No Adult Left Behind: Older Adults in Virtual Environments

No Adult Left Behind: Older Adults in Virtual Environments

Linda Salter (Independent Education Consultant, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5780-9.ch079
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With an aging population and the increasing role of virtual technologies in education, educators and educational institutions need to be informed about contemporary and predicted demographics regarding older adults as learners as well as what is currently understood about learning later in life. Although recently increasing, there has been a lack of attention paid to this demographic group. A literature review reveals that “older” students are often those age 25 to 30, while the fastest growing segment of the population is much older. Truly “older” learners can and should be accommodated in the virtual environments that are becoming more and more common in higher and continuing education. The purpose of this chapter is to offer guidance for adult learning professionals tasked with accommodating older adults in virtual environments.
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The purpose of this chapter is to offer guidance for professionals tasked with accommodating older learners in virtual environments and to suggest answers to questions such as the following:

  • Who are ‘older adults’ and why are they an important demographic?

  • What are the learning dynamics unique to this demographic group?

  • Why and where do they participate in virtual learning environments?

  • What are the barriers, limitations and challenges they encounter?

  • What advantages do they have?

  • What are the best practices to use to respond to their needs and to facilitate their skill sets?

  • What role does the so-called digital divide play?



The subject of adult education does not lend itself to emotional debates between adversarial movements or the invention of catchy phrases of the type inspired by the on-going debate over the public education of children and youth.

In 2001 Congress passed the public elementary and secondary education policy act known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and it became law in 2002. The name of the act was apparently chosen because it reflected the intention of its advocates to use it to remedy the problem of growing achievement disparities between students from lower incomes and certain minority populations compared to their peers in other demographic groups (The White House: Office Of The Press Secretary, 2007). The memorable phrase used in the title may have been based on words used in speeches given in the 1990s by Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund. Ms. Edelman often implored her audiences to leave no child behind (Dillon, 2009).

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