Andragogy aligns with constructivism as a theory and a method employing new techniques that engage adult students in online learning. The constructivist paradigm is suited to the adult learner who has a cabinet-full of information and experience that he brings to the table of learning. Adults are often more confident in their views and enjoy active engagement in dialogue and debate. They have “learned” their lessons of the younger years, when “knowing meant being able to remember and repeat.” (Brown, 2005). The use of online learning or e-learning should be designed to take advantage of this theory. Although learning spaces in the past have been constrained to the classroom of brick and mortar, the Internet opens these spaces to include virtual classrooms that can take place anywhere, anytime, using various technical advances. Students actively pursue their interests, share information quickly, digest it and interact socially over synchronous and non-synchronous means (Brown, 2005). Constructivism may be the holistic theory that is best utilized with online learning for higher education, when students create artifacts of their learning.
Adult learners have busy lives; they usually have learned to multi-task and meet the demands of work, family, and life. But along with this complicated life, adults have experiences that are valuable not only in the workplace but in the course of higher learning. Some of these adults have become experts in certain areas, and they bring that knowledge with them to the learning environment. Age is often a factor, as the more time invested in specific work, the more knowledge a person has often acquired. The young adult learner will often bring less to the learning platform than a more seasoned adult. Because of the nature of adult lives, the flexibility of online learning and learning spaces becomes advantageous. Learning for many adults is a lifetime pursuit, which can be enhanced and tapped in an online learning environment.
Learning spaces within the online community encompass a myriad of “spaces” where students can pursue their interests and not only receive information, but incorporate it into discussions, writings, and applications. These spaces can support learning and sharing of knowledge, similar to the concrete libraries and cafes of a university campus. A “virtual space is any location where people can meet using networked digital devices…referring not just to synchronous, highly interactive functions (such as chat, blogs, and wikis) but also to asynchronous functions such as e-mail and discussion threads.” (Brown, 2005). Students utilize several “hardwares” to communicate within this virtual sphere: laptops, tablets, iPads, and phones with wireless Internet connections enable learners to use discussion boards, Skype, instant message, and email. Even when Internet is not available with a wireless connection, students can log into their accounts and gain access through their phones, which are often equipped with this ability. [G1] This virtual space supports constructivism for the adult learner; he can be actively involved in class, at any location, at any time, and in many venues. Asynchronous discussion boards allow a learner to leave a message and check back to see if a fellow classmate has logged in to contribute or they can leave a message for a mentor to address and answer. Sometimes, a student can find answers to his questions from previous board discussions. Email provides another learning space that falls into the asynchronous category, but can be answered quickly if the addressee is online. Students access live interaction or synchronous functions such as Skype, by writing a message or initiating a call. Video enhances the ability to communicate with other class members, mentor or teacher. In this way, learners and mentors are sharing a virtual space, while being physically in differing locations. These innovations address the needs of the adult learner to be actively engaged in coursework and maintain a busy life of responsibility. Many young adult learners are familiar with virtual worlds through the online gaming world. They have become more than adept at message boards, microphones that facilitate communication while working in teams to conquer virtual landscapes. For those adult learners that may have missed this learning opportunity, online universities will have to provide tutorials and hands-on examples to help students become comfortable in the virtual world of learning. Older adults may have more experience with online meetings, conference calls, emails, sharing documents, and creating spaces for corroboration. All of these activities, though not face-to-face, are opportunities for personal interaction that becomes significant in the lives of the participants (Bach, et al., 2007). These experiences support the constructivist method of learning, where students will continue to progress and construct more knowledge.
The idea that learning is active construction and not a passive reception of information is at the forefront of online learning design. (Koohang, et al., 2009). Learning is active and always changing, based on the learner’s knowledge, as he moves from novice to expert (Brown, 2005). In the past, students were told what to learn, and given this information in a form that was to be memorized. You might say it was much like teaching a parrot to repeat phrases. Students learned to parrot back what they were told. Reading, Writing and arithmetic were essentially the subjects that involved rote memorization. Constructive learning is best adapted to the adult because “learners construct knowledge by understanding new information building on their current understanding” (Brown, 2005). The Internet facilitates rapid and active learning. Knowledge is more accessible through the use of laptops, iphones, ipads and tablets, where everyone becomes a student, seeking answers to questions about anything the mind can conceive. The shelves of encyclopedias that were once the only home source for information have become relics of a time gone by. Online learning is happening daily, inside the universities and outside – paid for and free. Free college courses from elite universities are now available for anyone with the desire to learn. Andragogy has melded with
constructivism, as adults become active Internet users, bringing their queries to search the databases and seek higher educational goals.
Learner engagement may not occur at the start of a course, as some students may need to develop the skills and experiences to maneuver the new virtual classroom setting. It is much like the real world, where a learner takes time to find the right study location, where he will be comfortable and focused. Many of the study areas that are used in traditional school settings will be the same ones used in virtual learning. The mobility of online classes has advantages of being able to reach a number of students over a wide range of geographical areas. This has the possibility of enriching the experiences of the students as they become involved in sharing information on discussion boards and online classrooms. However, the mobility of online courses also has some drawbacks in that students may overlook the need to have that block of time and space where studying is convenient and successful. The college library, the quad, and the café that are often the sites of study on campuses may still be needed in the virtual classroom. This is especially true for any live online interactions. Student engagement in the real world and the virtual world will require some face-to-face time. Instructors in some online courses have pre-recorded videos where they talk to you and explain difficult concepts or their methods of delivery. The holistic environment of online learning will need to include real instructors, even if they share their content outside of real time. Video is one way to approach this. Live conferencing, though not as flexible is another method to improve student engagement in the classroom of the virtual world. After all, there is a real student and a real instructor, we have not become entirely devoid of the human, as they have in the life of online gaming.
Bach, S., Haynes, P., and Lewis Smith, J. (2007). Online learning and teaching in higher education. New York: Open University Press.
Brown, M. (2005) Learning Spaces. In Oblinger, D. G., & Oblinger, J. L. (Eds.). Educating the Net Generation, (pp. 12.1- 12.22). Educase. Retrieved from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/pub7101l.pdf
Koohang, A., Riley, L., Smith, T., Schreurs, J. (2009). E-Learning and Constructivism: From Theory to Application. Interdisciplinary Journal of E-Learning and Learning Objects. Retrieved from http://www.learningdomain.com/MEdHOME/WEB-BASED/Learning.Actiivty.pdf