Mature Learner

Collage of 3 photos. 1. A man holding his young child and kissing him on the cheek. 2. A over-the-should shot of a man holding a tablet with coloured graphs on the screen. 3. A woman with glasses looking at her computer.

Key Characteristics:

  • 24 years old or older
  • Returning to school after a long period away
  • Have already spent several years in the workforce
  • Have other major responsibilities, such as a full-time job or dependents

The mature learner and online learning

Mature learners are typically in a different stage of life than the traditional learner, and therefore have a specific set of needs when it comes to online learning. At the same time, the label of ‘mature student’ applies to a wide spectrum of learners, and the needs and digital literacy of learners within that group can vary widely.

Mature learners may not have a good grasp of ICT literacy. They may not have grown up around technology, and so are less familiar with common platforms and tools. They may be easily overwhelmed if multiple digital tools are being introduced to the course, and they may be less able to learn to navigate new tools by trial-and-error and to problem-solve any issues they encounter.

Mature learners may also need to fine-tune their learning skills, as they will have spent years away from a formal learning environment. They may struggle with organizing their schedule and dedicating time to coursework if they are simultaneously balancing full-time work and/or childcare. If they are in courses alongside a large group of traditional learners, they may also have difficulty engaging with their classmates and establishing connections.

Many mature learners, through their experiences in the workforce, will likely have the basic skills required by the communications and collaboration literacy, although they may be unfamiliar with how to apply those skills in a digital environment. They may be familiar with writing to convey a point, professional conduct in online spaces, and how to productively work in a team. They may also have the basic skills required by the career & identity management literacy. Again, they may not be familiar with how to apply these skills digitally, but it’s likely that they understand how words and actions can impact reputation, and are familiar with networking. They are also likely more confident in their identity, in who they are as a person and what it is they care about, and so will have an easier time forming a distinct identity online.

The mature learner and Learning to Learn Online

In many different ways, the MOOC has features and content that support the needs of mature learners. Mature learners may find the ‘Get Started’ section quite helpful, as it introduces information about computer basics, internet basics, and how to navigate the course platform. They will also likely appreciate the clear instructions for all course activities, where care has been taken to explain not only the expectations of the activity itself, but also to provide details about how to navigate the digital tool required for the activity. As described in other sections, a large percentage of the content in the MOOC relates to learning skills, helping the learner understand the common attributes of, and skills and habits required for, online learning.

Many mature learners are choosing to participate in an online learning opportunity for a very specific purpose; they are looking to gain specific skills or learn a very specific set of knowledge that can help them further their career, or start a new career path. The structure of this MOOC makes it easy for them to do so. Learners have access to all content from the beginning of the MOOC, so they can choose to only engage in certain sections, if they wish. No activities are mandatory (unless you want to receive the final certificate), so a learner can choose to engage in discussions as much or as little as they’d like, can opt out of completing the end of module quizzes, and are not forced to engage in the “practice” and “explore” activities at the end of every single lesson page. It is worth noting that this MOOC was able to provide learners with greater flexibility because they were not completing the course for credit.

Finally, the course allows you to set your preferences for which emails and notifications you receive. A mature learner, who has a busy personal life consisting of multiple social roles, may benefit from receiving emails reminding them to continue engaging in the course, or of upcoming live sessions and deadlines. At the same time, they may wish to turn off notifications and emails from the discussion boards, and only visit that content during the times they have designated for the course.

Image credit: Photos by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash, Adeolu Eletu on Unsplash, and Javier Sierra on Unsplash


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Learning To Learn Online Copyright © by Nicole Crozier and Joanna Lake is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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