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Online Strategies for Supporting Adult Learners

Online Strategies for Supporting Adult LearnersED5006-8Michele DoughertyNovember 12, 2011Glen Gatin

Growth in higher education

National Center for Educational Services

Financial crises in higher education

Trends in Higher EducationThere are a number of emerging trends related to online learning including the phenomenal growth in higher education and the financial crisis of higher education institutions.

The future of education is in the cyber-market with distance education courses and programs offering flexible learning opportunities to both undergraduate and graduate students. The National Center for Educational Services (2011) reported, In 2007-08, about 4.3 million undergraduate students or 20 percent of all undergraduates, took at least one distance education course and 22 percent of all graduate students took distance education courses. The need for distance education access is growing and as Daniels (2007) suggests, the number of potential students noted in this research paints a picture depicting an overwhelming desire to attain a college degree through distance education. (cited in Iiyoshi and Kumar, 2008, p. 261).

Learning styles of the net generation are world to the desktop approach because technology is a part of life for them. However, according to Dede (2005) the growing prevalence of interfaces with virtual environments and augmented realities is beginning to foster so-called neo-millennial learning styles in users of all ages. (cited in Oblinger & Oblinger, 2005)

Universities are scrambling to stay competitive and to find new ways to add online courses as a means to keep their overhead down and provide quality education (Finch & Rahlm, 2011). The growing demand for online college degree programs and the financial crisis that universities are experiencing have forced many colleges to restructure degree-offering and learning platforms (Finch & Rahlm, 2011). The University of Tennessee, Northeastern Louisianas three academic institutions, the University of Washington, and Wellesley College have abolished over 2,000 positions due to budget cuts (Finch & Rahlm, 2011).

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The IT and Net Gen Learning Paradigm

Recruitment of adult learners since 1970s

Serving adult learners

Andragogy

Traditional colleges have been recruiting adult learners since the 1970s. In 1972, the Commission on Non-traditional Study asked the Center for Research and Development in Higher Education at the University of California at Berkley to survey two- and four-year colleges and universities concerning the education of adults that work. At that time, between 1,000 and 1,400 American colleges and universities offered degree programs that were considered non-traditional in the sense that they served adult learners through evening or correspondence learning courses. The study provided interesting data on the growth in lifelong learning. According to the results of the study, 7% of the programs were more than ten years old, which provides some early evidence that colleges and universities are altering the nature and delivery of traditional programs to appeal to and serve adult learners(Finch & Rahlm, 2011, p. 1).

The late Malcolm Knowles formulated a theory that recognized the distinct differences in the characteristics of adult learners and published, Andragogy, not pedagogy in 1968 (Henschke, 1997). Knowles theory was based on crucial assumptions that were made about the characteristics of adult learners that are different from the assumptions about child learners. These assumptions related to the adult self-concept, experience, readiness to learn, orientation to learning and later he added motivation (Knowles, Holton, & Swanson, 2005). 3Characteristics of Adult Learners

Self motivationCuriosity about learningExtensive work and life experiencesCritical thinking skillsThe capacity to engage in self-directed learningThe ability to apply their perspectives and experiences to course contentAdult Learner CharacteristicsThe vision for learning spaces is transitioning from the teaching of the traditional school to the technology atmosphere of the corporate world and Brown (2005) suggests, the convergence of the learning paradigm, IT and the Net Generation (cited in Oblinger & Oblinger, 2005).

Working adult students are not characterized by age but rather by adult learner traits. Additionally, adult learners connect to their learning experiences based on their learning preferences and learning styles. Buckle & Smith (2007) suggest, These learning traits make it difficult for adult learners to study in a traditional educational setting. This is why the technology driven online course atmosphere was designed to be adaptable (cited in Finch & Rahlm, 2011)

The net generation is just the first wave of students immersed in technology from birth. Innovation and emerging technology is not going to diminish any time soon. 4Benefits of Online Learning EnvironmentsMultiple role playingTime saving and managementFlexibility and convenience

According to the National Center of Education Statistics (2011) the majority of e-participant support this new educational system...the key advantages for internet learners included multiple role playing, time-saving and management, flexibility and convenience, and equality. Many e-learners felt that they were able to balance multiple responsibilities (p. 34). Students value being able to balance their personal and professional responsibilities while earning a degree. By saving time by not traveling to school, they can learn at home and still spend more time with their families and hold a job. Moreover, Navarro & Shoemaker (2000) note cyber students enjoyed the world-wide-web environment where they felt they had equal opportunities to learn and exchange their ideas and experiences regardless of their gender, ethnicity, academic background, computer skills and academic aptitude (cited in Lee & Nguyen, 2007, p. 37).5

Better academic performance

Instructional effectiveness

Deeper student-faculty interaction

More involved in the program

Value on self-improvement and job enhancement

Furthermore, National Center of Education Statistics (2011) illustrated supportive information from online faculty about online learners. Among them, benefits included better academic performance from online students, instructional effectiveness, and deeper student-faculty interaction. Online instructors reported that their students earned better grades than their traditional in-class students. According to the National Center of Education Statistics (2011) instructors also realized that their online instructions and course materials were comparably effective and helpful to students (cited in Lee & Nguyen, 2007, p. 37).6Student or CustomerStudents as customerStudents as studentsStudent expectations

The competitive nature of higher educations has led to increased focus on customer satisfaction (Watjatrakul, 2009). Students are considered as customers because they have engaged in an economic agreement for buying educational services (Watjatrakul, 2009, p. 180). Many universities including, the University of Phoenix, Ashford University and Northcentral University offer students the opportunity to fill out an end of course survey to express their needs and satisfaction with their learning environment, faculty effectiveness, and their opinion regarding the effectiveness of the course curriculum.

According to the students-as-customers concept, educational institutions are considered producers and providers of services (Watjatrakul, 2009)many universities perceive that this concept can produce higher levels of student satisfaction and, in turn, profitability for their universities (p. 182). Therefore, customers (students) pay for a service (education) and expect quality. To meet students expectations for the institutions service quality, university staff should view students with respect and be willing to serve them by taking into consideration, learning styles, characteristics and course content.

Students as customers expect clear communication from their instructors, timely feedback, and learning that is immediately applicable to their professional lives. Learners also want the instructors professional and academic viewpoint on course topics. They expect that the instructor will help them grasp what is expected in assignments and discussions, and challenge the class to consider ways to apply their learning in their everyday life. Finally, learners look to their instructor to provide frequent, comprehensive feedback that they can use to improve their performance in the course. Learners are not satisfied to receive only a score on a given assignment, or their discussion participation grade for a given period of time. Learners want to know why they received the grade they received (Capella University, 2009, Unit 1.1).

7Learning StyleProcessing information

How one learns new information

Effective learningMerriam and Caffarella (1991) both defined learning style as an individuals characteristic ways of processing information,feeling, and behaving in a learning situation (cited in Madden, 2008, p. 13). Jester (2000) defined learning style as a persons preferred way of learning: It does not have anything to do with how intelligent you are or what skills you have learned; it has to do with howyour brain works most efficiently to learn new information (cited in Madden, 2008, p. 13). Therefore, a persons learning style is how he learns most effectively.

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One Size Does Not Fit All

Interactive Environments

Active Involvement

Digital nativ

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