Adult Learner Institute 2020

Virtual conference features keynote Malissa Adams from the Diversity Institute

Inver Hills Community College and Dakota County Technical College hosted an Adult Learner Institute virtual conference Monday, May 18, 2020. Future Focus 20/20: Supporting Adult Learners offered faculty and staff in postsecondary education information about how to best serve adult learners, including proven methods to increase access and facilitate success while removing barriers that can obstruct the path to academic and career goals.

Brenda Lyseng serves as project director for the Title III grant, “Adult Learners: Service, Success & Growth,” that was awarded jointly to Inver Hills and DCTC by the U.S. Department of Education. Brenda also serves as a member of the virtual conference’s planning committee. She related that Future Focus 20/20 was framed with a timely statement of purpose.

“By focusing on adult learners, we bring value to our organizations,” Brenda said. “Adult learners bring diversity of experience, life histories, academic preparation and learning goals. Engaging adult students and establishing policy, practice, modes of delivery and services to meet the varied needs of adult learners creates a positive impact for all learners, as well as for the organizations that serve them.”

Brenda noted that current events reinforced the message of the conference. “We are all experiencing turbulent times,” she said. “Our commitment to adult learners and their success has never been more critical. The success of adults new to college or returning for one more skill or credential enhances the well-being of all communities. Let’s celebrate adult learners—and the work we are doing and will do in support of adult learners and their communities.”

“One advantage of being virtual is that our conference was accessible across several time zones and people could attend sessions as their schedules allowed,” Brenda Lyseng reported. “Almost one hundred fifty different institutions were represented—from 30 different states and four different countries, from colleges and universities to nonprofit organizations to ABE providers to correctional facilities.”

The Future Focus 20/20: Supporting Adult Learners Planning Committee was composed of staff from various Minnesota State system grants and initiatives focused on  adult learners:

More about the virtual conference…

Michael Berndt, Inver Hills and DCTC president, welcomed attendees to the virtual conference. President Berndt acknowledged that the challenges faced by attendees this past semester and asked them to also reflect on how the pandemic has intensified what were already challenges for our students.

Malissa Adams

Malissa Adams, senior equity consultant and executive director of the Diversity Institute, Stanton Adams Consulting, delivered the keynote address, “Inclusive Teaching Strategies to Promote Non-Traditional Student Success.”

The interactive address provided faculty and staff at higher education institutions with the tips, tools and techniques needed to empower nontraditional students, particularly mature students, students of color, recent immigrants, first-generation students and visible minorities.

“About four hundred and fifty people registered for our Adult Learner Institute event,” Brenda Lyseng said. “More than two hundred people attended the opening keynote by Malissa Adams. About one hundred and fifty people listened to a panel of eight Inver and DCTC students sharing their experiences as adult learners.”

Brenda added that the student panelists talked about both the challenges and high points they encountered as adult learners. “They shared that they gained back confidence about their abilities,” she said. “They learned that they could overcome the struggles they faced. Family and friends supported the students and could see the changes produced by a college education, including new possibilities for the future.”

Future Focus 20/20: Supporting Adult Learners PowerPoints

27 breakout sessions were offered in the following tracks:

  • Developing Adult-Based Programs
  • Collaborating with Workforce Service Providers
  • Advising Adult Learners
  • Promoting Credit for Prior Learning (CPL)
  • Teaching the Adult Student
  • Focusing on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
  • Innovating with College Readiness
  • Developing Corrections/Reentry Programs
  • Supporting the Needs of Veterans

15 informal “Birds of a Feather” networking sessions were also offered

Attendee evaluations > Top takeaways from the conference:

  • The key note speaker was dynamic and the sharing of information was insightful. Learned about initiatives that were previously unfamiliar.
  • Adult learners are very different.
  • Loved it! We’re all in this together. Student panel was refreshing and inspiring.
  • Figuring out student’s truth and working to build in ways to help them throughout their education.
  • Don’t take for granted the education and experience you have and expect that adult students can bring that same level of confidence, problem-solving and commitment without proper support and grace from the community around them.
  • Faculty buy-in is important for successful adult-learner programs. These programs can help with equity and inclusion on campuses and help people who are close to degree programs finish or get students motivated to take more classes. Keep some kind of active learning, even if it is participating in polls or raising hands in class or asking for short CATS is helpful for all learners, including adult learners. Respect the positionality and intersectionality of everyone is important in classrooms, both face-to-face and online.
  • Adult students are multifaceted and therefore deserve a multifaceted approach. There are countless things to take into consideration when assisting an adult student, but the first thing is for administration and educators to listen to the students. Only once we listen can we hope to help them achieve their goals.

More attendee quotes:

  • The amount of work that went into putting this together—wow! I appreciate the value placed on supporting Adult Learners and having the conference rather than simply cancelling.
  • This was one of the best conferences I have ever attended, online or otherwise. Everyone did an outstanding job particularly handling technical challenges.
  • This was a great event! So glad it was virtual, that’s why I was able to attend
    Considering the pivot to having this event be virtual, I thought it was fantastic. There was humor to kick it off, smooth transitions, dynamic keynote, and a variety of presentations. I thought it was fantastic and look forward to next year!
  • Although I was skeptical, I actually preferred this format to the F2F! Thank you for making the transition and allowing this conference to still take place.
    I am so incredibly proud of how today went. It was engaging, paced really well, and strongly attended. The varying voices and perspectives were carefully planned and executed.
Learn more about the Adult Learner Institute by contacting:

Brenda Lyseng
Title III Project Director

Virtual Conference Attendee: Deborah Dworsky, Academic Advisor, Penn State World Campus