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The number of adult learners enrolling in both distance and higher education programmes has been increasing exponentially than that of young students. From 1970s to early 1980s, the number of young students enrolling in educational institutions increased by about 16%. During the same time span, enrollment of adult learners increased at an alarming rate of about 113%. From late 1980s up to day, adult learners registering in higher and distance education as well as vocational training has increased by around 10% (National Center for Education Statistics, n.d.). By definition, an adult learner can be described as an individual (over 24 years old) who enrolls part or full-time in a school while still maintains his social or work duties such as family, employment and other duties in the society. In addition, the reasons for going to school vary from one student to another and the most common ones include career advancement, desire to be well-informed about what is happening around them and purely for recreational purposes etc. Based on these issues, it is inevitable that the study habits possessed by these students will vary greatly to those employed by the youth students. Their approach to learning will be more skewed towards strategies that will help them to understand course contents well and easily within short time periods so as to leave enough time to attend to other non-study-related obligations and duties. As such, this paper aims to discuss study habits for adult learners.

Meta-cognition study habits

Meta-cognition refers to the capacity of learners to reflect on, understand and regulate their learning. This implies that metacognition study habits of adult learners are based on the fact that such learners bring with them prior learning experience. As such, they construct knowledge for themselves by creating individual illustrations of the content to be studied, choose material they believe to be relevant and interpret this on the basis of their prior skills and requirements. Based on this, adult learners use metacognition study habits.

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Among the most commonly used metacognition learning strategies include collaborative study habits and sharing of experience among the students.  Collaborative studying is good for adult learners because it helps them construct meanings and interpretations through dynamic involvement and sharing of experiences. Success is more likely to occur through social discussions requiring adult students to explicate, elaborate and voice out their viewpoints to other students. The collaborative study habits also offer opportunities for the students to investigate and improve their understandings. This is because differences in content understanding among the students serve to provide alternatives to be studied further for better and well-informed understanding. For instance, a study carried out to investigate metacognition study habits of adult female learners found out that they collaborated more amongst themselves through collaborative discussions and sharing of personal experiences. The study also found out that the learners were more willing to seek assistance from their peers in areas where they had difficulties in understanding course contents (Sutherland, 1998, p.36). Therefore, collaborative study behaviors for adult learners help them to improve their knowledge and understand, apply, memorize and reproduce what has been already taught in class. In addition, opposing viewpoints arising from such discussions encourage the students to engage in more research, which eventually leads them to see things in different ways. The students believe that engaging in student-student discussions provides an opportunity for them to show their metacognition, reflection and acceptance of individual responsibility for studying. Combined with their motivation, they seek to optimize their studies using collaborative methods that can help them to achieve their self-directed objectives.  

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Another form of metacognition study behavior observed in successful adult students is use of small study groups. The groups, which comprise of not more than 10 learners, are thought to provide a more shared and student-centered learning environment than is provided in conventional classroom. Such study behavior helps the students to understand areas they missed during class hours without necessarily spending a lot of time doing research. Success is more likely to happen in such situation as every member will be given opportunity to share his/her understanding about the learnt material and ask questions in areas he/she missed during class time.  Sutherland (1998) attributes such success to the improved critical thinking, improved peer support, elevated self-esteem and enhanced co-operation associated with such small groups (p.103).

However, there are some challenges that face adult learners in metacognition study habits. The collaborative groups come with diverse abilities, experiences and skills. Development of the group requires a long period of time, which is not actually available since only few hours are allocated to study. There are also issues of diversity and inclusion that have to be dealt with before the group can work cooperatively. It is not possible for the group members to build trust and confidence among themselves if some members feel that they are not given equal opportunity to contribute their ideas and opinions in the forums.

Allocation of study time

As opposed to their young counterparts, adult learners encounter challenges in trying to balance between study time and time for other responsibilities. They usually spend few hours in studies and many hours attending to work and family duties. This is because their role as learners is one among many other tasks they play in the society. Based on this, Slotnick (1993) argues that adult learners study schedules are characterized by few study hours per day (p.43). As such, they plan to complete their assignments or other coursework in small bits but early enough to avoid procrastination. They believe that such study habits help them to study at their own speed without much work-related stress and be able to complete their course requirements in the required time. The plans also offer flexibility in that the students are able to attend to other responsibilities and return back to their studies whenever they are free time. In this way, they avoid scenarios of having to request for more time to do their coursework effectively.

Learners here are faced with challenge of balancing study time and time for other social and employment duties. This brings about excessive stress, which greatly affects performance of adult learners.

Study habits related to reason for going back to education

Adult students enroll in higher, vocational and distance education programmes with diverse goals. Among the common reasons for going back to school include career advancement and change, to be well acquainted with social and political happenings and understanding a specific problem related to their lives etc. This implies that adult learners devise study habits directed towards achievement of individual goals or put in another way, their learning behaviors are self-directed. For instance, adult learners aiming to advance their career may devise study habits that integrate aspects of application of the learned theories into real life situations. They may apply the learned course materials to solve real life and work-related scenarios to evaluate the content’s validity before accepting the theories. For those whom their reason of seeking education is to change career exhibit similar learning behaviors as the young learners. This is because they encounter new things that are completely different from their prior experience. The only difference between these learners and their young counterparts is they are self-directed since they know what they want and how to achieve it (Slotnick, 1993, p.51).

Generally, adult learners engage in learning habits that address their reasons for being in school. As such, they choose to use interactive study behaviors such as relating programme requirements and purpose of study, seeking assistance from peers or instructors on how they can achieve their goals effectively and testing applicability of the learnt curriculum to their study wants. They like being involved in the development and implementation of instruction curriculum. They believe that playing a part in developing the curriculum ensures alignment of their study goals with course material. In situation where they encounter hurdles while choosing the best study method, they always resort to seeking support from their successful colleagues or instructors.

Moreover, mature learners do not like over-involvement of instructors in deciding for them how, when and what to study during their private time. Rather, they believe that instructors should get involved only as facilitators of their private studies. This aligns with the constructivist perspective that instructors should get involved in the learner’s study behavior to help them to identify their beliefs and work with them to know obstacles to understanding (Sutherland, 1998, p.32). This can be accomplished through encouraging learner to learner relationships, use of reflective responses to ensure effectiveness of discussions and critical response related to contribution of learners during the discussions. In this way, they have control over their own study habits since they believe that the learning responsibility and decision-making lies with them.

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As opposed to young students, adult learners spend more time in research so as to have a profound knowledge in the subject of study. They are not learners who would form a decision about a certain subject or topic based on reading of one book or author. They wish to understand diverse perspectives about a topic from various materials before they can accept a particular stance.

Adult learners exhibit various study habits all based on the fact that they enroll into learning institutions with prior experience and other responsibilities to attend to. They are usually use metacognition study habits such as collaborative discussions and sharing of individual experience. They believe that such environments provides an opportunity for them to understand well and easily curriculum contents since they are in position to share their understanding and reflections with other mature learners. In addition, they spend less time in studies compared with their young counterparts since they have to leave time to attend to other responsibilities such as work and family chores. Adult students prefer doing their studies in small groups where they will have an opportunity to explain and contribute their ideas and get feedback about the contributions from group members. They also choose to use interactive study behaviors such as relating programme requirements and purpose of study, seeking assistance from peers or instructors on how they can achieve their goals effectively and testing applicability of the learnt curriculum to their study wants. Mature learners do not like over-involvement of instructors in deciding for them how, when and what to study during their private time but rather, they believe that instructors should get involved only as facilitators of their private studies. They devise study habits directed towards achievement of individual goals or put in another way, their learning behaviors are self-directed.

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