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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?
When I was at the age I was supposed to enrol at university, I really didn’t know what I wanted to study and I felt it would be a waste of time as my heart was not in it. Instead, I decided to experience the world before making such a big commitment. I went on to get married, have a full-time job and travel whenever life would allow. However, at one point I realised I was ready to have a career and not just work to pay the bills. I did some soul searching and decided I was ready to dive into education once again.
I always liked studying and reading, but it had been such a long time since I was in the classroom that I decided to do my English and Maths GCSEs and even though not necessary, I also did Science as a way of easing me back into the scientific world. I had a full-time job at the time as well, so I used to work around 40 hours a week and spend 15-20 hours attending classes and studying. It was not easy, but it was so satisfying to get my results and see that my hard work paid off.
Alongside the full time job, I then started juggling the Access to HE in Biomedical Sciences course, which resulted in 35 hours of paid work and around 30-40 hours of academia. I was also was going through a divorce, so things were quite hard and stressful. When I was choosing which university to go to, I made sure that I picked the ones that accepted the Access to HE as an entry route and also that were high in the leagues table for the area I wanted (Biological Sciences). Getting offered a place at York was one of the best days in my life and made all the hard work I put in worth it.
I often catch myself thinking, how lucky I am to be here and how excited I am about the future. As a mature student coming to uni, I was quite apprehensive and if I could give myself any advice back then,
it would be: just breathe, everything will be ok! I suffer from social anxiety and I find it hard to make friends or talk in big groups. I can happily report that I have met some amazing people and made lifelong friends. I am still quite shy, but I am working on it! One of the things that really surprised me was the amount of support that you can access whilst at uni. From disability services, financial advice to the Open Door team, they were all there when I needed and it feels nice to know you are not alone! For me, because I am a mature student and being here is what I want, I like taking part in every experience that is available.
I have taken French lessons, volunteered for a few organisations, taken part in different societies, I spent a year in France as part of my degree and I did a summer placement in Switzerland last year as well! I also work as a student ambassador for the uni and I really like what I do - helping to inspire other people to do what I did is one of the best feelings ever!

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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