[Opinion] Technology and the Adult Learner: Then and Now

Recently I came across this and article titled ’Technology and the Adult Learner: Then and Now ‘ by  Frawley, James C., (year not given) of North Carolina State University.   (http://wikis.lib.ncsu.edu/images/d/d0/Technology.pdf)

I read this with interest given my involvement with adult learning, especially with relation to technology and the challenges faced. There is no year on the document, so it’s hard to identify the technology the author is referring to, but the principles remain.

Based on what was in the paper, below are my opinions on some of the points raised.

Frawley states:

According to a statement made by Dr. Daniel Amen, a noted physician and psychologist, he believes that you have about two minutes to capture an adult learner before they tune you off. While he has done considerable research on this subject in his book Change Your Brain, Change your Life, the idea of involving the adult learner is part of the shift in pedagogy (Amen, 1998).

In my experience, I have found it to be less than two minutes to capture an adult’s attention. Give this statement is referenced to nearly 20 years ago, and with the growing advancement of technology, you have to engage an adult learner much quicker.

The paper also states:

Secondly, since a large number of adult learners are non-degree learners, any technology being introduced in the course may not have the prerequisite of prior training. Due to limitations, technology as a curriculum would at least need to offer all students the additional training and exposure to the technology being utilized.

This is a very pertinent statement and I think that additional training would be incredibly advantageous for the adult learner. But is this practical in today’s environment? The paper has an example of a college providing weekend courses that introduce adult learners to technology that will be used on the course. With so many adult learners returning to studying, this may also serve as a deterrent or they’re simply too busy with families and life to attend.

The paper also states that one college provides a laptop full of the software they will need to complete the course and the cost covered in the tuition fees. I believe this is a more realistic solution. A series of short videos explaining the software could be launched on start-up to aid in the learning process.

In the VET sector where I used to work, providing a laptop or tablet was defined as ‘incentives’ for getting students into a course and was banned by the government.

Frawley also states:

Not all adults learn the same.  Some adult learners have the need for face-to-face learning with the instructors.  Some adult learners need to have the on-campus interactions to feel a part of the institution.  While other adult learners miss the immediate classroom response during online interactions.  Yet, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.  In addition, one of the foremost reasons for introducing technology into an adult learner’s world is that it opens more doors and opportunities for the active adult learners to gain new knowledge.  By colleges and universities utilizing new technology they can deliver to the adult learner, who typically has family and work responsibilities, the opportunity to maintain self-discipline while studying and working, and time management to balance their work and academic commitments.  Couple these sentiments with the leading factor of why adults are returning to school, and you have a formula for success.

Whilst I agree with the generalisation of this statement, there are some parts that don’t sit with me.

By colleges and universities utilizing new technology they can deliver to the adult learner, who typically has family and work responsibilities, the opportunity to maintain self-discipline while studying and working, and time management to balance their work and academic commitments.  ‘

How is the achievable? When it all gets too hard with an adult learner looking after a young family, the first thing to suffer is their learning. Studying online only seems like a great idea at the time, but generally, once again in my experience, this does not work. It’s easy to drop something when you don’t have to physically be somewhere. This comes back to my theories of Digital literacy, experience and social culture.

Overall, the article was relevant and a good read. Adult learners will continue to struggle with technology until the next generation of digital leaders join the workforce.

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