In a world still struggling with the pandemic, one area of increasing uncertainty is education. Many companies began to embrace remote working arrangements for their employees. Similarly, we might be witnessing a global shift toward online learning.
Right now, the spotlight can be trained on how our universities and students will adapt to learning remotely and interacting through digital platforms. But adult learners comprise a significant percentage of the online learning population. 2018 figures show that 68% of online students were working professionals, with the average student age being 32 years.
The field of online education is going to change, and how well you navigate these changes concerning adult students will heavily influence your success. What can you do to improve adult learning outcomes in this rapidly evolving environment?
Getting to know adult learners
We intuitively know that adults have a different approach to learning compared to the typical child, adolescent, or youth student. Decades ago, the educator Malcolm Knowles fleshed out those differences in a theory of andragogy or adult learning. And even though it was fleshed out before the internet, its principles can still be applied effectively to create a better online learning experience for this audience.
Adults approach learning with practical intent. A dentist, for example, can consider management coaching to improve their dental practice in the business aspect. They also have a stronger sense of self-motivation and direction and can draw upon a greater breadth and depth of life experiences to facilitate their learning.
You can refer to these factors as guideposts to improve your methods of instruction. For example, having come up with an outline for your course, give specific situations that will show students how the material is relevant. This preparation will also help you tackle any challenges or questions posed, along the lines of “how will this be useful to me?”
Naturally, you’ll get the best effect out of such adjustments if you know more about your students and their respective backgrounds. Insert space for a proper introduction to your course plan. This will give you a good idea of the people you’re working with and what their objectives are. It helps you deliver the subject matter in a context that will be meaningful to each student.
Embracing a different environment
The online learning setting poses challenges to students but also their instructors. When you deliver a lecture in front of a class, you can quickly sense the mood of the group as well as individual students’ receptiveness. You also get to impart a bit of energy and personality into face-to-face discussions. These factors can be influential in improving learning outcomes and are lost or significantly reduced in the transition to the virtual realm.
Online communication works differently from our regular social interactions. Body language and tone of voice, which provide a lot of context for the message we try to deliver, are often imperceptible. The platform enables asynchronous and invisible communication; you don’t get to see what the other person is doing, or when they are doing it.
These factors can make instruction more challenging. But if you embrace and work with them, they can create advantages to learning. For instance, a method such as ‘flipping the classroom’ can work by assigning lecture material to the students’ asynchronous time. They can go through that material at their own pace. Then, collaborative platforms such as Zoom or FaceTime can be used to conduct scheduled group activities where students can share their experiences and insights to solving problems under your guidance.
Evidence of skills and competence
As the framework of education changes, more people will turn to online courses to address their specific needs. This means that along with regular degree programs, there will be more demand for short courses and skill-based learning modules.
The implication here is that, just as people evaluate a college education by the results it creates in terms of future employment, online courses will be similarly scrutinized for value. Students and employers alike will want to see evidence that your instruction drives actual skill formation and competence building.
Instead of focusing on performance measures and grades, you can build this results-based approach into the framework of your course. Give your adult students a project that can provide tangible evidence of what they’ve learned. It could be a section of code in an app or website or a traditional case study in their field of expertise. When the time comes, the completion of such a task will hold more weight than a transcript in the eyes of tomorrow’s employers.