I currently teach landscape horticulture courses at a private trades college. We are starting to offer some of the academic courses online to provide flexibility for our students who want to study part-time. My learners are all interested in horticulture, so they typically prefer to work outside with their hands rather than sit at a computer (there’s my first assumption!). My learners are anywhere from 20 to 65 years old, which spans three generations. This means that there is variance in technological knowledge and comfort with computers, which is something I must consider. My learners are approximately half female and half male. In their entrance interview, I can usually get a feel for their responsibilities and situations. Most of my learners have work and/or family commitments that dominate their time. This is something else for me to consider – setting reasonable deadlines and a reasonable workload. My learners also come from a variety of academic backgrounds. Some will have never finished high school, while some have graduate degrees. Whenever there’s a significant spread in post-secondary experience, I always encourage people to help each other and share what they know.
To summarize, the main areas of variability that I must consider are in computer knowledge, academic experience, and personal situations. There are other areas that will vary but may not be detected until the course starts, including ability to be self-directed and preference for individual work versus collaboration. To take these areas of unknown into account, some scaffolding must be built in to the online course design and a positive social climate should be established early in the course (Cercone, 2008).
Signs of a struggling online learner are difficult to detect at a distance. Adult learners may be less likely to ask for help because they tend to be autonomous and independent (Cercone, 2008). The following signs could indicate that an online learner may be struggling:
– Not logging on to the course website very often
– Falling behind on weekly activities or assignments
– Not contributing to forums, not interacting with fellow students
– Poor performance on tasks
– Argues with the instructor
– Lack of effort and thought put in to reflective activities
Cercone, K. (2008). Characteristics of adult learners with implications for online learning design. AACE Journal, 16(2): 137-159.