Characteristics of Adult Learners and How to Engage Them

Reaching Adult Learners Through Alternative Channels

The digital transformation higher education has experienced in recent years has flipped the entire industry on its head. In fact, the online degree market is expanding rapidly, with an expected global market value of $75 billion by 2025, according to HolonIQ. 

Thanks to this massive shift, adult learners have greater access to higher education through flexible learning models. Adult learners — defined as students over the age of 25 — make up an increasing portion of prospective students. With this demographic’s strong market share and demand for online learning, institutions need to understand who they are and the most effective strategies to reach them. 

As a former nontraditional learner, I speak from experience, though the experience of adult learners today is far different from mine just over a decade ago. When I was heading back to school, we were on the cusp of a huge technology boom — the channels used today didn’t even exist. We very rarely were able to have a class online. We had night and weekend in-person classes, in a very limited number of degree paths — and we thought this was flexible! 

As more online degree programs arise with different learning options — including fully online, hybrid, live, and recorded classes — almost every type of career path or concentration is available in a convenient form. But to increase the enrollment of adult learners in your university’s programs, you have to engage them through the right marketing channels.

Understanding the Adult Learner Audience 

Adult learners are a unique group of prospective students who are typically pursuing higher education to take the next steps in their careers. For the most part, they’re financially independent and a part of the “real world,” with responsibilities such as full-time employment and raising a family. They’re often considered nontraditional learners, and higher-ed marketers should keep this audience in mind as they build strategies for recruitment, enrollment, and retention. 

Adult Learners Need Transparent Information on Education Options               

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that adult learners are looking for clear information surrounding their education options. In reality, all learners are looking for transparency regarding their education. However, 83% of this particular group is skeptical or hesitant about the value of postsecondary education, according to Edu Ventures. Additionally, 63% of financially independent learners pursue their degrees part time, according to the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study. 

To address these added concerns and responsibilities, higher-ed marketers need to ensure program value is obvious to nontraditional students as they consider the financial undertaking that is higher education. Institutions need to provide readily available information on admissions processes, financial aid, program requirements, school-life balance, and other factors to convince adult learners that the college experience is worth the cost.

Archer Education data from a study involving over 20,000 prospective students indicates that cost and flexibility are the two most important factors for all students, including adult learners. Whether it’s through your website or via follow-up communications, this information must be clear and accessible to your prospects at every step of the student journey. 

Adult Learners Have a Strong Desire to Connect Education and Work               

Amid what many are calling the “Great Resignation,” people are becoming more critical about their careers and more vocal about their expectations of employers. A recent Deloitte study showed 70% of people don’t feel like their employers are doing enough to alleviate burnout. 

With these feelings of discontent, many midcareer adults are looking to advance in hopes of finding more satisfaction at work. Higher education marketers should take the opportunity to show professionals how they can upskill or shift career paths when their trajectories become unclear. 

In today’s digital world, you can reach prospective students in so many ways. We’ve gathered some key channels many marketers often overlook in building enrollment strategies for nontraditional students. 

3 Alternative Channels to Engage Adult Learners 

Classic channels such as Facebook and Instagram are notorious for ads, but higher-ed marketers need to get creative with reaching adult learners. They should consider alternative channels to connect with potential students at the right phase in their enrollment journey. Each option is uniquely suited for this demographic in its own way and can provide more value than most marketing pros might think.

Utilize LinkedIn, the Ultimate Networking Platform 

LinkedIn is one of the first places people go when they aren’t happy with their jobs or career trajectories. In addition to expanding their professional networks, they visit LinkedIn to take the next steps in their careers, pivot in another direction, acquire a new certification or training, or return to the workforce. 

These individuals have at least one thing in common: They’re looking to move forward professionally. After all, LinkedIn is a recruitment platform, but it’s not just for jobs! In fact, according to LinkedIn, between January and May 2020, the number of members searching for an online education program nearly doubled. And 76% of the latest generation of prospective students are actively searching for higher-ed opportunities. 

As a higher-ed marketer, you can use LinkedIn for everything from organic traffic with faculty thought leadership to paid traffic with targeted ads. This is a great place to introduce yourself.  

Engage in Niche Communities on Reddit 

For starters, Reddit has a great reputation: 86% of users report that they trust Reddit when learning about new products and brands, according to Rise Interactive. It’s a place where users feel comfortable sharing opinions, soliciting advice, discussing the latest news cycle, and uploading content. 

Although those actions sound pretty standard for an online platform of today, Reddit has a different audience base in its hyper-niche communities. With 130,000 communities and continuous growth, the platform allows marketers to target users with unique interests, making it easier to find students who fit into their marketing personas. 

On top of these existing communities, the general demographics on Reddit are well suited to the adult learner. More than half of Reddit’s 52 million subscribers are U.S.-based. Furthermore, the platform is most popular among those between 24 and 29 years of age, which makes it full of potential for reaching nontraditional learners. 

Reddit’s anonymity creates an honest and open dialogue that adults are drawn to when seeking information or more context around something. You shouldn’t overlook this channel. 

Reach This Highly Engaged Audience on Pinterest 

A lot of us use Facebook, and we’ve discussed the power of LinkedIn, but an unexpected dark horse is also in the mix. Some 31% of the population claims to be a Pinterest user, while Facebook and LinkedIn are at 40% and 28%, respectively. Pinterest’s focus on inspiration and education draws audiences in as a helpful resource rather than a platform for entertainment. 

While popularity is important, Pinterest also generates 33% more referral website traffic than Facebook, which provides significant value and could easily be Pinterest’s best selling point. Additionally, marketers are largely missing out on the opportunity, which makes it much easier for new advertisers to break into. 

The demographic profile of Pinterest users is also key. Some 34% of Pinterest users are 30-49 years old, and the majority of active pinners are under 40. This age group is full of adult learners who are inspired and seeking education, making them the perfect candidates for communications about leveling up and following their dreams.

Among this dense population of adult learners on Pinterest is a strong female base. Not only are women outnumbering men on college campuses 3:2, but they’re also outnumbering men on Pinterest, showing great potential for this channel. 

The purpose of Pinterest alone is an attractive reason to consider the platform, but the unsaturated audience is something marketers can’t continue to pass up. 

Engage Adult Learners Through New Channels 

Adult learners may seem complicated to reach, or you may not have the resources to create content and nurture communities on three new platforms — resulting in the need to bring in a team of higher-ed marketing professionals. 

Archer Education partners with dozens of institutions to help them overcome enrollment challenges using tech-enabled, personalized enrollment marketing and management solutions. Click here to request more information about Archer’s full-funnel engagement strategies and digital student experience technology.