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Web-based Learning for Adult Learners

Hugo Pinales

Northern Arizona University



Web-Based Learning for Adult Learners

Society has become extremely dependent on technology, that much of our daily tasks and

duties require a form of technology to accomplish a task. Our devices are capable of connecting

with the world in matters of minutes to close business deals or to simply connect with family

members around the world. Currently, in the United States, mobile carriers are competing to

provide extensive connectivity to personal devices. With the rapid growth of the technological

world, we have to pose the questions if it plays a huge role in education. Will society be able to

adapt to the constant changes? Furthermore, will students, in particular, adult learner, be able to

adapt quickly to these changes and complete a course to advance their education. To further

understand this concept, we must understand the concept of adult learners and online learning to

understand the pros and cons better.

Adult Learners

Many institutions categorize adult learners as non-traditional students. Non-traditional

students are considered full or part-time students attending college ages 23 and older (Adams &

Corbett, 2010). In comparison to traditional students, the characteristics of adult learners are

completely different. The demand for adult learners to gain additional knowledge advance in

their current positions has increased over the years. Many seek additional education to receive a

promotion, higher pay, or additional benefits.

As of 2002, 39 percent of undergraduate students were 25 or older (Copper, 2008). For

adult learners to return to schools requires a lot more time and resources to be successful in

completing their educational goals. Many have to juggle a full-time employment, a family to

support, and other responsibilities that can hinder the success of the student. For the most part,



traditional students don’t have any variables during their education which allows them to be

successful. These students can participate in activities and discussion on campus while many

non-traditional students attend campus as a part-time student or complete their studies online.

Learning styles for both traditional and non-traditional students are different. Non-

traditional students have made the decision to return to school to seek additional information,

therefore having a different perspective when it comes to the subject. They are applying the

knowledge to their experiences. Many traditional students are unable to connect learning

concepts to their lives because they are continuing to expand their knowledge as young adults. It

is important that we focus on characteristics regarding adult learning.

Malcolm Knowles set forth five principles of adult learning theory in the study of

andragogy. Andragogy was the term used by Knowles to describe adult learning. Knowles’

theory has five principles: self-concept, experience, readiness to learn, orientation to learning,

and motivation to learn. When breaking down the five principle, they list that a person: matures

his/her self-concept moves from one of being a dependent personality toward one of being a self-

directed human being, he/she accumulates a growing reservoir of experience that becomes an

increasing resource for learning, his/her readiness to learn becomes oriented increasingly to the

developmental tasks of his social roles, his/her time perspective changes from one of postponed

application of knowledge to immediacy of application, and accordingly his/her orientation

toward learning shifts from one of subject-centeredness to one of problem centeredness, and

finally, the motivation to learn is internal (Smith, 2002). In other words, adults learn to have the

mindset and determination to complete their educational goals because their experiences and

ability to view topics in a different way allows them to relate to the learning material.



Learning Through Technology

Technology has taken an important role in education. Some can argue that it has been

beneficial when applied properly, and others will differ stating that it was a waste of time and

money. According to a study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, around

5.4 million students took at least one distance education course during the fall of 2012 (Haynie,

2014). For adult learners, it has become difficult for them to continue to attend a class on campus

because of their responsibilities.

Terming like e-learning, online learning, web-based learning, and distance learning have

all been used to describe education through technology. All very ambiguous terminology, but all

have a very specific meaning and focus. The current terms can be used interchangeably to

describe online learning: e-learning, web-based learning, and distance learning. Two standouts

the most for this assignment, online learning and distance learning. Course that is readily

available on a computer via the world-wide web is considered online learning (Tsai & Machado).

Additionally, distance learning involves interaction at a distance between instructor and learners

and enables appropriate instructor reaction to learners. This course is an example of both

concepts working together. For the most part, all of our material is provided to us through our

Blackboard portal. We can download, read, and interact with our classmates to provide helpful

feedback. From a distance, our professors provide us with helpful feedback is available to

interact with us to further enhance our experience. But not all programs are successfully

executed causing for additional challenges for adult learners.




When looking both at education and adult learners, they both face challenges. The

concept of distant learning has evolved over the years to ensuring that most of the courses now

are being offered online. Research indicated that online platforms could cause problems in the

successful completion of online education. The study indicated that the technology or WebCT

Tutorials played a role in not completing an online course successfully (Calvin & Freeburg,

2010). It was suggested that designers and instructors should consider the pathway students are

taking to complete the course, which includes the students’ different skill level.

In a study conducted by Calvin & Freeburg examined the use of technology and the

effects it has on adult learners with different variables (computer at home, access to the internet,

knowledge on the use of technology, etc.). The study was unable to make a connection with the

data collected to indicate that the variable effect the student’s ability to succeed in courses. The

report did indicate that they struggled to understand the assignment assigned by the instructor

and knowledge of the platform where it's being instructed. Participants said that clearer

assignments instructions were the most important improvement that could be made to increase

overall success in web-based courses (Calvin & Freeburg, 2010).

Anxiety also plays an important part in the learning process of adult learners using

computer based learning and training. Many of the factors covered in Calvin and Freeburg

reports links adults having anxiety in regards to the use of their technology and course materials.

It is reported that anxiety can be reduced through formal computer instruction, especially courses

greater than 30-hours in length (Johnson, 2011).




“Adult learners enjoy taking responsibility for their own learning, and when properly

guided and prepared for a learning experience they are quite capable of achieving a high level of

competency” (Johnson, 2011). Adult learners are enrolling in course to further their opportunities

with their current employers. Even though research did not show in changes with the use of

technology and completing a course, the way the content is being delivered is an important

portion of the success of the adult learner. Instructors should consider the population they are

surviving and how they can provide clear instructions on assignments and provide additional

information regarding the use of the portal. The issue of how to use a computer has passed, as

educators, we must focus on the delivery of the education.




Adams, J., & Corbett, A. (2010, May 2010). Experiences of Traditional and Non-Traditional College

Students: A Quantitative Study of Experiences, Motivations and Expectations Among

Undergraduate Students. Retrieved from University of New Hampshire:


Calvin, J., & Freeburg, W. (2010). Exploring adult learners' perceptions of technology competence

and retention in web-based courses. The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 11(2), 63-


Copper, B. (2008). Changing Demographics: Why Nontraditional Students Should Matter to

Enrollment Managers and What They Can Do to Attract Theme. SEM Source.

Haynie, D. (2014, June 12). New Government Data Sheds Light on Online Learners . Retrieved from

United States News:


Johnson, M. (2011). Adult Learners and Technology: How to Deliver Effective Instruction and

Overcome Barriers to Learning. Retrieved from University of Missouri-St. Louis:

Smith, M. K. (2002). Malcom Knowles, informal adult education, self-direction and andragogy.

Retrieved from infed:

Tsai, S., & Machado, P. (n.d.). E-learning, Online Learning, Web-based Learning, or Distance

Learning: Unveiling the Ambiguity in Current Terminology. Retrieved from InkiTiki