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The Focused Student: Education beyond the college years

The Focused Student: Education beyond the college years
“Whether your interest is in fishing or physics, there are courses that cater to your learning goal, taught in many cases by world renowned professors, professionals and experts.” (Ben Garver / AP)

“Adult education” has for too long been thought of as something different than “real” school. In fact, adult education is simply a spot along what should be a continuum of lifelong learning. Adult education is really all post-school education, and it constitutes most of the learning most of us will do in our lives.

Today, post-school education offers a wealth of opportunities in a variety of formats and fulfills a variety of purposes. Some people acquire additional education to advance in their professional lives. Others take courses they didn’t have time to explore in high school or college, while still others try new hobbies or sports via adult education offerings. Some seek specific certifications required to try a new field or move up in the field they’re in, while many opt to learn a new language. You can take courses to master what you think you are bad at or become better at what you already do well.

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While adult education once meant going to class at a local high school or college campus, today it can also mean taking courses online. Whether your interest is in fishing or physics, there are courses that cater to your learning goal, taught in many cases by world renowned professors, professionals and experts. There are courses for fun, courses to stretch your mind, and courses to satisfy your curiosity about almost any topic imaginable.

Teaching adult education is different. Post-school learners tend to be more motivated because they’ve chosen to pursue knowledge. They bring with them a wealth of personal knowledge and experience, as well as a variety of reasons for pursuing a given course.

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Teaching adults requires more of a task- or problem-solving orientation, versus subject orientation. Adults usually aren’t taking a class to socialize or complete a graduation requirement. They prefer self-direction in learning, which is why online courses are popular. It is important for most adults to have flexibility but with a structure to it, and that’s just what adult education provides.

Post-school learning is fun, engaging and beneficial. What could be on your “bucket list”? It doesn’t have to be a “course.” Travel is learning, and so are discussion groups, lessons in music or art or a history course. It could be a speaker series offered by a company or city.

As adults we all need to keep our minds sharp and current. And an added benefit is that if you still have a student at home, your learning efforts set about the importance of always continuing to learn. Graduating, whether from high school or college, is not the end of education; it’s the beginning of post-school education.

What keeps us from becoming consistent lifelong learners? For most of us it’s a matter of work, family, cost and time commitments. Would I like to learn how to play the guitar on Saturday mornings? Yes, but the yard work has to get done, the kids have sports, the wife needs time with me (and I with her), and can I really justify $65 for a half-hour lesson each week?

There’s always a reason to say you can’t. But with a bit of effort you can, and you will gain a lot in doing so. I can’t promise that the grass will be greener if you let the yard work go for a bit, but I’m almost certain you will be invigorated, delighted and left with a deep sense of accomplishment after pursuing an educational adventure. This summer would be a great time to start.

Lifelong learning — it’s good for everyone.

Robert Frank is the executive director of the Hillside School and Learning Center in La Cañada. He holds a master’s of science degree in special education and has more than 40 years of teaching experience. His column appears on the last Thursday of each month. He can be reached at frank@hillsideforsuccess.org.

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