Am I good enough? Switching the mindset of Mature Learners

Updated: Aug 16, 2021

There are some significant barriers mature learners face when considering a return to education. A recent publication from the Office for Students (OfS) highlighted that since 2010-11, the number of UK Undergraduate mature learners has decreased 19.2%. Mature learners have more complex needs than their younger peers which mean that returning to education may be more difficult. They are more likely to be disabled, come from deprived areas, or have caring responsibilities[i].

Even once they enter higher education, mature learners continue to face additional barriers, and as a result data shows that mature learners are also more likely than their younger peers to drop out of their course after their first year[ii] and are less likely to achieve a first or a 2.1.

In addition to concerns over affordability and the need for flexible provision that can fit around existing responsibilities, we must also not underestimate the impact that our mindset has on our likelihood to re-enter higher education, and to stay engaged for the duration of their course.

A recent evidence review by TASO[iii] on supporting access and student success for mature learners confirmed that affordability, and the need for flexible provision were key considerations for matures learners. But the review also identified a number of other themes in the barriers and experiences of these learners.

Mature learners can feel stigmatised by their younger peers for their age, and to avoid being labelled as an ‘over-enthusiastic mature student’ may hold back in lectures and not contribute as much as they want to. This in turn effects the outcome and engagement in their course.

Mature learners also sometimes carry with them a narrative about education. Negative experiences of secondary school can leave us feeling like we aren’t ‘enough’. Whether that is not ‘good enough’ or ‘clever enough’ to go on to University, these narratives can be debilitating and difficult to move past.

For those mature learners who come from backgrounds where not many of their peers went to higher education, these narratives may go unchallenged, or even be strengthened by those around them.

A piece of research by Chapman (2017), found that mature learners all experienced varying degrees of ‘Imposter Syndrome’, which is a feeling of fraudulence and a lack of confidence in their ability. Chapman’s work highlighted the fact that becoming a ‘mature student’ is a change in identity, and this can be difficult to navigate[iv]. Gaining a sense of belonging in that first year of study is imperative.

While many universities recognise the need to support all students to develop a sense of belonging, this may be more crucial for mature learners. But all the activities and interventions in the world won’t create a sense of belonging if ultimately that mature learner believes they are ‘good not enough’ to be there.

How can coaching support mature learners?

Coaching is non-directive, meaning the emphasis is on helping individuals identify their own resources and find their own answers and solutions. As coaches, we do not give our story, we do not share our opinions, nor do we give advice on how we or others have overcome obstacles or achieved outcomes. Our job is to facilitate individuals to find the answers that are right for them, drawing on the knowledge, strength and experience they already have.

Time and money are barriers that come up when people consider making any change or transition. Whether that is going into HE, changing career, starting a business, or taking up a new hobby. They

are concrete barriers that are difficult for others to dispute or challenge.

What we often see in coaching is that until individuals deal with their mindset and motivation, they remain closed off to seeing the possible solutions available. They continue to simply notice the evidence of why they can’t, or shouldn’t make the change they want to see.

Coaching has been used successfully in many different settings to challenge issues such as ‘Imposter Syndrome’ and that feeling of not being ‘enough’, by helping individuals to process and understand what has fuelled their negative beliefs, and find techniques and mechanisms to interrupt and challenge those thought patterns.

Using tools and techniques from approaches such as Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), coaching can help individuals to change unhelpful beliefs and reframe past experiences into something more empowering.

Our work at Inclusive Futures

As highlighted in the review of evidence of the impact of interventions for widening access to HE by TASO & the Education Policy Institute, coaching interventions have been proven to be successful in increasing confidence, self-efficacy and achieving higher rates of HE engagement[v].

Many universities and colleges are providing incredibly valuable information, advice and guidance for mature learners that can help them to find solutions to some of the practical constraints around affordability and the need for flexible provision.

At Inclusive Futures, we want to compliment this work by supporting mature learners to address the underlying barriers that can create anxiety, low confidence, and that sense of ‘Imposter Syndrome’.

Our programmes facilitate participants to connect with their core values, motivations and establish clear visions of their goals and aspirations. We provide a secure and objective space so individuals can examine the unhelpful thought patterns and ‘not enough’ beliefs we all carry, and equip them with tools and techniques to notice when these thoughts come up, and to choose more empowering beliefs. We support coachees to reframe previous negative experience of education, so they can move forward without this ‘story’ hanging over them, and to know that #anythingispossible.

We recognise that mature learners need flexibility to engage fully in our programmes. That’s why we are developing an on-demand programme that learners can engage with at a time that suits them, and is complimented by live coaching and a community.

Our 1-2-1 and group coaching programmes are also great for mature learners either considering entering higher education, or during that first year of HE to address feelings such as ‘Imposture Syndrome’ and help keep learners engaged and reduce non-continuation rates.

Want to know more?

If you're interested in finding out more about the programmes we offer for mature learners, or how we can help you to support access and student success for other groups of under-represented students. Please get in touch for a chat with Jess Woodsford at

[i] OfS, 2021, Insight 9: Improving opportunity and choice for mature learners [ii] HESA, 2021, Con Continuation Summary, [iii] Gongadze. S et al, 2021, Evidence Review: Supporting access and student success for mature learners. TASO April 2021 [iv] Chapman. A, 2017, Using the Assessment Process to Overcome Imposter Syndrome in Mature Students, Journal of Further and Higher Education, v41 n2 p112-119 2017. [v] TASO,

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