Having worked in vocational education for a number of years now, distance education is becoming more popular by the day. When we look at why distance education has become so popular, it could be any number of reasons. There is the convenience of having everything there for you when you want or need it. Being able to study when you’re ready, not to a timetable. Study where and when you like. These are all fantastic and probably equates to why it is so popular. Let’s now look at adult learners that opt to do a course online.
The first item we need to look at is the why? Why did they sign up to do an online course? There could be any number of reasons, including lured in by advertising, career change, or enter back into the workforce. Perhaps they just want to challenge themselves or it “just seems like a good idea!”. It’s all super exciting when you first start. You get all the glossy brochures, maybe some books and USB with some resources on it, an ID card, links to the student portal, and heaps of resources – it’s all official now!
Then, reality sets in – maybe I should rephrase that; life gets in the way.
Studying via distance education is not something that will come naturally to adult learners. Now when I say naturally, I’m referring to those learners that are in the 35+ age group. Chances are the last time they did study was in lectures or a classroom. Distance education requires discipline and dedication, and this can be really challenging for just about any adult learner.
Let’s shift to a tutor / trainer that is delivering via a distance model. I used to be one. I delivered the diploma of web development to up to 80 students at one time. All scattered across the country and all at various levels of the diploma. As I delivered the course, I would always be thinking about how I could use technology to mine and the students’ advantage. How can I keep my students engaged? What do I need to do if one of my students falls back?
Here are some of the things I used to adopt both using technology and experience to keep adult learners engaged when studying over distance education:
- Make it and keep it real.
Remember that these are adult learners and they have a reason to study. They are not being forced into it. There has to be a tangible reward or goal for them. As you are their tutor, share your experiences with them and explain why and how what they are learning will help them in their career. They want a career in the study option they have chosen.
- Know your students’ limits.
You get to know your student’s strengths and weaknesses. Use this to your advantage. If you have a younger adult learner, know that they are going to want to use technology. They learn differently – but they have the same goal as your older adult learners. If you know their limits, you can apply your experience to help them.
- Learn from them.
Find out what technology your students use. Let’s look at Facebook. There are over 1 billion people using Facebook these days and yes it can be used in a learning environment! You might be surprised to find a little gem in there that can be adapted to learning.
Adults like routines. If they know that Tuesday’s at 10:30 they will be involved in an online session with their tutor, they can plan their lives around this. Remember, an adult learner is more focused on the goal and needs the consistency to stay motivated.
Give your students feedback – good or bad. They are adults, they need to hear how they are going. They need to know if they are on the right track. They need to hear it regularly.
There are hundreds of tools out there that can help you get and keep engaged with your students. Don’t be scared to use something new. Just because somebody says you can’t use it because it didn’t work for them, doesn’t mean you can’t get it to work either.
Some of the apps I’ve seen and used are: