tend to have a life-, task-, or problem-centered orientation to learning
    as opposed to a subject-matter orientation
  • are generally motivated to learn from within (internally/intrinsically)
    as opposed to being obligated, or subject to, external or extrinsic forces

adapted from
Imel, Susan, Guidelines for Working with Adult Learners.
ERIC Digest No. 154 ERIC Identifier: ED377313, 1994-00-00

Adult learners, as they return to, and progress through their education,
often question and reevaluate their original assumptions and motivation
as they use education to re-create their lives.

As such, your learning will be more successful if you

  • Take an active role
    in planning, monitoring, and evaluating your education
  • Discard preconceived notions
    about what college is and isn’t; open your mind to the experience
  • Choose subjects and courses that
    are most relevant to your job/profession or personal life
    that fit into your academic program

Course descriptions important to adult learners




Shared responsibility for learning objectives;

Continuous negotiation or openness to renegotiation;


Open to change;

Value process;

Intrinsically motivated

Integrates thinking
and learning;

Problem-centered rather than content oriented;

Demand mutual respect & equality for learners;

Incorporate, promote dialogue & openness;

Recognizes the value of experience in contributing to learning;

Includes projects and/or active learning (as opposed to lectures and/or passive learning);

Built in monitor for feedback and evaluation

Applies learning to practical applications;

Issue-centered curricula

Multiple/diverse sources of information

Variety of format

adapted from:
Explorations in Learning & Instruction:
The Theory Into Practice Database (TIP)
Andragogy (M. Knowles)

Helpful strategies in a program of adult learning:

Write out your goals and expected time commitments.
This will be helpful in avoiding stress and over-scheduling yourself.

Establish a good rapport with your instructors/professors in the classes you take.
This will be helpful in negotiating optional learning projects
that have more relevance to your situation and goals.

Develop an awareness of how you learn, or have learned best in the past;
This will help you focus your energies in the most productive way,
and alert you to areas where you may need help
(i.e. speaking, writing, math, testing, etc.)

Your learning style defines how you acquire and process information (learn!) 
and has nothing to do with being “smart.” You could refer to it as to how your brain works, or the parts of your brain work. Each person has a very particular way of learning. Research has identified many “learner characteristics” and ways of typing them.

Your academic counseling center or study skills center
is a good place to begin. They not only have testing instruments to help you, but also the professionals who are able to interpret and apply the results.

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Mary Jane

Mary Jane Go has been teaching English for over 13 years. She believes that it is very important to learn English and learn it by heart. For her, it's always the right time for a dance party and that hanging out with friends is indispensable.

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