Notes from the ARC: Persistence for Hope, Persistence for Learning - The Intersection of Hope and Grit in Post-Traditional Learners

As access to higher education becomes more affordable and convenient, an increasing number of “post-traditional” learners are signing up to earn their degrees. 

These learners largely fall outside of what has been the traditional age and stage of 18-22 year olds leaving home for the first time and moving into campus housing for a full-immersion college experience. 

Post-traditional learners may be returning to school after an initial (or second or third) attempt, likely work full-time and attend classes part time, are financially independent (for financial aid purposes), and have children or other dependents who rely on them for support and care. 

In short, while traditional students are fully immersed in a residential campus experience, post-traditional learners are immersed in all of the pressures, responsibilities, and expectations of full adulthood. Throw college-level learning into the mix, and it becomes clear that these learners will need to channel all of their hope, passion, and efforts in order to reach their goals. 

College is a hopeful experience. It symbolizes the culmination of years of hard work with the expectation for reaching new horizons. It allows learners – traditional and post-traditional – to discover a passion and work towards a dream. College also equips, with the attitudes, skills, and knowledge to enter a field where one is prepared to grow, learn, and thrive. 

College is also a lot of work. That hopefulness for a better future sometimes dims as the daily grind of assignments, readings, lectures, and papers becomes a heavy weight to carry – especially among a job (or two), family, and all of life’s responsibilities and uncertainties. This is where persistence and grit come in. Angela Duckworth has shown that grit is a key factor in maintaining perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Academic hope has also been studied and measured by, among others, C. R. Snyder and Michele Joann Hanson. Grit and hope are real, measurable, factors that have been shown to have an impact on learners’ abilities to succeed in college. 

An interesting point, though, is that most all of the research on hope and grit has been done and applied to the context of traditional learners (18-22-year-olds). A pressing question, then, is what do hope and grit look like in the post-traditional learner context? On another level, what is the relationship between hope and grit? Are post-traditional learners gritty because they are hopeful? Or does their hope rise because of their grit? 

These questions invite us to dialogue, research, and explore together the intersection of hope and grit in post-traditional learners – so that all have the opportunity to thrive in their life and in their learning.

Persistence among learners is also a pragmatic concern for those institutions who see enrollments flatten or decline. Using grit and hope as motivation appears to increase the likelihood of a learner’s perseverance and eventual academic success -- a win-win for both the institution and the learner.

Brant Himes, Ph.D, is Assistant Professor in Humanities at Azusa Pacific University College. He will present at the #2018ARC on Friday, April 27 in a session entitled “Persistence for Life, Persistence for Learning: The Intersection of Hope and Grit in Post-Traditional Learners.” Learn more here. 

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