The New Normal: Adult Online Learners

The New Normal: Adult Online Learners

Simona Laurian-Fitzgerald, Carlton J. Fitzgerald, Carmen Alina Popa, Laura Bochis
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5085-3.ch007
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Adult learners are different from younger learners. Many have taken Knowles' ideas to work with adult learners as if they all are the same. Knowles described adult learners as more self-directed, willing to be responsible for what they do, unwilling to have teachers impose arbitrary information on them, ready to learn, task oriented, and experienced. Prather adds many adults have more immediate goals for their lives and careers. Kenner and Weinerman find adults want more collaborative relationships with professors. Adult students are unique and come to classes from a variety of backgrounds and circumstances, with different needs, wants, and learning preferences. Many students are prepared for college, while others are petrified. In this chapter, the authors argue that instructors should understand their students in order to help them be successful. Students are not alternative students; they are normal, intelligent people who can and will learn. Thus, the goal should be student-centered online learning.
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Neurodiversity (Armstrong, 2012) is a term that people in the field of special education are beginning to use when discussing their students. For teachers of students with special education needs, this is a shift in thinking, a paradigm shift, from looking at children with special needs as dysfunctional students to looking at these students as assets to their classes and schools. According to Armstrong (2012) diversity of development and how people learn is normal development. Armstrong writes, “A Strength-based school that practices positive niche construction with neurodiverse students is one that essentially supports inclusion” (Chapter 7, p. 2). In other words, if we look at student diversity in any way, shape, or form as being normal and advantageous for the school and its students (as we do, for example, with biodiversity in nature), then we can create different images in our brains about our students. We know that when we have positive attitudes about our students they perform better (Sousa, 2017). When we have high expectations and support for our students, they achieve more (Caine & Caine, 2011). If we set an environment in which students understand that they need each other to learn and mature, we know they work harder, and thus, learn more, develop more social skills, and become stronger emotionally (Johnson and Johnson, 2015). Working from strength seems to make much more sense than working from weaknesses for any student. It also makes sense to actually believe that diversity is the normal state of life, including in the online classroom. Instead of assigning a negative label to students who are diverse, we should seek to understand the normal diversity of our students.

In his book, The Blind Advantage: How Going Blind Made Me a Stronger Principal and How Including Children with Disabilities Made Our School Better for Everyone,Henderson (2011) describes how teachers in his school try to find the uniqueness of every student in order to have every student add to the richness of the school. One of the main goals of the school is to help students get, feel, and act smarter. The idea is to set the school environment so that the conditions are right for every student to succeed. Ken Robinson (2017) believes that we should look at education like farmers where they believe that if they create the right conditions then their plants (the students) will flourish. That begins, according to Armstrong (2012) from the mentality of neurodiversity that seeks to find and acknowledge the complexity and richness of humankind. Sousa (2017) tells us that every human brain is unique, and if teachers nurture and nourish each brain all students will bloom.

Caine and Caine (2011) believe that if we can appeal to student interest and gradually turn over more and more of the authority and responsibility for their learning to the students, then more students will learn more. That means a different role must be accepted by teachers. Instead of dispensing knowledge to students, educators become facilitators of skills and knowledge where students more often lead the process. Armstrong (2012) believes that a critical role of teachers is to develop an understanding of the unique wants and needs of their students in order to develop differentiated ways for students to successfully engage in their learning careers.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Adult Online Learning: College education for students over 22 who have decided to go or return to college for more training. These programs run asynchronous systems in which the students perform their assignments online meeting due dates, and receive feedback from their peers and from their instructors (Popa, Laurian, Bochis, Fitzgerald, Birle, and Bonchis, 2015).

Disenthrall: In line with President Lincoln’s idea that we had to rid ourselves of assumptions that no longer worked, Ken Robinson (2010) explain how educators should contemplate what assumptions we should eliminate for the future success of our students.

Teaching to the Brain: A system of teaching that utilizes and combines the research in the areas of neuro-science, psychology, sociology, and education to inform what and how teachers develop and implement their lessons and programs (Sousa, 2017).

Growth Mindset: The notion that people can increase their knowledge, intelligence, skills, and talents through strategic effort and persistence (Dweck, 2006).

Neurodiversity: This is the notion that diversity that all differences among people are normal. Every person has talents and strengths, and, in schools, we should teach and help students learns using their strengths, instead of focusing on their weaknesses (Armstrong, 2012).

Andragogy: The study of the art and science of teaching adults. It is based on the idea that adults bring to the class a vast range of knowledge, experiences, and skills (Knowles, 1980, 1984, 1987).

Student-Centered Teaching and Learning: In this system of teaching, the student becomes the most important aspect of the teaching and learning process (e.g., instead of the teacher, the curriculum, the test, etc.). The focus is to help students learn so they will be able to use their skills and knowledge in the real world (Caine & Caine, 2011).

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