It's never too late to go back to school - although pursuing further education as an adult involves much more than sitting in a classroom.
For one, you don't actually need to do the learning inside classroom walls - a big plus for those who are put off by the idea of returning to school as they remember it.
However, those who are interested in a bricks-and-mortar experience find that going back to class as an adult is a far cry from the experience of their youth - it's far more sociable and interactive, with a real emphasis on students' contributions and questions. Plus, it helps that you know you definitely want to be there this time around.
With distance learning, audio learning, and the growth in using online (video, audio, games and more) for learning purposes, not only can you learn at your own pace and time and fit further education in around your own commitments like work and family, but you can also bring your course to life.
"Using online isn't just about going from a textbook with words to a screen with words," explains Dr. Fiona Aldridge, Assistant Director for Development and Research at the Learning and Work Institute. "The sky's the limit with today's technology - just look at the explore-type activities like the Introduction to Forensic Science online murder mystery or what The Open University has done with the BBC and Channel 4."
"Learning can be quite a sociable experience, too. Of course, there are still colleges, community centres, libraries, museums and places that create family learning opportunities like Sure Start centres and children's centres.
"The danger is thinking that learning takes place just in colleges because it can be anywhere - even in the workplace. Providers can do all sorts of things to help you learn where you are, wherever you need to do it - even at midnight if you need to."
One of the most exciting things about going back to education is that you can't quite be sure where it will lead. You may go into a new course hoping for a pay rise and promotion and come out feeling inspired to launch a business of your own.
Curious to see how further education will help to enhance your career? Here are five ways...
1. It can reshape a current job to improve the quality of your work
A recent survey on how further education plays a role in your career, undertaken by the Learning and Work Institute and looking at 5,000 adults across the UK, found that 41% of respondents indicated that further learning helped them improve the skills they needed to do their jobs.
Coming back to work with a new and improved skill set also leads employees to feel a greater sense of job security in their jobs, especially when their work role has changed to demand more responsibility over time.
"People go back to education thinking I want a pay rise, I want a promotion," says Dr. Aldridge. "Also, in this climate, you almost want to stand still. There is the feeling that if I'm learning, I feel I'm more valuable to my company and I might be more secure than those getting made redundant."
For those whose work role has developed over time, taking a course or learning about a new piece of technology provides an opportunity to shape your job in a way that's more satisfying to you. This in turn creates a virtuous circle: you enjoy work more, you're more interested in it and you do a better job at it.
New skills also help increase feelings of productivity, with 21% of those surveyed saying they were more productive because of their learning - for example, doing things in a mobile way helped to free up time in the office. Feeling more productive also leads you to value your contributions more and believe your work is of a higher quality.
2. It can help build confidence
"There is something about learning which gives people confidence, whether they are feeling unsure about a job or feel they need to improve their skills," says Dr. Aldridge. "If I learn something and succeed at it, then my confidence builds."
Learning to build confidence has many benefits, whether it leads to becoming happier and more successful in your current job or giving you the push you need to leave that job for a new experience or to go out on your own and try self-employment.
"Confidence is a big outcome, but it's what you use it for," says Dr. Aldridge. "Confidence allows you to do all sorts of things and not necessarily what you think of."
3. It can help you find a new job
It will come as no surprise that a big motivating factor for those returning to education is the potential of getting a new job, whether they are unemployed and are doing this learning to get a specific new job or they are already in a job and are looking to retrain and re-skill.
"It's easy when you get to middle life to think you want to do something completely different, especially because often the jobs we go into at the start of our careers often don't exist at the end of them," says Dr. Aldridge. "So we constantly upgrade and upskill and change our minds."
Of course, in addition to finding new work, increased earnings and promotion potential are also enticing to those looking to build up their training.
4. It can allow you to turn leisure into work
While many people pursue further education because they're looking for a chance to improve their current standing at a job or get a promotion, others look to courses as an escape from the daily grind. These leisurely pursuits can turn into work or a meaningful new career path - you never quite know where things are going to go. You go into it for one reason and then new opportunities arise, some of them completely unexpected.
Dr. Aldridge gives the example of the banker wanted to leave the City who took a floristry course, decided to set up his own business and employed everyone in his class. Another example? The woman who wanted a distraction from her intense day job in a domestic violence unit, found an aromatherapy course, and loved it so much she decided to make a business out of it.
"There's an artificial divide between learning for work and learning for yourself," says Dr. Aldridge.
5. It can improve your work relationships
Often, pursuing further education leads to a better enjoyment of work which in turn improves work relationships, both with colleagues and superiors. A happier work environment reduces sick time and recruitment and retention issues.
Small businesses who fear losing staff that they've put time and money in find that investing in staff makes them feel better about their company and makes them feel it's a place they want to stay, explains Dr. Aldridge.