Recently I attended the US Distance Learning Conference in lovely St. Louis, MO. Despite the face that our University is just beginning to offer full programs online (starting May 7, 2012), I didn’t feel out of touch with what is going on in the industry. I am not sure that we (meaning the course designers and developers) are taking full advantage of the technological changes that have occurred in the past few years. As Mark Milliron, Chancellor of WGU Texas, mentioned in the opening keynote, we are all too comfortable with the tried and true [my paraphrase]. It makes me think of the invention of TV (no, I am not old enough to have been here for that one). Early TV productions were in many ways similar to plays, but filmed. No one was taking advantage of the new medium’s capabilities. Even now, we have e-book readers, devices dedicated to reading a manuscript on a mobile electronic device. The pages are white and the text is black. You flip through the pages like turning the pages of a book. How long does it take before we can think beyond the comfortable, familiar paradigm? And so it is with eLearning in many ways.
So many online courses are created by moving all of the face-to-face content into an online format. The only creativity used is in which pieces of content fit in which tool. Maybe someone has the bright idea to make some of the content into a voice over powerpoint and then there is an online quiz at the end or maybe the required paper submitted to a dropbox to assess student learning.
But, despite my lengthy rant already, this is not about all of the current issues with online courses, rather I wanted to write about Adult Learning Theory. It seems that with new “inventions” of things such as online learning, academics feel the need to re-visit theories to support the how’s and the why’s of getting things done. Really the most valuable session I attended, presented by Renee Aitken of North Central University, was one questioning the need to address Adult, or non-traditional, learners any differently from traditional learners. The most striking difference between the two populations is age, which really doesn’t affect how they learn. The different populations may need different student services but not different learning. we all need a personalized approach to learning so that we can move at our own paces and we need various modalities to keep us engaged and active in our process. We all need a chance to apply our learning and a bit of guidance, some need more than others here, but we don’t need different approaches. The sooner we can get to this, the better for all of us.
Traditional and non-traditional learners are all consumers of our products. Like it or not, success in the education industry depends on the basic economics of the learning industry.