Adult learning theories and the development of online resources

The creation of an online educational resource is different than the creation of an online classroom, but many principles associated with adult learning theories are relevant to the development of an online educational resource.

Overall, there is a trend that seems to warrant consideration of using a moderated wiki and having a moderated online forum. These are ultimately massive undertakings, but it is important to consider the ways users gravitate to online forums and places where they can express themselves. The materials related to adult learning suggest that if this can be accomplished in a safe manner that it would promote the learning process.

These are some broad conclusions about adult learning theories and some of the suggestions these concepts make for the design of an online educational resource:

1. Explain why the information is important. This tracks ideas associated with Malcolm Knowles, that “adults need to know why they are learning something,” and that information must be “relevant” and “practical.”

The presentation of the information on the site could benefit from presenting information as a series of situational options, so a user can choose the information most relevant to what they want to learn.

2. Involve the learner in the development of the resource. This tracks the Knowles concepts that “adults need to be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction,” and that “adults need to be shown respect.”

One of the ways this seems possible to accomplish in the context of developing an online resource is to clearly display contact information and a request for feedback and suggestions related to the information that appears on the site. This invites involvement, and reinforces the understanding that the site doesn’t consider itself the complete authority on any issue. It acknowledges “diversity” and promotes it as a strength. It shows respect of the user’s opinions and ideas, the knowledge they bring from their own experiences, and gives greater incentive to look at the site with the perspective of what they may be able to add to it. This option has to be presented “safely,” with a clear explanation of how attribution of suggestions would work by default (anonymous) and specific request (verified attribution).

3. Draw on the learner’s experiences. Presenting information in a variety of options also seems to allow this motivator of adult learning to be applied to the context of developing online educational resources. With “experience providing the basis of learning activities,” tailoring the presentation to broad categories of experience can help engage the user with the online resource.

4. Problem-centered vs. content oriented: An educational resource about “real-world” issues and problems will have a gravitational pull to internet users, according to ideas developed by Knowles. These concepts seem to favor online educational resources targeted to “problems.”

This also supports the presentation of information being divided into “roles,” because this would encourage a user to click on information in “role-based scenarios,” not only because it can be “immediately useful” but also most “relevant” to the prior experiences and expectations of the user.


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