An adult learner, or more commonly, a mature student, is a person who is older and is involved in forms of learning. Adult learners fall in a specific criteria of being experienced, and do not always have a high school diploma. Many of the adult learners go back to school to finish a degree, or earn a new one.
Malcolm Knowles's work distinguished adult learners as distinct from adolescent and child learners in his principle of andragogy. He established 5 assumptions about the adult learner. This included self-concept, adult learner experience, readiness to learn, orientation to learning, and motivation to learning.
Not all nontraditional students are adult learners, but adult learners are considered nontraditional students. This can be due to the wide range of cultural, job, and educational backgrounds.
In the UK, a student is normally classified as a mature student if he or she is an (undergraduate) student who is at least 25+ years old at the start of his or her course, or in the Irish case on the first of January of the year of entry, and usually having been away from school for at least two years. The normal entry requirements for school-leavers wishing to start an undergraduate degree are often not applied to mature students.
Adult students are frequently referred to as nontraditional students in higher education. Adult students are contrasted with traditional students, who are typically under 25, attend full-time, do not work full-time when enrolled in courses, and have few, if any, family responsibilities. In 2008, 36 percent of postsecondary students were age 25 or older and 47 percent were independent students.
Adult learners typically have more life experiences. When confronted with new knowledge or an experience, adult learners construe new meaning based on their greater life experiences.