What makes adult learning different? Derek Barter of Maynooth University explains

By Anne Sexton - Last update

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Adult learning or returning to education as a mature student can seem daunting. You may worry that it has been too long since you hit the books. You may not have had a great experience at school. Or perhaps you don’t consider yourself academically inclined. We spoke to Dr Derek Barter, the Continuing Education Co-ordinator of Maynooth University’s Department of Adult and Community Education. He gives us the lowdown on heading back to education as a mature student.

Learning is learning, isn’t it? How does adult education differ?

The Department of Adult and Community Education in Maynooth University takes a very different approach to teaching and learning than a lot of people will have encountered through their previous educational experiences. We value the knowledge that people bring with them from their everyday life and work with the student to bring them through the learning process.

Could you explain?

Mature students have life experience that can be very valuable. Anyone who has been working, either formally or as a full-time parent learns skills along the way. These could be budgeting, time management or conflict resolution. In addition, being older gives you a different way of approaching problems. All of this can be very useful when returning to education.

When you are at school learning is a very top down process. This sounds more like an equitable exchange.

Yes, it is. Some of the key words that adult educators use in their work are respect, democracy and transformation. Putting these ideas into practice in a learning environment is exciting but can also be a challenge to people returning to education after a period of time and especially if this is their first venture into higher education.

What would you suggest for someone who is nervous about returning to education?

For many people the best way to test the water is to begin with one of our short certificate courses. Here typically, the student will attend class one evening per week for three hours in addition to maybe three or four Saturdays added throughout the year. Classes are small and the learning takes place within the classroom between the students and guided by our facilitators. These courses have been described as life changing, unbelievable and the best learning experience that people have ever had.

Are these courses simply for the joy of learning or are they practical?

We offer both. If you are interested in studying for personal reasons or for career there will be a course to suit you. We also have a wide range of Continuing Education and CPD in Training and Development programmes with different closing dates. For people who already have a degree we also have a suite of Post-Graduate courses in Education and Training and Adult Guidance and Counselling.


Certificate courses

  • Addiction Studies (places available Bluebell Dublin and Cork)
  • Adult and Community Education
  • Adult Guidance, Theory and Practice
  • Community Development and Leadership
  • Communication and Group Skills for Managers
  • Creative Writing for Publication
  • Disability Studies (still places available in Donegal)
  • Directing for Theatre
  • Equality Studies (online)
  • Local History
  • Psychology
  • Training and Continuing Education (Train the Trainer Level 7)
  • Return to Learning

How to apply

Applications for part-time evening degree (MH803) Local Studies/Community Studies through the CAO will be accepted from 22 August 2017. A talk on MH803 plus a CAO application workshop will take place on Thursday 31 August 2017 from 6.30-8.30.

For Certificates, Diplomas, CPD, please click here. You can also contact Kay Loughlin on 01 708 6062 or Kay.Loughlin@nuim.ie. 

For more information, see Maynooth University’s profile.

Anne Sexton

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