At the present, demand for higher education has continued to rise especially in the case of adult learners who perceive added credentials in education as a stepping-stone towards a better position and a more fulfilling career. Suffice it to say there are many means of continued education that these learners can choose from such as traditional classroom environments, online learning modules, or even blended learning options. However, it should be noted that despite the ubiquitous means of obtaining an advanced degree in a particular field of study, it couldn’t be stated that face-to-face learning environments or methods of online instruction are equal and interchangeable. One of the primary reasons for which virtual learning environment (VLE) through online learning portals was created was to address the issue of the need for autonomy and freedom for students who had to deal with the pressures of everyday living such as work, family, and other personal factors.
However, online lessons lack the dynamism found in the face-to-face learning environment and, at times, adult learners find the lack of direct human interaction to be discouraging resulting in a greater likelihood to drop out of the online course due to a lack of interest. On the other end of the spectrum, traditional classroom environments provide the needed dynamism and face-to-face interaction that is desired by adult learners. However, in this instance, the fixed schedules and amount of coursework that needs to be internalized within a particular timeframe causes considerable problems for adult learners due to the subsequent interference with their work/life balance. Due to this, this paper postulates that a new model of education needs to be developed that utilizes positive aspects of both traditional, blended learning and online learning environments to create a better and more effective method of teaching adult learners. It is anticipated that through such a model educational institutions will be able to address the various problems that have been indicated so far resulting in better programs and learners that are more motivated to learn and complete their respective advanced degrees.
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this research is to determine the extent to which adult learners are affected by the constraints of time and motivation to complete classes in the “real world” classroom and the virtual learning environment. It will attempt to clarify how best to address these concerns and how instructors can best utilize the students’ strengths while addressing their difficulties with these two differing issues.
Today’s adult learners are faced with several choices when planning continuing education. Classes are offered in two major modalities, either face-to-face, traditional classes, or online instruction, or e-learning. They face challenges in both of these situations, but what difficulties they face, and how they go about addressing them are different for the two different modalities of instruction. This research is going to explore the specific issues of motivation and time constraints, and how the adult learners cope with these within each modality.
Adult learners can bring a variety of strengths to the classroom. They are often more experienced, both in their life-world and in the workplace. They are familiar with responsibilities and obligations and therefore may be better equipped to meet deadlines and fulfill class commitments. They also have a greater sense of what to expect at the workplace and what future employers may look for in an employee. However, many of them may have been out of the classroom for a while. Techniques and teaching methods may have changed since they were in school, or they may not have been good students before and so dropped out of college. They also may be less inclined to get involved with the entire “college experience” as a more traditionally aged student due to family and work commitments. By finding “what works” for this growing student population, both students, colleges, and teachers can benefit. The students will experience greater academic success if their needs are met, and the colleges in turn can benefit through better retention and an increase in graduation rates. Instructors, in turn, will be able to create a more successful learning environment for their students.
By identifying the constraints of adapting to a new environment, strategies can be developed to maximize the success of the adult learner. These should seek to accommodate the differing needs of adult learners in both face-to-face and e-learning. Research on these issues should reveal some common strong points and needs that many adult learners share.
- Are there any necessary differences between online and f2f learning?
- If so, how do these affect the learner?
- Do adult learners have different needs?
- Do those different needs have any relationship with the differences found between online and f2f modes of learning?
- Would the learning experience be improved if identified needs were matched with affordances of the mode?
- How would these improvements in learning be measured [Please, discuss this issue under a new subtitle (pls. find an appropriate place for it. The literature is listed at the beginning of comment 43 of the Instr. Comments file]
An Overview of the Research Methodology
This research hopes to uncover distinct patterns of adult learners’ affordances and constraints and attempts to answer how these can be used to increase the success of the learners. It will also chart differences between online classes and face-to-face instruction in their ability to provide a rich and rewarding learning experience for adult learners. In examining these differences, the factors of time and motivational constraints will be considered. It will seek to provide a model that can address the current gaps between available resources and student needs. The intended synthesis of recent research will focus on interpretations, charts, and models of current learner constraints. The research will be conducted in the following ways:
- by analyzing previous studies on the topic of adult learners to track themes and patterns in learning.
- by consulting literature on adult learning to correlate and tabulate relevant teaching methodologies.
- by synthesizing personal experience and the findings from previous researches
- by comparing personal experience with the literary experience and by juxtaposing these two experiences give the full weight of the new consolidated model for teaching adults
Utilizing a Qualitative Research Methodology
What is Qualitative Research?
Merriam (2009) in her book “Qualitative Research: A Guide to Design and Implementation” explains that qualitative research is a type of exploratory research in that it tries to examine and explain particular aspects of a scenario through an in-depth method of examination (Merriam 2009, 3-21). While it applies to numerous disciplines, it is normally applied to instances that attempt to explain human behavior and the varying factors that influence and govern such behaviors into forming what they are at the present (Merriam 2009, 3-21). Thus, it can be stated that qualitative research focuses more on exploring various aspects of an issue, developing an understanding of phenomena within an appropriate context, and answering questions inherent to the issue being examined. This makes it an ideal research method to be utilized in this study since it would enable the researcher to examine the differing needs of adult learners in both face-to-face and e-learning. The following are the possible qualitative research methods that will be utilized in this study:
Despite the effective methodology shown by the Schussler (2005) study, another possible method of qualitative research would be to rely almost entirely on document analysis. As explained by Merriam (2009), a research study that relies almost entirely on academic literature without other methods of external data collection runs the risk of being confined primarily to the results exhibited by the research studies utilized (Merriam 2009, pp 135-165). This can result in a study that is severely constrained in terms of the number of factors that it is capable of encompassing especially in situations where the research subject that is being examined is focused on a narrowly specific topic (Merriam 2009, pp 135-165). On the other hand, relying purely on academic literature to investigate a particular study does have its advantages since it reduces the amount of time needed during the initial stages of preliminary research. It enables the researcher to more effectively justify the results presented by indicating that they had already been verified by previous researchers (Merriam 2009, pp 135-165). It is based on this that this research project will primarily focus on document-based research as the method of examination for this study.
The primary limitation of this study is that it relies on document-based research as the source for all the information and views that will be presented. The use of other methods of research and analysis such as a survey, narrative analysis, or other forms of research will be eschewed in favor of focusing entirely on the collected data and results of other researchers. Merriam (2009) elaborates on document-based research by stating that the document-based method of analysis primarily concerns itself with an examination of various academic texts to conclude a particular topic (Merriam 2009, pp 139-165). While each method of analysis does have its level of strengths such as in the case of a narrative analysis that enables a researcher to utilize learning and adaptation approaches to examine various types of data, it should be noted that document analysis is far easier to do and has a higher degree of academic veracity as compared to narrative-based research which can often result in mistaken conclusions (Merriam 2009, pp 32-165).
Another limitation of the research in this paper is that it focuses primarily on adult learners that are working either full-time or part-time. Such a choice was made due to the desire of the researcher to focus on the problems adult learners encounter, such as motivation, when pursuing advanced education degrees. Studies such as those by Kimmel et al. (2012) which have examined the churn rates of adult learners in various colleges within the U.S. indicate that full time or part-time workers who are attempting to continue their studies often find it more difficult to find a motivating aspect in completing their studies due to a variety of external concerns (i.e. earning a living, supporting their family, etc.) Kimmel et al. (2012) explain that it is erroneous to consider that full-time adult learners (i.e. students who have chosen to continue their studies immediately after obtaining their undergraduate degree or have chosen continued education instead of getting a job) have the same factors that motivate them to learn. This research study thus takes into consideration constraints on their daily schedule such as having a job, family and other similar constraining factors that are present among adult learners yet are largely absent among undergraduate students or continuing education students who rely on their parents or other sources of funds for financial support and assistance.
The Problem of Motivation and Control
In the current age of widespread and readily accessible education, it must be questioned whether in the pursuit of making education more accessible various academic institutions have neglected to focus on making lessons more viable in terms of motivating students to learn instead of making it easier for them to obtain a degree. Institutions vie for attendance numbers, graduation rates, and job placements each of which translates into dollars – both from government funding sources and from the students themselves. Adult learners in both traditional classrooms and online classes tend to have the perception of themselves “more as ‘customers’ than traditional students” (Rankin, 2002, 145) i.e. the product they are buying is their education. This view comes with maturity and the fact that they have selected to attend classes and the mode in which they will attend. Colleges are increasingly in a position to sell a product – learning – and likewise, students are increasingly in the position of the consumer. How that is changing the learning environment can be either “a boon or a bust” for the adult learner. Newer, cutting edge technology is opening up opportunities for both traditional classroom instruction and a variety of online and computer-based learning opportunities, but all this choice is still not a guarantee of success for the adult learner.
At the present, online learning has become a popular method of continuing education for adult learners due to the manner in which it is easily accessible, affordable and allows adult students to have greater control over their learning experience. Studies such as those by Odrakiewicz (2010) show that many of today’s professionals in multiple industries find it harder to take advanced education classes at local colleges and universities due to the commitments they have with their jobs and daily lives. Online learning environments help to resolve such issues by providing a means for them to take classes at their own pace, thereby allowing them to easily incorporate it into their daily schedule. Such a process is normally not possible in traditional face-to-face learning environments that work on set schedules. The main limitation though of online learning environments is that the process of clarification and feedback is often more tedious, impersonal, and lacking in what Rose (2010) describes as a more “personal touch” on the part of the teacher.
It is normally the case that while some classes are scheduled for 3 to 4 hours per week within a given semester, it is expected that students spend more time outside of the class internalizing the lessons presented through an analysis of recommended literature that is found in the course syllabus. This is a common educational practice and results in a broader understanding of a topic outside of the limited time frame of an average class discussion. The process of clarification and feedback, in this case, involves students encountering an idea, concept, or theory that they are unfamiliar with or is confusing (a common occurrence in most lessons) and, as such, it is normal for them to seek clarification by simply asking the teacher the next time they encounter them or bring the topic up during a class discussion when a teacher asks if any clarifications are needed (another common occurrence in various lesson plans). It is during this exchange that the feedback mechanism goes into effect wherein the teacher utilizes their understanding of the topic being brought up to help clarify it in a way that can be easily understood and internalized by the student (Su et al., 2010) t.
While such a method does also occur in the case of online learning environments via the messaging system, one problem with it lies in both the delay in the response, how the lesson plan is progressing as well as the attention span of the student towards the concept/idea that they requested clarification on. ((Su et al. (2010) through their experience in teaching online lessons explains that due to the sheer amount of inquiries and emails as well as other work that he has to take care of daily, it is actually normal for a significant delay in a response to occur. It is at this point that the period in which a student is motivated to learn more about a topic has elapsed due to the delay in response which leads to instances of de-motivation. It is based on this that this paper will explain in more detail in the succeeding sections, online learning environments cannot be considered as an effective all-encompassing solution to the educational needs of adult learners. Studies such as those by Smith (2008) indicate that the current flaw in online learning lies in its very nature wherein it sacrifices personal interaction with teachers and other students, as seen in the previous section involving instances of clarification and feedback, in favor of personal freedom and allowing students to set their schedules.
Smith (2008) explains that teachers serve not only as dispensers of academic information but as a means of guiding and encouraging students to finish the course. Such actions, Smith asserts, combined with the social setting of traditional classroom environments, act as motivating factors for students to take a more active interest in a course and to see it through till the end. In the case of online learning environments, they are bereft of both the social setting and the direct interaction between teachers and students, which may result in a lack of encouragement. Smith (2008) states that “just as online learning makes it easy for adults to transition into advanced education courses, the process makes it just as easy for them to transition out of it”. Halvorson, Crittenden & Pitt (2011) also state that traditional classroom environments and their f2f (face-to-face) setting help to instill a feeling of “obligation” on the part of adult learners to finish the course since they interact with the professor constantly, which leads to a point where they feel more “invested” into the learning process resulting in a greater likelihood of completing the course.
This dynamism creates a greater degree of interactivity which studies such as Zapatero, Maheshwari & Chen (2012) state is more “mentally appealing” (i.e. creates a greater degree of interest) as compared to online learning environments. Zapatero, Maheshwari & Chen (2012) elaborate more on this issue by explaining that while online learning can present the same type of lesson as a traditional classroom environment, research into how interest in the subject is developed on a per-student basis shows that adult learners who study through online learning do not develop the same level of interest and motivation as their traditional learning environment counterparts. While there are some exceptions on a case-to-case basis, Cahoon et al. (2011) explain that in most cases interest in a particular lesson is determined by the level of motivation one has for the course and this is connected to how it is presented.
When it comes to the best type of situation, one size truly does not fit all; what brings success and empowerment to one may be the downfall of another. Adult learners encounter a variety of challenges and issues in the classroom, regardless of which modality that class is offered. They are often faced with several issues occurring at the same time, which place constraints on their learning such as personal issues, social situations, and even the learning environments themselves. Some of the largest personal factors faced by these students are the amount of expendable time available and their motivation level.
Time constraints are the reasons adults cite most for not being able to undertake to learn” (Beyond Rhetoric, 2003, 5). The problems are compounded by the number of other commitments that are being faced. “Reflecting work and family commitments, it is difficult to find time to engage in learning courses, especially for those unconvinced of the benefits of learning” (Beyond Rhetoric, 2003,5). “Even were that not the case, constraints on the availability of tutors, and even the number of working hours in a day, will, at some point, act as a barrier to further learning” (Dron, 2007, p. 52). This is a consideration regardless of whether the student is taking classes in a traditional face-to-face classroom, or in an e-learning environment, such as an online class or other distance learning or blended learning model.
“The additional flexibility and assumed freedom allowed through online learning require increased responsibility on the part of the adult learner to meet deadlines and stay on top of assignments without face-to-face interaction” (Rankin, 2002, 143). To help the learner be successful, these online classrooms should be well designed; the site should present an organized vision, showing a natural progression of coursework and activities from beginning to end. If students know what to expect right from the start, they can organize their own time better to complete necessary tasks (Rankin, 2002, 143).
More often than not, the working adult students will not only have academic demands, but they will also be under pressure to meet work deadlines and family obligations (Rankin, 2002, 143). In a study conducted by Kim (2005), students who were not successful in completing online courses were surveyed. Despite the beliefs of instructors, some of the students self-reported, “they did not complete the self-directed e-learning course although they intended to in the beginning. Lack of motivational quality in the e-learning course was a key factor for some learners who decided not to complete the course, followed by lack of time.” (Kim, 2005, 127). Also, “the learner’s level of satisfaction with learning has a paramount impact on his or her continuing motivation. The learner’s perceived control also seems to have a positive influence on his or her continuing motivation” (Kim, 2006, 14). This seems to be one of the strongest predictors of student success. There can be intrinsic or extrinsic motivational factors (Kim, 2006, 14). Coupled with student’s idiosyncrasy, they can either motivate a student to succeed or be an indicator of failure.
Paradoxically, those adult students whose needs are the greatest are often the very people that aren’t motivated to go beyond where they currently are. “Many low educated or low-skilled individuals believe their skills are good or excellent and thus do not see any need to improve” (Beyond Rhetoric, 2003, 5). These individuals, if they do enter a learning scenario, may lack the intrinsic motivation that will help them to persist in attaining their goals. It is also important to make “a distinction between persistence and continuing motivation… persistence is inferred when a person keeps on working on a task, whereas continuing motivation refers to a person returning to a task despite an interruption of the task”. (Kim, 2005, 13), Thus, an unmotivated learner will not continue to come to class even if it is in a traditional face-to-face setting.
It may be even more difficult to keep these under-motivated learners involved in online classes. “… to require learning in the absence of any motivation has to be self-defeating, because it ruins the experience of learning” (Jen-Louis, 1988). Kim states, “continuing motivation and intrinsic motivation are the most significant constructs for learners of computer-assisted instruction” (2005, 11). In other words, these two factors are good predictors of success. “Learners with high self-confidence tend to demonstrate high persistence in a task regardless of their goal orientation. However, those with low self-confidence tend to avoid challenges and will likely quit rather than persist in the task” (Kim, 2005, 14). Because so much of the student’s learning is sell-directed in online classes, these are most difficult for the less motivated learner or the one whose motivation diminishes over time.
Dron found when formulating a study that “it became more obvious that not all learners need or desire the same degree of help from teachers, it became apparent that the research question was how to get the right balance between giving independent learners [support].., while, at the same time, not asserting such control that we impede the learner or reduce learners’ capacity to self-management, or indeed de-motivate them” (Dron, 2007,6). The adult learner walks a fine line between autonomy and the need for direction. To provide one or the other in insufficient quantity can be discouraging and act as a barrier rather than a bridge to student success. “Learners with mastery goals tend to focus on achieving mastery; they are willing to accomplish something challenging and to gain understanding or insight from the tasks…. Therefore, the mastery-goal orientation is more likely to foster intrinsic motivation of the learner” (Kim, 2005, 12). The role of the intuition and ultimately the instructor is therefore becoming two-fold; they must not only instruct, or teach the students, but also find the ways of successfully motivating them.
E-learning contains many positive elements for the motivated and self-directed (italics mine) adult learner: convenience and flexibility offered by the “anytime, anywhere” accessibility, (Richardson-Swan, 2003). But these could also translate to negatives because of diminishing motivation. Several considerations should be deliberated when designing online courses for the adult learner. This can come in the form of implementing methods of ‘gamification’ into the lesson design wherein students through competitive play gradually develop a sense of control, greater interest, as well as feeling of being ‘connected’ to the subject matter (Cohen, 2011. Italics mine). However, the implementation of these motivating factors does not come without the potential for problems to arise.
Sometimes the same factor can add or detract depending on the individual learner. An absence of external motivators is one of these in the case of e-learning situations: the absence of social interaction and external motivators might have a more significant influence on students in colleges or universities than on working professionals in terms of motivation to persist in self-directed e-learning” (Kim, 2005, 129). The lack of physical presence in the e-learning course can be disquieting to some learners, while others are glad of the distance and autonomy this offers. ‘Findings… suggest that the learner’s motivational level is likely to increase when the e-learning course is designed in a way that is relevant to the learner, has multimedia components and hands-on activities, simulates real-world situations, provides feedback on the learner’s performance, and provides easy navigation on its course Web site (Kim, 2005, 133).
Finally, there should be considerations given to how much information the learners are given before entering the classroom. Adult students are often only familiar with traditional f2f classrooms. It is easy to recognize how much time it will require to be spent, at least in the classroom, when the student has the class scheduled at a specific time of day on specified days of the week. It becomes more difficult to manage study time when the class is online and the student is required to plan their time for the class and balance it against the aforementioned demands of family and work.
Adult learners encounter a variety of challenges and issues in the classroom. “In an educational transaction, there may be constraints imposed by a vast range of things, such as the subject matter, available space and/or time, degree of initial knowledge, personal preference, the weather or even the laws of grammar” (Dron, 2007, p. 45). The adult learner is faced with many constraints on their learning; personal issues, social situations, and even the learning environments themselves. These constraints can either restrict the learning, or they can provide direction to the learner. The focus of this research will be to examine previous research to determine the affordances and constraints of adult education in existing physical, face-to-face learning environments and e-learning or virtual classrooms.
One of the greatest positive constraints the adult learner brings to either a classroom situation or an e-learning environment is a focus of purpose. The adult learner often has a clear goal and purpose on entering (or re-entering) school; job requirements, changes in employment situations, or simply the desire for a better position bring many adults back into the modern classroom. As Dron states, “Where learners perceive a need that is fulfilled by their learning beyond the current application, their approach to learning is different, more focused and intense” (2007, p. 50). Simply stated the learner who feels that the learning fulfills a need or purpose will approach that learning with more energy and focus than one who sees no need for it.
To an adult learner, one of the greatest negative factors that constrain learning is time. When an adult leaves the workforce to become a student, he/she cannot leave behind the family, house, and personal obligations. There are not enough hours in a day to meet work deadlines, maintain household chores, repairs, etc., and attend to children’s needs. It is based on this that it can be seen that the concept of “control” is an important facilitator of student motivation among adult learners since the more they feel they are “in control” the more likely they are of developing more motivation.
However, when the student feels empowered in a given situation, it makes a difference in their attitude whether or not they take the opportunity to make the change or not. The student can feel more empowered when they can make choices concerning how and when they will learn. Even if they do not exercise these options, just having them can make a difference in the student’s motivation to finish a course. The control they knew that they were able to exert [over a situation] was enough to make a difference” (Dron, 2007, p. 49) in how they approached the situation.
Adult students have the choice to attend face-to-face classes during the day or in the evening, but having a family can constrain their research and extension efforts. Assuming the children are of school age, day classes are easier, but illness, days off from school and bad weather can all restrict the time the learner can spend in the classroom. If the children are not school age, then daycare becomes a constraint. Finding reliable daycare, and paying for it, can be difficult. Granted this is partly more of a financial constraint than a time, but it comes down to the same thing. If the student cannot either find or pay for daycare, he/she will not be in class.
While the constraints imposed by a lack of reliable transportation can be alleviated by e-classes, the constraints of time and abilities can still be present. “It would be easy to claim that we were merely constrained by space”. If learning could be made easier by simply changing the time and place that classes are offered, or by giving more options to the learner, everyone would be guaranteed success. However, “engagement with learning requires motivation and a desire to learn” (Dron, 2007, p. 53). Additionally, if the student doesn’t have experience with computers and other technologies, they are constrained by their lack of knowledge no matter how motivated they are to learn.
Some constraints to e-learning can also be a lack of proper technology as well as the knowledge of how to use it. “Unlike the real environment, the virtual space is not limited to a particular group at a particular place and time” (Dron, 2007, p. 55), but it can be limited by income and life circumstances. When the adult returns to school, many luxury items may have to be trimmed from the budget; internet access is often one of the first cuts to be made. Income can further constrain the student since computers are not cheap and many families have never even owned one, or if they do, it may be outdated and prone to breaking down. On the other hand, it should be noted that the reduced costs in other areas such as course fees, travel and accommodation may at the very least balance this equation.
Studies such as those by Geçer (2013) have shown that adult learners have an assortment of problems with present-day teaching models and, as such, it is necessary to develop a new model that creates a learning environment that is more conducive towards the needs of this particular group of individuals (Geçer, 2013). Before proceeding, it is important to note that the study of Kraft (2007), which delves into analyzing the different levels of learning for adults, teen, and adolescent learners alike, asserts that it is the motivation behind learning that influences a learner, and at times it is the very environment that they are exposed to that either promotes motivation or reduces it (Kraft, 2007). Kraft (2007) explains in his study that initially students, when presented with a particular subject in a new learning environment, have high levels of motivation resulting in the desire to internalize what they are learning. However, over time this level of motivation is influenced by outside factors such as their personal affairs: family, friends, hobbies, etc.
In his examination, Kraft (2007) focused on the learning environment within the context of the school/training institute itself (private and public) due to the plethora of outside factors that would be too difficult to analyze. What Kraft (2007) discovered was that the militaristic method of teaching found in public schools resulted in less interest, less motivation, and above all bored students who were taught to memorize rather than analyze the subject they were being taught. This differed greatly from his analysis of the private school system where deep introspection, critical thinking, and analysis were the focal point of the learning environment. The private school teaching environment produced more attentive and more motivated students resulting in students with better grades and critical thinking levels as compared to their public school counterparts. This example shows how motivation can be impacted by the learning environment. Not dissimilar to this example, Hao-Chang (2009) explains, the primarily text-based method of e-learning is considered unappealing by some adult learners given the lack of interaction between students and course instructors.
Distance Learning Theory and Adult Education
Distance learning theory is the conceptualization of several freedoms such as that of time, space, pace, medium, access, curriculum, and choice and is considered a better and more efficient method of education to learners since it enables them to choose what to learn when to learn it and how they can do so. This goes completely against the traditional model of education wherein learning is based on a set time, curriculum, and under the auspices of a teacher. For Paulsen (1993) CMC directed learning can be considered a method of industrialized learning to the effect that it can be mass-produced easily given that the medium of communication it espouses is primarily text-based (Paulsen, 1993). The inherent issue with traditional methods of education that distance learning resolves is that it takes into consideration the need for freedom by adult learners.
It specifically states that a more flexible method of education is needed to accommodate the varied activities that an adult learner has in his/her life (i.e. family, career hobbies, etc.). On the other hand, it should be noted that while distance-learning theory incorporates autonomy, flexibility, and above all freedom in its design, it neglects to delve into the quality of the programs it advocates. There is little mention of the fact that studies such as those by Dzakiria (2008) indicate that some distance learning programs are far too condensed and lack the dynamism that traditional classroom environments have (Dzakiria, 2008). As such, while there is flexibility, Dzakiria (2008) questions whether there is a sufficient level of actual learning within CMC programs given that it is more akin to militaristic rote learning which various studies have shown lacks the development of creative thinking (Dzakiria, 2008).
On the other hand, other literary sources on distance learning initiatives through online initiatives such as those by Dominguez et al. (2009) and Klaus & Changchit (2009) clearly show that the concepts depicted by Dzakiria may not be necessarily true. Dominguez et al. (2009) and Klaus & Changchit (2009) show how many distance learning platforms today integrate a more “liberal” method of learning wherein learners are taught to think more critically, focus on a more in-depth method of learning, and are taught abstract methods of looking at problems through more interaction with the teacher. Examples of this can be seen in various blended learning modules and flipped classroom initiatives which combined distance learning and traditional f2f methods of learning to give students both the freedom to learn at their own pace while enabling them to directly interact with the teacher and students. It should be noted though that studies such as those by Hughes et al. (2007) criticize the promotion of blended and flipped classroom models for adults since, from the perspective of Hughes et al. (2007), they do not truly consider the time and freedom issue associated with the schedules, which most adults face. Hughes et al. (2007) explain that flipped classrooms and other such blended learning initiatives are better served for students who are primarily attending university and college courses, who do not have to deal with jobs or their family.
This is because while they can learn lessons at their own pace online, they still have to attend classes under a fixed schedule which most adults who have to deal with an assortment of personal and professional issues cannot. Thus, for Hughes et al. (2007), flipped classrooms, blended learning initiatives and f2f traditional lessons cannot be considered viable enough for adult learners who need an extensive degree of freedom to properly learn and take the lessons. Other literary sources such as Kwong et al. (2012) support this decision; however, they do state that this still brings up the issue of the learning environment associated with distance learning. Kwong et al. (2012) explain that while online education enables freedom, it is still lacking in what Kwong states “a quality form of education” wherein the immediate sharing of ideas and the “social setting” found in f2f, blended and flipped classroom initiatives can be seen. Kwong even goes on to state that distance learning is more of a “paper mill” which is lacking in the development of students who have the necessary skills and potential to apply what they have learned.
Epstein (2002) contradicts this by stating that learning is still entirely based on a student’s inherent willingness to learn and that distance learning merely provides a more convenient method of doing so. From a certain perspective, it can be seen that the arguments presented by Epstein (2002) are that students or even teachers should not expect the same quality or level of treatment in every single model of education and that f2f, online, flipped and blended learning models all have their positives and negatives. It is based on this that Epstein states that the concept of an “ideal method of learning” for adults is fallacious given the various needs and results each type of learning has on adults with their unique situations. Rather, what educators must focus on is the development of a learning strategy that encourages students to learn regardless of the model of education utilized. Thus, it can be seen that the focus of Epstein is on intrinsic motivational factors which encourage adult learners to learn on their own with online learning environments providing the most convenient and cost-effective way of doing so as opposed to the views of Hughes et al. (2007) and Kwong et al. (2012), which focus more on the learning environment as the means of motivating adult learners to study.
In this section, the researcher examines various factors related to self-determination, motivation, and present-day teaching models to suggest a new teaching model that will help to address the issues related to adult learning that were mentioned at the start of this paper. To accomplish this, the researcher will examine aspects related to distance learning, the traditional f2f classroom model and the flipped classroom model, and the various theoretical underpinnings related to self-determination and motivation that are associated with these models. Such a method of the examination will be able to yield enough information that will act as the basis of the proposed COMPTA model.
Self Determination Theory and Adult Learning
Based on the work of Deci and Ryan (2008), self-determination theory can be considered a set of intrinsic and extrinsic motivational factors that influence an individual’s ability to accomplish a particular set of tasks. In the case of this study, this encompasses an adult learner’s capacity to initiate and complete an advanced educational degree within an educational institution of their choice (Deci & Ryan, 2008). Deci and Ryan (2008) explain that each individual has a different set of motivating factors that influence their behaviors or activities (Deci and Ryan, 2008). As such, when applying this in the case of advanced education one must look at intrinsic and extrinsic motivational factors that impact an individual’s decision-making and motivational processes. Extrinsic methods of motivation can be described as an external motivating factor that provides satisfaction over the completion of a task in the form of a reward or pleasure at its completion. For adult learners, this comes in the form of higher incomes from having advanced degrees, the feeling of accomplishment from completing a course, the level of distinction accorded to them due to the possession of masters/doctoral degree as well as a plethora of other factors that can be categorized as a “reward”.
Intrinsic methods of motivation on the other hand are derived from an individual’s pleasure/sense of satisfaction at working at a particular task or, in this case, learning a new course. Adult learners oriented towards intrinsic motivation are categorically different than their extrinsic counterparts since their desire to learn originates not from factors related to external rewards, rather, it is more along the lines of the pleasure, happiness, and joy they derive from learning. This is an important distinction to take into consideration since Deci and Ryan (2008) explains that individual differences in causal orientation impact how people view the means that they will accomplish a particular task (Deci & Ryan, 2008). In the case of traditional, computer-mediated, and blended learning methods of education, self-determination theory suggests that students, adult or otherwise, would view each method of learning in a different way given the varied motivational factors that drive them. In the case of traditional classroom learning environments, the dynamic setting, the constant exchange of ideas, and how a student can interact with and get guidance from a teacher would appeal more to adult learners with distinctly intrinsic levels of motivation. The basis behind this assumption originates from studies such as those by Halvorson et al. (2011) which indicate that traditional classroom environments are still considered the most fulfilling method of learning due to the level of interaction found in them (Halvorson et al., 2011).
One way of better understanding the concept of “personalized communication” can be seen in the study of Gvaramadze (2012), which explains that the teaching process for adult learners does not simply involve a presentation of facts, figures, and lectures to students, rather, it also incorporates aspects of the professor simply talking to the students, sharing his/her experiences and establishing a classroom dialogue where those involved share their own experiences in resolving issues, or in problems they encountered that they have yet to resolve. Such a method of dynamic communication and “story telling” is considered one of the missing components in online learning, (as stated by Gvaramadze (2012) ), wherein the conversations make the learning process more enjoyable since man is considered to be a social creature that enjoys hearing and listening to the stories and personal experiences of other individuals.
Elaborating more on this topic is the study of Paetzold & Melby (2008) which explained that the preference adult learners attributed to traditional classroom environments was not necessarily due to how information was presented but how they were able to learn from the teacher in a manner that seemed like an open conversation. For example, a large percentage of teachers today utilize PowerPoint presentations and email digitized copies of the lectures and notes that the students need to go over to help them internalize the lesson more. However, such a process is no different than what can be seen in the case of online classes and, as such, Paetzold & Melby (2008) explains that there has to be another factor that generates the interest of students in traditional learning environments. Paetzold & Melby (2008) explains that it is how teachers converse with students in an open and dynamic setting that generates interest in the lesson and creates the preference for traditional classroom environments that adult learners have expressed.
On the other end of the spectrum, adult learners that are more inclined towards extrinsic methods of motivation would view advanced education as a means to an end rather than derive a specific amount of joy from actual learning. It is based on this that such individuals would prefer a method of education that is affordable, can accommodate their current time schedules, and would enable them to advance in their respective careers within a reasonable amount of time. For such individuals, computer-mediated learning (i.e. online learning) would be the best choice given its capacity to accommodate varied schedules and allow a degree of autonomy for students. What must be understood is that one of the flaws in the present-day models of teaching lies in their inability to take into consideration different self-determinants, which motivate young and adult learners alike. For example, the study of Sarasvathy, Selvaraja & Gidaiah (2010) which focused on an analysis of different types of students (undergraduates and graduate students alike) showed that there was a wide assortment of factors that motivated their behavior. Graduate students taking up a Masters’s course in subjects such as business management were shown to be motivated by the desire to make themselves more attractive employees for companies and, as such, strove to be more diligent in their academic studies.
Such motivating factors differed greatly from those taking up undergraduate business management courses wherein it was shown that many students were motivated simply by the desire to graduate and did not put too much emphasis on making themselves more appealing to companies (a mistaken assumption on their part). Sarasvathy, Selvaraja & Gidaiah (2010) goes on to state that these different methods of motivation had a distinct impact on the performance of the learner wherein it was shown that adult learners taking up business management were more “driven” as compared to their undergraduate counterparts. The analysis of Cristina, Emanuela & Adriana (2011), which examined aspects of the “drive” depicted by Sarasvathy, Selvaraja & Gidaiah (2010) explains that the self-determinants in each learner (i.e. what motivates them to perform) varies and thus, despite different types of learners (young or adult) being subjected to the same type of teaching model (traditional, online, flipped, etc.), there would be a difference in the types of performance shown.
Cristina, Emanuela & Adriana (2011) further explain that it is due to these differences in motivating factors that numerous studies on the effectiveness of the different models of education have come about which showcase varying information either for or against a particular model. Based on this, it can be assumed that it is the motivating factor that “drives” the learner to perform and not necessarily the type of educational model that is in use that results in better performance. Supporting such a claim are studies from Doering et al. (2008) and Chen, Jones & Moreland (2013) who similarly state that when it comes to learning, current teaching models should be thought of as a facilitator of the learning experience and not how a student will be more motivated to learn. While some types of teaching models make it easier for students with busy schedules to learn, such as the online learning model of education, Doering et al. (2008) and Chen, Jones & Moreland (2013) state that the ease of learning does not translate into immediate motivation. Indeed, it is not the educational model in use that matters; it is how we make use of that model.
One way of potentially addressing this issue would be to either develop a means of assessment to determine what type of learning model would be an appropriate fit or to create a generalized learning model that appeals to both extrinsic and intrinsic motivational factors. The advantage of such a model is that it would help to streamline present-day methods of education in such a way that resources going into multiple models of education (i.e. traditional, online, blended learning) would be consolidated into a single method of learning.
Complexity Theory and Adult Learners
In the article “A Child of Complexity Theory: by Hase and Kenyon (2007), readers are introduced to the term “heutagogy” which concerns itself with the concept of “learners as the major agents of their learning” (Hase and Kenyon, 2007). In essence, complexity theory which is advocated for by Hase and Kenyon (2007), explains that an individual’s personal experiences determine how they internalize and learn new pieces of information and it is based on experiences that each individual tends to learn the same type of lesson in different ways. They state that it is a mistaken belief that teachers can control an individual’s learning experience; instead, a teacher is merely a means of transferring knowledge and skills with the personal experiences of the learner determining how their learning experience is created (Hase and Kenyon, 2007).
It is based on this that Hase and Kenyon (2007) assume that what is necessary for modern-day curricula is not a set standard as determined by the educational institution, rather, what is necessary for the development of a “living” curriculum that centers itself on the experiences of the learner as the key driver towards education. This means that a certain level of adjustment needs to be taken into consideration based on the learner wherein it is under their prerogative that the process of learning is implemented. This can be accomplished by providing them with choices as to the type of method of education they want (i.e. traditional, online, blended learning, etc.) as well as involving them in methods of application that utilize real-life situations to evaluate them based on their unique individual applications of the lessons they have learned.
Based on the views of Hase and Kenyon (2007), the major flaw in present-day methods of education is that they create a “mould”, so to speak, in which students are expected to conform to learn. However, as seen in the case of “heutagogy” this is a major mistake given that an individual’s personal experience dictates the most effective learning method. It is when an individual’s desire for self-directed learning clashes with the set models created by an educational institution that often resulted in them dropping out of the course due to a lack of motivation in completing it since they are not learning in the way that they desire (Hase and Kenyon, 2007). Garrison and Baynton (1987) explain that independence within the learning process can be defined as “the freedom to choose one’s learning objectives, learning activities, and methods of evaluation.
This assumes not only that there are alternatives available but also that the individual is aware of these alternatives and free from coercion regarding their choice”(Garrison and Baynton, 1987). Such a concept is attributable to present-day adult learners who do require a considerable degree of independence in their methods of learning. As it has been revealed in other literary sources that have been examined in this paper thus far, concepts related to autonomy, choice, and the ability to choose how they learn are processes, which are necessary for adult learners to be able to learn within a setting of their choice. The concept of independence by Garrison and Baynton (1987) can be thought of as a manner in which these varied needs are solidified into a distinct whole wherein it can be stated that independence is a major component of the framework necessary for adult learners to obtain an advanced degree.
It is based on this that Handler (2011) explains that instead of promoting one type of teaching model over another, a far better approach would be to focus on the development of self-directed learning initiatives wherein students take it upon themselves to learn based on the actual desire to learn instead of thinking of a lesson as nothing more than a prerequisite to completing a course. Handler (2011) posits that one of the fundamental failures in the present-day system of education is that many students view a subject that they are taking up as a prerequisite to graduation instead of the learning experience that it is. Such a viewpoint, Handler (2011) explains, has an observable and measurable impact on student performance whether in undergraduate or adult learners wherein students that have an actual interest and passion for the subject matter that is being taught show a markedly higher performance as compared to those who view the subject as nothing more than a prerequisite.
For Garrison and Baynton (1987) the concept of power is defined as “the ability or capacity to take part in and assume responsibility for the learning process. Without the requisite intellectual ability, study skills, or motivation to be involved independently in a learning process, the individual cannot be in control of the learning situation. Thus, the individual must have the power to participate in a particular learning experience” (Garrison and Baynton,1987). This particular concept by Garrison and Baynton (1987) presents a previously new notion to the examination of theories for adult learning in that while it emphasizes the desire for learners to assume responsibility for the learning process. It also indicates that their ability to do so is based on their inherent intellectual capacity, study skills, and method of motivation.
A more apt clarification of such a concept is detailed by Garrison and Baynton (1987) in the next section of their article, wherein they state: “If either the intellectual capacity to handle the material or the motivation to perform the learning activities (power) is low or absent, then the degree of control over the learning process is diminished” (Garrison and Baynton, 1987). This notion is applicable to present-day teaching models wherein they can be criticized for providing how an adult learner can be independent but fail to take into consideration their capacity for actually being able to assume control. This means that while various models of education today can provide methods of independence, they cannot gauge whether adult learners possess the intellectual capacity or necessary means of motivation to understand the material outside of a classroom setting. This is an extremely crucial aspect that should not have been neglected, yet is absent at the present in online and blended learning, yet is present in traditional classroom environments.
However, a traditional classroom environment lacks the necessary level of independence sought by adult learners. As such, online and blended learning environments need to have some means of being able to gauge a student’s level of “power” when it comes to independent learning and adjust as necessary. Without this level of adjustment, and providing a “one size fits all” method of education, it is likely that based on the perspective of Garrison and Baynton (1987) an adult learner would lack the necessary intellectual and motivational capacity to internalize the subject matter that they are supposed to study, resulting in either a subpar level of education or the learner dropping out of the course entirely. Other studies such as those by Watson et al. (2008) add to this viewpoint by explaining that what is needed in the case of present-day teaching models is the creation of motivating factors in line with course completion that encourage self-directed learning.
Implementing an educational system where there is a greater level of self-direction would most likely result in higher rates of course completion among adult learners since they would be able to learn in the way that they would be most comfortable with resulting in better long-term performance while completing their respective courses.
Communication and Control
Despite the level of independence, power, and support provided by CMC based methods of education, the final facilitator of control over the process of education is still dependent upon communication between students and the teacher. In this case, communication and control between student and teacher come in the form of setting the learning objectives, course content, the transition between lessons as well as the rapidity in which they are given. All of which are aspects lacking in online or blended learning activities at the present. It is usually in the case of traditional classroom environments that a teacher can adjust the lesson content based on the needs and predilection of the class towards a particular lesson. For adult learners, they require this on an individual level, which cannot be done in traditional classroom settings given the need to address the needs of the entire class rather than one specific student. Such an issue could have been addressed in the case of online and blended learning education. However, such models can be considered more of a “you-take-what-you-can-get” method wherein despite the level of autonomy that they provide, there is little that an adult student can do to adjust the lesson content towards the type of lessons they want to learn and how they learn them. This is due to the structured method in which such lessons are presented as well as the lack of sufficient methods of communication between teachers and students.
As such, it can be seen through Garrison and Baynton’s (1987) concept of control that present-day models of education are lacking in their ability to sufficiently address the needs of adult learners who are predisposed towards independence yet desire to control how they learn. One solution to this problem would be to develop a new model of education that enables learners to effectively communicate their needs to the teacher while at the same time enabling them a degree of independence and power when it comes to their choice on how they choose to learn. However, given the numerous attempts by educators at the present to improve upon the model, the researcher instead will propose a possible path towards proper model development rather than claim that the model utilized is completely usable and error-free.
Adult Education, Interaction and Success in Education
As a direct consequence of the existing state and federal regulations aimed at galvanizing student achievement in various schools, there has been a marked demand to involve all the stakeholders concerned in the attainment of this bottom-line agenda (Regner et al., 2009). Trends, as demonstrated by a meta-analysis of several studies, reveal that parents are increasingly taking a central role in determining how their children succeed in school, a marked departure from previous education methodologies that stressed the central role of teachers in molding the students’ educational experience (DePlanty, Coulter-Kern, & Duchane, 2007; Suarez-Orozco, Onaga, & de Lardemelle, 2010; Zellman & Waterman, 1998). According to Campbell and Verna (2007), an international consensus has evolved among educators that parents, through various active participation strategies, make a major contribution to their children’s education thus resulting in better grades and higher completion rates.
The reason why these studies on childhood education have been brought up is due to the necessity of showing that it is not primarily the teacher or the content that is being taught that acts as the facilitator of success in education, rather it is external factors of encouragement and the concepts of “involvement and interaction” (in this case originating from parents) that creates positive results when it comes to teaching. What this paper is trying to imply when it comes to adult learning is that while the teacher is the facilitator of a student’s education experience in school or online, it is the educational environment (as seen in the example involving parental involvement) that encourages greater levels of learning and performance. Gratton-Lavoie & Stanley (2009) explains that involvement and interaction are important aspects of education, whether for adults or children, since it creates a feeling of interactivity, “belongingness” and instills in them the desire to do better.
One way of looking at this is through the study of Shelley et al. (2008) who delved into adult learning of law, both in traditional and online learning environments and how they perceived the differences in learning environments despite the content being more or less the same. The results of the analysis of Shelley et al., (2008) showed that despite the teacher being the administrator of both the online and traditional classrooms, those who attended the traditional classroom settings stated that they felt more encouraged to learn and complete the course as compared to their online counterparts who stated that while they felt a greater degree of freedom, this also resulted in them neglecting their lessons and forgoing completion of the course due to problems related with their jobs or home life.
Portillo et al. (2013) attempt to explain this divergence, despite the similar content being utilized in both lesson styles, by explaining that a traditional classroom environment is more than just the teacher or the lesson, it is the level of interaction one feels from fellow students as well as the input one gets from the teacher. While adult learners differ significantly from their child counterparts in terms of experience in the lessons that are being taught, there is still a significant level of similarity in terms of educational performance when factors related to encouragement and involvement are put in play. Simply put by Portillo et al. (2013), if there is a lack of encouragement and involvement then this would, of course, impact educational outcomes resulting in poor performance. In this case, instead of parents, Portillo et al. (2013) explain that it is the level of interactivity and involvement that results in the molding of an adult student’s educational experience.
On the other hand, studies such as those by Wu et al. (2008) which examined online learning and adult education showed that online discussions through forums also acted as a means of creating the desire for peer and teacher interaction that students crave. Do note though that while the work of Portillo et al. (2013) stated that online forums help to replicate the “feel” of interactivity this study believes that Wu et al. (2008) was negligent in that an insufficient emphasis was placed on the level of interactivity felt by the students. There was certainly some interactivity through online forum discussions but the Wu et al. (2008) study neglected to determine whether it was at the same level. However, one problem with the traditional classroom model is that it still lacks the level of freedom found in primarily online methods of education. As such, an alternative is necessary that would help to combine the level of interactivity found in traditional classroom environments, which encourage adult learning with the freedoms found in online lessons.
The Flipped Classroom Model
Based on all the data that has been presented so far in this study, it becomes evident that what is necessary in the case of adult learners is the development of a learning model that incorporates both their need for “freedom” in terms of learning at their own pace while simultaneously providing them with a learning environment that is more conducive to the interaction and dynamism which they crave. As such, this section of the study will focus on the flipped classroom model as a potential avenue of approach in resolving the issues in adult education mentioned by this study. As mentioned in the previous section, one of the main issues when it comes to traditional learning environments is that adults simply do not have the time to work and study synchronously.
Thus, it is necessary to create a method of study that takes into consideration the need for autonomy and the inherent time constraints of adult learners in the form of enabling them to learn parts of the course material at their own pace. The flipped classroom model accomplishes this by providing short articles and online recorded video tutorials that the teacher has made to help students understand the initial intricacies of the subject. This type of learning can be done at the student’s leisure within a period. Readings are provided in short snippets with small non-grade impacting quizzes being implemented at the end of each reading session to test a student’s current knowledge regarding the subject they are reading. This, along with the various videos provided by the teacher, helps students to internalize the necessary knowledge regarding the topic before the practice application of the knowledge in interactive courses with the school. The advantage of this method compared to traditional classroom environments consists of the following:
- It enables the teacher to better monitor the progress of students in regards to the lesson content they have completed, which would enable them to determine what to focus on in the analysis portion of the course.
- It provides students with the autonomy they need to balance their education with their personal affairs
- It removes the time constraints that would normally discourage adult learners from progressing in their studies
Other aspects of the flipped classroom model come in the form of implementing online forums for discussion (though it is not implemented in all cases). Strøms, Grøttum & Lycke (2007) have shown how teacher-student interaction and student-student interaction are often sought after by adult learners due to level interactivity and the apparent “social experience” this entails (Strøms, Grøttum & Lycke, 2007). By implementing an online forum where ideas can be shared and commented on, simulates the desired level of interactivity that is sought after by adult learners yet is still capable of presenting them with the autonomy they desire as well.
When comparing the flipped classroom teaching model to other present models, it can be seen that it addresses the deficiencies found in the traditional classroom model as well as the Computer-Mediated Communication model. It promotes a greater level of interactivity while at the same time ensures adult learners gain the needed autonomy. Overall, the flipped classroom model can bring a combined learning model to the doorstep of the adult learners as well as take them on an experiential journey to new professions.
Criticisms against the Flipped Classroom Model
Learning is not a matter of simply sitting down, reading, and absorbing information, rather, students need to become critical assessors of data and be able to add their ideas to it. It is based on this that Goodwin (2013) criticizes the flipped classroom model’s use of videos as a lecture tool as being far more didactic in its approach wherein it follows a more lecture-based philosophy rather than promote critical assessment. Goodwin (2013) points to the interaction in lectures between students and teachers in the traditional f2f classroom environments wherein students can ask for clarification, a more in-depth perspective, or give their inputs regarding the lesson being provided. As a result, lessons are less didactic, more interactive, and create a greater degree of interest. Other studies such as those by Flumerfelt & Green (2013) point to the flipped model of learning as having an inherent flaw in terms of its ability to create academic achievement.
Flumerfelt & Green (2013) points to the book “The Homework Myth” (which the researcher also examined) which showed that there is no long-term correlation between homework that a teacher sends home to a student and actual academic achievement. Flumerfelt & Green (2013) even points out that if a school were to implement a primarily “flipped classroom” based method of teaching, a student would in effect have to spend hours sitting at home watching lecture videos. This, Flumerfelt & Green (2013) points out, is more in line with rote learning and it is doubtful that it will induce a degree of interest and motivation to learn on the part of a student. Herreid & Schiller (2013) confirms this through their study which examined the motivation of students in correlation with a lecture model that centered around the use of videos to present the information from the course.
Herreid & Schiller (2013) reveals that students thought the primarily video-based lectures were tedious, boring, and lacked any form of interaction that would have made the lesson more interesting. As such, it can be stated that a certain degree of interaction and dynamism is needed in a lecture to incite interest and motivation. While it may be true that the flipped classroom model does allow the student to learn at his/her own pace and the classroom sessions result in a considerable degree of interaction and illustration of the concepts and data that were shown in the videos, it remains that researchers against the flipped classroom model such as Lembke (2013) and Ash (2012) explain that such a model is lacking in its motivation aspects. For example, in his examination of instances where the flipped classroom model was utilized Ash (2012) pointed out that numerous students often resorted to skipping certain parts of the video or even the entire video itself since they found it boring.
By the time they went in for the classroom sessions they were grossly unprepared and performed poorly resulting in a considerable level of demotivation. Do note though that this particular case is a design issue and not necessarily a case that applies to all flipped classroom models, however, it does show some of the limitations of the model itself. This was apparent in cases involving young and adult learners alike and is evidence of the problem in ensuring that students internalize the lessons that are being taught. Some solutions to this problem that have been implemented in some flipped classroom models come in the form of a quiz or test that is placed at the end of each video that each student must complete. Such a method supposedly enables the teacher to measure the progress and capability of students in regards to the lesson material that is being presented.
Recommendations for Incremental Improvements in the Methodology of Teaching Adults
From the literature that has been tackled so far in this paper, it has been shown that what is necessary in the case of adult learners who are either full-time or part-time workers is a form of learning that motivates them to learn despite the various hindrances they encounter at work or in their personal lives. Such motivation should come in a manner that creates interest in the subject matter that is being taught, enables such learners to have a degree of control over how they learn, has a competent support system in place to ensure that inquiries regarding the lesson material are answered and elaborated upon as well as has a degree of connectedness which is sought by learners in varying degrees. In researching an appropriate solution, the F2F model, the online learning model as well as the blended learning model in the form of the flipped classroom have been elaborated on within this paper. Based on an examination of the various models that have been examined, the researcher proposes the following recommendations for incremental improvements in the methodology of teaching adults to improve current processes resulting in a better learning experience.
Problems with Self-Direction in Online Learning
In their examination involving online learning and self-directed learning initiatives, ( ) explains that one of the more popular notions in education at the present, especially in the case of online learning, is that such models assume that adults are naturally self-directing in regards to their internalization of the material that has been provided for them to study. While such an assumption is true to a certain extent based on studies such as those by ( ) which examined how adult students studied while being enrolled in online courses, ( ) explains though that this assumption cannot be generalized towards all adult learners in that different situational aspect related to individual adult learners impacts their ability to self-direct resulting in a considerable reduction in the internalization of the course material provided. The ( ) study helps to clarify such an assertion by explaining that while it is in the best interest of adult learners to internalize the course material that has been provided, not all of the students that take online courses self-direct at the levels that the professor, school, etc. assume them to do so. ( ) explains more on this by stating that there are certain “levels of self direction” based on not only an adult learners aptitude to learn (i.e. differentiating between adult learners who are normal with those with learning disabilities) but also on extrinsic environmental influences which limit their ability to self-direct at the expected level. ( ) points out that in some cases involving adult learners who are part-time or full-time workers, the level of attention and self-direction that they dedicate to their studies is inherently different as compared to full-time students.
Such a difference is attributed to the amount of time and energy that they dedicate to their respective jobs leading to a decline in available time to properly direct their studies. This one of the reasons why the control issue in online learning is so important since adult learners taking online courses find it essential to subject their learning experience to some level of control, especially those with extensive working hours. ( ) in their study involving adult workers and continuing education, they noted that adult learners that came from a long day at work simply lacked the energy to develop a sufficient level of self-direction to study which, along with their other obligations (i.e. family, personal life, etc.) impacted their ability to learn. Not only that, but there is self-direction also situational cases involving genuine interest in a subject or taking a subject just for the same of completion which also impacts the levels of self-direction that is attributed to a particular adult’s learning experience. While the information presented in this section applies to all instances of adult learning, it is still a relevant issue to a large percentage of the online learning adult populace given the correlation between proper self-direction and effective information internalization. It is not simply enough to provide students with the necessary materials to learn, rather, the online learning model needs to take into consideration the constraints on self-direction that full-time and part-time adult workers
Addressing the Issue of Self Direction in Online Learning
To resolve the issue of self-direction for working adult learners, it is necessary to create a method of study that takes into consideration the need for autonomy and the inherent time constraints. One possible approach that can be done would be to lengthen the amount of time working adult learners spend on online courses while at the same time dividing the course content into smaller more “digestible” chunks. The advantage of such a solution in terms of better self-direction on the part of working adult students is that smaller chunks of course content to internalize at a time means that they can better fulfill self-directed learning initiatives at a rate that is more acceptable in terms of internalizing the subject matter.
As a consequence though, such an initiative would lengthen the amount of time devoted to the completion of online course content, however, since the information size is smaller this means that students would be able to internalize it better within their restrictive schedules. Studies such as those by ( ) are in support of such an approach given their examination of working adult learners that take online classes who felt “discouraged” and even reluctant to tackle their course text after getting back from a grueling day at work given the amount of literature that they had to read. While it may be true that in some online classes the course load has been reduced into smaller chunks, ( ) explains that this is still not enough for working adult learners who are mentally exhausted after getting back from work and at times do not feel like tackling several articles at a time. What is necessary are far smaller lessons and necessary readings that take into consideration the problems this particular category of adult workers face.
Addressing the Issue of Connectedness and Support in Online Learning Environments
As mentioned earlier, one of the problems connected to full-time and part-time adult learners who work while studying at the same time is the time constraints they experience due to the various responsibilities associated with their jobs. While this paper has shown that such a problem has been solved to a certain extent through the online learning model, it still does not address the issues of connectedness and the presence of a competent support system that studies such as those by ( ) indicate enables adult learners to feel more motivated to study. While it may be true that online lessons and self-directed learning initiatives are effective for online adult learners, ( ) explains that it is erroneous to believe that all adult learners are part of the same mold.
There are some adult learners, such as full-time and part-time workers, who can get discouraged in completing their studies due to the lack of connectedness, support, and dynamism in class discussions that they at times associate with F2F lessons. ( ) does state though that such a facet is not true in all cases involving adult learners who find online discussions and online learning to be more acceptable and even more enjoyable, however, enough cases of adult learners dropping out of their respective online courses due to a lack of connectedness, support and dynamism were shown via surveys taken by the adult learners that were given by their respective universities in the ( ) study shows that such a problem needs to be addressed. While the blended learning model (as seen in the flipped classroom model) has helped to address such a problem to a certain extent, there are still cases where working adult learners prefer a primarily online learning-based method of education due to schedule constraints. Thus, a method of providing both connectedness, a support system, and subject dynamism is necessary while at the same time maintaining a primarily online method of learning. The following process is a recommendation developed by the researcher to address the identified issue in such a way that it creates the “illusion” of connectedness and support while remaining true to the online learning format.
Recommendation for Incremental Improvement for Connectedness and Support
Similar to the present day online learning model, adult learners will be introduced to a system where lessons for courses are divided into segments via an online learning portal with each segment handling a different subject matter that will be addressed within a predetermined schedule. Pre-recorded lessons by the teacher will be utilized in these lesson plans where students are expected to complete the video as well as read the study material that has been uploaded to the lesson. While the similarity to the current online learning model is evident, the main difference that this recommendation introduces is the use of a pre-determined schedule wherein all students are required to attend an online lesson with the teacher through the use of video conferencing technology. While such a system has been utilized extensively in the online learning model to great effect, this incremental solution recommendation through the use of video conferencing focuses on a more socially active interactive learning environment.
Instead of a one-to-one video conference with a student, the teacher in effect has several students in the same online virtual environment. Current video conferencing technology has progressed to such a point that not only can multiple individuals be present in the same video conference, but they can also “interact” to a certain extent wherein they can see the faces, hear the voices as well as speak to the other participants in the conference. The teacher in effect would be faced with three computer screens each with a certain number of students up to a cap (10 to 14 is advisable). In this virtual environment, the teacher can address students as a whole or select student for “recitation” so to speak by selecting a particular student’s screen enabling the rest of the class to “see” the student on their main screen.
Other tools that would be available to students is the use of a private chat screen to talk directly to each other via text, a private conferencing system if they wish to talk to each other without other students hearing about it as well as a group work function that enables students to work, “see” and interact with each other inside a private virtual room for group work projects that the teacher would assign. The advantage of such a learning model is that it allows for a greater degree of supervision on the part of the teacher since he/she could observe multiple groups working on an assigned project simultaneously, can offer feedback in a far faster way as well as can provide material to help the students with their respective projects in a manner that is far more efficient and faster as compared to the F2F model. The advantage of this model over the online learning model is that the face to face interaction via webcams, microphones, and web chat enables a far greater degree of interaction. Combined with the immediate “presence” so to speak of the teacher, this addresses the issue of competence support and connectedness that were brought up earlier in this paper. It also helps to address the issues related to the need for direct interaction and dynamism that were elaborated on earlier since students in effect converse and interact in the same fashion as if they were in the same room.
Based on what has been gleaned from the various studies that have been examined, the following are the main contributing factors that would inhibit the COMPTA model from being implemented: First and foremost among them is the concept of “location” as the main determinant of a particular model of education. Aspects related to local culture, accessibility to technology as well as budget constraints are different when examining various countries. The COMPTA model or even online learning models may work in the developed nation-states given widespread technology use, internet connectivity, and high wages. Unfortunately, the great technological divide in the Third World countries, where income per capita is low, internet connectivity is scant and the overall level of technology sophistication of adult learners is low, shows how particular models of education simply cannot be applied on a general basis. The same can be said when comparing the current situation of the technologically developed countries with that of the developing world wherein it is obvious that the traditional method of education is predominant simply because other models cannot be applied due to the inherent structural limitations of their framework for education.
When examining the findings of this paper, it can be seen that the concept of the work-life balance has become an essential if not integral aspect of the present-day adult learner. If colleges and universities want to attract and retain talented students, they need to find a way to incorporate work-life balance policies into their operational model for education. The COMPTA model which focuses on integrating not only a work-life balance into its operations model attempts to resolve the issues found in workplace learning. What needs to be understood is that in the case of workplace learning, issues of power, authority, ownership, and control need to be recognized and addressed by the method of education that is being utilized to create a feeling of control and increase motivation on the part of the adult learners. These issues can be summed up as the need for freedom to balance between the need for education and the various responsibilities they have at work and home. As such, the COMPTA model presents itself as an ideal framework that can be utilized to resolve the issues identified in this paper so far. It is anticipated that through such a model, educational institutions will be able to deal with the problems that have been indicated resulting in better programs and learners that are more motivated to learn and complete their respective advanced degrees. However, the concept of “location” will determine the choice of the educational model be implemented since the applicability of a new model of education in all situations and in all locations is simply not possible.
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