At a time of rapid technological advancements many learners are seeking learning experiences outside of the traditional classroom. To meet this need, numerous institutions are delivering learning experiences in a digital format. Commonly referred to as eLearning, these digital learning experiences take many forms. Our team consisted of six graduate students studying Adult Learning Theory in Saint Joseph's University - Master's of Organizational Development and Leadership online program. This article will evaluate from an adult learning perspective two forms of eLearning: a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) and a Webinar.
The MOOC reviewed was titled “Learning Mindset and Skills“ offered by the online site, Coursera. It was clear that this course was designed to support the fundamentals of adult learning theorized by Malcolm Knowles. One way this course supported Knowles’ theory was that it was self-directed. Learners participating in this course are allowed to discover information, on their own, without depending on another person. This particular course was broken down into weeks so that the learner could participate on his or her own time, allowing the learner to take responsibility for when he or she would attend the course (Knowles, Holton, and Swanson, 2005).
Furthermore, the course presented different learning modalities, such as videos, podcasts, articles, and reflection exercises. The variety of delivery of the information supports Kolb’s (1974) learning theory in that adults have different preferences in the way they learn. The psychologists Desmedt and Valcke further support individual preferences by saying, “...the characteristics of the learning environment and learning experiences influence [learners'] development” (Merriam, Caffarella, and Baumgartner, 2007, p. 407). Therefore, contouring the learning experience to compliment different learning styles is powerful for the learner.
Additionally, the various methods of information dissemination offered within the course allowed the content to be broken down into small, digestible chunks. Each week of this course was designed to be reviewed in no more than one hour with each video or podcast lasting no more than 15 minutes. This structure sought to work within learners' short attention spans, noticeable in this digital age (Davidson, 2011).
Upon concluding the review of the content presented in this course, learners were asked to participate in a discussion. The discussion portion of this course supports the Experiential Learning Cycle (Kolb, 1976) as they are designed to allow learners to reflect on what they just experienced which in turn helps them digest and retain the information.
The second course we reviewed was a pre-recorded webinar titled, “Doing the Impossible Through Training: Creating Culture Change” hosted by Training Magazine. Overall, this course attempted to leverage some adult learning theory principles; however, in our opinion, the attempts were not successful.
First, this course failed to provide a mechanism of self-direction as it was one long lecture that could only be viewed from start to finish. Additionally, according to Malcolm Knowles’s theory of Andragogy, “learning activities need to be clearly relevant to the learner” (Knowles, et al, 2005, pg. 294). This course did not clearly state the learning objective nor its relevance.
The facilitator of this course attempted to engage learners though polling, storytelling, polling, and whiteboard activities, which support Knowles’ (1984) theory that topics must be immediately applicable in the adult’s life. These activities failed to resonate because we viewed the course as a recording. As such, we were unable to participate fully and bring our own outside experience. This indicated that the webinar designers did not proactively think about all potential audiences.
In conclusion, eLearning courses appear to be effective when adult learning theory is successfully incorporated into the course. If adult learning theory is not successfully incorporated into learning experiences, we believe that learners may easily become distracted and disengaged.
Davidson, C. N. (2011). Now you see it: How the brain science of attention will transform the way we live, work, and learn. New York, NY: Viking.
Knowles, M. S., Holton, E. F., & Swanson, R. A. (2005). The Adult Learner : The Definitive Classic in Adult Education and Human Resource Development. Amsterdam: Routledge.
Kolb, D. A. (1976). The Learning Style Inventory: Technical Manual. McBer & Co, Boston, MA.
Knowles, M. (1984). The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species (3rd Ed.). Houston, TX: Gulf Publishing.
Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. M. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A com