Practical Study Tips for Adults Returning to Education

The pandemic has changed all our lives to a greater or lesser extent depending on our work or home situations.  It’s fair to say that none of us got through without some major upheaval.  Over the past year or more through our online courses, I have met a lot of people who have found themselves unemployed because their sector has suffered a blow from the imposed lockdowns.  A large number of people are now in a position where they must up-skill or retrain to re-join the workforce.  The Department of education and skills has released their National skills strategy 2025 which states that they “will make sure that Ireland is renowned at home and abroad as a place where the talent of our people thrives” emphasising a sincere commitment to supporting both employed and unemployed people through a range of training, education, upskilling and apprenticeship schemes. Going back to education after a long break can be a daunting experience for many – I see this every day in my work.  Here are a few suggestions that I hope will help anyone planning to return to study this September or beyond.

Beat the Imposter Syndrome

Don’t let imposter syndrome hold you back – we all suffer from it.  Imposter Syndrome was first identified in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes and if you let it get hold of you it can be crippling.  Impostor syndrome is an idea you get in your head that you’re somehow ‘not good enough’ or a feeling that you are going to ‘get found out’ because you believe that only good luck is responsible for your success in life. Don’t beat yourself up it takes time to get used to new routines and you may have to ‘learn how to learn’.  The best way to overcome imposter syndrome is to acknowledge that most people will suffer from it at some stage in their lives.  The second and most important thing to do is talk it out with a trusted friend, coach, or advisor – they will help you to see the flaws in this type of thinking. Some famous people who admit to having imposter syndrome include Tom Hanks, Sheryl Sandberg, David Bowie, and Serena Williams to name a few.

Find the Learning Environment That Suits you Best

Before you choose your face-to-face or online learning course make sure you know what type of learning that suits you. Online learning has become very popular nowadays due to the COVID-19 pandemic but may not suit all learning types.  The biggest difference with online modes of learning is the contact time you will have with an instructor, teacher, or lecturer. The grid below will act as a useful guide to help you to decide what type of online learning works for you. There are so many choices right now, and my best advice would be to try a short course in a subject that you enjoy to see if the learning environment is right for you before committing to a longer programme of study. 

Think About Your Learning Style

We all process information in different ways, some people like visual learning, others like listening and some people enjoy learning through action (Kinaesthetic).  Nowadays most educators are highly aware that they must adjust their teaching to meet the needs of all learning styles.  It is a good idea to assess your learning style before you begin your learning journey – there are plenty of online inventories that you can try – here is one example.  Once you understand your own learning style learning will become fun and effortless. You will recall things easier if you approach them naturally rather than try to force yourself to remember everything that is presented to you.

Get Familiar With Your Learning Resources

Whether you’re studying online or in person, get familiar with your learning resources and find out what supports are available. Your instructors want you to succeed and they will make themselves available – you only have to ask.  Review your course materials, take notes, and study those notes later. Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850 – 1909) who studied the psychology of memory found that the more you interact with your learning resources (including practice & revision) the more likely you are to retain information. As the saying goes ‘use it or lose it’. In most cases these days your resources will be available to download – this is a big advantage as it allows you to plan your studies around your work or personal life and your training resources are already organised for you before you start and in concert with the study schedule. 

Begin Writing Early – It Takes Practice

Writing assignments can be anxiety-inducing but don’t let this put you off – start writing draft assignments once instructed by your teacher or instructor.  Ask for feedback – most adult educators understand the importance of providing formative feedback to learners but it does take a little courage to hand up your work for critique.  This is a tried and tested way to learn and improve and remember that all your efforts are likely to enhance your final grades.  Pace yourself to ensure you have enough time to brainstorm, research, organise your thoughts and write them down.  You will have plenty of time to edit if you approach your work in an organised and structured manner.   

Manage Your Time

Time management is an essential part of student life at every stage of the journey.   In the beginning, things may seem overwhelming particularly if you’re studying part-time or have a family, but you must make your coursework a priority to get as much as possible out of your learning experience.  Be sure that you’re scheduling in time for your studies, and although it’s bound to be hard, don’t let distractions get in the way of your planned routine. Elon Musk serves as CEO of Tesla and SpaceX. He spends about eighty to a hundred hours working every week and he has a wife and seven children. His method, which he calls ‘Time blocking’ involves dividing the day into 5 minutes slots. Then he thinks about how much time he needs to carry out each task.  Once he figured this out, he then assigns tasks to time slots in his calendar.  I use this method and as I enjoy visuals I also add colour to my blocks. You don’t have to break the slots down as much as Musk does but it really works – give it a try!

If you are planning to study this Autumn I hope these tips will be of some use to you.  Remember to ‘play fully brave’ when it comes to trying new things – you will find some very supportive people in the adult education arena. I’m always available for a chat if you would like to discuss your plans for further information – I can be contacted at

Janet Tumulty

July 2021