Meet Mike Doolin
On July 14, Penn State Continuing Education and World Campus, in partnership with Penn State's Center for Adult Learner Services, sponsored a free presentation by author and adult learner advocate Mike Doolin as part of the annual Adult Student Fair. Because not all of our continuing and distance learners could attend Mike's presentation, we asked Academic Adviser Jane Ireland to spend a few minutes talking with Mike about the main points of his presentation.
Jane Ireland: What one or two things make an adult learner successful?
Mike Doolin: There are three: motivation, motivation, and more motivation. Successful adult learners come in all ages, sizes, and shapes, but they all have motivation in common. They overcome nearly every obstacle life throws at them and still succeed. Some might slow down periodically to deal with adversity, but they never stop. Conversely, students who are not well motivated, in many cases, simply give up.
J.I.: What are the biggest pitfalls for adult learners?
M.D.: The most common ones I see are sloppy time management
and an inability to "let go" of previous responsibilities. By "letting go" I
mean finding the courage to walk away from many of the responsibilities they
have shouldered for years--doing all the cooking, shopping, laundry, cleaning,
yard work, etc. These things still need to be done, of course, but maybe some
don't have to be done as frequently or as perfectly--or at all. Maybe some can
be done by others in the family. Many would-be adult learners find it hard to
stop being responsible to those around them--but they have to be able to let
go and start being responsible to themselves. It's their turn now.
Bad time management is self-explanatory. If you don't train yourself to prioritize
and learn how to fill those tiny time crevasses with tiny jobs, you'll never
have enough time as a busy adult to go to school. It's that simple.
J.I.: What support resources are the most valuable to adult learners?
M.D.: The two that come quickly to mind are a strong support circle (family/friends/boss) and a good academic adviser who knows how to work with adults. The importance of the former group is pretty evident. Surrounding yourself with people who understand the importance of what you are trying to do--and believing in it--can help make the journey a lot easier.
Having a good academic adviser is critical. For example, there are about 1,300 classes in my college's catalog. The average student needs about twenty of them to get an associate degree. Do students know which twenty they need and the correct sequence in which they need to take them? What about prerequisites? And do they know what courses are offered in which semesters?
The answer, of course, is no, they don't know any of these things. But their adviser does. Adult learners simply can't afford to take classes that don't advance them toward their degree or certificate. They can't afford mistakes that slow them down, and they can't afford to change majors every semester. A good adviser can help adult learners avoid these problems, stay on track, and finish their degree as quickly as possible.
Mike Doolin is the author of A Guerrilla Manual for the Adult College Student:
How to Go to College (Almost) Full Time in Your Spare Time … and Still Have
Time to Hold Down a Job, Raise a Family, Pay the Bills, and Have Some Fun!
He is an adjunct writing instructor and adult learner academic adviser at Monroe
Community College in Rochester, New York.