The Adult Learner

Thoughts on the adult learner, and how to balance life… at work… at home… while continuing your education as a nontraditional student.

The Adult Learner

Overcoming the Fear of the Unknown

Going back to school can be scary, especially if one has been out for a long time.  Thinking of how one is going to manage juggling family, work and school is enough responsibility to overwhelm anyone.  Not to mention the fear of subject matters such as Math and English. These subjects may not have been our favorite in high school.  So how do we overcome the fear of the unknown, the fear of failure, or the fear of math?

I am going to suggest a few things that may help you.  Consider these when you’re  contemplating the decision to take the plunge to complete your degree, make that career change or whatever dream you may be avoiding due to fear:

  • Having strong self-esteem is essential to being able to accomplish what you want to achieve.  If one lacks self-assurance, it will be nearly impossible to accomplish one’s goals.  Your belief in yourself, in addition to your faith in Christ of course, is going to be what gets you through  adversity.  This is also known as determination and will.  When the going gets tough, will you fight or will you fold?  “A man is as he thinks” Proverbs 23:7– so make sure you are constantly positively affirming yourself.  Tell yourself that you are smart enough, you are strong enough, and that you will accomplish whatever it is you want to accomplish.
  •  Having a strong support system is also vital to your success.  Rid yourself of the negative naysayers and the people that may hold you back from accomplishing your dreams and goals.  Surround yourself with cheerleaders and like-minded people. If you do not know any people like that, there are plenty of groups you can join to meet some.  Usually church is a good place to start.  
  • Lastly, make it a goal every day to do something that you will thank yourself for in the future.  Notating and completing short term and long term goals help us to gain momentum by giving us a sense of accomplishment.  Have a plan because when we do not, we can usually plan to fail.


Those of us in adult higher education know, for the most part, why adults decide to return to college. We hear the reasons several times a day, and we repeat them as we engage prospective students in dialogue about returning to college. Adults are typically looking to get a better job, set themselves up for a promotion, make more money, be an example to their kids, and finish what they started. There’s nothing wrong with this list. These are all noble reasons for continuing one’s education. However, as someone who attempts to incorporate a biblical worldview into his thinking, I would like to make an addition to the list. Adults should pursue a college education because God requires that we be stewards of what he has given us. Let me explain.

In Genesis 1:28, God tells his human creation that they are to have dominion over all that he has created. This was to include the physical environment and, as it developed over time, the social-cultural environment. God expects us to be stewards or caretakers over all of his creation and, as a result of the fall, to partner with him in its restoration. We cannot be effective stewards of God’s creation unless we are constantly learning about it. This requires us to become lifelong learners. Our adult students at Belhaven learn about God’s physical creation in their biology classes. They not only learn to marvel at God’s awesome majesty as it’s revealed in creation; they learn ways to become more responsible stewards of what he has made. Our students learn about the socio-cultural environment in sociology and psychology classes, and that responsibilities in these areas involve, among other things, being our brother’s keeper. Adult students learn to be stewards of the business environment in their business and leadership classes as they learn the importance of engaging in “business by The Book.”

In a way, our typical list of reasons for adults returning to school are at best pragmatic, and if we’re not careful in how we present them, perhaps a bit self-centered. We need to balance them with biblical-centered reasons for life-long learning that are focused on stewardship. 

So, I have a proposal for those of us whose work is to make adult education attractive to prospective students. We should acknowledge that pragmatic reasons for returning to college are important. Better jobs, promotions, and increases in income are all important potential outcomes to prospective students who have current and future needs that can be met by earning their degrees. However, a biblical worldview requires us to go deeper and acknowledge that education is a tool that allows us to learn more about the creation that God requires us to steward. An undergraduate or graduate degree earned as a developing caretaker of God’s creation provides a pathway to effective participation in his kingdom work.

Emotional Intelligence and the Adult Student

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
― Maya Angelou

As a student as well as instructor, I am amazed that too often I find myself “covering material” rather than engaging! I will do what it takes to make sure that I can boast that I read the assignments, viewed the videos, wrote the papers, and prepared for class. However, how often am I really ENGAGING the classroom, the instructor, the student, the material?

My temperament is such that I engage emotionally. I am an extrovert and natural “people person.” As such, I am most comfortable when I can “feel” connected. I find that MANY other adult students are able to learn and grow when they connect in the classroom (either in person or virtual), and that those who fail are often the most disconnected.

So why do so many of us instructors focus on “covering material” rather than connecting with students and connecting students to the subject matter? Thoughts?

Why Wait?

In October 2013, the Lumina Foundation released a report on a national study of adult learners.  Their report examined expectations, attitudes and needs of adults learners considering going back to school.  One of the main findings reveals that adults desire to complete their degrees someday but are concerned about their ability to judge family, work and school at the same time.

For most adult learners, family and work must take priority over school.  Children need to eat.  Bills must be paid.  Suddenly, the phrase “I’ll take a semester off” turns into years.  One day, everything in life line up perfectly and one will be able go to back to school, right?  Life works out that way for some.  However, listen to the stories of graduates and learn about the many friends, family, and co-workers who provided encouragement, study groups, tutoring, babysitting, carpools, etc., to help them reach their goals.  It is the community the surrounds and supports an adult learner that makes the difference.

The idea of community support is not new to us.  It is how God intended for us to live: as the body of Christ.  Galatians 6:2 says “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.”  Why put off today what you can accomplish tomorrow with a little assistance?  Who needs your encouragement and support in order to achieve their goals?

Yay Daddy!

Last Friday evening, our Chattanooga-Dalton campus held its 2013 graduation ceremony. I had the privilege of sitting with our faculty – second row from the front. From that vantage point, I could see everything that was happening on the platform. However, it wasn’t so much what was happening on the platform that captured my attention; it was what I was hearing behind mebabies crying, a graduate sitting directly behind me “amening” the commencement speaker; occasional laughter; someone softly echoing the benediction as the service drew to a close – “the Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you, the Lord lift his countenance upon you and give you peace.” So much energy, so much excitement! It was a wonderful moment.

The most thought provoking voice, however, didn’t originate from a graduate or a baby, but was from what seemed to be a young child – maybe five or six years old. As one of our graduates walked across the platform to receive his diploma, I heard a forceful “Yay Daddy!” A subdued laughter slowly began to make its way across our warm, cozy, venue. An adult college graduate who had worked hard for months balancing work, family, and school heard the words “Yay Daddy” from his child. In the world of adult education, no words could be more profound. Here’s why

·        The words “Yay Daddy” coming from an adult student’s child confirm that the hard work and sacrifice that goes into earning a college degree has been worth it. Someone who loves and looks up to the graduate has uttered the ultimate confirmation. 

·         The words “Yay Daddy” indicate that the child recognizes graduation as a major accomplishment in his parent’s life. He sees that his dad’s hard work is recognized and makes the connection between diligence, perseverance, and reward. These are vital connections for the child’s future success in school and in the workplace.

·         Finally, the words “Yay Daddy” mean that the child, more than likely, will be a college graduate himself. Research indicates that children of college graduates are more likely to be college graduates themselves. Our kids are watching. They see Mom or Dad writing a paper, reading a book, or preparing a presentation. Children see the value in education only to the extent that their parents model its value.

As the bagpiper led us out of the auditorium at the end of the service, I imagined the “Yay Daddy” child being held snuggly by his mother – maybe even asleep by now. What a fortunate little guy to have such a daddy.

Probably the most gratifying aspect of working in adult education is knowing that we work year round to create “Yay Daddy” moments at graduation. We look forward to next December! But this morning, we still find ourselves reliving Friday evening. To all of the class of 2013, the staff and faculty of Belhaven University offer a heartfelt “Yay Daddy” (and “Yay Mommy” as well).  

Education and Leadership Development

Are leaders born or made?

VOLUMES have been written over the past decade about situational leadership, transactional leadership, crisis leadership, transformational leadership, servant leadership, and just about every nuance of leadership that one can imagine. Entire careers have been made lecturing on the importance of leadership and selling the latest leadership development approach.

One thing that most of the literature seems to agree on: Leaders are both born AND made. My take is that they are born of necessity rather than just from the womb. They are also made in the crucible of business, ministry, opportunity, and crisis.

Why is leadership development important for executives? For starters, most professionals in any realm (sports, military, business, ministry, etc.) usually want to be the best that they can be. Professionals take NOTHING for granted, including their leadership style and ability. While some are born with great charisma and drive, they understand that past success is no guarantee of future success.   (Even Super Bowl MVP quarterbacks work daily with a quarterback coach to improve their skills!)

 Also, effective executives understand that their realm of influence is constantly changing.  Teams change, organizations change, rules change, economies change. The style or skill that worked well yesterday may be outdated today.

Finally, I believe that the best leaders look for ways to develop leadership skills among their team members. Whether it is encouraging subordinates to enroll in a professional MBA program, having them attend leadership education seminars, or by providing opportunities to lead projects in-house, the best executive leaders strive to build an energized, empowered team of professionals. They create an environment in which it is okay to make a mistake now and then as long as the mistake is made while trying to complete the organizational mission in an ethical way.

“…my cup runneth over…”

He prepares a Table before me



God’s provision is so good, and so consistent, that too often we take it (and Him!) for granted. We have come to expect abundant food, electricity, air conditioning, indoor plumbing, good health, and leisure. We are shocked and chagrined when anything happens to disrupt our abundance. We strive and pray for things to “get back to normal” so that we can get back to enjoying the good life.

I am guilty of focusing on all the things that aren’t right in my world. Rather than giving thanks for my abundance, I find myself obsessing over the many things that could be improved.

While I do not want to become a Pollyanna, I do find that in the midst of my frustration with what I see wrong, scripture in Philipians 4:8  reminds me to think on the lovely and pure and praiseworthy. The Shepherd’s Psalm declares that “…He prepares a table before me…my cup overflows.” And yet, too often I forget. I forget that I am seated at The Lord’s Covenant Table as a member of His household. I forget that my life and my world are projects under construction, and that the finished product will only be apparent when He appears.

As I go into a special season of Thanksgiving and prepare to feast on  cornucopia of the finest foods, I endeavor to remember that even on the bad days, my cup overflows with His provision, His acceptance, His blessing, and His mercy. The Lord IS my Shepherd…

Confession of a Teacher

S. Truett Cathy (founder of Chic-fil-A®) did not say a word that day but his actions spoke volumes during our two block walk between the conference center and the restaurant. As our group walked and talked, he stooped to pick up discarded cans and stray trash. At the restaurant he quietly disposed of his “treasures” in the nearest trash receptacle. Mr. Cathy had been the keynote speaker in a leadership seminar that morning. The points he made during his presentation have faded from memory but I will always remember what I learned as we commuted to lunch. As I reflected on Mr. Cathy’s “teaching” after the seminar, I began to see a parallel between my role as a teacher and Mr. Cathy’s role as the keynote speaker, at that conference. How many of my students remember more of who I am than what I taught? Faith integration is more than delivering a curriculum infused with biblical principles. Jesus held class in synagogues, on the mountain tops, and at the seashore but his disciples learned trust when they found him sleeping in a boat during the storm and they learned how to forgive when they witnessed His forgiving nature for a woman caught in adultery.

Mr. Cathy is a wonderful teacher and without a word he has taught me how the mere act of walking down the street demonstrates what we believe. Although, the day I encountered Mr. Cathy, he was addressing a group of business and academic leaders on leadership principles, he made it clear what he believed while we were walking to the restaurant. It does not matter if we are a teacher or a student, the same lesson applies to both. At Belhaven, we are very intentional in the way we integrate faith and learning. It is our hope that our students have the same desire to live out the biblical principles studied in the classroom. Students can be teachers to their children, friends, and coworkers, in the way they live out their lives.

In the Middle

Ocean StormMark chapter 4 gives us an account of a rather “eventful” voyage taken by Jesus and his disciples across the Sea of Galilee.

As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.”So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed). But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.

Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”

What I love about this story – and about the Bible in general – is the timelessness in its relevance. No doubt, ALL of us have had one or more of these “in the middle” experiences. We set out doing something, like going (or going back) to school, starting a business or new career, taking a new path in ministry, or any number of things, CERTAIN that we are following the voice of God or pursuing our God-given passions, gifts and so forth. We start with fervor. Direction. Purpose.

But then at some point we get to the middle… Ahhh, the middle. Too far from the shore we left. Too far from the shore we’re trying to reach. That place where something called life rears its ugly head and makes us question all that we thought we knew. Loved ones die unexpectedly. Money problems arise. Children become ill… or lose their minds. Extra hours are required on a job that is already stressful enough. Class assignments pile up to your eyeballs. Turmoil erupts between spouses. These storms come seemingly out of nowhere, disrupt our peace and make us question whether we really heard God, or as the disciples anxiously did, question whether he takes notice of our condition.

Let me tell you something.

Friend, peace is not the absence of turmoil. Peace is a person – Jehovah Shalom! The Lord Himself is our peace and prosperity. He is constant, unmoved. Circumstances do not take Him by surprise or upset Him. The problem in this story is NOT the storm. Yes, the storm was uncomfortable. Storms tend to be that way most times… But the problem here is that the disciples, at least temporarily, forgot who Jesus was.  Jehovah Shalom, in the flesh, was aboard the ship. I find it somewhat comical that they didn’t appear to doubt Jesus’s ability to survive the storm (despite his being sound asleep down below), but they sure doubted, temporarily, His willingness to aid in their survival. Psalm 46 tells us that the Lord is a very present help in the time of trouble. Psalm 91 tells us that those who abide in the shelter of the Most High and rest in the shadow of the Almighty do not fear… because they have absolutely no reason to. It matters not what happens around them; the Lord is their keeper! You DO NOT have to be troubled by your troubles, because Peace keeps you! HALLELUJAH!!!

If we persist in the Father’s presence, we are then able to receive REST of Him. Rest is the point of decided trust in His ability, and not our own. Rest is the place where we enter in and are refreshed by His presence. It is the place of worship, where we slow down and take time to acknowledge and hear from Him who is more than capable of showing us how to navigate “the middle.”

So if you find yourself in “the middle” today, tempted to give up or throw in the towel, regroup and remember who is aboard with you… Jehovah Shalom is with you! He does take notice! He does care! The Lord Himself is your peace and prosperity! He Himself is your rest, and His grace empowers you and provides every single thing you need to make it to your destined place! Don’t you dare let “the middle” distract and deter you into giving up! This storm is no match for God! There is so much ahead of you! God has GREAT and specific plans for you! He is WITH you and FOR you! Eyes have not seen, neither have ears heard the good things He has in store!

Keep pressing, friend! “The middle” is NOT your end!

Praying for God’s Will

The most amazing thing about knowing God is, well, knowing God. The fact that we can know the One who created the universe more intimately than a spouse, sibling, or closest friend is a truth that would utterly transform us if we took the time to grasp it. Equally amazing is the idea that this God who runs the universe and orders the affairs of the entire world has a plan for each individual that belongs to him. As one who came to faith in the 70’s, I remember vividly Campus Crusade’s Four Spiritual Laws…especially that God loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life.

How do those of us who work in adult education communicate this truth to our students? Until recently, it’s been my erroneous assumption that adult students come to our campus already knowing God’s will for their lives. They are, after all, adults. At this point in their lives, they should have the faith, spouse, and vocation categories of God’s will pretty much nailed down, shouldn’t they?

 Maybe, but I think there’s another level of God’s will to which I haven’t given much thought until running across a prayer that the apostle Paul offered incessantly for the believers in his life…that they “may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:9110, ESV). It seems to me that, at least in this portion of scripture, Paul takes more of a micro view of God’s will. He wants his friends to discern God’s will at such a level that it makes a difference in their daily footsteps with the Lord, right down to “bearing fruit in every good work.”

 I don’t want to minimize the importance of prayer for such important aspects of one’s life as faith, vocation, and who one marries. These potentially fragile categories of God’s will merit much prayer. What I’ve concluded, however, is that God’s will also takes place on a daily basis. What is God’s plan for our students today? What will they face? What kind of fruit-bearing work will they enjoy? In what ways will they learn about God?

 Those of us who work and teach on Belhaven’s adult campuses have been given remarkable opportunities to be involved in the lives of our students. Even more remarkable is the awesome responsibility to pray for them. Within the grandeur of God’s sweeping plans for them, let’s don’t forget to pray as Paul did – that God will give our students knowledge of his will in their walks today… that today’s works will bear fruit and they will know God better at the day’s end.