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Online Learning Meeting the Needs of Adult Learners

Online Learning Meeting the Needs of Adult Learners

Adults interested in pursuing an advanced education are discovering increased opportunities because of the growth of online courses being offered by traditional and online colleges and universities. Adult learners are offered flexibility by taking online courses and many online universities develop online degree programs specifically with the working adult in mind. The question often asked concerns the ability of an online classroom to promote effective learning when students and instructors are not physically present.

Within a traditional classroom the instructor is physically present and it is that presence that maintains social interactions and builds relationships with the students. The instructor can gauge the level of student motivation and adapt the instructional methods used based upon what is physically observed. Also visible to the instructor is the student’s level of engagement and participation in the class. In addition, the instructor is available to observe, guide, and discuss the student’s performance and address any potential issues. These physical observations are absent from the online classroom environment.

The online classroom does not change the basic principles of adult learning; rather the format of adult learning has changed when it becomes enabled by the use of technology. The process of adult learning in any classroom environment involves the acquisition of information, interaction with that information through activities, and the creation of new knowledge. The online student’s engagement in the class is usually encouraged through the use of discussion boards and asynchronous interactions with his or her instructor. Performance in an online classroom environment is based upon the student’s work product, whether this is accomplished through group activities, online assessments, or written assignments.

The classroom provides a learning environment that becomes the context for knowledge acquisition by establishing conditions that are conducive to learning. Depending upon the level of involvement by the instructor and the student, the online classroom also has the potential to become very mechanical in nature and it may easy for a student to experience a sense of disconnection from the class and his or her instructor.

The essential element of the online classroom, one that influences the student’s motivation, engagement, and performance, is the performance of the instructor. An instructor can help to create optimal learning conditions through instructional strategies and methods that are student-centered. This can include establishing a strong and interactive virtual presence, modeling active engagement in the class, and being responsive to the students’ questions and developmental needs