The Mature Student Returning to Study
Do not worry if you feel you may not be able to keep up. You may need to relearn how best to learn. Age is not a barrier to learning and although it is a bit harder to learn at 50 years of age than 15, it is not that much harder. Some students have enrolled in their sixties and seventies and managed both to enjoy themselves and get a degree.
Many mature students feel that they will look foolish or lose face or status by failing. Accept that if returning to study after some years away, a feeling of anxiety or fear is normal. You are not alone in having it, and it is in most cases totally unwarranted. You will probably laugh at your fears before too long.
You should recognise that you have strengths that those with youth often lack. As a mature student you have many advantages over those straight from school. You may know where you are going in terms of money and career, or what you are giving up (such as free time, sleep, or a social life) and will be more highly motivated to succeed. A strong motivation can more than make up for a very minor reduction in the speed at which you can learn new things.
Technology has advanced, and if you do not own or know how to use a computer you should keep reminding yourself that you are not too old to learn how to use one. Help is available to upgrade your technology skills. There are many courses available through TAFE and Community Colleges. These may be a valuable addition to your chosen study. Some of the finer points for example, databases, are available through the Internet or the World Wide Web and may be explained in your course or through information technology services at CSU.
As a mature student you have to take responsibility for your own studies. At school teachers were prepared to take a lot of responsibility for what had to be learned and how we learned it. At school there is the general understanding that if students do badly their teacher is open to criticism. By contrast, as an adult it is up to you to decide how much effort to put in.
Your lecturers do not assume responsibility for telling you what to learn or how to learn it. You have to manage these things for yourself. You have to decide your own priorities, set your own targets, and work out your own strategies for achieving them (you can get help from Student Services).
What is more, you have to take responsibility for deciding what views to hold. Lecturers expect you to form your own judgements about the strength and weaknesses of various ideas. Your studies are an inquiry into the nature of the world which you are undertaking. You have to be able to weigh up ideas not just learn them. You have to be able to argue for one idea against another, not just repeat both. The whole emphasis changes from being a passive receiver of 'knowledge' to your being an active seeker for 'understanding'.
This does not happen all at once. If you are returning to study after a long lay off, it is likely to take a long time to adjust. However, your target is eventually to become an independent student: to be able to find your way round a subject yourself. When you take control of your own studying you are in a position to make knowledge and understanding really do some work for you.
One element of learning needs stressing. It seems easier to learn by doing, rather than merely listening or reading. Try to do additional work for yourself as well as reading the textbooks and set reading material. This should involve actively doing something if possible. It can take the form of spending more time drawing diagrams, drawing up tables, reading your notes and condensing them, going to the library and searching for information yourself on the topic you are currently studying, looking up alternative text books, checking encyclopaedias to see what they say about it and so on.
Recounting what you have just learned to another person is particularly useful as a way of reinforcing the information. If you have a supportive partner who will willingly listen, it helps a lot. If not, consider forming a group, (either by way of phone, fax, computer or meeting occasionally) with other mature students and working as a study group, bouncing your latest ideas and information off them and reciprocating. If you are doing the same subject, you all benefit from both presenting and listening.