Engaging and retaining mature students in the classroom of the future

Why mature students are returning to the classroom and how providers can ensure they are embracing new digital learning methods to offer them the best possible experience

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected educational systems worldwide. The global lockdown of educational institutions caused major interruptions in students’ way of learning and forced higher education to undergo drastic changes. Universities have had to quickly switch over to online classes. Students have had to adapt to Zoom meetings so that they could continue their studies with as little disruption as possible.

As with other parts of the education system, this development has also impacted mature students.

Data published by the House of Commons in February 2021 revealed that in 2019/20, there were 202,000 mature postgraduate entrants – an increase of almost 25,000 (14%) from 2014/15.

“Lifelong learning is no longer a choice, but a necessity”

Why did we see this increase in the middle of a pandemic? There is the obvious answer: people had more time and looked for options to invest it wisely. But the trend is bigger than that; mature learners are in the middle of the fast-paced technological innovation that impacts our work life. It requires us to frequently update our skills. Lifelong learning is no longer a choice, but a necessity. If you really want to get ahead in your job, you have to stay ahead of the wave.

The race to catch up

With all this demand on the rise, the education system itself is lagging behind in adapting to a new environment. Many teaching methods are focused on dry facts and are highly dependent on the quality of the professor. Keeping the same teaching format that has been used for the past 30 years is not an option. We can’t just apply old concepts to the online world. If your professor is boring in the classroom, he will also be boring on Zoom. The latter might actually be worse. We need to radically rethink the way we teach, before we apply teaching methods to technological platforms.

According to a study published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America) students in classes with traditional “stand-and-deliver” lectures are 1.5 times more likely to fail than students taking classes that use more stimulating, so-called “active” learning methods. Challenge-based and bite-sized learning elements increase student engagement and motivation. What’s more, research shows that learners retain 60% more of what they have  studied compared to traditional learning methods.

The future of education

Enter technology. Learning on digital platforms will be the future. By using artificial intelligence, learning can be personalised and provide the learner with real-time feedback. Students can design their own development path, based on individual competencies and goals. Also, they will be able to learn at their own speed, whenever and wherever they want. The combination of technology and an engaging teaching method can revolutionise modern education. Our smartphones have become one of the most important tools for organising our lives – it’s high time to integrate them into the education system as well. The future of education literally lies in our pocket.

It’s certainly an exciting time for the world of higher education. But simply switching the classroom over to Zoom won’t cut it. To truly capitalise on the appetite of the modern-day learner, providers should be offering courses that meet the demands of students and truly serve their needs.

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