Balancing Roles for Adult Learners

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Ashford University Male Student

Adult learners are balancing many roles in their busy lives. Some juggle logistical concerns and balance school, career, family, time, schedules and social commitments (Wynne). Even though many have already accumulated a wide range of educational and work experiences; they still have an adjustment period. Defining the essential roles in our lives.

We live in a dynamic world, and it is important to see where we invest most of our time and energy. In the book Life Launch – A Passionate Guide to The Rest of Your Life, Hudson and McLean (2006) point out that most of our time goes into personal couples, family, friends, career, work and social roles and activities. They tell us that the more we understand which roles are essential (necessary right now), fulfilling (what you prefer right now) and unfulfilling (unrewarding right now) the more we will make better choices and ensure our future success.

In the article “Finding Balance in Your Life”, a dimensional model is presented by the Meyer Resource Group, Inc. The model is called the “Wheel of Life.” The Meyer group tells “when life is busy, or all of your energy is focused on a special project, it’s all too easy to find yourself off balance, not paying enough attention to important areas of your life” (p.1). Their model maps each role in your life in a circle and allows you to make comparisons of where you life is currently at and where you might like it to be. Gaining the comfort we desire just takes time!

As a non-traditional student who returned to college later in life to complete my degree, I learned how to balance my roles to increase the comfort and build the confidence I needed to be successful. As an educator, I have the pleasure to support and offer advice to adult learners who begin their educational journey and take on a new role as a college student.

During my tenure, I have discovered that some adult students may have real or perceived apprehensions when they take on the role of being a college student. These apprehensions are normal and the reason we strive as faculty to provide students with the consideration, care and support that they need to be successful. We guide them and help them recognize the value of time management and the need to balance their many roles. This process takes time and it important for educators to guide and coach during this transition. As students gain experience and apply inductive reasoning, they are able to see and understand more. At this point, I see their confidence and comfort levels increase. They move forward on a successful learning journey. Being a college student is a new role. It is a role in which adult students continue to manage as they move forward in their learning continuum.

Unlearning and Making Choices

Dr. Henry Cloud (2010), in his book “Necessary Endings” states the following, “The truth is that high functioning people have many, many relationships, and many, many activities. That is a good thing” (p.47). Dr. Cloud also states, “It is also true that high-functioning people who have extensive networks and relationships that really work well are also very good at not having some as well. They prune some of them” (p.47). Dr. Cloud demonstrates that we are constantly evaluating our roles and activities. That we are working to understand our roles and determining which ones we should spend our time on to ensure the most quality.

How do people learn? Some examples include reading, listening, being open to new ideas, reviewing and reflecting and unlearning (Alexander, Clugston and Tice, 2009). What is my view of unlearning? When I think about unlearning, I consider ways of thinking that may have served me well in the past but may not serve me as well today (Hudson and McLean, 2006). Sometimes I work to unlearn (not necessarily forget) some of those past thinking habits and practices as I work to relearn new ones to adapt effectively. Some of my thinking may have been associated with some of my past roles so it is important to reflect on the roles that exist today.

In my opinion, I believe unlearning is part of the process we go through when we adapt. We make adjustments to align to new situations, cultures, and different ways of thinking. So as adults adapt into their new roles as college students, they use review and reflection to develop new ways of thinking. They have learned to continually evaluate their roles, priorities, and preferences.

Suggestions for Keeping Balance

After reading and researching the topic of balancing roles, here are some final points that I leave my students with as they begin their journey:

  • Become a master at time management. Be sure to give adequate time to your essential and fulfilling activities. Keep your unfulfilling activities carefully boundaried.
  • To a large degree, the way you spend your time, and the roles within which you spend your time, shape your behavior, concerns, and outlook.
  • Anticipate as you move ahead. Look at how you intend to spend and allocate your time. Write it down, review your list, and see what percentage you allocate to each role and activity.
  • Remember; use your time wisely, once you spend it you never get it back!

In closing, a quote comes to mind that has provided inspiration to me. Albert Einstein said, “Life is like riding a bicycle and to keep your balance you have to keep moving.”

Written by: Bill Davis
Bill Davis is an instructor in the Forbes School of Business at Ashford University. He holds a Master’s degree in Organizational Leadership from St. Ambrose University, a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration from Lewis University, and a Certified Manager Certification from The Institute for Professional Managers. Davis completed sales, human relations, and leadership courses at Dale Carnegie Training. He has over three decades experience working in the beverage industry, specifically for PepsiCo. He has also worked as a consultant for many organizations, advising in subjects like strategic planning, leadership, professional selling, and organizational change.

Alexander, M., Clugston, W, & Tice, E. (2009). Learning Online and Achieving Lifelong Goals. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint, Inc.
Cloud, H. (2010). Necessary Endings. New York, N.Y. Harper-Collins Finding Balance in Your Life. (n.d.). Retrieved June 17, 2013, from Mind Tools website:
Wynne, R. (2013). Characteristics of Adult Learners. Retrieved from http.// methodologies/before/charecteristics.htm.
Hudson, F.M, & McLean, D.P. (2006). Life Launch, A Passionate Guide to the Rest of Your Life. Santa Barbara, CA: Hudson Institute Press.

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