Who Are Today's College Students?: Understanding the 21st Century Higher Education Digital Learner

Who Are Today's College Students?: Understanding the 21st Century Higher Education Digital Learner

Ginger C. Black (Queens University of Charlotte, USA)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2132-8.ch001
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The doors to attending college exist beyond brick and mortar institutions due to the technological globalization of our world. Students from various walks of life can now attend college due to the continued expansion of our digital world. The idea of a ‘college student' can no longer be assumed to be someone who recently graduated high school 18-24 years old. This chapter presents data of twenty-first century college students, including but not limited to, age, gender, race/ethnicity, previous schooling, work status, and family dynamics to help identify potential learners that may exist in the on-line learning environment and explores characteristics of traditional and non-traditional learners. Further, the chapter presents information for online instructors regarding ways to support online learners related to online pedagogy and theory. Providing this awareness will help online instructors understand students they may instruct, help them consider the needs of their learners and build an online environment that is conducive for learning.
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Background Literature

Distance education has been defined by many since its existence. Early in the age of distance education, Keegan (1980) suggested the following elements were components of this type of learning: “ 1) Separation of teacher and learner, 2) Influence of an educational organization, 3) Use of media to link teacher and learner, 4) Two-way exchange of communication, 5) Learners as individuals rather than grouped, 6) Educators as an industrialized form” (p. 6). Three decades later, Allen and Seaman (2017) utilized the following definition for distance education “Education that uses one or more technologies to deliver instruction to students who are separated from the instructor and to support regular and substantive interaction between the students and the instructor synchronously or asynchronously” (p. 6). The emphasis, in many definitions of distance education, is on the delivery method, interactions, and the participants involved (both instructors and students). Therefore, in order to connect with today’s college students, online instructors first must understand the cliental they serve in the online or hybrid courses they teach in order to instruct these students effectively in the online learning format.

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