Online learning for adults: The reinvented classroom

January 17, 2019

Woman standing in front of chalkboard filled with words

Did you know that distance learning dates back to the 1800s? In fact, the first distance learning school, The Society to Encourage Studies at Home, was founded by Anna Eliot Ticknor in Boston in 1873. Teaching and learning was conducted entirely via mail and provided books and instruction in subjects like history, science, art and literature. At its peak, the program had over 120 teacher correspondents and over 7,000 students.

Fast forward to today, and online learning has become a popular option for working adults seeking to return to school.

Distance education has given almost six million students the opportunity to participate in an online class, and “85% of Americans enrolled in post-secondary institutions are contemporary (or non-traditional) learners,” according to the Online Learning Consortium report, The 2016 Higher Education Online Learning Landscape.

As the workforce continues to change, adults are looking toward higher education via distance learning to stay competitive in the workplace. For many, the online classroom brings an opportunity for students to take a hands-on approach in their own learning by fostering new skill sets that can be immediately applied to their work.

Technology Transforms Online Learning

Students expect their course of study to provide relevant and timely skills to support their goals. Successful online programs integrate pedagogy with innovative technology that supports the adult online learner.

Interactive technology promotes “activities that demand problem-solving, reasoning, critical thinking, decision making and evaluation skills” in an engaging environment, states Jean Fitzgerald, Instructional Designer at Quinnipiac.

Adults thrive in online learning through gamification.

Online learners thrive in this environment and demonstrate proficiency through advanced learning tools such as multimedia simulations, data visualization and gamification, to name a few. The use of technology enables students to share experiences with other classmates and apply their new skills to their jobs.

"Marrying cognitive and social interaction via technology puts pedagogy on the cutting edge of modern education," said Fitzgerald.

A Collaborative Community

Technology enables online learners to build close relationships among their classmates and professors. In fact, “thanks to technology, today we don’t even feel the geographical gap between teachers and students.

With the use of right tools you can feel as you are inside the classroom,” states Bryant Nielson in his article, E-learning Tools and Technologies Used in Online Training. Discussion tools allow students to share experiences, collaborate and learn through student-led discourse with other professionals in their industry to gain new perspectives.

Adult online learners use technology to communicate in online classroom.

Relationships are nurtured through diverse technology, addressing different learning theories and facilitating community engagement. “Collaborating, developing and sharing ideas are the cornerstone to a meaningful and relevant education,” adds Fitzgerald. At Quinnipiac, the Instructional Design team works with each professor to ensure that these principles are put into practice in each online course.

"What I admired the most was how the professors would even get involved with the lighter conversations between students, and it really helped connect us," shared Matt P., Instructional Design, QU Online Student.

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