Industry Insights

Valuable insights from UPCEA's trusted corporate partners.

Three common challenges adult learners face — and how holistic coaching can help

As innovators and changemakers in the adult learner space, you’re always looking for the best ways to support the students you serve and help them overcome obstacles on their educational journey. Through coaching, you can provide adult learners with a personalized approach tailored to each individual, ultimately giving them the tools and techniques they need to advance toward their educational and career goals. In this blog, we explore three main challenges faced by adult learners — with actionable insights for each one.

#1 — Stabilize support for students struggling to connect

Disengagement is a major obstacle for adult learners, especially in an online setting or on a campus that was designed for traditional students. Working and older learners can struggle to connect with their campuses, professors and peers. Consistently engaging with learners through regular check-ins lets them know they’re supported and provides an easy-to-implement solution. 

Establishing a connection begins with assessment. By asking assessment questions upfront, student supporters can better understand exactly where an adult learner is on their journey. InsideTrack’s research-proven coaching methodology leverages the power of assessment to gauge learner progress and uncover their core values — their “why.” Aligning learning goals with personal values helps learners tap into their motivation, which bolsters engagement and perseverance. Beyond exploring their core values, student supporters can help learners feel confident and ready for the challenges ahead by assessing their KSBs: Knowledge, Skills and Beliefs. Not only will it give them the insight as to how to best support them, but it also helps adult learners feel seen, heard and understood.

The solution in action

When Penn State World Campus set out to create a better experience for their prospective learners, they made tailored coaching support available to students during the pivotal time from acceptance through the end of their second term, keeping learners connected and on track. In addition, insights gleaned from coaching connections with students helped Penn State develop a deeper understanding of student attitudes, behaviors, and needs — and create tailored support for key student populations. 


#2 — Bolster soft skills to help students balance priorities

Being an adult online learner is a juggling act, with competing priorities from family, work and academics. It’s easy to become overwhelmed. That’s why time management skills are so critical. Embedding a coaching methodology into staff support can give student-facing staff a proven framework to help learners effectively manage their time and commitments. 

Asking learners questions that dig deep — How are your time management skills? What are some things you could do to improve? Are you using any strategies or tools to help you succeed, like a calendar to help keep track of important dates and deadlines? — is a great way for student supporters to get a sense of how well learners are handling the load. Managing commitments is one of eight key focus areas that impact student satisfaction and success. Using these focus areas to understand a student’s individual strengths and stressors helps student supporters enhance learner experiences.

The solution in action

While redesigning the school’s advising department, Illinois Central College was committed to enhancing the personal and professional development of all their students and improving student support. From implementing direct one-on-one coaching to training staff members to integrate coaching methodology into student-facing interactions — including working with learners on job-ready skills like time management — they were able to measurably improve retention and satisfaction among coached students. 


#3 – Focus on career through every stage of the learning journey to maximize opportunity

Too often, online learners face the prospect of limited job opportunities during their educational journey. Yet the link between education and the workforce is the primary reason many learners are in school. That’s why it’s so important to make career readiness an integral part of any student support program, from day one. Adult learners in particular are looking to update their current skills, gain new ones, or change careers altogether — which means earning the necessary credentials required to succeed and advance in the workplace. Integrating Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs with degree programs is a great way to improve the student experience while boosting enrollment. 

Student supporters can also help connect students to their career by drawing the link between their present (attending college classes) and their future (achieving their career goals). Students who understand the importance and relevance of school to their careers often become more motivated academically and the sooner they identify and can start working toward their career goals, the better prepared they’ll be when it’s time to actually start that career. An early understanding of how dollars spent now, on tuition, translates into future earnings would also prove helpful. Adult learners especially would benefit from knowing the investment they’re making to earn their degree will lead to career opportunity and success when they graduate. 

The solution in action

Career and Technical Education (CTE) provides learners with the tangible skills and knowledge they need to move into or along a career path that leads to a quality job. Connecting community college CTE and degree pathways not only give students a clearer sense of belonging, purpose and direction — these program pathways also align with labor markets, reflect current trends and fuel socioeconomic mobility for all types of students across the country. When Dallas College decided to place more emphasis on career preparation and meeting the needs of the region’s employers, they took steps to integrate CTE programs into a guided pathways model in a way that would benefit the learners, the institution and employers.


InsideTrack uses the power of coaching to keep adult learners on the path to success

InsideTrack is a mission-driven nonprofit that fuels positive change by empowering and advancing all learners to achieve their educational and career goals through the transformative power of coaching. We help people get the education they need to enhance well-being, create opportunity and secure meaningful employment — ultimately facilitating economic and social mobility. Since 2001, we have served over 3.2 million learners, partnering with more than 350 institutions and organizations to directly improve enrollment, retention, completion, and career advancement – tailoring our coaching outcomes to fit the needs of our partners and the learners they support. Our coaching methodology is evidence-based and research-confirmed, supporting all types of learners at every stage of their journey — especially those who face systemic barriers to postsecondary success. We are a catalyst for transformational impact, ultimately empowering learners and the organizations who serve them. To learn more, visit our website.


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