Visit Modern Campus

Understanding and Serving the Lifelong Learner (Part 2)

Understanding and Serving the Lifelong Learner (Part 2)
Interactivity is central to learning; without engagement, students tend to lose interest in a subject matter quickly.
This is the conclusion of a two-part series by Richard Gentle discussing the importance of understanding and serving non-traditional, lifelong learners in the postsecondary space. In the first part, Gentle discussed some of the characteristics of non-traditional students and shared his thoughts on the challenges of the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) model. In this article, he suggests a few strategies institutions can put in place to better serve this population.

The extremely low completion rates of MOOCs suggest to me that people lose the impetus to complete after their initial enthusiasm; when learning becomes difficult, the student falls behind or anxiety over ability to cope sets in. This doesn’t even take into account the disruption of the daily life routines many adult learners have to manage along with course work.

How, then, can we provide lifelong learning in a way that’s both accessible and manageable? Perhaps offering short, accredited course units or modules is one way — achievable over just a few hours or days of study. Or perhaps an hour of study in the workplace, not resulting in the anxiety sometimes created by removing a person from his or her workload for several hours at a time, causing the person to fall behind in completing necessary tasks.

And what of those out of work?

Perhaps we need educational establishments to offer online, bookable timetables for specific areas of knowledge acquisition. Where someone with an interest in a subject, no matter age, gender, ethnicity, educational background or employment situation, can go along to a physical ‘classroom’ and ask a teacher for assistance in expanding a specific knowledge requirement.

This brings me to another important element of successful learning: social interactivity, and I don’t mean just electronically through chat forums or social media. The vast majority of people need physical, social interaction and activity. We like to compare ourselves with others (in positive as well as negative ways) and we like to spar with ideas and use others as sounding-boards for our ridiculous optimism. A community of balance, with a mix of online and physically present, in-person interaction is essential for most people. A sense of palpable camaraderie can be infectious and creates a learning environment through contextual activity.

Much research has been written about lifelong learning but, frankly speaking, all of the lingo, acronyms, complex diagrams and arguments over pedagogy just bamboozle people. To me, they reflect an endemic disease of contemporary society both in education and the workplace: dissecting and over-assessing everything to the point of destruction of sanity.

Perhaps it’s time to create a new, simplified survey aimed at the whole populace: how do you learn new things? When do you learn most? Where do you learn new things? If you could drop in to a specialist place of learning near you, would you go? This is obviously not a complete survey — we will need to increase the number of questions — but you get my drift.

Author Perspective: