Changes in the economy are changing people’s minds about the value of completing an education if they want to see themselves improve in their career paths. Much as they want to pursue their college degrees or higher education, adults no opt to earn a living and provide for their families. While the financial crisis has opened their views about education, it is also the same reason why not many of those employed are able to complete their college education despite their intent to acquire a college degree. Considering their financial dilemma, a regular school environment is not a possible option for them. Thus, online education is increasingly becoming an option for adult learners. As adults begin to open their minds when it comes to online educational environment, the need to design a system that can help adults benefit more using this set up is vital. Online education offers adult learners the capability to acquire new knowledge and skills, including the flexibility of time and location, without having to give up their jobs.
Online learning, also known as distance learning, pertains to the type of educational set up that does not require face-to-face instruction, such as in a regular classroom environment. Students learn at their own pace and meet with the instructor through chat sessions, discussion boards, and emails. It is becoming a trend now for students who have missed out on their chance at acquiring a college education (Robinson, n.d.). These classes are typically offered by colleges that cater to traditional class environments as well. They offer “certificate, associates, bachelors, masters, doctoral, and professional programs" (Allen & Seaman, 2006, p. 4) where classes are conducted through the Internet with 0% - 20% face-to-face interaction, if any (Allen & Seaman, 2006, p. 4).
Adults are motivated and goal-oriented that is why they want to be more involved in the learning process. The adult learning process differs from childhood learning because adults are more concerned about ensuring that they learn faster and acquire the necessary knowledge and skills to be able to apply them at work or in their homes (Gavan). Despite having different adult learner categories, there are still some similarities in learning when an individual is able to relate the learning style to methods he learned in childhood. Some learners respond better when they see images, facial expressions, and huge body language. Thus, visual learners are more likely to take down notes to help them better understand their lessons. This is because seeing letters and words on paper help facilitate the learning process. Some learners respond well simply by listening to their teachers in class. They are known as the auditory learners whose understanding of the lessons depend on the pitch, tone, and voice inflections of the teacher (Rakap, 2010, p. 109). When learners depend much on movement and their experiences while attending class, these learners are called kinesthetic learners.
Adult learners participate is such learning set ups for a variety of reasons. Some enjoy the experience of sharing new knowledge and learning from different types of people with the same experience as theirs, while others look forward to the “co-hoc nature of most of these programs that draw prospective students from similar backgrounds” (O’Lawrence). Other learners appreciate that they have a certain level of “control over their learning environment” (O’Lawrence), which results to increased participation from the learner.
While the teaching methodology and the resources used in online classes and regular classroom environment differs, students still learn as much as those who attend regular school set up. Both learning environments have “weekly assignments, readings, lectures, class discussions and even group projects” (Schaarsmith, 2012) to complete at given times. To help online students with their lessons, online schools make use of applications such as “Moodle” to facilitate upload of instructional resources that includes articles, essays, podcasts, and videos. The application also has an email feature, chat facility, and teleconferencing methods that make communication simple for students studying online (Schaarsmith, 2012).
This method of learning is becoming a popular option for non-traditional adult learners, which includes adults who have disabilities and are considered as at-risk learners. Another group of learners who choose this option are those who take advantage of the flexible time schedule online education offers, are considering a career change, and those who are new at using technologies offered by the IT industry (O’Lawrence). In addition, this option also attracts high school graduates who want to obtain a college degree, career shifters, working college students, and employees who want to go up the career ladder, among others. What these types of students find advantageous in online learning is the convenience that the education set up offers considering that the students do not have to give up their work in order to complete their educational requirements, allowing them to study at their own pace (Serlin, 2005, p. 4).
Online learning also provides the flexibility to choose the online school that an individual wants to enroll in, in any part of the world. Because of this, regardless if one lives in a First World country or a Third World country, everyone who enrolls in the online course receives a fair chance at education. Thus, those in less-developed countries have a chance to learn and study at first-rate educational institutions without having to leave their own countries. This also facilitates appreciation of another culture and traditions, as students get to interact with students from other nations as well (Serlin, 2005, p. 8).
Adult learners who tend to be shy in person appreciate that online classes are not as intimidating as when an individual sits in a regular classroom set up. Because students’ interactions are limited to chat and discussion boards, this increases their self-confidence and even pushes them to participate in online discussions, which they would not have done had they been in a regular face-to-face instruction. The anonymity also adds to their increasing self-confidence because they are able to express themselves without the fear of being judged by other students (Serlin, 2005, p. 2).
While there are many benefits to online learning, the system also presents some issues that learners must learn to overcome. For one, studying online requires a high degree of self-discipline in ensuring that when it is time to study their lessons, students must really do their assignments and submit their requirements on time. Thus, it is important that those who opt for this educational method is adept at time management. Another drawback of online education is the fact that there is less to no face-to-face interactions with other students and the instructors. Students depend only on their reading resources and chat and board discussions for review sessions. Thus, those students who are not confident enough when it comes to understanding the lessons and have poor writing and reading skills will still find the learning set up uncomfortable (O’Lawrence).
Negative opinions do not have a place in online learning and how adult learners learn. Online education will continue to prosper considering that the benefits of this educational set up far outweighs the disadvantages. As more adults strive to look for ways to improve their salary and status at work, online education will continue to reap the support of jobseekers and students alike.
Allen, I.E., & Seaman, J. (2006). Making the grade: Online education in the United States. Retrieved from http://sloanconsortium.org/sites/default/files/Making_the_Grade.pdf
Gavan, A. (2012). Learning styles and learning theory. James Cook University Australia. Retrieved from http://www.jcu.edu.au/wiledpack/modules/fsl/JCU_090463.html
O’Lawrence, H. (2007). An overview of the influences of distance learning on adult learners. Journal of Education and Human Development, 1(1). Retrieved from http://www.scientificjournals.org/journals2007/articles/1041.htm
Rakap, S. (2010). Impacts of learning styles and computer skills on adult students' learning online. TOJET: The Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology 9(2). Retrieved from http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/EJ898008.pdf
Robinson, J. (n.d.). Using your distance education to earn an academic degree. Retrieved from http://web.archive.org/web/20080706034832/www.detc.org/downloads/UsingYour%20DE%20to%20Earn%20Degree.pdf
Serlin, R. (2005). The advantages and disadvantages of online courses. Retrieved from http://www.gened.arizona.edu/sites/default/files/AdvantagesDisadvantagesOnlineCourses.pdf
Schaarsmith, A. M. (2012). Growing number of college students choose online courses. Retrieved from http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/news/education/growing-number-of-college-students-choose-online-courses-85483/