Adult Learners Tackle the New Normal

How can we navigate a multi-generational home of virtual learners? 

By: Jennifer Spadafora

Father and son, working, back to back. Credit:

The College of Staten Island is home to 1,850 adult learners, who now face the struggle of adapting to virtual learning for themselves, and in many cases, their children as well. 

Students in this category are classified as being 25 years old and older, or returning to school after a long time away.  As reported in “Adult Learners in Higher Education,” a paper published by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration, and the Office of Policy Development and Research, 40% of adult learners also hold full-time jobs, while 27% are the primary caregivers to children still living in the home.   

As part of the 27% who also homeschool’s two early elementary students, my specific challenges this year will be ensuring every learner in my household is meeting the standards they hold for themselves, without anyone feeling slighted for attention.  I imagine this year to look like a game of “Don’t Drop the Ball,” only now the ball is on fire! 

 As drastic as that image may be, the fact remains that more than half of adult learners are responsible for the social, emotional, mental, and now, the educational development of children while maintaining their own GPA.  

That task is made easier by ACR (Adults Returning to the Classroom). According to Neila Green, who is the Director of Adult Education at The College of Staten Island, “ARC provides specialists in all of our service areas to assist adult students seeking a college degree. From pre-admissions counseling through graduation, our academic support, advisement, career and financial services offer guidance concerning choices about their careers and education.” 

ARC recognizes the biggest challenge to adults with children who wish to further their education, which is scheduling; this group can register early, which ensures their classes fit in comfortably with their work and home life. In the wake of Covid-19, with most households balancing a blended learning experience during the upcoming academic year, this type of support is needed. 

 Early registration access is one of many services provided, alongside dedicated advisors, and admission representatives that recognize the unique differences between older and younger applicants, such as taking a new career path or broadening their knowledge in their already established field of employment.   

In our email exchange, Green also offers some tips to ARC members for navigating a successful year while virtually learning alongside their families.  These tips include: 

“Organization; by being organized, you have control over your environment and can adjust as needed. This is especially critical in online learning where many of the activities are completed independently on your own. It’s very easy to fall behind if you’re not organized. 

Define a set space for your “work”; if you know you are in your “work zone” you can focus better (preferably during a specific time that works around your family/childcare demands). 

Set reasonable goals; if you set goals each day for what you need to accomplish, it helps you to manage what might otherwise be overwhelming. If you need extra time to finish an academic project make sure to reach out to your instructor in advance. They are aware of the challenges impacting so many students! 

Set aside time for yourself, even if it’s 10-20 minutes of something that helps you to “recharge.” It’s worth it! 

Acknowledge that nothing is perfect, there are going to be bumps in the best of plans!” 

Students over the age of twenty-five should join the private Facebook group, by clicking, to stay up to date with the information that can help ensure a rewarding year. 

Remote learning will be more of a challenge for those students whose focus must be divided amongst several equally important roles; however, ARC students also have more years of experience behind us to assist in prioritizing our commitments.  Heeding the advice of Green and her team will give the community the greatest chance of winning the 2020’s edition of “Don’t Drop the Ball.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.