Adult Learners in the Digital Age – PIDP Course Journal Category Four

“Persevering at online learning is also affected by computer and information literacy, time management…online communication skills…self-esteem, feelings of belongingness in the online program and the ability to develop interpersonal skills with peers…” (p. 199)


For adults, learning has changed significantly with the advancement of the Digital Age, including the introduction of the world wide web, internet, and social media.

Online learning – in the classroom and at work –  is more than an educational trend – it is here to stay. As such, new skills must be learned and mastered in order to have a positive, productive, and successful learning experience in the online world.

According to a European Commission study, “online networks and communities are creating innovative life long learning patterns such as supporting new ways of both intentional and non intentional learning. Online platforms, networks and communities facilitate lifelong learning including new skill development and personal growth” (p. 196).

My “aha moment” when I read this quote was the fact that learners and instructors face the same challenges online. As an instructor, I must do my best to mitigate online learning issues to ensure a positive experience can be had by all students, if they chose to engage.

What’s more, teachers must recognize the advantages and disadvantages of the online learning medium, and mitigate those appropriately. 

Here are several issues students face in the online courses I instruct, as well as some insightful techniques for mitigation:

Issue: Online literacy and using the Desire to Learn (D2L) platform
Mitigation: In the course introduction and resources section, I will provide information on how users can become familiar with the D2L platform, including a link to a free“D2L tour” offered by BCIT.

Issue: Communicating Online
Mitigation: In the discussion forum criteria, I will share best practices (Do’s & Don’ts) for online communication. Additionally, I will develop a new, more clear, grading rubric for the discussion forum and participation grade so students know exactly what is expected of them – and how to obtain the grade they desire.

Issue: Building self-esteem
Mitigation: I will do my best to encourage participation and build self esteem by providing positive and encouraging comments to student postings in the discussion forum. We also have a “pager” tool which is similar to an instant message. When I notice students online, I will reach out to them through the pager, and thank them for their contributions. I will also aim to provide detailed feedback on assignments so students know where they are excelling and where to focus their attention, thus reinforcing the skills they have and need.

Issue: Developing Community
Mitigation: As an instructor I can facilitate my courses using games and activities to increase the students feelings of belongingness in the online platform. The Thiagi Group website (www.thiagi.com)  has literally hundreds of games and activities that are designed to “improve human performance”. These games can be used to get students interacting and talking about the subject matter. They can be used as icebreakers, for check-ins, and to develop relationships. Most are transferrable to the online environment.

Issue: Relationship Building
Mitigation: I will provide opportunities for students to develop their interpersonal skills. Often times, this is done in the introductory part of the course; however, I am going to add a similar activity in the middle and towards the end of the course. I will also facilitate discussion forums with open-ended questions to get people interacting & thinking.

What caught my attention about this quote is how self regulation, time management, and intrinsic motivation are key attributes for being successful given the autonomy of the online environment.

Students must be willing to participate and get involved in the forums, discussions and group projects in order to develop a sense of community and take advantage of the rich, social and interactive learning opportunities the online platform provides.

“Learning, Jarvis (1987) writes, rarely occurs in splendid isolation from the world in which the learner lives; …it is intimately related to that world and affected by it” (p. 2).

In order to be effective in online discussions and group work, students must understand how to interact and communicate in an online platform. They must understand the nuances of this type of communication, or they may unintentionally offend someone or alienate themselves from their peers.

As a teacher, reflecting on this quote has made me realize that part of my role when teaching in a computer mediated environment, it is ensure that students have the opportunity to build on skills such as communication and time management.

I will also pay more attention to the fact that students online need to have their confidence boosted here-and-there, which could be as easy as sending a quick note to them commending participation or comments in a discussion.

This quote also resonated with me and my personal learning experience.

I obtained my Bachelor’s degree in 2010 through a blended learning program that combined on-campus residencies with distance learning. The experience was completely different from my earlier university experience in 1996 where all learning was done in the traditional face-to-face environment.

The online environment is now my preferred medium for learning and instructing. And, while I love the convenience and autonomy of online learning, I face the same challenges in both roles: time management, and making meaningful, personal connections with the participants.

In the online environment, I see my role as that of a “facilitator of active learning.” Providing opportunities for engagement, growth and learning.

Most adults are engaged and motivated at the beginning of a course; however, motivation comes and goes (for various reasons) and that’s where I can step in and attempt to get people reengaged and excited about learning using the techniques listed above.

Reflecting on this quote has allowed me to consider the needs of the adult who is learning in an online environment, and develop strategies to meet these needs.

To be successful and persevere with online learning it takes a mastery of skills such as communication, time management, and confidence.

These “soft skills” are not only required to persevere through post-secondary education, they are skills required to be successful throughout one’s career and life in general.

Resources:
Merriam, S. & Bierema, L. (2014). Adult Learning – Linking Theory and Practice. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

The Thiagi Group (n.d.). Retrieved April 21, 2015, from http://www.thiagi.com

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About robincookbondy

My name is Robin Cook Bondy and I live in Ladner, BC with my husband and three sons. I am a communications and public relations professional pursuing further education in the area of adult learning.
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