03 November 2008

Boomer Ed: Learning to Study Again

Part 4 in a 6-part series on Boomers going back to school during the economic downturn

Study skills or just study time? Adult learners returning to college find their studies stimulating. Regardless of earlier experiences in school, they tend to be the leaders in the classroom on their return. What does not come easily is the balancing act between home and school, or what for many is the equation of home + school + work.

Finding the rhythm of the semester means managing time so that one doesn't ever fall behind in assignments. A 15-week semester has some predictable crunch times: start, mid-term, and end. Now, compress that to the short semesters growing in popularity (9-week and 5-week) and students may find themselves in non-stop performance with a major project or test every week.

Of course, some study skills support the time crunch and older students see the logic in them that sometimes younger students don't. Sleep really does impact learning. Spreading weekly readings over 3 or 4 days (rather than doing it all in one marathon session) builds in sleep and the new material is retained in memory. And those 3 or 4 reading days suit the working adult's schedule better, too.

The benefit of semester starts. Regardless of how long semesters run, they have this common benefit: a new one will come. Each start of semester offers opportunity to wipe the slate clean, begin anew, establish new habits, and generally improve on performance.

Change of subjects can affect performance and so wise students select course and course load according to the season. Academic advisers may be able to help with choices but the best source of information is students who have already taken the class. Good questions to ask are: (a) what's the weekly reading requirement, (b) can projects be self-paced, and (c) are there self-tests or low pressure quizzes to serve as checks on learning.

Planning the course load can be a strategy for success but more often it's a trap for students in a hurry to finish a degree. At many schools, a full-time load is 9 to 12 credit hours, and a part-time load is 3 to 6. (If this is not specified in a course catalog, an Admissions rep can provide details.) Each 3-credit course is estimated to take 10 hours of class and study time per week. So, a 12-hour semester (4 courses) represents a 40-hour school week. Planning the course load in advance—ideally a year or two in advance—allows pairing a heavy-reading course with a lighter one, or a writing-intensive course with a fun elective.

Course load planning becomes a trap when students aim to bulk up credits, racing to graduation. Professors cringe when they see students registering for 15, 18, and even 21 credits, meaning 5 to 7 classes. Heavy loads often backfire, with the semester ending in withdrawals or drop in grade-point average or, most deadly, grades of F that result in probation or dismissal.

Realistic expectations. Adults in college tend to set high standards for themselves. It's not unusual for older students to strive for only As. They typically say that they want the most out of their education and demand only the best of themselves. So, learning to study is not necessarily the problem—realistic expectations may be the real challenge. The student who is raising a family and working in a job may need to limit enrollment to just one or two classes. At least until they find the rhythm of the semesters.

© 2008 Mary Bold, PhD, CFLE. The content of this blog or related web sites created by Mary Bold (www.marybold.com, www.boldproductions.com, College Intern Blog) is not under any circumstances to be regarded as professional, legal, financial, or medical advice. Or education advice. Or marital advice. Or even a tip.

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