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How can you keep learning as an adult?

continuing ed
August 10, 2016

By Alissa Green

Learning when you’re growing up is easy. You have your parents and, sometimes, your entire family cheering you on for every new skill and accomplishment you attempt. Your victory feels like their victory, too – because part of their job as grownups is educating you. Remember that time you mastered fractions? EPIC!

But once you leave school and start your ‘real life’ of working, what happens to your education, then? What does continuing adult education look like in your 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond? 

It can be easy to stop learning non–work-related skills as you age because time gets tight and motivation can prove illusive. And for better or worse, it’s mainly you looking over your shoulder at this point, judging what you do or don’t accomplish. But baby steps and casual learning is fine. Getting a masters or MBA isn’t the only way to keep learning as an adult, though it absolutely can be a good option. 

Here are some thought starters no matter what or how you want to learn:

Dabble: If you’re interested in taking in-person, one-off classes, Dabble’s a great option and has offerings in multiple cities ranging from Pittsburgh to Tampa. Teachers determine the class offerings, but they range from artsy topics like “soy candle making” to more food-focused instruction, like “how to become an olive oil pro.” Not exactly university level, but that’s the point. Health, fitness and career topics are also offered. If you want to share your own expertise, you can sign up to teach and keep up to 90% of the tickets (classes) sold.

Confirm if your company offers educational reimbursement: If you want to dive deeper into a work-related subject matter, educational reimbursement can be a terrific and affordable choice. Many companies offer as much as $5,000 per year toward a degree program, though stipulations may vary as to how closely the classes must hue to your current position. Some companies also require that you stay at the company for a set amount of time after you take advantage of their reimbursement program, though it depends on the company. If you’re unsure what your company offers, this is as great question for HR. 

Continuing education classes at local colleges: Looking for “continuing education” classes specifically can be helpful as the cost tends to be lower than credit-drive courses needed for college or graduate school graduation. I actually took a writing course like this at Northwestern one summer and really enjoyed it. My fellow students were locals who lived in the community who were even more motivated to write than the former English majors I used to study with in college – and the class price was far more affordable. Plus, these classes are often held at night or on weekends. 

Online courses anywhere: There are so many places to take online courses for adult ed, it’s nearly overwhelming. There’s Udemy, an education marketplace with 12M+ students, which offers classes on everything from how to use iPhone iOS systems (8, 9 and even 10) to how to successfully use punctuation (!). Coursera, meanwhile, is an outfit that pulls courses from top universities that you can take in the comfort of your own home. There are plenty of others, of course, depending on your need.

Duolingo mobile app for languages: There are multiple language-learning apps, but none as successful as Duolingo. Duolingo started on Android (note the 3M+ reviews!) but is now also available on iPhone. It has pretty much every language under the sun and offers you the chance to even improve on languages you used to speak…once upon a time. Apparently, I’m all of 43% fluent in Spanish 10 years after living in Spain, for instance.  There are other language apps out there, but this is a good (and easy!) place to start. 

Googling your interest + your town/city: This may seem obvious, but hear me out. Every town/city has unique options and different education centers that fall outside of the local university or community college network. You may not even be aware of resources available right under your nose. For instance, in Chicago, Lil Street Art Center is a terrific arts education resource that, until recently, I never knew existed because I live in a different neighborhood in the city. It took a friend taking a class there for me to make the discovery.

All in all, keep in mind that everyone is at a different place when it comes to learning. Some folks, like my father, use the local library to earn a pseudo PhD in history with all the non-fiction books he checks out and reads at home. Others prefer hands-on classes or online education courses. There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to adult education. Do what makes sense for you – and feel good about it!

Alissa Green is the Digital Marketing Manager at Alliant. She has 10+ years experience writing/blogging and has written for Jezebel, The Onion,, and amongst other sites. The best piece of financial advice she’s gotten was from her mother, who says one should never try to beat the market (thanks, mom!). In her spare time, you can find Alissa enjoying the local comedy scene, exploring different Chicago neighborhoods, supporting the Chicago Humanities Festival and reading up on FinTech.

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