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Adult Learning in the 21st Century: A comparison of two online modules and their effectiveness with various learning styles

I won't be impressed by technology in the classroom until you figure out how to install Google directly in my brain.Online learning has drastically evolved and changed the way adults learn today. The platform has empowered adults to take learning into their own hands, creating a regiment that is convenient for them with unlimited access to information and tools. Students of all learning styles can use the platform. It offers a variety of proven research, written opinions, accredited lectures and virtual classrooms to say the least.

Two types of online modules frequently used as a source of learning today are YouTube videos and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). The YouTube video “How to Change a Tire” and EdX MOOC, “Career Development: Resume, Networking, and Interview Skills” were compared on their effectiveness in relation to adult learning. While each of these modules have their strengths and weaknesses, the most apparent similarity to note is that less than 20 years ago, neither would have existed as an educational platform!

When considering adult learning and a modules effectiveness, it is important to look at how adults with different learning styles view each course. Consider the statement, judging a book by its cover. Adult learners search exactly what they are looking for on the internet and within seconds decide if the content layout is appealing to them. YouTube offers a direct approach that appeals to the tech savvy student of today, one who craves immediate satisfaction.

In an increasingly complex world, sometimes old questions require new answers.The video, “How to Change a Tire” quickly grabs the attention of some adult learners with its title. It answers the question, how, making the assumption that there is one solution. A learner with a strong preference towards active experimentation or concrete experience may be more attracted to the video before even opening it.  It addresses their need to take action and learn from a specific experience. An adult learner who relates more to abstract conceptualization may be more attracted to a title such as, “Ways to Change a Tire.” A simple change from the word “how” to “ways” allows the viewer to use the video for evaluation and comparison. They are able to choose what they feel is the best solution compared to being told what is the only solution.

The director, ChrisFix was somewhat ambiguous with the video’s title. Although it presents “how” to change a tire, he changes a perfectly good tire, out of his driveway, with all the necessary tools at his disposal. This could cause a disconnect to a student looking to solve a specific problem such as changing a flat tire in the middle of the road. In any case the video lays out a systematic plan and allows the viewer to logically analyze each step; major keys for someone who prefers abstract conceptualization such as the deciding and thinking learner. Additionally, the initiating, experiencing and imagining learning styles will appeal to the video’s deep involvement and observation of the experience. The “teacher”, ChrisFix, is never shown during the video. Instead, the tutorial focuses strictly on the process with easy to understand instructions. As the lack of written instruction may be challenging for other types of learners, an imagining learner is comfortable with ambiguity and learns well by listening.

In comparison, the EdX MOOC, “Career Development: Resume, Networking and Interview Skills” follows a more traditional learning approach: visual instructors, written content, quizzes and the option to receive certification credits.  How can I trust your information when you're using such outdated technology?When considering YouTube and a student’s search for immediate satisfaction, a MOOC is different in that it appeals to a learner seeking organization and content validity. The MOOC is explained as a detailed course, self-directed but recommended to be taken over a span of weeks.  All responsibility falls upon the student to set the pace and decide when to engage in each topic. Someone with a preference towards abstract conceptualization would find this course appealing because it takes ideas and puts them into concepts that can be learned and taught. The student is able to systematically plan their course of learning. These learners are immediately engaged when they are presented the outlined objectives up front and understand the timeline and expectations of the course. An active learner sees an advantage in this structure and appreciates the ability to be in control of their daily achievements.

Similarly, a reflective observer looks for the meaning of things. Through both lecture presentations and written content, the MOOC answers in detail “why” but also “how”. Identifying key points of a resume, explaining why it is needed then how it can be applied. A learner with a thinking or analyzing style needs time to absorb and think through information and the self-paced course allows for that additional time. This is different from the initiating style who would quickly lose interest with this extra time and flexibility, they want action and want it immediately. Any extra short answer or quiz to verify understanding get in the way of the action to update the resume or begin networking.

Both the YouTube tutorial and the EdX MOOC exemplify traits of the Self-Directed Learning Theory. As internet based educational tools, these types of platforms are becoming more popular as technology takes precedence in society. In the text Learning in Adulthood, Merriam, Caffarella and Baumgertner point out that self-direction is crucial to online learning formats and particularly appealing to younger generations who grew up with the internet as a “natural habitat.” The self-directed learner takes an active approach to learning and seeks knowledge out of genuine curiosity. Per Guglielmino (Merriam et. Al) self-directed learning is closely related with “initiative, independence and persistence in learning, acceptance of one’s responsibility for learning...” which both YouTube and MOOCs allow students to do.

No matter the learning style or preference of adult learners the ever changing internet has created an unbiased platform appealing and even more importantly, accommodating, to all styles’ needs. This has increased the opportunities and knowledge available for all students and allowed information to be shared and accessed around the world.



Learning in Adulthood, S.B. Merriam, R.S. Caffarella & L.M. Baumgartner Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA.  2007



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