Academic journal article Journal of Developmental Education

Ideas in Practice: Instructional Design and Delivery for Adult Learners

Academic journal article Journal of Developmental Education

Ideas in Practice: Instructional Design and Delivery for Adult Learners

Article excerpt

More adult learners are participating in formal education than ever before (Miglietti & Strange, 1998; Wedege, 1999), and these adults often are finding their entrance into higher education through developmental courses (King, 1999; Miglietti & Strange). Therefore, attempts to help students gain fluency in basic skills must incorporate learning experiences that are relevant to adults. What type of learning experiences will be relevant to adult students? Such a question is difficult to answer because the notion of "adult learner" refers to a widely heterogeneous group of people, encompassing several generations (Oblinger, 2003; Wagschal, 1997) and multiple characteristics (Kasworm, 2003). In spite of this diversity, the following discussion intends to address the needs of students who typically are considered nontraditional adult students.

Meeting the Needs of Adults in Developmental Courses

Adult students find computers to be an increasingly important component of their educational endeavors. For example, some adults view simple computer functions, such as word processing, as essential to their day-to-day job efficiency and daily tasks (Oblinger, 2003); other adults view education as a viable option only because of the flexibility that online classrooms can provide (Knowlton & Thomeczek, 2007). Because of efficiency, flexibility, and other benefits, integrating computers into learning experiences provides strong opportunities for meeting the needs of adult students (Boud & Presser, 2002).

Few practical examples of appropriate learning experiences have been disseminated in the academic literature. Therefore, developmental educators struggle to create efficient and relevant learning experiences for nontraditional students, particularly in mathematics (Wedege, 1999). This article aims to begin filling this gap in the literature.

Developmental Mathematics

Developmental mathematics instructors in community colleges and universities regularly report that many students exhibit an aversion to the study of mathematics (Wedege, 1999), yet many empirical studies suggest that success in college mathematics courses results in a greater likelihood for student retention and graduation (Parker, 2005). When asked to identify a "least favorite" topic, basic mathematics and beginning algebra students often name fractions. In fact, these students regularly experience significant fear and a sense of failure when performing basic operations with fractions (Ruedy & Nirenberg, 1990). Not surprisingly, these students have difficulty understanding fractions and applying them to larger mathematical tasks.

In spite of this difficulty, fear, and sense of failure, it is imperative that students successfully come to understand and apply fractions. After all, skill in operations with fractions is necessary for increased number sense leading to quantitative literacy (Keijzer & Terwel, 2001; Mathematical Association of America, 1998); dearly, quantitative literacy is a key aspect of education that will help students throughout their college careers (Harrell & Forney, 2003). Students will only gain these skills if they receive efficient and relevant learning experiences; however, the impact of the method of instructional delivery on student success is seldom investigated.

Adult students prefer math study that is active and investigational (Miglietti & Strange, 1998; Wedege, 1999). Many adults express a preference for learning experiences with dearly defined objectives, goals, and expectations (Boud & Presser). Adults also value learning experiences that engage them (Boud & Presser), provide plenty of practice with new skills (Boud & Presser; Oblinger, 2003), and offer continuous feedback (Miglietti & Strange).

The challenge is dear: Adult students who are enrolled in developmental math courses must experience efficient and relevant learning experiences about fractions. …

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