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Why Being an Adult Learner Improves Your Quality of Life

by Jo Hartley
Posted: May 15, 2017

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There’s a saying ‘You’re never too old to learn’ and judging by recent statistics, it appears to be true. 

A 2016 report by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) found that over 3 million, or nearly 1 in 5 people (20%), were enrolled in formal study. Between 2006-2016, within the age brackets of 25 to 64-year-olds, the proportion of women studying increased from 7.9% to 10.5%, whilst for men, the increase was from 5.7% to 7.2% over the same period.

While the figures don’t break down to illustrate precise age demographics, it’s apparent that interest in further education is on the rise. 

ABS' Program Manager of Education, Crime and Culture, Michelle Marquardt, said that men and women in both younger and older age groups were choosing to undertake studies later in life. She attributed this in part to the rise in popularity of further studies outside of university courses.

The benefits of adult learning

Senior lady and man holding hands in the park, inspired by adult education classes

Naturally, there are many advantages for adults in undertaking further studies. First and foremost is the achievement of new knowledge and skills. Secondly, is the opportunity to change or enhance career paths

For the majority, these initial study outcomes are successfully achieved – a fact reflected in student feedback and reviews

However, according to a new study, there are many more benefits of adult learning than just the obvious. The study, conducted by the University of Oxford, found that adult education classes improved overall health, both physically and mentally. It also reported that, on completion of their course, students were more satisfied with their lives

Dr Eiluned Pearce led the research. She said, “The students reported benefits including increased self-confidence, a greater feeling of control over their lives and more willingness to take on new challenges. Some said the classes made them more motivated to be more active, despite the classes not specifically involving physical activity.” 

“Participants also said that the classes broadened their networks of friends and gave them an increased sense of belonging. We also found that the more someone felt part of their group, the more their health and wellbeing improved.” While this study is new, it’s not the first to explore the link between adult education and wellbeing. 

How adult education improves your health and wellbeing

This younger adult learner is helping an elderly lady and the community with her shopping

In a survey by the UK’s Workers' Educational Association, it was found that adult learning not only benefitted individuals but also their communities. 

Of the 2,000 students surveyed, two-fifths (39%) said that, on completion of the course, they took part in activities to improve their local community. Similarly, half of the adult learners said that they became more understanding of other cultures as a result of their courses.

Additionally, 99% of students reported health and wellbeing benefits. 84% made new friends, 77% had increased confidence and almost half (47%) were motivated to improve their health. 

Why lifelong learning increases your quality of life

Young adult male with man bun and book takes lifelong learning seriously

Dr Marny Lishman is a health and wellbeing psychologist. She advocates lifelong learning as a way to enhance our quality of life. 

Lifelong learning helps with cognitive decline, and improves memory,” she says. “Research has also shown that keeping the mind actively learning new things can decrease the symptoms of anxiety and depression.”

By doing adult education courses, people have the opportunity to connect with like-minded people of all ages, exposing them to different life experiences and friendships. “Social connectivity is so important for adults,” says Lishman. “It increases self-esteem, self-worth and confidence in adults. It also gives us a sense of belonging.”

Connecting socially also allows you to make new friends as an adult, which means you have more people to celebrate the good times and provide support during the bad.”

A purpose in life

Lishman notes that another positive outcome to being an adult learner is a boost in self-confidence and a push to move out of our comfort zones. 

“Sometimes sticking in our comfort zone leads to boredom and life not being as stimulating as it once was. Not doing new things means that we lose that spark we used to get from challenging ourselves and achieving,” she says. 

Confidence comes from past success, so if we’re not consistently trying new things or improving, we’re often at risk of losing our confidence as we age.” Above all else, Lishman says that adult learning is the chance to do something we’ve always wanted to do, even if it’s just for the fun of gaining knowledge. 

“No matter what age we are, we all need a purpose in life, and that’s important for our psychological wellbeing. Learning in educational classes in adulthood provides us with exactly that.”  

Inspired to reap all the benefits of adult education? Learn how flexible online learning at Open Colleges works.


Jo Hartley

Jo is a regular contributor to Fairfax’s Essential Baby and Essential Kids sites. Her work has also been featured in SMH Life & Style, SMH Daily Life, Sunday Life, Body + Soul, Practical Parenting, MiNDFOOD and many more.

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