Casual, no pressure: 10 best ways for adult learners to upskill or reskill

adult learner
It's never too late to learn as adult. Source: AFP

It’s been a few years since you graduated.

You found a job, climbed up the corporate ladder, and achieved some milestones in your career — yet you feel like something is missing.

You also feel inadequate, given all the news about how AI is getting smarter and more capable of taking over your job.

Perhaps now is a great time for you to challenge yourself beyond your book club, which, it turns out, is just you and your friends gossiping around a lukewarm charcuterie board.

Despite popular beliefs, adult learners exist and are changing higher education. Here’s a look at the numbers:

  • In 2021, when COVID-19 disrupted many lives, adults over 25 represented roughly 40% of enrollment in US higher education — that’s nearly eight million learners.
  • EU data show that about 44 % of adults aged 25 to 64 participated in formal or non-formal education and training. 
  • Today, adult learners make up 42% of total higher education revenue, according to Tess Arena,  Director of Marketing and Recruitment at EAB. 

After all, the expansion of online learning has opened up more opportunities to get back into study as an adult, especially for those looking to enhance their skills or change career trajectories.

Still not convinced? Here are a few reasons why it’s never too late to think about something new — regardless of which stage you are in your career. 

What motivates adult learners? 

The idea of a career has changed. Many job listings today would not have existed when today’s 30-year-olds were in school. 

While the idea of a “career for life” has not disappeared entirely, the rapid pace and scale of change means that we are more likely to move around considerably during our working lifetime. 

It’s normal for you to take more career breaks, seek more promotional opportunities, or jump ship and start entirely afresh — often on a number of occasions across our working lives.

Plus, in the past few years, we have seen an increased emphasis on flexibility, enabling adult learners to fit study around their work and family commitments. 

The 2019 Augar Review into post-18 education in England encouraged colleges and universities to develop provision that enables learners to “step on” and “step off” their learning journeys — to study when and where it suits them.

While we used to think of careers in terms of stability, predictability and incremental progression, we now understand that they can be fractured, complex, messy and unpredictable.

The best part? Adult learners bring life experiences and established perspectives with them when they start a course.

Active, participatory and discursive learning environments enable them to draw on these experiences, contextualise and interrogate them, and learn from one another.

Beyond this, research has shown us that such “transformational learning” results in happier, healthier individuals with stronger social networks and enhanced family life. 

These positive individual outcomes ripple throughout their families, friendship groups, and wider communities and society.

If you have the heart to learn, consider these 10 options to secure a new credential or a degree without sacrificing your career or time with your family. 

adult learners

LinkedIn has great online courses for you to upskill as an adult learner. Source: AFP

Upskill or reskill: 10 great options for adult learners who want to learn or get a degree casually without pressure

1. Online courses and certificates

Platforms like Coursera, Udemy, or LinkedIn Learning offer flexible courses that allow you to learn at your own pace. 

University of Pittsburgh’s School of Computing and Information online Master in Data Science, for example, will be available through Coursera and allow students from Pennsylvania, the US and across the globe to learn data science skills and analytic tools, gain abilities to pose and answer real-world questions through data, and complete experiential projects to build a portfolio they can share with potential employers, all at their own pace. 

The great thing about these programmes is that there are almost a limitless amount of possibilities for what you can learn, whether marketing, business, or finance. 

On the other hand, micro-credential programmes can provide specific skills without the extensive time commitment of a full degree.

These courses can be shorter and cheaper as compared to a full degree. Some are even accredited or provide a pathway for you to complete a degree in a shorter period. 

2. Part-time or evening classes

Many universities offer evening or weekend classes that cater to working adults. 

Likewise, community colleges often have flexible schedules and affordable options for part-time education.

The Brooklyn Institute takes it a step further.

They are a non-profit education centre that offers evening and weekend courses for adults, catering to those who want the rigour of a liberal arts seminar but at a more modest commitment. 

The unaccredited classes are held for three hours each week for a month and are led by lecturers with advanced degrees. 

Though adult learners can enrol in massive open online courses or extension school programs, the institute differentiates itself with more niche and left-field topics: the novels of Clarice Lispector, the history of trauma and transgender Marxism.

And the best part? No grades.

adult learners

A credit-by-exam (CBE) programme allows you to earn college credit for what you already know by passing a test in a specific subject you would normally take in college. Source: AFP

3. Credit-by-examination

Some institutions allow you to earn credits through exams like CLEP or DSST, which can shorten the time needed for a degree.

A credit-by-exam (CBE) programme allows you to earn college credit for what you already know by passing a test in a specific subject you would normally take in college.

You can pick and choose college-level subject matter exams from various credit-by-exam providers. 

Passing tests through a credit-by-exam programme offers students the opportunity to earn college credit or transfer credit to colleges and universities that accept CBE.

Each exam programme sets its own testing schedule at test-taking centres.

4. Prior learning assessment

As adult learners, you stand out in the learning process. 

Through what’s called “prior learning assessments,” some universities offer credits for prior work experience or knowledge, reducing the number of courses needed to complete a degree. 

Even then, your work experience will prove to be useful when completing courses that lean more towards practical learning. 

A managing director, for example, who is well-versed in the art of business may have an easier time when studying for an MBA or Executive MBA programme. 

adult learners

Some universities offer flexible, self-paced degree programmes tailored for working adults, allowing you to set your learning pace. Source: AFP

5. Flexible degree programmes

Some universities offer flexible, self-paced degree programmes tailored for working adults, allowing you to set your learning pace.

Take the University of Massachusetts Global’s MyPath, for example. 

It provides a new option for earning your online bachelor’s or master’s degree while working full-time. 

With the MyPath programmes, you control your schedule and the pace at which courses are completed. All programmes here are accredited by the WSCUC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC). 

Support coaches and staff track your progress and provide help, information, and resources when needed.

6. Hybrid or blended programmes

Blended, or hybrid, courses have often been touted as the ideal ways to learn as they get students to interact in both face-to-face and online settings, thereby experiencing the “best of both worlds.” 

This means that students can decide when and where to engage in instruction. 

One day, they might choose to attend in person in a classroom. Another day, they might choose to participate remotely via a web conferencing platform.

Yet another day, they might need to do the work another time, perhaps asynchronously through online activities.

Research shows that removing the need to commute or attend class at only one set time has made it possible for adult learners to persist despite a lack of transportation or conflicting work schedules and family obligations.

adult learners

Check if your employer offers tuition reimbursement for relevant courses or degrees. Source: AFP

7. Employer assistance programme

Check if your employer can sponsor relevant courses or degrees.

Employee tuition reimbursement is a company-sponsored benefit that covers some or all of the costs associated with an employee’s college coursework. 

In these programmes, the employee pays for their courses upfront, and the employer pays back a portion or the full amount of that cost upon completion.

If you’re wondering how it works, it’s simple:

  • You, together with your company, decide which programme you’d like to join 
  • You pay your tuition at the beginning of the term.
  • You stay with your company for the course duration.
  • You submit their grades and receipts.
  • You process the reimbursement through payroll.

8. Self-study with credit options

Self-study options with credit-earning potential offer opportunities to gain academic credits through independent learning. 

Apart from CBE programmes, some institutions allow you to compile a portfolio of your learning experiences, demonstrating your knowledge and skills in a particular field. 

Some universities or colleges offer challengeexams that allow you to prove your proficiency in a subject. Passing these exams can earn you credits without taking the course.

adult learners

Networking events are a platform to build your network and source for mentorship opportunities. Source: AFP

9. Networking and mentorship

Don’t want to join a course or degree? You can upskill or reskill informally instead.

Start by engaging with professional associations or mentorship programmes that can offer guidance and knowledge in your field of interest — much like a lecturer would.

The concept of mentoring entails an ongoing relationship between the mentor and mentees, where they engage in two-way “learning by doing,” in order to work out the best way to achieve their goals. 

10. Use technology and apps

Say you want to learn a new language.

It would be too costly to do another degree focusing on languages, and you might not even have the time to pursue a flexible learning programme.

These days, mobile apps and tools can aid in learning on the go, effectively using spare moments during commutes or breaks.