?The attributes of the learners and how they can help the learners to be successful in an online learning environment Education of children is compulsory, formal and standardized. Adult learning is voluntary and intentional. The purpose of adult education is the independent self-directed learner. Adults tend to resist a learning process which is incongruent with their self-concept as autonomous individuals and does not correspond to their needs and interests. Adults focus on direct application.
Given their daily duty in job, profession, family and community, they learn to cope with the pressures and problems of life they are facing.
For that reason, the adult educator’s concern is primarily focused on the needs and interests of the learners. “Andragogy (adult education) calls for program builders and teachers who are person-centered, who don’t teach subject matter but rather help persons learn” (Knowles). Hence, the interests of adults are their real needs. Or the solutions learners have in mind do not solve their problems.
The adult educator often has to register into a “needs negotiation” (Bhola) with learners when teaching new needs about boiled water or a balanced diet, about clean surroundings, preventive health practices or small families. In the dialectical process of needs negotiation the needs as felt by the learners and the needs as seen by the adult educators must be showed together to reach a consensus on the “real” needs. These real needs must agree to the experience of adult learners. If an adult gets the impression that his experience is not being valued he feels turned down as a person.
New learnings take on meaning as adults are able to relate them to their life experience. Experienced adult educators, so, build into the design of their learning experiences provision for the learners to plan and rehearse how they are going to apply their learnings in their day-to-day lives or duties and combine training with transfer and application. A workshop then really can become a workplace where educational materials are produced or evaluation studies are designed. According to Knox’s proficiency theory the learning needs for an adult move upward from life situations and interpersonal communication.
Social expectation motivates and empowers an adult to search for more knowledge, better expertness and more suitable performance. Adult learning is based on experience, on the learners’ own experience and on the experience of others. Learning settings of adults usually have a participatory and collaborative basic part. Adults prefer to meet as equals in small groups to explore outcome and concerns and then to take common action as a result of dialogue and inter-learning by discourse. The group becomes the “learning co-operative”. The group provides the opportunity for inter-learning.
Within the group the teacher as well as the other group members plays the task of facilitators. All group members become “co-agents” (Bhola) in learning. The absence of formal accreditation or certification facilitates collaboration not only on a specific product or outcome but even in structuring and restructuring the learning process according to the needs and interests of the group. The learning process becomes as important as the learning outcome, and a balance between both is often not easy to maintain. How much freedom can actually be given to the adult learner in choice of content and way?
Adult learning is life-centered. It is learning by doing, by application and experience, and if need be by trial and error. Adults do not simply to get knowledge created by outsiders, but should examine their own reality themselves and make a positive declaration about it. “Praxis” is the focus of effective adult learning and praxis means analysis and examination of reality in order to transform it. Adult learning is without interval process of investigation and exploration followed by proccess of doing something grounded in this exploration, followed by reflection on this action, leading to further investigation and so on.
The principle is testing not “banking” (P. Freire) of knowledge. Exploration of new opinion, skills and knowledge take place in the context of the learners’ experience. In settings where skills are being learned, learners become acquainted with skills, apply these in real life settings, redefine hoe these skills may be altered by context, re-apply these in other settings and so on. Adults explained the meaning of ideas, skills and knowledge through the medium of their life-experience and test them in real life settings.
To make the learner self-directed is the intention of adult education. But the self-directed learner is neither the one who can retrieve information or locate resources nor the one who appears in group dynamics. The “inner-directed, self-operating learner” (R. Kidd) is the one who reflects critically on his own assumptions and is keen to find alternative and better solutions. The learning process contributes largely to the success of learning. But learning is more than just the learning process. A participative learning process which fails to assist the learners in acquiring knowledge and competence is a failure.
A participative learning process may take more time because it means active involvement of everybody, discussing all the pro’s and con’s, despite that it must lead to concrete results combining commitment with competence. Education is, as Brookfield points out a “transactional encounters”. That means that the sole responsibility for determining curricula or for selecting appropriate methods does not rest either with the educator or with the learner.
If the first acquires, then we have an authoritarian style and a one-way transmission of knowledge and skills. If curricula, methods and evaluative criteria become predetermined solely by what learners say they want, then the “cafeteria approach” governs the educational process. Accepting the felt needs logical basis without any further inquiry and needs negotiation means that the facilitator has to give up responsibility for the learning process and the accomplishment of learning aims and objectives.
Successful learning especially in workshop settings means to keep the balance between the learning process and the learning outcome so that the results justify the efforts and if they are not excellent they should be at least and always “good enough”. Successful distance learners are self-motivated, self-reliant and self – disciplined. Distance learning students are the architects of their own learning surrounding, have the ability to manage their study time and schedule. Students can often customize their learning projects to fit their personal interests and there is great chance for personal growth and individual academic success.
This requires both internal personal motivation and discipline, and also requires the establishment of a supportive personal learning environment and may require elimination of certain activities to make room for online learning in daily life. Distance learners should be self – sufficient, self-directed individuals. The online environment enables students to learn at their own pace, relieving some of the pressure of traditional seated learning and making learning more enjoyable but requires that the student is able to identify learning goals and objectives and focus their attention accordingly.
Distance learners become independent problem solvers, doing their own research and expanding their lifelong learning skills. This process helps them to grow critical thinking skills and the ability to interpret and synthesize reading materials, articles and research papers with differing points of view and in the process develop their own positions and beliefs about the subject matter. Some computer and Information literacy is necessary for a distance learner. Distance learners should possess a working knowledge of email, the Internet, and basic keyboard skills.
Instructional material within the learning management system will provide all the other skills needed to access and begin the online or distance lesson. Distance learners may be required to develop skills for researching and locating information from several sources and differentiate and assess them for inclusion in distance learning assignments and research projects. Distance learners should be energetic and disciplined managers of their own time. Students must be able to organize and plan their own best study schedule.
While individual learners may prefer a different time of day or times in the week to give up to their distance learning study and projects, it is important to devote time each week to course work and it is vital that the distance learner understand that the same amount of time is involved in distance education courses, and traditional seated courses. The distance learner should assess his or her best time of day for study, either it is early morning or evening, every person has a best time of day for learning and thinking.
A intentional effort must be made to carve out time in the student’s daily schedule for an optimal study time. Study time should not be the time that is left at the end of the day, unless that is the time when the student is most lively and attentive. All learners and especially distance learners need effective communication skills. The particular nature of distance education requires that communication be done in a written format, whether it is email, written assignments or discussion forums, the written word is vital in distance education.
The ability to write clearly and communicate ideas becomes more important since it is the primary means of communication in distance learning. The successful distance learner has a strong sense of responsibility and personal commitment to academic success. Online learning, like many things in life, reaps rewards equal to the energy put into the changes. The independent nature of distance education to insist upon the presence of motivation, and discipline but commitment and follow-through are also vital.