Postsecondary Program Design for Adult Learners

Postsecondary Program Design for Adult Learners

Rebecca F. Lodewyck
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-6762-3.ch014
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The purpose of this chapter is to explore the current body of literature surrounding program design to provide administrators and faculty with guidance and best practices for designing programs to support success for all students. As the national landscape of postsecondary education continues to include a substantial population of adult and non-traditional students, understanding these learners' needs is essential to designing programs that will support learner success. In the most straightforward definition, a program is a set of activities gathered for a specific purpose or outcome. Within postsecondary education, design begins with the program mission articulating the theoretical framework that provides the foundation of the program. Shaped by accreditation and regulatory requirements, the program mission drives the definition of the program outcomes, curriculum and instruction, program policy, and delivery method. Beyond the intersection of non-traditional and adult learning needs, the literature identified implications for the process of program design.
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While individual motivation for enrolling in a program varies, the ultimate purpose for a program’s existence is to achieve outcomes driven by the needs of its key constituents. The success of a program is visible in the success of the student, and choices made within the program design process affect student success. While there is a gap in the current body of literature surrounding program design, a substantial body of literature exists centering on student success and persistence. Tinto (2006) examined the issue of student persistence in the United States, noting, “First, simply adding on programs to the existing structure does not result in significant gains in persistence. One has to change the structure itself. Second, there is an important linkage between learning and persistence” (p. 7). While Tinto’s work focused on a traditional student population, the increasing share of adult and non-traditional learners within postsecondary education means re-evaluation of all learners needs is a necessary element of program design. Assuming the scrutiny of postsecondary education by accrediting bodies, regulatory agencies, and employers who need access to a qualified and competent labor pool will continue, it is necessary to examine the needs of the adult and non-traditional learner to ensure the program structure supports the success of this learner population.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Adult Learner: A learner typically characterized by being over the age of 25 and possessing characteristics that separate them from the traditional learner population.

Traditional Learner: A learner typically falling between 18-23 years of age who transitions directly from P12 education into postsecondary education context.

Non-Traditional Learner: A learner falling within the age range of the traditional student who did not or was not able to pursue postsecondary education concurrently with their peers. A non-traditional learner may possess similar characteristics to that of an adult learner and experience similar barriers as well.

Program Effectiveness Outcomes: A defined set of expectations distinct from program learning outcomes that used to measure the extent to which a program achieves the desired objectives.

Persistence: Terminology used in postsecondary educational contexts to describe learners who progress through and complete a defined program of study.

Adult Learning Model: A framework articulated by Malcolm S. Knowles that defines of a set of assumptions about the adult learner and their needs that distinguishes the learning needs of adults as different than that of children.

Program: A defined and organized set of curricula designed to support learner achievement of specific learning outcomes.

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