adult learning

Getting back into education – a guide to adult learning

It’s never too late to learn something new and there are lots of educational opportunities out there for adults. Here’s Living's guide to going back to school.

Traditionally, if you wanted to get back into learning as an adult, you had to take a course in the evening (after your 9-5 job finished) and sometimes on the weekends. But now there are many options to explore – from online courses and night school to taking the plunge as a full-time mature student – there is a path to suit most situations – and adult learning is more accessible than ever before. 

What type of course or option you go for largely depends on the subject. Courses are available in anything from project management and computing to arts, crafts, languages, business and fitness.

Online Courses

Online courses offer a flexible solution to many people looking to gain further educational qualifications and even degrees. One of the most recognised is The Open University or OU as it is more commonly known; which has more than 170,000 students studying on degree courses through its distance learning process.

Students can choose from short courses which are normally around 25 – 100 hours of studying to a full-blown masters degree committing up to nine years of part-time study. A typical course can cost anywhere from £1,393 to £2,786 per module but short courses can cost anything from £160 upwards.

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While it can be an expensive route to take, the OU does offer tutorial support at every stage of the course. Students are given a tutor for each module of study who can help with assignments and provide feedback, they are also available for support over the telephone, email or computer conferencing, and there are also a lot of learning resources available online.

There are more affordable options available too. The OU has a number of free learning courses available on its OpenLearn area.

This route is a good option if you are looking to study for a completely new direction in life but there are other companies like Learn Direct, which provide skills, training and employment services to help people gain the skills needed for work quickly.

It provides qualifications in everyday skills like maths, English and IT, as well as many vocational options such as apprenticeships and traineeships. What’s more, Learn Direct has had several success stories with people who have found themselves out of work suddenly due to redundancy.

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While the flexibility of online courses has many people hooked, the disadvantages are that you do miss out on the benefits of having face-to-face interaction with teachers and other students during the learning process. Being able to discuss topics with other students, as well as your teacher, as they are taught can help massively with understanding them. What’s more, if you are choosing to learn more of a hands-on subject like hairdressing, beauty, or gardening, then learning online won’t give you the practical skills required in order to achieve success in these areas.

There are many part-time and full-time options for adults who prefer learning in a community environment. You can find a lot more information on and, although a lot of these courses do require a full-time commitment to the courses.

Intensive courses

Intensive courses are offering people the chance to gain new skills quickly and effectively but have often come under fire for not providing adequate training and consultation time.

One particular area of study which has become increasingly popular this way is teaching English as a foreign language. TEFL bases its foundations on the belief that ‘if you can speak English, then you can teach it!’ Adults are drawn to its appealing job prospects which can ultimately combine travelling the world with a career.

Depending on your level of knowledge, there is a range of TEFL courses available, from an intensive two and three days, up to a combination of online and classroom study, which can be between 80 and 120 hours. There is also a dedicated job centre which has employment opportunities in countries like Europe, the UK and China.

Grants? Where to apply.

There are many grants and bursaries available for adults to retrain and unfortunately, a lot of these go unclaimed.

Family Action: Family Action distributes educational grants to people over 14-years of age to help them to participate in further education and adult learning.

City & GuildsCity & Guilds offers a small number of bursaries at specific points in the year to people who would like the opportunity to study for a City & Guilds/ILM qualification. The next round of bursaries will take place in spring 2017.

GFTU: The General Federation of Trade Unions Educational Trust offers out grants for those students studying courses in economic theory and history, industrial law and industrial relations.

NHS: The NHS offers bursaries for people training in medicine, dentistry or healthcare.

Social Work: Find out more about training in

Teacher training:  Undergraduates and postgraduates can get help with the costs of their teacher training.

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