Online education is a way for many adults to return to school. The convenience of being able to attend class from home makes it easier for them to work their course loads around family and job duties. Having knowledge of how adults learn is important for educators and specifically educators in an online program where there are a lot of adults attending. It is also important for the adults who are living them. Adult learning theories are a way to understand the differences adults have when they learn verses children. All people have factors like beliefs, family roles, views of themselves, and personality types playing lead or supporting roles in how they act in the world. These differences cause people to process information differently and learn in individual ways (Cercone, 2008). This paper will look at adult learning theories and some of the tools that educators can use in an online classroom to tailor the experience more appropriately to adult learners. The first article this paper will look at talks about what an adult learner is like and how to translate that to an online classroom. There are things about adult learners that are unique to them and their learning process.
Some of these include: having responsibilities outside of school and learning how to maneuver online. Understanding a few of the main ideas behind andragogy, which is the study of how adults learn, gives educators an idea of how to proceed in building the online classroom. Andragogy was developed by Dr. Knowles and since then learning theories have developed from his ideas. These are: Experiential Learning, Self-directed Learning, and Transformative Learning. These learning theories provide information about how an adult learner will most likely thrive from their education. These tools should be used while keeping in mind that it is most important to try to understand each particular student without grouping all adult learners together (Cercone, 2008). The second article talks about transformative learning theory and more specifically how it affects adults in a Christian online learning environment. The transformation that takes place causes a change in the worldview that the student was previously acting upon. This change would be translated into action in the life of the learner. Providing critical thinking assignments and conversation between students helps encourage transformative learning.
When current beliefs are challenged by biblical principles in a non-threatening way it helps the adult learner to understand what it is they truly believe and why (McEwen, 2012). These two articles both speak about adult learning theory and how it relates to adults in the education environment. The first article goes into great detail about the general things an educator needs to know about who adult learners are and then talks about adult learning theories that compliment while relating it to the online environment. The second article talks specifically about one of these adult learning theories: transformative learning. They both speak about how important critical thinking is to transformative learning and ways that educators can bring it about in their online classrooms.
In conclusion, adult learning theories are important to understand not just for the producers of online education programs, but also for the adult learner. The more educators understand their students the better their programs will be. A student who understands how they learn best and who recognizes their limitations or possible needs in the online classroom will be much more successful. Looking at adult learning theories and how they pertain to an online Christian classroom is profitable to both educators and students. It allows teachers and program builders to find new and more diverse ways to build their online programs for the adult learner. It also allows the students to see who they are in relation to their learning. They get to learn theorist’s ideas and make connections to their own life. This can only be profitable as an adult continues their education. In looking at some of the things that help adults learn in the first article, there are so many ways to provide learning opportunities for students (Cerkone, 2008). One would be to add critical thinking assignments using community service or current work experiences to classwork. This would make the learning very personal.
This could cause connections to be made by the students that have the potential to cause transformational learning. It allows the learner to make more choices regarding their learning and thus feel that they are a bigger part of their course. It also allows them to use something they are already capable in as a part of the class. Confidence can be an issue with adult learners, so this would help them gain that (Cerkone, 2008). It could be done at their job by using critical thinking questions and observation and engaging in discussion with colleagues or clients if appropriate. By looking at a current job in a new way and in particular as a way to serve God would be very beneficial. The community service projects could be done at church or in their child’s school or some other capacity that they are already currently involved.
This type of addition to an online class lends itself to reflection of new experiences or ones that the students would have had anyway, but would not have looked critically at. These experiences could be used in reflective writings and sharing opportunities with other classmates. Mastering material and being able to make personal connections to course work through their own experiences can help to make the experience very rewarding. In a Christian program the highest objective would be to bring a student’s thinking in line with Christ’s. Christians often have a worldview that has picked up opinions and beliefs from the society they live (Weider &Gutierrez, 2011). A Christian education program should provide Opportunities for opportunities to examine those things. Until Christian adults start to realize that some of the ideas and beliefs they hold do not line up with a biblical worldview they would not see the need to look at them or change their behavior. Transformative learning in the online classroom can occur in adults in many ways. One of the strongest tools that can be used is critical thinking exercises. This can be done successfully through a discussion board.
It can be unsettling to question whether some of the beliefs they have acted on during their lifetime do not line up with a biblical worldview. The online classroom gives students a little more anonymity and a safer feeling about discussing their beliefs (McEwen, 2008). Questions asked in online discussion board posts are ways to cause a lot of inner-reflection and can help people question what it is they truly believe and why. The great thing about discussion boards is that no one will answer these questions the same way. Reading the posts of others is a great way to see their opinions and where they may be coming from in regards to the questions asked, but having to formulate a reply is even better. It is a way to have to critically look at the connections someone else has made that may be different. In looking at adult learning theory and specifically the two articles discussed in this paper it is obvious that all learning theories can intersect. There are so many factors when individuals are involved. No two people are alike and so, no two people will have the same learning needs.
By providing adults diverse ways to learn material and by thoughtfully providing course work that can give the greatest opportunity for examination of prior beliefs an online education program can be very successful. There are many questions that they have to ask themselves before and during their online courses. In the beginning they have to weigh the benefits and downsides to spending time and money on school. They wonder if they will be able to traverse the online classroom successfully and be able to do college level work. Using learning theories as a basis for classwork can help create that success. The online classroom is a place filled with opportunity for adults. There is so much that depends on the student putting the time and effort in to get the most out of the program. As adults going back to school the commitment has to be of great value or it is not worth the time and effort. Being able to discover more about themselves and how they see the world is a worthwhile and necessary process.
Cercone, K. (2008). Characteristics of Adult Learners With Implications For
Online Learning Design, AACE Journal, 16(2), 137-159
Gutierrez, B. & Weider, L. (2011). Consider. Virginia Beach, VA: Academx Publishing Services, Inc.
Mcewen, R. (2012). Learning That Transforms: For The Sake Of His Kingdom, CEJ: Series 3, vol. 9, No. 2