Moving forward. Shifting thinking. As I learn about trends in adult education, I’m recognizing that I need to modify some of my sometimes stubborn opinions.
The Digital. I will admit it. I have an aversion to computer-based learning. Or whatever it is that we’re calling it today.
Too many boring, PowerPoint based webinars, with no interaction. Too many starchy computer-based modules. Trying to stay focused, when the materials don’t engage me a single bit, and hoping that somehow, the content has seeped into my subconscious enough that if I have to complete a quiz of some sort, I’ll be able to sort out the right answer. Hey, maybe it’ll even be multiple choice. That might help.
But even though many individuals and organizations don’t do great on-line training, I’m prepared to grudgingly admit that on-line training can be good. I have taken a few good courses, and have seen a single (yes, single) well done webinar.
So where does that leave the training manager of an organization that has to get motivational information out to a huge, variable audience? What should I be promoting? Can on-line training work for me if I try hard to do it well?
I have to believe the answer is yes. We can’t ignore the value of getting training out to people in Fort Ware, Queen Charlotte City and Vavenby without paying an instructor to travel to these small communities. We can’t forget the cost and time, not to mention the lost learning associated with cancelling face-to-face programs because we just couldn’t get enough bums in seats. But we cannot default to the ever-so-common Charlie Brown teacher’s drone of poorly done computer training. Especially if we’re hoping to motivate people to do something different.
Already, in the current online program I’m in, I have watched videos, skyped with my instructor and another participant, connected to various on-line groups, created a blog (hey!), and read numerous articles, and web-based materials. I feel engaged, I feel motivated to learn, and I can recall the items that have crossed my screen. Something appears to be working correctly in the hodge-podge of activity madness that makes up this program.
So yes, my thinking is shifting, and I see the trend toward computer-based learning as a real opportunity. This training (done well), could bridge many gaps that I struggle to close. But we’re going to need forward-thinking, fresh people to build the training. It feels like a big risk… perhaps because if an online program flops, there’s no instructor watching and standing by, ready to swoop in and save the day.
The Diversity. In a perhaps gross generalization: Old people like lectures, reading and step by step processes. Young people like rapid-fire content, fun and ‘at your fingertips’ approaches. And they’re both in our classrooms? Is there really a way to appeal to everyone?
Though I have had exposure to different learning styles in a classroom, I hadn’t really thought about how peoples’ various backgrounds can really influence their success in a program. I need to start considering approaches to tackling the growing diversity in our classrooms. So what are some strategies to deal with such a variety of learners?
*regardless of age, background, or ethnicity, adult learners are generally enrolled in programs to “be able to apply and use the knowledge” (Crawford, 2004). This tells us that we have to be very practical about the content provided, and ensure we are providing the content they’re seeking.
*flexibility within assignments will also allow the variety of learners to flourish. By allowing different people the ability to choose their own topics, their own ways of delivering content, and so on, the instructor can nurture a broad variety of students. The benefits of self-directed learning have been popping up regularly in the reading I’ve done — another strategy that can be employed to allow diverse participants to choose their own approaches.
*regardless of a person’s background, the individual still has experiences to draw from. An instructor can capitalize on these differences during discussions, using a variety of the class’s examples to reinforce key concepts.
The prospect of engaging and motivating participants in a quickly changing world is an exciting challenge. How to keep up with technology and do it well? How to match a program’s pace, content and instructional strategies with the vast variety of people sitting in the seats? Designers of adult ed programs have a tricky job on their hands, but with some understanding of the motivations of their adult learners, they can apply key principles that will help lead their programs to success.