Overcoming Adult Learning Anxiety I Oxford Open Learning
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Overcoming Adult Learning Anxiety

During the first two decades of our lives, our young brains are in full learning mode. For most of us, studying in the classroom is second nature, and we easily slot into this routine from a very young age, often before we step through the doors of a nursery or kindergarten.

Learning Anxiety

As adult learners, we are much more likely to suffer from learning anxiety, as the habit of daily studying, along with the pressure of tests and examinations, are no longer part of our daily lives. This can also be exacerbated by our adult lived experiences, our views, stances and opinions on the world, and other learned fears such as failure or feeling incapable.

As we grow older, we are more likely to experience this fear of failure, which can heighten our anxiety, especially if our experience of education in the past was not always positive. Anxiety can affect our cognitive functions, and therefore can take the form of lapses in concentration, being unable to retain information, inability to make decisions, overthinking things, remembering only negative learning incidences, and a strong desire to run away from it all; thus leading to a catch twenty-two situation, where we become anxious about failure, and the anxiety itself can lead us to fail.

Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs

So what steps can we take to avoid or overcome adult learning anxiety, in order for us to breeze through our courses with ease and confidence? The answer is based on a humanist approach called ‘Maslow’s hierarchy of needs’.

At the very basic level, we need to get enough rest, eat well, and feel secure and safe in our learning environment, whether we are learning from home or in the classroom. We also need to feel we have friends or family around us who care, and that we can turn to them if needed. Once we have these in place, we are more likely to feel less anxious and therefore have a much better chance of successfully achieving our learning goals.

Don’t Be Afraid Of Help

Studying online means creating a space at home that is comfortable, yet free of distractions as much as possible. By the very nature of remote learning, we may feel a little isolated, as we don’t have other peers around us to discuss and share our feelings and concerns about the work, which can promote anxiety. Don’t be afraid to contact your tutor for guidance and feedback if you hit any barriers, or you want clarification of any kind. Your tutors are there to help you in any way they can, and will do everything possible to help you achieve your goals, and disperse any anxieties about the subject you may have.

Once all the positive props have been successfully put in place to enable us to give our best performance, there is one last thing also worth remembering; there is no substantial evidence to prove that younger people are more successful in learning than that of adults. In fact there is some evidence that adult learners are more likely to succeed than younger learners, as we are more likely to take responsibility for our learning, seek help and guidance when we don’t understand, use our past experiences to help us put our current learning into context, evaluate and modify our work and create goals and strategies to achieve them. Therefore, surely we can conclude that if we set our working environment up in a way that makes us feel secure, comfortable and emotionally supported, we have every reason to feel confident we can step forward and achieve almost any educational goal that we set ourselves.


To find out more about Jilly, you can visit her website by clicking here

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Jilly Gardiner is a writer and a lecturer, and spent many years in TV broadcasting. She has a degree in Journalism, and a Master’s in Scriptwriting, and has taught at higher education institutions in the UK and the Middle East. Jilly’s short feature, Being Keegan, starring Stephen Graham, has won a number of international awards. She was a winner of the Windsor Drama Award (The Kenneth Branagh Award), and her work has been produced at theatres around the UK and Dubai. Jilly now teaches at Winchester University, Bucks and Restore, Oxford.

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