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Designing Distance Education for Adults. How might you design a Distance Education course for Adult Learners?

Designing Distance Education for Adults. How might you design a Distance Education course for Adult Learners?

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Distance education is becoming a common option for adult learners to gain valuable skills, knowledge and experience. When distance education is designed with the adult learner in mind it can be a rich and valuable learning experience. In this paper, I will describe what distance education is in terms of a definition and terminology. I will look at characteristics of adult learners. Finally, I will discuss distance education for adult learners and what needs to be done to make learning from a distance successful for most adult learners.
Distance education is becoming a common option for adult learners to gain valuable skills, knowledge and experience. When distance education is designed with the adult learner in mind it can be a rich and valuable learning experience. In this paper, I will describe what distance education is in terms of a definition and terminology. I will look at characteristics of adult learners. Finally, I will discuss distance education for adult learners and what needs to be done to make learning from a distance successful for most adult learners.

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Published by: ecmm on Jul 01, 2009
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Designing Distance Education for Adults.How might you design a Distance Education course for AdultLearners?
Ken DesjardineGraduate StudentEducational Communications and TechnologyUniversity of SaskatchewanFebruary 2009Revision March 2009
Introduction
Distance education is becoming a common option for adultlearners to gain valuable skills, knowledge and experience. Whendistance education is designed with the adult learner in mind it can bea rich and valuable learning experience. In this paper, I will describewhat distance education is in terms of a definition and terminology. Iwill look at characteristics of adult learners. Finally, I will discussdistance education for adult learners and what needs to be done tomake learning from a distance successful for most adult learners.
Distance Education
Distance education (DE) can be referred to as open education,online education, online learning or distance learning. Without gettinginto the specific details of the definitions of each of these terms, wewill refer to D.E. as meaning the same as all these terms. D.E. hasbeen defined as, “…institution-based formal education where thelearning group is separated, and where interactive telecommunicationssystems are used to connect learners, resources, and instructors.”(Simonson et. al., 2006, p. 32).“…distance education is now regarded as an important settingwithin which a great deal of significant adult learning occurs (Gibson,1992). Weekend college formats, multi-media experimentations andthe educational possibilities unleashed by satellite broadcasting havecombined to provide learning opportunities for millions of adults acrossthe world.” (Brookfield, 1995, p.11)“A formal learning activity which occurs when students andinstructor are separated by geographic distance or by time, oftensupported by communications technology such as television,videotape, computers, email, mail, or interactive videoconferencing.”(www.netnet.org/students/student%20glossary.htm, paragraph 7).Distanced Education has evolved from a correspondence formatof mailing assignments and papers between the student and the
 
Designing Distance Education for Adult Learners 2instructor to an online and email system. The term Distance Educationhas become interchangeable with the term online learning. Animportant aspect of Distance Education is that it is presented in aformal environment. DE is orchestrated from a learning institution andis not referring to an online learning community. D.E. has a distinctinstructor or teacher and enrolled students. There is a major theme of students being seperate from the instructor. Ultimately there is ageographical or physical space between them. The “space” betweenthe instructor and the student is filled by the use of telecommunications. This technology can be course managementsystems, email, telephone or another form of communication. In theremainder of this paper we will look at the uses of distance educationthrough the lens of online implementation. The assumption will be thatD.E. is done primarily via the Internet.
Adult Learners
An adult learner is identified by Illinois State University as“Historically, an adult learner/non-traditional student is someone whois pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree, but who does notmeet the definition of a “traditional” college student. If you feel thatany of the following describe you . . . then you are considered an adultlearner/non-traditional student at Illinois State.”(http://www.emas.ilstu.edu/adult_learner_services/who_is.shtml). Theformer Adult Learner Services Task Force at Illinois State Universitydefined adult learners as, “lifelong learners who generally are 25 yearsor older, and/or have additional responsibilities such as family, career,military, or community, and are seeking a degree or other educationaloffering (credit or non-credit) to enhance their professional and/orpersonal lives.”(http://www.emas.ilstu.edu/adult_learner_services/who_is.shtml). Theseare rather standard and structured definitions that leave a lot of roomfor knowing who an adult learner actually is. Apart from that, theyserve the purpose of distinguishing “who” we are talking about whenusing the term Adult Learner (age, life position, purpose).Stephen Brookfield (1995) states, “
we are very far from auniversal understanding of adult learning.” It is understood that mostadult learners have many other responsibilities in their lives that they aretrying to balance along with their studies. Brookfield is suggesting thatthere cannot be a set understanding of how adults learn because thereare too many different situations to be able to develop a true model of how adults learn. “Indeed, a strong case can be made that as we examinelearning across the lifespan the variables of culture, ethnicity, personalityand political ethos assume far greater significance in explaining howlearning occurs and is experienced than does the variable of chronologicalage.” (Brookfield, 1995, p.1)
 
Designing Distance Education for Adult Learners 3
Adult learners cannot be defined within a specific model or betaught with a specific strategy. This is not very different from “traditional”learners or K-12 learners. There are always different needs that are to betaken into consideration and approached on a student-by-student basis.Adult learners will have different challenges, as Brookfield notes there aremany external variables that adult learners will have that “traditional”students generally don’t. When designing a D.E. course for adult learnerswe must keep in mind the challenges an adult learner will have. An adultlearner generally has a career that they are trying to develop andadvance. They have family and community responsibilities that continueto exist whether they are studying or not. Their studies will be importantto them, but their number one priority may not be the course they aretaking. They will work hard and be very motivated to succeed. This willalso mean that they will want to accomplish the tasks and not beburdened by extra work that they do not see as relevant. The adultstudent will have external factors to deal with that traditional studentswould not have or face.
Adults and Distance Education:The Challenges
Adult learners taking on the task of learning from a distance ordistance education have to be able to make the adjustments neededfor success. When looking at Adult Learners in the D.E. lens Simonson,et al. states, “While there are some who would suggest little differenceamong the distance learners, adults bring a unique characteristic to adistance learning setting. Theirs is a world of experiences related tolearning, life, and their profession. To believe that adults bring little tothe “classroom” is limiting the contributions that adult learners canmake to any learning situation.” (2006, p. 158). Adult learners bring adifferent kind of learning to a course or program. They have a depth of experiences that are not present in the “traditional” student. The adultlearner sees things through a different lens and each student will havea different level of experiences to draw on. An adult learner may bevery experienced in the field of study, be starting a new career or justwanting to have a new experience. They have a very wide variety of backgrounds and understanding of how the world works.In the research study
 Adult learners’ Emotions in OnlineLearning,
Michalinos Zembylas speaking about learners’ owninterpretations states, “…first, learners act upon the world on the basisof the meanings that the world has for them. Second, the learners’meanings are socially constructed through their interactions with theirinstructor, other learners, the available technology, and the socialcontext in general. Third, the meaning of the world is processed againthrough interpretation; that is, the learners interpret their emotionsthrough the ways they talk about them.” (2008, p. 75). Adult D.E.

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