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So, what is a mature learner?

We may class ourselves as Mature Learners but what does that mean to us, in history, according to Google, or how Governments funds education?

Does Bruna’s story in the video sound typical, or resonate with your own experiences?

Mature learner, adult learner, adult student, returning adult, or adult returner are all terms that you might hear, or see, to describe a person of a particular age and life experience. Google has 10,600 links to the term ‘mature learner’. Many of the links are connected to universities promoting their courses and support systems. Other links direct you to mature learner funding and loans.

Wikipedia cites a mature student as ‘a person who is 25 years and up who is involved in forms of learning’.

The British Government considers that any person over the age of 19 is a mature learner and funding for learning for pre-19 and post-19 education is divided accordingly.

The modern concept of a mature learner is linked to the theory of Andragogy (leader of Man) as a response to the theory of ‘pedagogy’ from the Greek word ‘to lead a child,’ was first noted in the 7th century when monasteries established schools for children (Knowles, 1973).

Andragogy was originally described by a German educator Kapp in 1833), and promoted as a theory of adult education by Rosenstock-Huessy (1888-1973). However, it was Malcom Knowles (1913-1997), who is perhaps most recognised for the term Andragogy.

Andragogy, (defined as engaging learners in the process of the learning experience) asserts that adult learners are based on the six assumptions of:

  1. The need to know: why do I need to know this?
  2. Self-concept: levels of maturity and independence.
  3. Adult learner experience: accumulation of knowledge and experience becomes a reservoir of resource.
  4. Readiness to learn: a focus on developmental tasks. Instruction should be timely and relevant.
  5. Orientation to learning: learning is focused on problem centerdness. Learning needs to be contextualised.
  6. Motivation to learning: learning becomes internally motivated, must be worthwhile, self-satisfying, enjoyable and have an element of choice for the learner.

Kapur (2015 p4) acknowledges these assumptions and suggests that an adult learner is a mature individual ‘who is acquiring new knowledge and skills and developing new attitudes after having reached mature intellectual, physical and social development’.

You will recognise by now that as a mature learner, you are well equipped to take on the challenge of the next step of your education journey. By researching your next step options, you will be looking for a college or university that is attuned to the skills, talents and characteristics of adult learners, to provide you with the best adult learning experience.

Kelly (1970: 261) said that ‘adult learning environments must hold a primary purpose to be education… (which) could only be effectively carried on, in an atmosphere of fellowship’.

As an education institute, the University of York, values mature learners as they can offer a level of experience and commitment that contributes to a rich learning experience. We have a comprehensive support system for mature learners as well as learner testimonials to help with any concerns you may have as you consider your next steps.


Kelly, T. (1962; 1970; 1992) A History of Adult Education in Great Britain, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.

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Returning to Education as a Mature Student

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