Adult Learning as a Nonprofit Worker

Posted on
5 Mar 2021
by Lynn Simpson, Training and Advice Manager at The Wheel
An illustration of a women speaking to another person on a computer screen.

Making the decision to go back to study as an adult isn't an easy one, especially when you're already in full-time employment, there are still only 24 hours in a day, and your commute isn’t getting any shorter.

But that was exactly where I found myself a year and half ago, sitting at my laptop trying to summon the confidence to send in my application for a course I was both excited and terrified to do.

Taking the plunge

There were so many reasons for me not to take on extra work. I had just been given more responsibility at work, and like most people working in the nonprofit sector I was already continuously time-poor. Besides, I was convinced I was too old, too stuck in my ways, and not "academic" enough to handle studying again.

So I listened to the little negative voices in my head and left the filled-out application sitting on my desktop as the deadline for the course came and went.

But another date was approaching (a certain birthday) and there was something about the prospect of an extra candle on my cake that galvanised me into a fit of "you only live once". So I emailed my application and a cover letter explaining why they should accept me late to the course and two days later an email popped in to my inbox and, surprisingly, I had been accepted. 

The extra push

Elation quickly turned to terror and I nearly didn’t take the place.

But the day before my first class a volunteer came into my office at work, excited that, after a year of lessons, he had just passed his driving test. He wasn’t some giddy teenager, but a gentleman who had just celebrated his 70th birthday.

When I asked him why he had decided to learn to drive now he said, “I just thought to myself, sure, at my age, what have I got to lose?” And with that wise advice I enrolled in a part-time Masters in Management for the Non-Profit Sector at TU Dublin.

I was convinced I was going to be the oldest student in the class (turned out to be true!) and that I wouldn’t get on with anyone (untrue). By the end of my first day I had made friends, been offered a car share by a student who lived near me, and been added to the class WhatsApp group (amusingly named "Masters of the University").

The benefits of experience

Another surprising thing about studying as an adult is that you bring so many life skills with you that you didn’t even realise you had. Time-management skills that help you juggle life and work commitments can also be used for college commitments. Deadlines are second nature to anyone with a job and bills to pay, and project management skills come easy when your to-do list is already six feet long.

I found a new appreciation for the skills I already had, as well as the skills I was learning, and when I got my first ever A for a module I was unbelievably proud of my achievement. All that hard work was worth it!

The challenges

Because despite all the positives, it is hard work balancing full-time work, home commitments, and study. Many evenings after a long day at work the last thing I wanted to do was log onto my laptop and study late into the night.

But each time I found myself exhausted, grumpy, or jealous of my partner relaxing in front of the telly, I reminded myself of how proud I was of that first A and how proud I would feel walking across the stage at graduation in my cap and gown.

When Covid-19 hit and the world shut down studying became harder for me. The wonderful supportive classroom environment disappeared overnight and learning moved online, which meant adapting to a new way of learning and absorbing information. Technology that came so easy to my younger class mates drove me mad, but like everything else on my educational journey I learned how to do it and carried on. 

Final words

So all going well I will graduate this year. Perhaps I won’t actually have the big ceremony in a gown and cap with my new friends, thanks to a certain virus. But it will still be amazing.

It will be worth the investment I made, both in time and money, it will be worth the long evenings typing with only snoring dogs to keep me company, and worth all the weekends missed due to looming deadlines (but sure what else was there to do in lockdown?).

It’s been an amazing adventure, one where I’ve made friends, learnt new skills, gained a better understanding of this amazing sector I work in, and even gained a new job!

So if you are considering becoming an adult learner I guess I have only one piece of advice for you: just go for it. Sure what have you got to lose? 

This blog was produced in partnership with the Aontas Adult Learners’ Festival 2021 (1 – 5 March), which celebrates lifelong learning! #BetterTogether