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Characteristics Of A Successful Adult Enrolled In Tertiary Class

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What Are The Characteristics Of A Successful Adult Learner Enrolled In Tertiary Education In A Digital Era?




There are some individual characteristics that are very resourceful in the learning environment. Learners’ individual characteristics differ significantly. In other words, some learners uphold identifiable characteristics that act as driving factors towards academic excellence. Conversely, other learners’ characteristics are not oriented towards academic performance thus such learner’s tend to have poor performance. Thus, a successful adult learner possesses those qualities that are academic oriented. In order to create a solid foundation for academic success, a learner should have certain factors. These factors act as the main distinguishing characteristics between the performing and non-performing learners. The chief purpose for this paper, therefore, is to discuss the characteristics of a successful adult learner enrolled in tertiary education in a digital era.


The demands for tertiary education are such that a learner possesses and exhibits the qualities that are deemed success oriented. One of the characteristics of a successful adult learner is motivation. In general, motivation can be conceptualized as the reason(s) that influence certain behavior. Typically, motivation is driven by willingness and volition to do something. Further, motivation has to do with personal interest, pleasure and enjoyment. According to Abd-El-Fattah (2010), motivation plays a chief role in the commencement and maintenance of the academic efforts hence helping the learner to achieve his/her cognitive goals. In this case, motivation stresses two factors. That is, a learner has a particular goal to achieve and thus must express the intention to act so as to achieve the goal.  In other words, motivation calls for commitment. A successful adult learner, therefore, must not only express his/her motivation towards achieving academic goals but also portray the intention to involve in the task fully. Sanacore (2008) also stresses on the importance of self motivation in learning. He argues that motivation is a wheel that can effectively transform the reluctant learners to inspired ones. In this sense, therefore, motivation can be used as a measure for learner’s success.

Learning in the 21st century has assumed a new face as opposed to the past centuries. Empathised by Bruce, Hughes and Somerville (2012) is the importance of information literacy. Information literacy according to them is essential in informed learning. Hence, successful learners gain information literacy from their experiences. The experiences referred to in this context are the ones experienced by a learner in three settings namely; community, educational and workplace setting (Bruce, Hughes &Somerville, 2012). The idea of information literacy advocates for the learner’s tendency to go beyond the basic information (mainly what is taught in the classroom context) to encompass other fundamental information external to the basic information. Bruce, Hughes and Somerville (2012) agree that there has been extensive use of information literacy not only in the tertiary education but also in preschool and secondary education. It is thus evident that learners are not limited by the generic information rather their exploration of the information literacy has yielded to the expansion of academic research across the world. 


When Bruce, Hughes and Somerville (2012) talk about information literacy and informed learning, they put emphasis on the importance of using information to learn. In other words, a learner should focus on integrating and interacting with the information from the various settings aforementioned.  Moreover, a learner should be aware of the various types of information that exist, how to use the information and how to incorporate different information to change the understanding about study or personal life. The knowledge about how to handle different information depends on a learner’s ability to develop information literacy. Essentially, information literacy helps a learner in developing skills of using information reflectively, effectively, critically, ethically and creatively (Bruce, Hughes &Somerville, 2012). Successful learners should be aware of what comprises the information within their context. Such knowledge not only shapes how they use the acquired information to learn but also how to engage, encounter and control it.

Additionally, the vast technological advancement has also played a key role in the learning transformation. Knowledge and experience are increasingly redefined in the new era of digital technology (Guerlac, 2011). In the same way, learners ought to transform to meet the demands of the modern education. Consequently, E-learning has been adopted as a major mode of learning in the tertiary education. As a matter of fact, Guerlac, (2011) contends that e-learning has received substantial demand in the past decades. It has highly been adopted in innovative related disciplines such as engineering, statistics, computer science, business and corporate training. As a result, it is inarguable that e-learning is a necessary undertaking that a successful adult learner must adopt. Since Guerlac, (2011) says that  knowledge has been redefined such that learners ought not be preoccupied with making sense about history, thinking about the cultural heritage or fathoming  the obscurity of the physical world, the learner’s focus must be oriented towards innovativeness. It can thus be interpreted that learners should focus o how to manage information and convert it into capital.

The modern education is increasingly transforming to accommodate the use of digital technology. According to Littlejohn, Beetham and McGill (2012) the digital era has led to changes in the entire milieu of study, research, individual thinking and creativity, people’s manner of thinking as well as enhancing self expression. This means that there is notable in the dissemination of knowledge mainly through teaching and researching.  For this reason, learners ought to adjust with the changes in time. While creativity and innovativeness are key in the contemporary learning, learners should also base their learning on their interests, skills as well as on the felt needs. Innovativeness and creativity are some of the important ways through which the ensuing global issues can be overcome. Therefore Karakas and Manisaligil (2012) propose that learners have a greater task of molding their inner strength and ability for creativity. Additionally, they have also got a responsibility of fine-tuning their learning processes through planning, evaluation and implementation.   


Abd-El-Fattah (2010) model of self-directed learning is also an essential tool that describes some of the characteristics essential to an adult learner. One of the characteristics he describes is the learner’s ability for self-management. Self management points to the learner’s tendency to take control of the things that are helpful in learning. For instance, a learner takes control of the strategies of attaining some goals as well as managing the learning requirements. In addition, another factor that requires proper management is task control. Task control includes: resources, interdependency and proficiency. In reference to resources, Abd-El-Fattah (2010) stresses the importance of the learner to seek educational support from the relevant persons. Interdependence, on the other hand, has to do with the learner’s choices, integrity as well as the institution’s standards. The idea of self-management as is evident from Abd-El-Fattah (2010) revolves around the educative form of relationship between a teacher and a learner.            

Self-monitoring is also essential in enhancing a learner’s success Abd-El-Fattah (2010). Self-monitoring has to do with the learner’s cognitive process which is essential in the mastery of the learning strategies and thinking.  In this case, the learner understands him/herself through learning of new ideas and linking them with what was previously known (Karakas & Manisaligil, 2012).  Generally, the assertion of the self-directed learner model is that the successful learners are aware and have the responsibility of monitoring themselves. Thus, self-monitoring are not only inquisitive in their learning but also explore new things. They are also willing to change, take pleasure in learning and also face and deal with challenges (Abd-El-Fattah, 2010).


Deriving from Shepherd and Nelson (2012) an adult learner in tertiary education has to deal with a wide range of challenges. Hence, building resilience among the learners is vital. Many of these challenges may emanate from the learning institution, personal problems/situational challenges or what Tattersall et al. (2005) term as dispositional barriers. Learners, thus, face challenges such as lack of transport, financial constraints and inadequate study time and old age. Nonetheless, Warschauer (2007) suggests that digital learning can help a great deal in resolving some of these challenges. Warschauer cites the advantage of digital learning as the autonomous learning. That is, people can study from anywhere and at their convenience. However, Warschauer does not rule out the possibility of student mentorship by teachers.

In conclusion, it is quite evident that a successful; adult learner has no option but must possess certain characteristics. Motivation, adoption and utilization of technology, development of information literacy, adaptation to the digital era, self-drive, self management and ability to deal with challenges are some of the qualities of a successful learner. Additionally, the academically successful learners have efficient and effective learning strategies. Using their knowledge and being self-motivated, the learners are able to scrutinize and make any changes to their learning strategies thus influencing their learning results. Learners’ success is also dependent on their ability to organize, take control, examine and even evaluating their own learning. The learners’ familiarity with their learning needs, selection of content, identification of both physical and human learning resources and creating of learning objectives has also significant contribution in learners success.



Abd-El-Fattah, S. M. (2010). Garrison's model of self-directed learning: preliminary validation

and relationship to academic achievement. The Spanish journal of psychology, 13(02), 586-596.

Bruce, C., Hughes, H., & Somerville, M. M. (2012). Supporting informed learners in the twenty-

first century. Library Trends, 60(3), 522-545.

Guerlac, S. (2011). Humanities 2.0: e-learning in the digital world. Representations, 116(1), 102-


Karakas, F., & Manisaligil, A. (2012). Reorienting self-directed learning for the creative digital

era. European Journal of Training and Development, 36(7), 712-731.

Kenner, C., & Weinerman, J. (2011). Adult learning theory: Applications to non-traditional

college students. Journal of College Reading and Learning, 41(2), 87-96.

Littlejohn, A., Beetham, H., & McGill, L. (2012). Learning at the digital frontier: a review of

digital literacies in theory and practice. Journal of computer assisted learning, 28(6), 547-556.

Sanacore, J. (2008). Turning reluctant learners into inspired learners. The Clearing House: A

Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 82(1), 40-44.

Shepherd, J., & Nelson, B. M. (2012). Balancing act: A phenomenological study of female adult

learners who successfully persisted in graduate studies. The Qualitative Report, 17(20), 1-21.

Tattersall, C., Manderveld, J., Van den Berg, B., Van Es, R., Janssen, J., & Koper, R. (2005).

Self organising way finding support for lifelong learners. Education and Information technologies, 10(1), 111-123.

Warschauer, M. (2007). The paradoxical future of digital learning. Learning Inquiry, 1(1), 41-49.


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