New insights: Learning with technology – barrier or tool?

As an instructor, one of the barriers to engaging adults in the learning process is making their learning relevant. While comfort with new technology often correlates with age, is it possible that requiring technology-use in the learning process could create additional relevance for the adult learner?

In Building Community and Creating Relevance in the Online Classroom authors Erickson and Neset identify the importance of regular communication, and creating relevance through current events, online content and social media:

Students crave relevance, so consider connecting the unit material to current affairs. Share links to news stories, Twitter feeds, or articles that make the learning material applicable to life outside the classroom. If you teach business, marketing, public relations, among others, there are numerous opportunities to wrap an assignment or discussion around the public movements (or missteps) of high-profile companies. If you can make it applicable, you can even use celebrity news stories, as students enjoy hearing about this type of material. Perhaps there is a poetry slam or book reading you’d like your students to attend. Maybe a future art exhibit is relevant to your content or a well-known speaker is giving a lecture on campus. All of these strategies keep students apprised of current events and demonstrate your efforts to connect their classroom with the real world. Sharing this information via e-communication frees up valuable classroom time that you can spend engaging students in the content of course material rather than administrative details.

The commentary on technology in adult learning has caused me to reflect critically on the classroom, pen and paper learning format. Technology offers new strategies for engaging and providing relevance for learners.

Trends: Smart or dumb? Phone technology in the classroom

In my earlier post on trends and roles in adult learning, I reflected upon the effective use of technology to provide relevance for adult learner.

Cell phone use, and using cell phones for going online has continued to increase in the last five years. While cell phone ownership is highest amongst 18-29 year olds (85%), this group is closely followed by 30-49 year olds (73%). This growth makes cell phones one of the most widely available technologies; the accessibility of cell phones makes them important in terms of a potential tool in adult learning.

While society debates proper cellphone etiquette, instructors have struggled with other challenges related to cellphone and smart phone use in the classroom. Cellphones have a reputation for being disruptive, distracting, disrespectful, not to mention their role in plagiarism. But what about harnessing cellphone technology for adult learning? The Oxford University Press blog on adult English language instruction offers the flip-side to annoying cellphone-use in the classroom. .

It is estimated that there are more than 150,000 educational apps available for smartphones, many of which are free. As an instructor, I will be looking for ways to incorporate these types of accessible technologies into the menus of instructional strategies.

Motivating adult learners

Designing lessons that use techniques to motivate adult learners is key. Adults are motivated by seeing their learning as familiar to their experience and relevant to their lives. There are recurring instruction strategies that are incorporated in a variety of learning theories and lesson planning frameworks. These strategies include assessing current knowledge, determining what learners want to know, and evaluating learning with feedback. While these lesson elements serve a variety purposes – including structure, and guidance for the instructor – it these strategies anchor the essential need to engage and motivate the adult learners.