Congratulations, you've decided to go "back to school!" Now you just need to get back into a learning mindset.
Easy enough, right?
Well, maybe not. Especially because as an adult, you're likely to be juggling your current job, financial expectations (rent, mortgage, utilities, etc.), a partner and family, social commitments, chores... how are you going to factor study time into an already packed schedule?
"When you set out on a new learning journey, after years out of the learning saddle, the biggest challenge you’ll face is a psychological one. You’ll probably think back to your school days and remember having rote knowledge drilled into you at the point of a ruler," says Juliette Denny, managing director at Growth Engineering, a UK-based eLearning specialist.
"Now that you’re a grown-up, in charge of your own destiny, you’re likely to be pretty resistant to the mere idea of learning. If you can get over this rebellious urge, the next challenge you’ll face is trying to fit learning into a life that’s already filled to the brim with responsibilities.
"Deliberately learning something isn’t like riding a bike - you can just forget how to do it! Before you learn anything else, it can be a challenge to learn how to learn."
Read on for five tips on getting back into a learning mindset, whether you've just enrolled in that online computer programming course you've been meaning to do or have decided this is the year you'll be getting that yoga teacher certification after all...
1. Keep it varied
They say variety is the spice of life - well, it's also the spice of learning. One of the keys to staying motivated and exciting about your new course or programme is to keep yourself interested, which means you probably won't want to be staring into a textbook for the next several hours.
"Adding variety to learning can be highly rewarding. This is why blended learning programmes see so much success," says Denny.
Blended learning programmes combine different methods of training for a well-rounded experience, which you can fit into a designated study session or work into smaller bits of time around your working schedule.
"You could start by reading a chapter of a book, then find a good documentary on the subject to watch, follow that up with an interactive online learning unit, and then finish up with a learning game on the topic to check your understanding," Denny advises.
2. Embrace learning on the go
One of the trickiest things about getting back into a learning mindset after years of being out of practice is trying to find the time to sit down and study.
The good news? Learning no longer means shutting yourself away in a room full of books - you can learn anytime, anywhere and even make use of your time queuing or commuting to pick up some new information or jot down some ideas.
"One of the great things about learning in the 21st century is that it isn’t tied down to a chalkboard. It’s not even restricted to a school," says Denny.
"In fact, with the dawn of mobile learning, it’s wherever you want it to be. Lots of training providers have their own native apps that let you learn in your spare moments.
"Also, because they know how short attention spans are these days, most instructional designers will chunk the learning into smaller, bite-size pieces. So, instead of staring out of the train window on your commute, you could be finding out how to do your job better."
Since studying can be done anywhere you need it to be, find a local café or museum you like so that study sessions aren't always happening at home, when you're thinking about laundry or what to make for dinner (or listening to your children shout your name from the next room).
3. Go digital
From interactive online courses, aka MOOCs (massive open online courses with unlimited participation via the web, many of which are free) to courses taught via games and videos, there are endless learning resources available thanks to computers, tablets and smartphones.
Denny recommends Googling different learning technologies to see which one appeals the most.
"There are hundreds of online courses, eLearning apps and learning communities that are designed to engage people with their learning. These new learning methodologies look more like social networks; feel more like games and incorporate UX best practices to make learning effortless and (dare I say it) fun!" she explains.
4. Set yourself targets and rewards
If you're struggling to get into a learning mindset, breaking your work up into targets you want to achieve each day, week and month will help ensure you get through the material you need to (and that it doesn't feel like a drag while you're doing it).
Once you've gotten organised about your deadlines, make them easy to keep: every two hours of studying yields a ten-minute social media binge; finishing a piece of coursework means a night of Netflix is in store for you. We recommend keeping a pint of Ben & Jerry's in the freezer as an added incentive...
5. Remember why you're there
The big difference between adult learning and going to school? Chances are, you've made the decision to further your education on your own, because you're passionate about the topic you're studying, eager to advance your career, thinking about moving jobs or are looking for a relaxing hobby to help you unwind. Whenever you feel your motivation waning, remember that you want to be doing this.
"Now that you’re in control, there’s a greater incentive to learn what really matters to you, and since you’ve spent a little time in the working world, you’ll have a better idea of what that is," says Denny.
As a grown-up, you know that nothing is more rewarding than doing what you enjoy, even if it takes some work to get there. And compared to the realities of life - like paying bills and doing chores - returning to study, in a course that really engages you, can not only feel like a break, it can feel like an exciting, new beginning. Which it is...
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