The Influences of Distance Learning on Adult Learners

By O'Lawrence, Henry | Techniques, May 2006 | Go to article overview

The Influences of Distance Learning on Adult Learners


O'Lawrence, Henry, Techniques


Distance learning is any type of instruction in which the student and instructor are separated by physical distance (not in the same room) (Wahlstrom, Williams & Shea, 2003). It is a medium of teaching and learning using modern technology so that teachers or students do not have to be together in the classroom. With the growth of distance learning programs, the online format has led to a growing interest in learning among adult learners and in continuing pursuit of their educational goals.

However, there is a wide range of opinion concerning the appropriateness of distance learning, especially among nontraditional students. Some still support the importance of face-to-face and classroom experiences in which students learn from one another through classroom interaction, and others contend that a hybrid configuration (part of the course in the classroom and part in distance learning) is much better than learning that is presented exclusively through distance learning. Extended observation of students taking classes online or in the hybrid mode leads to the clear conclusion that distance learning is not for everyone.

The author discovered that many students, administrators and even faculty did not understand that the definition and the role of distance education is very broad. Discussions, interviews and group discussions among colleagues indicated that there are many interpretations, and among those discovered, this article treats only a few that seem significant.

The following are issues discovered during the assessment:

* trying to compare the online program/curriculum with the regular program/curriculum;

* trying to compare the traditional institutions offering online programs as part of their curriculum with institutions that are not well known but spend a significant amount of money promoting their online programs (One mentor called those schools the "University of What's Happening," and another called them "purchased degree, show me the money and get your paper" institutions.);

* trying to compare graduates of online programs versus those who went through regular and rigorous programs at traditional institutions;

* the inability to really understand the purpose of distance education and the targeted population;

* problems when online graduates from ordinary schools compete with those who earn their degrees in a traditional way (from rigorous academic programs); and

* lack of evidence that evaluates the knowledge that students gain, the objectives of the distance learning program, and how these objectives are being realized.

Purpose of the Study

There were initial concerns that distance learning might lower the quality of instruction; however, studies show that its benefits are clear and demonstrable, and it continues to gain acceptance. According to Belanger and Jordan (2004), several reasons play major roles: It opens up new opportunities for students who might otherwise be excluded from participation in the learning process; it allows institutions to educate a larger number of students with relatively fewer instructors, thus providing a cost-effective method of delivering higher education; and learners have the opportunity to pursue lifelong learning after graduation, regardless of lifestyle or location.

Therefore, the purpose of this article is to determine what influences adult learners to participate in distance education. Lessons and findings are drawn from authors who collectively teach online courses and from adult learners participating in online courses. This article also emphasizes factors that motivate or deter adult participation in distance education, especially the online format.

Information regarding attitudes and specific reasons for adult participation in distance learning can provide insight to faculty attempting to incorporate online courses into their existing regular classes in the future. …

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