Background. There is evidence that learners may adopt different kinds of achievement goals: mastery approach, mastery avoidance, performance approach, and performance avoidance. In higher education, this evidence has mainly come from young people who have recently gone straight from secondary education to higher education. However, higher education is increasingly populated by older students, and it has been theorised that the relationship between goals and achievement might be very different for adult learners. Aims. The aim of the present study was to examine whether the relationships between achievement, drop-out rate, and goal orientation observed for non-adult populations are mirrored in adult learners.Method. The Achievement Goal Questionnaire (AGQ) was administered to adult learners taking courses by distance learning. Sample. Respondents were 195 men and 586 women between the ages of 19 and 87. Results. The results confirmed the reliability of the 2 9 2 version of the AGQ for this distinctive population. As in previous studies of younger students, mastery-approach goals were unrelated to attainment, performance-approach goals ended to facilitate attainment, and performance-avoidance goals tended to impair attainment. In addition, mastery-avoidance goals tended to impair students’ attainment and also increased the likelihood that they would drop out of their course altogether.Conclusion. The achievement-goal framework is as appropriate for understanding influences on attainment in adult learners as it is in younger students. Adult learners may be more sensitive to the deleterious effects of adopting mastery-avoidance achievement goals.