What Adult Learners really do when they start studying – a first hand observation

Adult Learning

I wanted a to share with you an event that I witnessed about 18 months ago and the impact it had on me.

My partner decided that she would like to do a Diploma of Business via distance learning. As it turned out, she decided she wanted to complete the Diploma with the Registered Training Organisation (RTO) that I work for. For the record, there was no conflict of interest as I am not a tutor or involved with the Business Faculty.

I made a conscious decision not to get involved at all with her studies and made it very clear to her that I would not get involved, just in case it came back to bite me. I did say though that I would be observing from a far. This was for two reasons. One was to see how the process worked, a little like a ‘secret shopper’. Secondly, I wanted to observe how an adult learns when they first get their resources for a new online course.

So she enrolled, got all the formalities out of the way and within 3 days all the fancy resources had turned. All the marketing material, text books and any other learning resources. Emails had arrived allowing access to the Student Portal – we were good to go!

I clearly remember the excitement and her logging straight into the student portal, going straight to the first unit. This was looking good! She’ll download the resources, read and start the assessment in a week or so.

I couldn’t have been further from the truth!

She downloaded the assessment and went straight to Question 1. Hang on a sec, why aren’t you reading the resources? (Given I know how much work had gone into them!) Why aren’t you unwrapping the brand new, fresh paper smelling 154 page text book? Why aren’t you accessing the online resources from the student portal?

Observing this made me realise that this is how some adults treat an online course. I have to add, this is the first online course she had done, and we later identified that her learning style does not fit with her learning via distance.

I continued to observe from a distance. I didn’t prompt or push in any direction. The course was expected to take 8 months to complete. She chose this course as she wanted to get ahead in her chosen field of Children Services, and to push up into management,  some sort of business qualification was needed.

She quickly became disengaged and never finished the course. In fact, I think she only submitted 2 assessments and lost interest before pulling out of the course.

When I sat down and questioned her about why she didn’t finish the course, the results were not surprising. Below are points that I observed and recommendations for educators.

1.  Straight to the assessment does not work – but how do you manage this via distance learning?

In this particular situation, the assessment was there for taking. Perhaps there needs to be formative assessments for students to complete BEFORE they get access to the assessments. The formative assessments can be managed to see if the student is understanding any concepts and educators to provide assistance where required.

2.  The Student Portal was not engaging

This can be a real struggle for Instructional Designers. How do you get that balance between learning and overwhelming resources. Keep things simple. There are lots of resources available online to help you with how to get the best out of your LMS.

3.  Provide Feedback in a timely manner

Adults learners will study for a reason, and they want to know how they are progressing. By not replying to a submitted assessment or request for help or information, you will create disengaged students.

4.  If you have access to the students analytics, see what hey are doing and work with them to get into a routine.

Remember that adult learners are a lot less open minded, so use your personal experience to guide them and let them know about the rewards at the end.

Get more concepts of Adults LEarners with Technology on my recent book – The Seven Year Education Itch

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