on December 16th, 2021

As access to education continues to change, so does the student demographic. For mature-age students, sometimes the all too common question arises: Is it too late for me to start studying?

Whether it's a career path that was never pursued or the desire to formalize work experience, many factors can motivate us to return to studying. However, with around 63% of domestic undergraduate students under 20, it can be a slightly intimidating decision.

Two male adult students sitting side by side.

The Rise of the 'Non-traditional' Student

An increasing number of students are entering higher education as non-school leavers. From continuing their learning journey with a master's degree to stepping into the world of academics for the first time, many mature-age students are beginning to embrace new learning opportunities.

EIT graduate, Ray Crawshaw, began his higher education journey after 35 years of experience in the oil & gas, power generation, and mining sectors.

"Since leaving school, I hadn't done any formal education for over nearly forty years. I just had the trade certificate. I had a lot of experience over the years, had run my own business, and had been in many high-profile positions. But, I didn't have any qualifications to back it up," Ray said.

In the year that Ray began work on Gorgon Barrow Island in 2012. He enrolled in the Advanced Diploma of Applied Electrical Engineering with EIT, finishing it in 2014. Witnessing the encroachment of technology into the engineering disciplines he was interested in, he wondered if he should become more skilled in automation.

Ray had already worked for Chevron for a year when he enrolled in our Master of Engineering (Industrial Automation). He seamlessly integrated what he was doing at work into his thesis for EIT.

"At Chevron, they were testing the gas wells for mercury, and they thought they aligned with international standards, but by the time it got to the plant itself, the mercury levels were actually a lot higher," Ray explained.

As a construction manager, he was given the task of going into the plant and installing online mercury analyzing equipment. Ray found he could consolidate what he was learning in his automation studies to detect mercury levels more efficiently.

"Using modern technology, I looked into what we could devise to help us analyze. We ended up using electric devices that would use surface acoustic waves for measuring mercury. And since the master's with EIT was to do with automation and control, I had to use my knowledge of PLCs, SCADA, and HMI. So, I correlated the thesis with the work I was doing there."

Challenges in Returning to Study

The research behind mature-age student decision making has shown that mature age students are influenced by a range of motivations, including:

1. Self-Transformation

Whether it's for personal development or enrichment, sometimes undertaking studies later in life can help to enrich an individuals goals or life experience.

2. Pursuing Unfulfilled Potential

Whatever it may be, sometimes other obstacles were in the way of pursuing study goals at a younger age. Going back to learning can help bridge that gap that many mature-age students may feel.

3. Validating Existing Skills

Many mature-age students return to learning with a valuable skillset and range of professional experience. Returning to study can help validate that experience and formalize what they have learnt throughout their career.

4. Following Personal Interests

Hobbies are an important aspect of our daily lives and sometimes you may want to take it to the next level. Formalizing your interests is a great way to gain a new level of knowledge and meet other people with the same interests.

5. Changing Life Course

You may have started a career and suddenly realized it was the wrong one. It's never too late to start the journey into another pathway.

These interconnected motivations play a significant role in mature-aged students undertaking higher education studies. These apparent motivations are of increasing importance for mature-age students due to their unique set of challenges.

Significantly lower levels of sense of belonging have been observed amongst mature-age students groups compared to traditional student groups. Mature-age students may be "disadvantaged by an identity that is marginalized and detached from student networks or sociality and information."

However, not just social factors can enforce a feeling of displacement. It can also be the learning environment itself. Mature-age students often return to study after many years away, reducing their familiarity with learning environments.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, education has changed dramatically. The remarkable rise of online learning has allowed most classrooms to quickly enter the digital space. However, while the online world may come with ease to traditional-aged students, mature-age students can often find it harder to keep up (Stone & O'Shea, 2019). These obstacles can often result in inconsistent completion outcomes for mature-age students compared to younger students. A different approach is needed to meet many mature-age students' needs and particular circumstances.

Making Learning Work for You

The research behind mature-age student decision making has shown that mature age students are influenced

In the 2020 Student Experience Survey, participants aged 30 and over rated engagement as the least satisfactory aspect of their online courses. Learner engagement refers to how actively involved and immersed learners are with their studies.

At the Engineering Institute of Technology (EIT), live interactive webinars with lecturers and other students are utilized during study periods. Students are encouraged to attend the 'virtual classroom' to engage with the learning material in real-time.

A graduate of EIT's 52867WA – Advanced Diploma of Industrial Data Communication, Networking and IT, Hazel Woodhall, says that the virtual classroom made all the difference in feeling included.

"It may be hard to believe of a distance learning course, but I felt a real sense of camaraderie with the other students on the course. I think that the ability to chat in real-time with them during the webinars fostered this bond," she explained.

EIT's refined online learning environment not only means that students are engaged, but it allows them to make study work for them. Flexibility is an absolute priority for many mature-age students as they often juggle various other commitments.

Cameron Russell Bourne, a graduate of EIT's 52884WA – Advanced Diploma of Mechanical Engineering Technology, says that the online delivery mode allowed him to continue studying without making other complicated arrangements. "The online delivery of this course via the webinars and web page correspondence was the only way possible for me to achieve this qualification without having to give up my country lifestyle and regional location — this education model suited me very well," he said.

So, Is It Too Late to Start Studying?

It's never too late!

There is no specific age or time in your life that is meant for studying. Learning is a lifelong journey that should be embraced whenever you are ready. The capabilities of the internet have allowed studying to become accessible from wherever and whenever.

No matter your experience level or prior qualifications, there are study pathways available to start and continue your academic journey. If you have the motivation and the passion, anything is possible.

"At the age of 38, I can't actually believe I'm enjoying it. If I enjoy the Advanced Diploma so much, maybe I'll love a degree course too," says EIT student Randall September.

With dedicated learning support, live and interactive webinars, and flexible learning options, there is no reason to wait. Check out the schedule page for all upcoming EIT programs and turn your goals into a reality.  

References

Stone, C., & O'Shea, S. (2019). Older, online, and first: Recommendations for retention and success. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 35(1), 62. doi: 10.14742/ajet.3913

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