The method of instruction varies in online courses, but research and technology continue to improve with ongoing benefits ahead for both students and instructors. Besides good course design involving consideration to the goals and assignments of the class, interaction between instructors and students plays a vital role in the experiences of online students.
Adult learning theory leans on assumptions that focus on the role of instructors as facilitators. Instructors who leverage the capabilities of technology with their skills as experts in their field can play an important role in facilitating how students learn. Theories surrounding adult learning focus attention on the process of learning and less on the content being taught.
Some useful history on adult learning theory goes back to constructivism, pioneered by Jean Piaget, which focuses on learning as an active and constructive process. Learners are engaged with the learning process and use past information and experiences to make connections to new information. Other related terms include scaffolding, Bloom’s Taxonomy, and Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development which examines the role of guidance in learning.
One of the concerns with online courses is the feeling of isolation from other members of the class. The same benefits of flexibility that make taking an online course appealing can feel isolating when a student is the only person responding to a discussion forum at 4 A.M. Instructors themselves may feel detached from the class when they don’t physically see students or get an immediate response back. Learning online can feel like an individual experience, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Instructors can help guide student learning by incorporating tools, assignments, and feedback aimed at fostering a learning community. Fortunately, instructional designers at FIU Online are well-equipped to help merge prominent adult learning theory with practical uses in online courses.