Academic journal article Adult Learning

Online Learning Communities: Implications for Adult Learning

Academic journal article Adult Learning

Online Learning Communities: Implications for Adult Learning

Article excerpt

The adult education community is well aware of the potential of technology to inspire the construction of new models of instruction and to accommodate the special needs of adults. As yet, however, current applications of technology within adult basic education systems have not taken full advantage of that potential. While computer-based instruction and integrated learning systems are commonly used, the capacity of the internet and the web to provide the kind of transformative and self-directed learning which has been described as "the ultimate goal of adult educators;" has yet to be explored (Pascal-Leone, 1998).

There are, however, organizations that are exploring the web and using its capabilities to raise the quality and accessibility of adult learning opportunities for their membership. These organizations may be characterized as "online learning communities," because they have sought to meet a diversity of educational and informational needs, and have used technology to provide efficient and affordable learning opportunities to the members of their communities. Through this process, the potential audience for adult education has expanded, and in a sense, technology has begun to provide not only a means of communication, but a basis for community (i.e., membership in community is conferred by virtue of using the technology). Simply put, people recognize a common need or interest, and create an online learning community around it.

At the same time, these organizations also show evidence of an understanding of the special characteristics of adult learning, and the necessity to provide instruction that will engage the adult learner. Although their primary purpose is not the delivery of adult education, they have constructed learning delivery systems that effectively combine elements of the distance learning, and traditional models of instruction which are targeted to a wide variety of adults with differing skills, and abilities. The use of technology often blurs the traditional distinctions among formal, nonformal, and informal education. The learning delivery systems used by these organizations offer new ways in which the adult education community might think about the delivery of instruction, the definition of a learning event, and how adult learning itself might be conceptualized. Perhaps most importantly, they found ways to address the problems of unequal access to information opportunities by going beyond simple access to strive for uses of technology that engage the learner. Major features of the online learning community are highlighted in Table 1.

Table 1: Online Learning Community Model

Description               An organization that uses technology
                          to mediate between the individual and
                          collective needs of its members to
                          assure access to tools for learning.[1]

Vision of Adult Leaning   Accommodates the special social,
and Development           psychological, and political
                          characteristics of adult learning.

Learning Contexts         Demonstrates elements of the nonformal,
                          informal and information-based
                          models of learning.

Indicators of Engaged     Provides learning experiences that
Learning                  are transformative, inclusive of life
                          experiences, rewarding, and
                          accommodating of learning differences
                          (Stites, January, 1998).

Instructional Model       Interactive and generative, provides
                          opportunity for customizing adult
                          learning-adapts to a number of learning

Purposes/Goals of         To support collective and participatory
Learning                  communication and to meet a diversity
                          of educational and informational needs. … 
Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.