Not all learning takes place in a classroom. Practical experience learned in the workplace can be just as valuable as more traditional educational qualifications. As the workforce ages, skilled workers must pass their knowledge and experience on to the next generation to ensure business continuity. This creates opportunities for people with practical skills to fill a range of jobs in education. However, knowing how to do a specific task is very different from being able to teach someone else how to do it.
An occupational education degree helps skilled workers share their professional and technical experience by teaching them how to design and deliver instructional programs for adults in various settings. This transfer of knowledge is not only essential to train future generations of workers. It can also open new career opportunities for instructors in workforce development, and online and on-campus education.
Helping Adult Learners Succeed
As the Coordinator of Troy University’s Bachelor of Science in Occupational Education program, Dr. Lee Ammons’ focus is on adult learners. Dr. Ammons describes his cohort of students as “non-typical.” He explains they are more likely to come from a technical background than a traditional academic route.
“The average age of the students in this program is somewhere between 32 and 36,” says Dr. Ammons. “They’ve typically worked in a technical field for a long time. For example, they are welders, HVAC-R (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration) engineers, nurses or dental hygienists. We also get a lot of military students.”
According to Dr. Ammons, there are many different reasons why adult learners join the program.
“Some students tell me they want to cut back on the heavy lifting involved in their jobs, or they don’t want to work outside anymore,” says Dr. Ammons. “Others want to work their way up the administrative ranks in their workplace. This degree gives them an opportunity to do all of those things.”
Regardless of their career background or motivation for joining the program, the one thing Dr. Ammons’ students all have in common is a desire to pass on their skills to the next generation of adult learners. This knowledge transfer might be in the workplace, where they take on the responsibility for training colleagues. Others may use the degree to secure full- or part-time jobs in education in a community college system.
Community College as Employer
Having started his academic career in the community college system and now conducting research into how community colleges and rural universities make a difference on the global stage, Dr. Ammons appreciates the employment opportunities community colleges offer his students after graduation.
“Scholars have been studying community colleges and their influence on workforce development for a long time,” says Dr. Ammons. “Community colleges became incredibly popular following the ‘Great Recession’ between 2007 and 2009. However, what has really struck me is the economic development of rural communities and how they’re using community colleges to improve their workforce and economic development basis.”
Community college provides a solid opportunity for TROY students transitioning from their current roles into jobs in education.
“If our graduates want to get into the classroom and teach, community colleges can provide a salary competitive with what they could earn in the private sector.”
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a post-secondary teacher can expect to earn a median wage of $79,640 per year. To teach at the community college level typically requires a master’s degree. TROY offers a Master of Science in Adult Education for students who want to work specifically with adult learners.
College Credit for Real-World Experience
While many students will have gone through a traditional community college technical program before joining the occupational education program, TROY also values real-world experience gained in the workplace.
“Students who don’t have an Associate of Applied Science degree may have what we call stackable credentials,” says Dr. Ammons. “They’ve earned certificates in the workplace. We can look at that, and if it’s the equivalent of 30 hours of academic work, then we can admit them to the program. For our military students, we accept up to 30 hours of military credit.”
TROY looks holistically at a prospective student’s experiences to help them take the next step, Dr. Ammons says.
“What we do is take that skill set they’ve learned in the workplace and give them the education skill sets they need to be successful in the private sector in workforce development, in the classroom as an educator or to climb the administrative ladder,” he explains.
Occupational Education Good Career for Military Students, Vets
Dr. Ammons is especially proud of TROY’s work with military students and veterans, helping them transition from military life to civilian learning and work environments.
“We have a lot of servicemen and servicewomen in our program,” says Dr. Ammons. “It’s an honor to teach them because they sacrifice so much personally. So, when we get an opportunity to help and support them, it’s really rewarding to watch them grow into an academic role.”
As a retired military veteran transitioning to a civilian workforce, Michael D. Bailey wanted to consider future opportunities combining his military leadership skills with his trade skills as an HVAC-R engineer. TROY’s occupational education program “was precisely what I needed,” says Bailey.
“After obtaining my associate degree, I knew I wanted to pursue my bachelor’s degree,” he says. “This program allowed me to develop the skill set to go back and teach in the HVAC-R field.”
Bailey explains how the degree helped him adapt his military skills and adopt an approach suited to teaching adult learners in civilian roles.
“I learned how to properly connect with the audience you are teaching with better communication and comprehension,” Bailey says.
Dr. Ammons notes that the faculty and non-military students also benefit from having adult learners in the program who are military students and veterans.
“In the military, they eat, breathe and sleep leadership,” says Dr. Ammons. “In the academic world, it’s a theory, and we practice it. So we can learn a lot from each other.”
Adult Learners vs. Traditional Students
Adult learners have different priorities than traditional college-age students entering a degree program. They also may face more challenges.
“When you work with adult students, you don’t have to deal with student issues or student preoccupations like fraternities and sororities that a traditional student may worry about,” says Dr. Ammons. “Our adult students typically work full time and go into school on a part-time basis. They are balancing family life, work and school. They’re trying to pay the bills, get to the ballpark in time for their kid’s ball game and be in the classroom at the same time.”
Students can do this thanks to the opportunity for online learning at TROY, along with a commitment to carefully manage their time.
“A lot of my students are logging on for classes and coursework at 10 p.m., and they work until 2 a.m.,” says Dr. Ammons. “It’s a lot of hard work. But I tell my students that each class is nine weeks, and if you put your mind to it, everybody can do anything for nine weeks.”
Even with the best-laid plans, sometimes life gets in the way and students need to take a break between classes — and that’s perfectly fine, Dr. Ammons says.
“Some of our students may take a semester off or not come during the summer,” says Dr. Ammons. “They might have childcare issues or have to balance their household finances with paying tuition. But we are all adults and we understand. We’ll work with students to make these situations manageable.”
Bailey believes the occupational education program has helped him develop the skills that Dr. Ammons practices daily with his adult learners. He cites that the most important attributes of an educator include perseverance, patience and understanding.
“You should never give up on your dreams,” says Bailey. “Adults come back to school for so many different reasons — to get their high school diploma, trade in a selected field or obtain a degree for career advancement. When it comes to adult learners with jobs and children, as an instructor, you need to understand what’s going on beyond the classroom and help facilitate their learning and help them accomplish their goals in a timely and manageable fashion.”
Leadership is also a big part of the educational process, Bailey adds.
“An educator must lead by example and demonstrate to your students, ‘If I can do it, so can they,’” Bailey says. “But you’ve also got to understand that each person is different, and this brings different situations that may need to be reviewed.”
Bailey admits that returning to school can be challenging, but students can stay motivated by focusing on the goals they want to achieve.
“At times, staying motivated might seem like a rough challenge, but never forget why and who may depend on you to push yourself,” says Bailey. “Not only do I want to motivate the next generation, but I also want to be someone who will motivate adult learners to pursue their dreams and understand that it is never too late.”
Online Learning Gives Adult Learners Flexibility
TROY’s occupational education program is 100% online, making it flexible and accessible for adult learners.
“A student could be serving in the military and deployed to Germany or anywhere else in the world, and enroll in the program,” says Dr. Ammons. “As long as they’ve got access to a computer and the internet, they can be 100% successful in completing the degree online.”
Dr. Ammons explains that there is no other program like TROY’s occupational education degree program in Alabama and only a handful of similar programs across the country.
“TROY was one of the first universities to embrace online learning and we’re really successful with it,” says Dr. Ammons. “Everybody else was still playing catch-up with TROY when COVID hit. This program was already 100% online, so we were ready. Other universities had some real setbacks and struggled to find the innovative mindset required to deal with the pandemic. When it comes to the technology and educational training TROY has for teaching online, it is second to none.”
Dr. Ammons also highlights the quality of TROY’s administration.
“We have a great administration here at TROY,” says Dr. Ammons. “They have the foresight to be able to look ahead and see what’s coming down the line and help faculty and staff prepare. So, we are all very well supported.”
Supportive Online Learning Community
Despite being a program that is offered completely online, Dr. Ammons believes TROY provides all its students with a sense of community and belonging.
“Through our discussion boards, we do an excellent job creating a sense of community,” says Dr. Ammons. “Our students meet online, study together on Zoom or Teams and build real friendships.”
These friendships often extend beyond the length of the occupational education program.
“I’m always happy to hear about our students keeping in touch and supporting each other long after graduation,” says Dr. Ammons.
Since they can often have unique challenges when it comes to pursuing higher education goals, TROY takes particular care of its military students and veterans through its TROY for Troops program.
TROY for Troops has centers across the University’s campuses and also has an online service. The centers are designed to offer comprehensive educational support for veterans, service members, dependents and survivors, helping them reach their full potential in pursuing and achieving academic and career goals.
“The centers offer camaraderie while also providing academic support,” Dr. Ammons says. “They might have questions about funding through the GI Bill or need support with mental health challenges like PTSD. It’s a great opportunity for those who have served in the military to have a place to go and have shared experiences.”
Graduating as an Adult Learner
At graduation time, the community of adult learners really comes together, Dr. Ammons says.
“I always encourage our students to come to campus and walk in their cap and gown,” says Dr. Ammons. “They join the Alumni Association, visit the campus bookshop, buy TROY T-shirts and sweatshirts and support their alma mater.”
Dr. Ammons also welcomes graduation day as an opportunity to finally meet his students and their supportive families in person.
“You get to shake hands and meet their spouses,” says Dr. Ammons. “Many students have kids, and you get to meet the family.”
Bailey describes his graduation as a wonderful culmination of a lot of hard work.
“Walking across TROY’s graduation stage was incredibly rewarding,” says Bailey. “I finished what I had started and showed others this could be done.”
Bailey looks forward to repeating the experience when he graduates again with a master’s degree.
“I want to capitalize on my experience in the occupational education degree,” says Bailey. “TROY’s occupational education program was precisely what I needed to obtain my bachelor’s degree with an associate degree in a trade. I’m now pursuing my master’s degree in leadership development in the global workforce to be a better educator when the time comes.”
Visit our website program page to learn more about how a Bachelor of Science in Occupational Education from TROY can help you take your existing skill set and share it with a new generation of adult learners. Ready to take the next step in your career? Learn more about careers with a master’s degree in education and TROY’s M.S. in Adult Education program.