We’ve all been there: assignments are due for coursework, the hot water heater just went up in smoke, or a family member has fallen ill. These are all situations that adult learners face every day while trying to complete their education. It’s imperative that students have the tools and resources in place to help them manage stress, set boundaries and understand their limitations. As educators, we must provide more than just course content. On a human level, we must serve as coaches and mentors to our student population, utilising our experience as educators, students and family members to provide usable tools to ensure their success.
There are four main areas of focus that can provide students with the necessary resources to manage life and school at the same time:
- Time management
Many students are trying to juggle work, family, life and school, all at the same time. Most may be moderately successful at one or two of these tasks. But failure in one of these areas is certain if time management strategies are not employed.
As an adult learner, these are techniques I have employed to manage the expectations of life and school. The first step is to set a wake-up time that can be kept each day, including weekends. The earlier the better, because it will allow more runway in the day to get things done. The first hour of the day should be used to create a plan, identifying all the activities that must be completed before going to sleep that night. This list will drive activities throughout the day and create more time efficiency. Most stressful situations occur when we realise we have not completed most of the things we needed to for the day.
Each daily working list should be different and include rollover activities from the previous day that were not completed (which is inevitable). Having a daily plan will help alleviate much of the stress and anxiety felt from having too many irons in the fire.
- Support structure
No one can do it alone. Having people in your corner that you can depend on will help ensure success. Students should build a support system that may include friends, family, neighbours or anyone they trust. Situations will occur that fall outside their control and having someone to call can make a bad situation just a little better.
I can hear the arguments now: “But I have no one like this in my life; it’s just me”. This may be true, but here is where we need to move outside our comfort zones. There are many people out there willing to help, if only asked. The help required may not be for a life-changing event; it could be having someone pick up the kids from school, help with a house or apartment maintenance issue or just provide moral support and an ear to listen and bounce ideas off. Expanding our circle of support will provide options when things go sideways, as they most certainly will.
- Outside interests
The ultimate goal for most students is the completion of education and obtaining a better job. Sacrificing everything else in their lives for school is a perfect storm for burnout, stress and failure. Self-care starts with understanding that they are people with varied interests and hobbies. Maintaining these interests and hobbies is essential to emotional, physical and spiritual health, so part of the daily schedule should be focused on nurturing these pursuits. Make room for physical activity as well – just taking a walk around the block will do wonders for clearing a head and regaining focus. Nurturing interests will create a separation from the responsibilities of life and allow for mental rejuvenation.
- Resource allocation
Understanding that we have limited resources is a reality we must face when trying to manage life and education. For working adult learners, balancing the cost of education with the necessities of life can generate quite a bit of stress and frustration. Creating a list of priorities and assets and matching the two will help alleviate some of the stress. Understanding that you only have the funds to take one class, in lieu of paying rent or the electric bill, is a reality that has to be managed.
Setting realistic expectations and using resources efficiently will allow students to make progress on their educational journey. There may be times where school must wait due to other financial obligations. This delay in progress should not be viewed as failure but a minor deviation in the established plan.
Matthew L. Brown serves as programme director of computer science at Colorado State University Global. He has more than 20 years’ experience in technology education and first-hand experience as a senior executive in retail, manufacturing and aviation.
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