“Post-Traditional Learners” are Today’s Traditional Learner

Posted on February 2, 2013. Filed under: Community Colleges, Higher Education |

In his new report, Louis Soares, policy advisor to the American Council on Education, introduces us to the concept of the Post-Traditional Learner: Post-traditional Learners and the Transformation of Postsecondary Education: A Manifesto for College Leaders.

Post-Traditional Learners can be characterized as 25-64 year old working adults who have not yet earned a post-secondary credential. Soares identifies five commonalities that drive these learners:

  1. They are wage earners for themselves or their families;
  2. They combine work and learning at the same time or move frequently between the two;
  3. They pursue knowledge, skills, and credentials that employers will recognize and compensate;
  4. They frequently require developmental education to be successful in college-level courses;
  5. They seek academic/career advising to navigate their complex path to a degree.

According to Soares, post-traditional learners are “reshaping the demand for postsecondary education in the 21st century into a more fluid form of college-going with longer, episodic participation.”

How can we help the post-secondary learner succeed? Soares writes that these learners will need “more customized pathways to degree or credential completion and a focus away from credit hours to the ability to demonstrate and apply knowledge.”

 Soares advocates three principles for disrupting current institutional, instructional, and revenue models to achieve better results for post-traditional learners (and the nation):

  1. Go Beyond the Academy to Take Leadership—A Consortium for Teaching and Learning;
  2. Rebuild the Definition of Postsecondary Education from the Post-traditional Learner Out; and
  3. Be Entrepreneurs of a New Venture, Not Stewards of Existing Institutions.

Soares vision scares me a little in its ambition (and implications), but there is also much food for thought in his report – and some real benefit to using his new term to help our sector identify the realities of those we serve.


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