UPCEA/MindEdge study finds mature adult learners have complex views about education
One size doesn’t fit all — Differences among Boomer learners, retirees, and the mature adult learner
BOSTON, MA and WASHINGTON, DC (July 29, 2022) – Driven by Baby Boomer retirements and the Great Resignation, a new wave of mature learners is looking at options in continuing education – but not necessarily to learn new job skills, according to a just released study by UPCEA and MindEdge Learning.
The results of “Boomers, Retirees, and the Mature Adult Learner” show that the rapidly growing cohort of mature adult learners is hardly monolithic. These age 50+ learners have diverse reasons for wanting to continue their education, varying goals for the future, and different preferences for what and how they want to learn.
“Mature learners are a complex and complicated group,” said Jim Fong, Chief Research Officer at the UPCEA Center for Research and Strategy. “Institutions that want to attract mature adult learners will have to tailor their programming and procedures to meet the needs and preferences of these learners.”
Key findings of the national online survey include:
- In general, respondents are more interested in non-career skills (such as personal enrichment and life skills), than career skills (such as job upskilling and career reskilling).
- The top reason for mature adult learners to continue their education is personal growth and enrichment (23%), closely followed by keeping the mind active (21%) and increasing knowledge (17%). Learning new job or career skills ranks fourth on the list, at 16%.
- A majority (54%) of respondents agree that cost is the most important factor influencing their decisions about continuing education.
- A plurality of mature learners is interested in taking courses online, rather than in-person. Nearly a third (32%) of respondents say they are extremely interested in a fully online format, compared to 11% for in-person learning and 10% for a hybrid learning format.
- Among different credentials and course offerings, respondents have the greatest interest in short courses or modules (84% interested or extremely interested), followed by a single-day seminar (78%), and professional certifications (58%).
“Taken together, these findings suggest that mature adult learners are in the market for short, flexible, and low-cost offerings that are engaging and useful,” said Bruce Etter, Director of Research & Consulting at the UPCEA Center for Research and Strategy. “But these overall findings mask some significant differences between different segments of the mature-learner cohort.”
To illustrate these differences, the researchers divided the sample of respondents into four distinct “personas,” each characterized by different motives, goals, and content preferences:
- Madeline represents learners age 50 to 55. She is employed full-time and wants to continue her education so she can learn new skills that will help her advance in her career. She values traditional modes of higher education and is interested in earning professional certifications or credentials.
- Joshua represents learners age 56 to 60. He is currently unemployed, but not ready for retirement; he wants to continue his education for his own personal enjoyment. He is not very interested in advancing his career or earning credentials.
- Norman represents learners age 61 to 65. He is recently retired and wants to continue his education for personal growth and enjoyment. He is curious, but is not interested in traditional modes of higher education, and does not want to spend a lot of money to learn new skills.
- Lisa represents learners over the age of 65. She has been retired for 10 years and is not looking to learn new skills; she is satisfied with her life and is not strongly motivated to seek out higher education. She does not want to pay for educational programs.
Interest in continuing education is strongest among the youngest group of mature learners, and it declines progressively among each of the three older subgroups. By contrast, older mature learners are significantly more interested in courses and programs that are geared toward personal enrichment, while learners in the younger groups are relatively more interested in skills training.
“This research provides essential guidance for educational institutions that want to serve the mature adult learner,” said Frank Connolly, Director of Communications and Research for MindEdge Learning. “This group of learners defies stereotyping, and it is vital that the continuing-education community understand the variety and the complexity of their educational needs and preferences.”
Interested in learning more? Mark your calendar for a webinar with UPCEA and MindEdge researchers, including detailed discussion about the results of the study and how they can be leveraged.
Register for the Boomers, Retirees, and the Mature Adult Learner webinar
Tuesday, September 13, 2-3 PM ET
UPCEA and MindEdge partnered to identify the preferences and motivations in continuing education among boomers, retirees, and mature adult learners. The results of this study focus on their content delivery preferences, motivations, and unique qualities to help institutions of higher education further refine their portfolio of offerings and marketing strategies. An internet panel was used for the study and targeted individuals 50 years or older that were at least somewhat interested in continuing their education. In total, 997 individuals participated in the study, of which 546 completed the entire survey. The survey took place February 23 and February 24, 2022. The research was underwritten by MindEdge, an industry leader in online education and training.
UPCEA is the leading association for professional, continuing, and online education. For more than 100 years, UPCEA has served most of the leading public and private colleges and universities in North America. Founded in 1915, the association serves its members with innovative conferences and specialty seminars, research and benchmarking information, professional networking opportunities and timely publications. Based in Washington, D.C., UPCEA also builds greater awareness of the vital link between contemporary learners and public policy issues.
About MindEdge Learning
MindEdge’s mission is to improve the way the world learns. Since its founding in 1988 by Harvard and MIT educators, the company has served some 4 million learners. With a focus on digital-first learning resources—from academic courseware to professional development courses—MindEdge’s approach to best practices in online education focuses on learners’ needs across the spectrum of higher education, professional development, skills training, and continuing education. MindEdge is based in Waltham, Mass.
Frank Connolly, Director of Communications and Research
Molly Nelson, UPCEA Vice President of Communications