Introduction to Online Learning and the Adult Learner

Introduction to Online Learning and the Adult Learner

Rosana Stan (University of Oradea, Romania) and Éva Kállay (Babes-Bolyai University, Romania)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5085-3.ch008


Web technologies are changing old patterns of learning. Online learning is simultaneously a tool and a challenge in improving our learning process because working online is a fundamental competence for today's society. Rethinking needs and course design for online learning to be applied to all subjects at all levels (digital natives and digital immigrants as well) is, maybe, the biggest challenge in education. It is necessary to give teachers adequate training to teach using technologies in a way that supports specific pedagogical mode. Online learning for adult learners has both advantages and disadvantages. Research into online learning is an emerging field and all of this information has practical implication for design and tutoring online activities in the case of adult learners.
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Delivering instructional content online (or elsewhere) is insufficient to produce learning or usable skills. Getting desirable outcomes requires far more effort than simply building instructional content (Shank, 2008). The lower retention and completion rates for online courses has been attributed to several reasons including the fact that many online courses are taught at community colleges where students are not as academically and technologically prepared as 4-year university students (Boston, Ice, & Gibson, 2011). But the first barrier to success in an online learning environment for adults is the general familiarity with the skills necessary to participate. Without understanding software and hardware functioning, and having inadequate keyboarding skills, students may encounter difficulties during the learning process. A barrier or moderate impact is related to the individual’s ability to use computers, more specifically, the most frequently reported problems refer to the confusion about how to use these kinds of technologies (Cartwright, 2000). Consequently, literature has strongly recommended that students should receive beforehand tutoring in online learning skills (Srichanyachon, 2014).

On the other hand, DuPraw and Axner (1997) identified fundamental patterns of cultural differences which are important in online learning, such as: a. different communication styles (language usage and the importance of nonverbal communication), b. different approaches to finding information through researching literature, c. symmetrical - asymmetrical social interaction regarding hierarchically-based relations when they refer to their status, or d. the preference to learn by talking to people who have experienced the same challenges. Cultural factors identified by Hofstede (2001) such as power distance, level of individualism, masculinity, uncertainty avoidance, and long-term orientation may lead to differences regarding one’s approach to online learning.

Reservations about putting thoughts in print, worry about perceptions by others, and lack of visual cues were also noticed (Shank, 2002). Another issue is that many students come into an online experience believing that such courses promote independent study and are resentful when asked to work with others. Differences in expectations or in willingness to collaborate may also interfere. High expectations for participation on the part of team members may cause problems (Palloff & Pratt, 2005). Another barrier may be the case of those teachers who are not prepared to teach online and do not give timely feedback, or do not communicate clearly (Jaggars, 2014). Last but not least, feelings of alienation and a lack of collaboration appear to have an impact on student persistence throughout courses in online learning (Rovai & Wighting, 2005).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Student Satisfaction: is defined as “the favourability of a student’s subjective evaluation of the various outcomes and experiences associated with education „ (Oliver & DeSarbo (1989) cited in Elliott & Shin (2002)).

Adult Learners: are people in the 35-37-year age range (Eduventures, 2008), those of us who were not born into the digital world but, at some point in our lives, adopted many or most aspects of the new technology. Compared with digital natives, Prensky (2001) named them Digital Immigrants.

Digital Natives: are all “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet. Some refer to them as the N-(for Net)-gen or D-(for digital)-gen (Prensky, 2001). They were all born after 1980 (Palfrey & Gasser, 2008).

Social Presence: has to do with the interaction between online students and represents the ability to perceive others in an online environment (Richardson, Maeda, Lv, & Caskurlu, 2017).

Online Learning: means coursework for which 80% or more of the content is delivered online with no face-to-face interactions (Allen & Seaman, 2013). It is different form blended learning , a formal education program where students participate online at their own pace and their own place along with supervised participation face-to-face outside the home (Christensen, Horn, & Staker, 2013).

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