Complete Guide to Adult Education


If you’re an adult looking to get a diploma, go back to school, or begin continuing education classes, check out our complete guide to adult education.

There are many reasons for adults to want or need to learn. We as humans are lifelong learners, and we are always striving to learn and improve ourselves. Whether that means going back to school to improve or change your career, get a new position within your current company, or because of work requirements, there is something for everyone these days.


Adults today have many options for adult education, and your choices for learning will largely depend on your aims and objectives. There are programs for adults looking to earn a high school diploma, adult-centered programs for higher education degrees, and plenty of options for tuition-free, online, and in-person continuing education courses for adults.


For all information on adult education, read our complete guide here!


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What is Adult Education?

There are 5 types of adult education, listed below:

  1. Education for vocational, technical, and professional competence
  2. Education for health, welfare, and family living
  3. Education for civic, political, and community competence
  4. Education for “self-fulfillment”
  5. Remedial education: fundamental and literacy education


You might fall into one of these categories, or a combination of them. First, let’s talk about non-formal learning.


What is Non-Formal Learning?

Non-formal learning is defined by UNESCO as “any organised educational activity outside the established formal system – whether operating separately or as an important feature of some broader activity – that is intended to serve identifiable learning clienteles and learning objectives.”


Non-formal learning became part of education policies worldwide in the 1960s and 70s when there was a need for an education revolution. Non-formal education is generally targeted towards a particular group and covers topics relevant to specific needs. Examples might include public health and sanitation education for a community in need, or money management classes for young entrepreneurs new to business. These programs are often flexible in methods and organization, short term, not credential based, community related, learner-centered and resource saving. You can find many of these types of courses and programs online or in your local community.


Adults Returning to School

There are plenty of reasons for adults wishing to return to school. Many people are looking for a change of career, have new life goals, or are pursuing continuing education credits.


However, like any new step in life, you may have some worries about going back to school. Common concerns for adult learners include: having enough time, having good enough study skills, and it can be intimidating being surrounded by so many others outside your age group. The reality is that it is possible, that you can do it just like many others have before you with the right mindset and the right program.


Some tips for adults returning to school include:

  • Try a part-time program first
  • Take refresher courses
  • Prepare a good study space
  • Talk it over with family and friends
  • Make personal and professional goals and remind yourself of them often


For more tips on going back to school as an adult, check out our blog post all about it.


Continuing Education for Adults

This type of adult education tends to be short term, very focused courses. Continuing education is a way for working adults to improve on their skills, meet certain licensing requirements, change careers, or return to a degree program after a break. They can be offered in classes or full certificate courses, and sometimes, you may need to take an exam for the certification. These courses are rarely meant to be used for a degree. Examples of continuing education include SQL class for a developer, a new child development course for a preschool teacher or a course on drug intervention for a social worker.


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Free Continuing Education Classes for Adults

While some employers may offer reimbursement for continuing education classes, especially if they are required for licensing or otherwise, other adults may find that they need to pay for these courses on their own.


However, you may not need to pay at all — there are plenty of free online classes for adults.


Check out the following options for free continuing education courses for adults:


Continuing education classes are an excellent option for adults looking to catch up on new industry standards, learn a few new things for a new position, or take several courses together for a career change.


If you are looking for a degree program, however, there are plenty of flexible options for adults as well.


Online Degree Programs

For an adult learner returning to school, an online degree program is an excellent choice. Online degree programs are a flexible way to earn a full degree and change your career while still working at your current job.


Online degrees can be completed anywhere and at any time. Other benefits are that you will increase your online and written communication skills, and tuition prices tend to be lower for online programs. Some downsides to studying online are the limited face time with peers and professors, the lack of campus experience, and finally, you must be highly motivated and self directed to succeed in an online degree program.


One of the best options out there for adult learners to earn a degree online is through University of the People. University of the People offers tuition-free, US accredited, fully online degrees in areas such as Computer Science, Health Administration, Education, and Business. All courses in these degrees are flexible. Meaning, you do the assignments and lectures on your own schedule and you can graduate in as little or as long as best for your goals.


Local Colleges

You may also look inside your community for opportunities to attend local colleges. Many community colleges and schools will offer evening programs aimed towards working adults. Some programs may be earned towards a degree, while there’s other options for adult learning classes that don’t need to go towards a degree. You might find classes for learning English, courses for High School Degree Equivalency and career and professional development at local schools.


Source: Pexels


High School Diploma Programs for Adults

If you didn’t get a chance to graduate from high school, but are looking for a way to get an equivalent diploma as an adult, there are several options for you as an adult learner. There’s what are called “High School Equivalency exams” for adults, also known as the GED. This is an exam that will give you a certificate of equivalency that you can add to your resume, or use on most college applications.


Some competitive, four-year universities or companies may prefer diploma programs. There are both online diploma programs and in-person programs. Choose what works best for you based on the time you have available, your budget, as well as the local offerings made available to you.


All About the CLEP

If you’re an adult applicant for college, you may have heard CLEP mentioned before, but just what exactly is it and how can you benefit from it? CLEP stands for College Level Examination Program and it is meant for college students, international students and adults entering college.


Participants can receive college credit for knowledge learned outside the classroom through life experiences and job knowledge. There are over 33 CLEP subject tests that you can take and get the equivalent of one college course for. Subjects include languages, history, business, social sciences, math and science.


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Adult Learning Opportunities Abroad

While most people think of studying abroad as something only done for ages 18-22, the truth is that adults at any age can study abroad, and get some serious benefits out of it as well. Adult learning abroad gives you the opportunity to experience a new culture, push and challenge yourself, and become more involved in the global community.


Some adult programs offered will specify age requirements, such as 25-40 or even older, and some programs may even allow you to bring children. Common ways for adults to learn abroad include studying abroad as part of a degree program, completing a Fulbright program, or signing up for a language program offered abroad.



Going back to school can come with a hefty price tag, and you may want to think about using scholarships to pay for part or all of your continuing education or new degree program. The great news is that there are so many scholarship opportunities specifically created for adult learners, adults returning to school, or other non-traditional students. Check out these 7 great scholarships for single moms, for example.


For other great scholarship opportunities for adult students, check out databases such as Fastweb or and enter in your specific criteria more a personalized list of scholarships relevant to you.


Going back to school is a fantastic way to better yourself and your career and it is possible as an adult with enough research into the right program for you, a budget and a timeframe, and a positive attitude!