Study Success for the Digital Immigrant

Study success for the digital immigrant - image of glasses, computer, cup of coffee

Our guest blogger this week is Stephen Wilcox. Stephen is a new librarian from Brisbane who works in a public library.  In this post, Stephen talks about his experience as a mature age student and why the LIS industry needs the experience and skills of those of us making a career change.


So you’ve finally done it – you’ve enrolled in the course of your dreams. You’ve gained that leave from work, bought that new laptop, extended your mortgage, got your study corner at home organised. You gained your undergraduate degree in the 80s, when it was free for most Australians, or the 90s or noughties, maybe before kids, maybe before the internet. Now you’re making a career change, or gaining the qualifications to move forward in the job you already have. You feel new and squeaky-clean. Your pencils (if you still use pencils) are sharp, your notebooks crisp and inviting. You’re a new student, and you’re ready to go.

But on your first day, your first lecture or session, you start to notice something. Everything’s different. Maybe you aren’t attending a bricks-and-mortar university campus at all: your first interaction is an email or a weblinked invitation to an online class.  If you are walking the halls of a university or TAFE building they are strangely quiet. Where are the carousing students with grubby Doc Martens boots and ragged political sloganeering t-shirts?


Other students bounce into your class in lycra pants and sweatshirts like they’ve just come from the gym. They probably have; or they’re going there straight afterwards. Or neither. That’s just what they wear to class. They flip open be-stickered fruit-based devices with aplomb, placing their bottle of water to one side, mobile phone to the other. They’ll refer to both constantly throughout the session.

And the lecturer? They’ll be cool. Younger than you, probably. They may ask you to use their first name. They may ask your opinion, or invite you to introduce yourself. Gone are the distant, untouchable doyens of the past who sneered down at your ignorance from lofty lecterns; today’s academics are engaging, engaged, inclusive, and tech-savvy. This is most important, as the most overwhelming change you’ll notice from your undergraduate degree is how technology has infiltrated every part of the experience, at least for GLAM courses.


Expect to tweet out, join Google+ and Facebook groups, update your Instagram,  all as part of your learning. This is how it should be – this is the world of your future patrons, customers and clients. Your workplace will rely on technology to run effectively, indeed, many of the services, displays, activities and presentations produced in the GLAM sector have technology at their core.

But you’ve been around the block a few times, haven’t you? You’re a digital immigrant, sure, you weren’t born watching streaming TV on a tablet like today’s digital natives, but you have much to offer that will ensure your success both at uni and in the workplace. For wherever you are in your journey towards achieving your GLAM future, here are some facts and reminders to keep you focused and remind you you’ve made the right decision.

There are more students like you out there than ever

OK, let’s use the undesirable term we’ve avoided so far in this post: mature-aged student. Often used pejoratively by your younger classmates, it’s both an unhelpful simplification and an acknowledgment of your status and your omnipresence. And your numbers are growing: a 2015 study showed that numbers of mature-aged students rose almost 25% from 2004  to 2014.


You will have more success in finding work

A UK study found older students secured career jobs more quickly than their younger counterparts – it’s unclear whether this was connected to their previous work experience – and that this trend had persisted for some time previous to the study. You’ve got all that life and work experience, you’ve managed budgets, families, professional relationships, workplace change. You’ve got a lot to offer and employers will love that.

You’re there for all the right reasons

Let’s face it, many of us started our academic careers in the wrong course, or when we were too immature or unready to make the most of it. This time, you’ve worked, travelled, become a parent, enjoyed your wild years, all the time building up life experiences which have led you to this point. Studying later in life involves sacrifices and you’ve come into it knowing exactly what they are.

You’re going to make the most of your time

There’s no point in failing subjects because you’re more interested in what’s going on at the uni bar. Studying is expensive, so you’ll be trying your hardest and hopefully have worked out how to get the study/family/paid work balance right. You’ll take advantage of mentoring, professional placements, offers of extra help, and maybe even consume all those recommended readings you sniffed at the first time round. You’ll attend conferences like NLS8, create personal learning networks, meet colleagues from around the world.

You’re entering a dynamic, contemporary, fascinating field

The GLAM sector is undergoing an interesting period as governments and institutions recognise the importance of preserving and promoting access to our precious cultural life. As a new contributor to this agenda you’re adding to the richness of the sector by adding your own experiences and ideas. Enjoy it!


Stephen Wilcox
TW: @stephenfwilcox



  1. Thank you! I am planning to start my library degree next year as a “mature age student” (at 36 I don’t feel “mature age”) and this article has been really encouraging!


    1. Hi Liz, I’m really glad you’ve got something from this – I started my Masters fairly naively so wanted to prepare others for what they may face. If possible, I’d recommend seeking a course with some personal interaction although they aren’t too common anymore. If it is all online remember to stay connected to your fellow students and hold your uni/lecturers responsible for reliable communication and feedback. You’ll get through it: the rewards are certainly worth the effort! – Stephen


      1. My course will be fully online, aside from practicum. And it will be challenging as I’m a mum of 5 kids and have spent too long out of the workforce.


  2. PS I’ve just requested to follow you on twitter


  3. Great post Stephen, as a fellow mature aged student I could identify with your post. I was a complete digital novice when I started the Masters after previously studying in the 90s when library searches were conducted using CDROMs and Twitter was unheard of. I was terrified when we were told we needed a Twitter Account for Information Programs and we would be expected to participate in Twitter Chats, but now I’m in charge of managing the social media at work. Who would have thought it 2 years ago? I agree that past experience has helped me get a job in a market where I wrongly thought my age would go against me, as I know my previous experience working with people with drug and alcohol problems helped secure my current job in a special library.


    1. Hi Debbie, thanks for your comment. How great is it that you embraced Twitter (even though it was terrifying) and it led to a job! Fantastic 🙂 Cheers, Stephen


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