Getting an Education Later in Life Can Be a Barrier


Often time’s adult learners have different requirements and aspirations than young adults entering college. Adult learners are seeking new ways to improve their careers or take on new career opportunities. Obtaining education later in life may present hindrances. Some of those burdens include: not having the time to dedicate to assignments, feeling unequipped for the assignments and/or having writing anxiety and the symptoms associated with it. Therefore, it would be helpful to motivate students considering it is essential to learning.

Motivation has a powerful effect on students that encourages them to take on task that can build knowledge. As an example, studies showed how positive motivation helped liberate students to learn which gave them the confidence to develop as writers. In educational settings, the general characteristics of anxiety and fears concerning expectations of adult students are similar.

Adults can suffer from writing anxiety because they have no experience writing term papers and believe they do not write at college level.

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Adult learners are diverse; they are immersed with anxiety in accordance with their ideas, beliefs and thoughts. For that reason, it would be a great asset of the educators to possess the ability to lessen the learner’s fears and concerns. This essay will discuss the traits of an adult learner suffering from anxiety. Also, techniques and writing strategies will be explored for instructors to assist the students through their challenges. There have been a variety of studies performed as it relates to adult learners entering or returning to college that exhibit symptoms of anxiety.

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Writing anxiety can be an extremely debilitating disorder that can definitely alter an individual’s ability to perform their best. Although it is fairly common to encounter some forms of stress and anxiety when starting something new such as college. It would be beneficial for writing fears to decline as the adult students become better acquainted with writing and class expectations.


In an article written by Michelle Navarre Cleary (2012) it was discovered that anxiety is one of the most universal complaints among adult students. Cleary’s article reported that students struggled with writing and felt the most stress because they did not feel secure with their composing abilities. The reports also showed record-low levels of emotional health and that suffering from anxiety is a major concern of students according to the survey. Experts noted that adult students over 24-years of age are feeling more anxious as they feel an immense pressure to succeed in college due to the monetary investments they sacrificed. For instance, adult learners may already have a significant amount of bills. They are often parents with a substantial amount of responsibility.

They may not have financial aid or parents helping them and may have to pay out-of-pocket; or they may have corporate tuition reimbursement which can add to the pressure of succeeding due to passing grade requirements in order to have classes paid for. Whereas younger students may feel less anxious because they are recently leaving high school and are perhaps more accustomed to writing papers. Additionally, younger students may not be perturbed with the financial commitments of college. Not to negate the hard work that younger students put in. However, adults and younger students freshly out of high-school usually have different obligations.

With that said, the pressures of college and the writing assignment can cause some students have anxiety so intense that it causes physical ailments. A student in the study suffered from mouth sores because of the stress associated with being in school and having to produce written documents. This student did not feel they were capable of writing documents that were deemed appropriate in terms of college level. Conversely, another student was able to minimize their level of anxiety once they began to receive feedback on multiple low-level assignments (Cleary, 2012).

When speaking of why adult learners worry about their anxiety one should not negate the fact that often times adult learners have different motives in regards to completing a degree than the average younger student. For instance, adult learners often aspire to complete an education to enhance their current lifestyle. Adults usually have some form of employment and therefore may want to advance in their career or establish a new career once they complete their education.

Completing education as an adult is usually an added bonus to their existing employment. So being inundated with writing has some adult students wanting to end their dreams of completing their education specifically because they were overwhelmed with the required writing assignments according to Cleary’s document (Cleary, 2012). During this particular survey students openly admitted to being able to handle the readings and class participation but frustrated with writing term papers. To add some reassurance and what seemed helpful according to studies was providing students with feedback that is constructive, supportive and very much desired by some of the adult learners. Thus, understanding the needs of each adult learner is imperative. Instructors that have an ability to work with adult learners by providing them the much needed support can make learning for them pleasurable and easily accepted. What may alleviate some of their worries could be how instructors make decisions and how they react to students that display the characteristics of someone suffering from writer’s anxiety (Cleary, 2012).


There was an interview conducted by Cleary that consisted of adult learners participating in an interviewing process of twenty-five students between the ages of twenty-six to fifty-five. They were a racially diverse group of adults with various professional backgrounds. Considering the complexities of the adult learner’s backgrounds it was important for the study to accurately discover how teaching practices could impact their needs and writing capabilities (Cleary, 2012). According to the Cleary document one of the students in the study appreciated and even solicited feedback and positive encouragement as means to reduce their anxiety (Cleary, 2012). The study was an IRB-approved study that traced the writing developments of the adult learners. The study followed and exposed the students’ progress at the start, middle and end of the quarter. The students expressed their anxiety with writing especially as it relates to the writing methods they used. The feedback they received from the instructor was also revealed. Once Cleary was able to read and code the transcripts she was able to validate anxiety was a prominent source for their struggles.

After learning process writing strategies and positive feedback one student in the study was able to perform better in regards to their writing assignments. On the contrary, another student in the study was not as receptive to the feedback and encouragement. They felt even more pressure to adequately execute their writings. Other students in the study reported being able to minimize their anxious feelings because of the strategies that were implemented to assist them. As an example, some of the students reported that low-stake writing assignments that allowed practice to be helpful. Using writing process strategies and getting early feedback from the instructor truly proved to be effective (Cleary, 2012). Another exercise that appears to be helpful was having students write about their prior learning and writing experiences. Doing so may help the student become less anxious about writing other class related assignments.

Similarly, in an article written by Nancy Sommers a study was done by Harvard which followed twenty- adult student writers during the freshmen semester of their undergraduate program at Boston University and the University of Oklahoma. These experienced adult writers had SAT verbal scores ranging from 450-600 in their first semester (Sommers, 1980). The study was performed to determine how feedback played a role with experienced adult writers and student writers with less experience. The study discovered that students that received thoughtful feedback that pointed out a few errors opposed to indicating every detailed mistake were much more likely to improve their writing skills. Additionally, when those students received constructive feedback versus recurring praise they were more liable to develop as writers. Sommers explained how students need lots of practice for them to become better at writing. The practice will need to occur during the first academic year and continue throughout their degree program. It also needs to be within the student’s field of study (Sommers, 1980).

Sommers’ research involved specialized revision and rewriting strategies to assist the students with their struggles. When students were originally asked what forms of correction strategies they used, they had no definitive answers. Due to that fact, it was evident to Sommers that student writers tussled with certain writing techniques that had the ability to simplify their writing style. In fact, student writers were so oblivious to revision and rewriting strategies that they seemed uncomfortable with using those particular expressions (Sommers, 1980). The student writers used terms such as: “scratch-out, do-over again” and “marking out” to name a few. With that said, student writers seemed uncomfortable using what is considered scholarly terms like: revise or re-rewrite to describe modifications. The students described those terms as words the instructors used. Nevertheless, research suggested that students actually avoiding revising their papers are debatable. What the student writers in the study lacked was appropriate revision strategies that could assist them. The students were missing proper procedures to help them rearrange lines of reasoning, etc (Sommers, 1980).

On another note, an article written by Bill Cope and Mary Kalantzis discuss the importance of understanding cultural and linguistic diversity of the social settings. Thereby creating a genre approach to college level writing can foster instructor awareness of unstated expectations in the writing they assign to students. That can consist of instructors that pose questions about the specific genre of the essay they are anticipating which can be beneficial as it helps the student connect and produce developed essays that have focus and unity. The writing assignments and the essays adult learners create should not be considered homogenous or the average style of writing. It is generally understood that writing occurs with a disciplinary context. Although, college-level writing assignments across the various disciplines often have genre constraints which may not be easily understood by the adult learners. “Instructors that demonstrate support and are knowledgeable on how grammar can be used as a tool for students and teachers to analyze and discuss the relations of text form to social purpose is ideal when it comes to the genre approach” (Cope & Kalantzis, 2014).

As a conclusion, the previous studies conducted by the researcher’s show that anxiety does impair adult learners’ performance. The studies have shown that newly returned adult learners openly admit to suffering from writing anxiety. Participating in studies has helped researchers discover ways to combat their problems. The studies focused more on ways to help learners through their writing challenges by offering insightful solutions like revision strategies, accepting motivation from instructors and ways to reduce anxiety. This study also revealed how the anxiety adult learners experience may have something to do with their struggles with understanding how to formulate and construct their papers, or anticipate what the readers will need in order to comprehend what they are attempting to convey. Therefore, using the process writing strategies is essential to creating suitable essays. It is also evident from the readings that the vast majority of students preferred receiving feedback and positive encouragement. When the students received further instruction, advice and suggestions from the teacher an apparent difference in their ability to feel more confidence was noticeable.

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Getting an Education Later in Life Can Be a Barrier. (2022, Apr 21). Retrieved from

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