Digital Era and Successful Adult Learner

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The definition of adult learning relates to the variety of non-formal, informal and formal learning activities carried out by adults, leading to new knowledge and skills being learned. Adult learners are identified as individuals over the age of seventeen years who are enrolled in universities or other official tertiary education institutions. Adult learning is considered a complicated process since people who are participating in the process are also involved in other tasks, such as jobs, among others. Adult learning, however, has become much more productive with the advent of digital learning, while adult learners still face some obstacles in the learning process. With the development of the digital era in learning, some of the key characteristics that define successful adult learners enrolled in tertiary institutions include the ability to maintain a greater sense of responsibility in the learning process, maintaining focus in learning and being results oriented, the ability to test the new knowledge against the existing knowledge, and self-direction.

Barriers to Adult Learning

Several factors hinder effective adult learning, which further prevents adult learners from achieving the key characteristics that define successful adult learners. The barriers comprise of situational barriers, institutional barriers, and dispositional barriers. Situational barriers refer to barriers that arise due to diverse situations at a given time. For instance, adult learners may lack time to focus on their studies due to the nature of their job or their responsibilities at home, which discourages a large number of potential adult learners from pursuing adult learning (Shepherd & Nelson, 2012). On the other hand, young people and low income earners may lack the resources to pursue tertiary education. Further, physically handicapped adults may fail to pursue tertiary education due to geographical distances and transportation challenges.

Moreover, institutional barriers comprise of the procedures and practices that deter working adults from engaging in educational programs. Such procedures may include the presence of inappropriate courses of date, inconvenient locations and schedules for the learning programs, and the requirement to pay full time fees, whereas one is pursuing part time study. Dispositional barriers, on the other hand, relate to individual’s perception and attitudes towards the learning process (Warschauer, 2007). For instance, older adults may refrain from pursuing tertiary education because they may feel that they are too old, while adults with poor educational backgrounds demonstrate a lack of interest in learning or low confidence in their learning abilities.

The Future of Digital Learning and Adult

Technologies applied in the learning process influence the nature of learning as well as literacy since they not only act as aids to learning but also enhance the interior transformation of consciousness. However, technology only transforms learning when integrated with other economic and social factors. Warschauer (2007) notes that several paradoxes have emerged with the concept of digital learning regarding the manner in which people learn, their location of learning, and the content that people learn. Presently, the digital era literacies have replaced the traditional print era literacies. Information literacy is defined as the ability to determine the nature of information that is required in the learning process; locate the sources for such information; the ability to evaluate critically the sources of the information as well as the information, the ability to incorporate the selected knowledge into the learner’s knowledge base; the ability to access and utilize the information in a legal and ethical manner; and demonstrating an understanding of legal, social, and economic issues that surround the use of the selected information.

The importance of information has significantly grown in the digital era, whereby a vast amount of unfiltered information is available on the online platforms, which makes selecting the appropriate information a crucial element for learners in the digital era. Further, the concept of multimedia literacy has emerged, which is defined as the ability to design, interpret, and create content that utilizes sounds, media, texts, music, typography, images, video, animation, and photographs. Multimedia literacy is crucial in enhancing learning in the digital era, whereby the multimedia tools are ideal resources for enhancing learning and understanding concepts. On the other hand, digital learning influences the way students learn, whereby the concept enhances autonomous learning with the teacher acting as a guide in the learning process.

According to Littlejohn, Beetham and McGill (2012), adult learning in the digital era has particularly benefitted from the digital media technologies in the learning process, whereby learners have a greater ability to work autonomously in both the online and offline platforms. The ability to learn autonomously forms a critical aspect in the future of digital learning, although strong mentorship from the teachers still remains a crucial aspect in the learning process. The key advantage of autonomous learning is that learners of all ages can learn since with the presence of digital media, individuals can learn in settings outside the school by accessing online information, the use of educational software, and participating in online learning communities among others. Further, autonomous learning, which is enhanced by digital technologies, has played a crucial role in overcoming such barriers to adult learning as geographical barriers, which hinder individuals with physical disabilities from accessing learning institutions as well overcoming procedural barriers such as inappropriate schedules that encourage adult learners from pursuing tertiary education.

Characteristics of a successful Adult Learner

The digital developments in communication and information have transformed the areas of study, work, thinking, as well as expressing oneself. The digital era has challenged tertiary institutions to enhance their business of producing and disseminating knowledge through teaching and research. On the other hand, the digital era has transformed workplaces into increasingly knowledge driven institutions, which require employees to continuously expand their knowledge to match the growing knowledge requirements at the workplace (Kenner & Weinerman, 2011). Further, employees have been motivated to continuously search for new knowledge due to the growing complexities at the workplace, which require employees to develop new methods of solving the emerging organizational problems. Moreover, adult learning has become more popular due to the modern trends of transitioning into new careers and roles, which requires lifelong learning.

The growing demand for adult learning has further enhanced the development of digital learning, which is crucial in overcoming adult learning barriers. For digital learning to be effective, acquiring digital literacies is crucial, which must be developed on a continuous basis. Further, digital literacies must relate to an individual’s identity regarding the manner in which an individual adapts to new knowledge acquired through digital forms (Littlejohn, Beetham & McGill, 2012). Digital literacies are however dynamic, whereby they are constantly changing to match the changes in the epistemological, cultural, and technical order. Hence, it is crucial to note that digital literacy goes beyond technical competencies to include the learners’ level of motivation, the environment, and their level of confidence.

There are three distinct theories through which individuals learn, including the informal theory, the tacit theory, and the formal theory. The tacit theory focuses on the knowledge that is acquired in the absence of particular learning frameworks. Tacit knowledge is majorly possessed by adult learners due to their vast experiences, which often makes them difficult to change since the tacit knowledge is already ingrained deeply into their conceptual frameworks. The informal theory, on the other hand, is acquired in the workplace environments, whereby aspects of metacognitive development are recognized by peers as signs of wisdom, which further consolidate elements of reflection, experience, and intelligence. Adult learners possess more of practice knowledge, a factor that causes them to have gaps in their process of academic development. Hence, it is crucial to reintroduce the basic concepts in a manner that allows them to realize the benefits that directly relate to their academic careers. However, adult learners also demonstrate difficulties in transposing their practices in the social contexts into the formal learning contexts.

Based on the above analysis, the characteristics that define successful adult learners enrolled in tertiary institutions in the digital era include the ability to be self self-directed in the learning process. Given that adult learners are mature, they are able to set learning objectives and pursue them until they are achieved. Adult learners are also less dependent on their teachers and peers, an element that allows them to succeed in the learning process. Further, successful adult learners have the ability to measure their new knowledge against the already existing knowledge, which plays a crucial role in cementing the newly acquired knowledge (Kenner & Weinerman, 2011). Moreover, successful adult learners in the digital era are results oriented and focused since they have specific goals that they aim at achieving through the learning process, such as career progression among others. Additionally, successful adult learners demonstrate a greater sense of responsibility in their learning, whereby the growth of digital learning has enhanced their autonomy in learning, further enhancing their control over their success or failure in learning. Finally, successful adult learners demonstrate the ability to immediately apply their new knowledge at the workplace, since the study-work situation creates an ideal environment for immediate application of the new knowledge.

Conclusion

Adult learning is faced with several challenges, especially given that the majority of the participants have responsibilities at home or at the workplace, which hinder them from effectively participating in the learning process. However, the complexity of the modern organizations has made it crucial for adults to pursue tertiary education to enable them to solve emerging organizational problems, in addition to enabling them to progress in careers. Digital learning has particularly improved efficiency in adult learning since it allows adult learners to have greater autonomy in the learning process, as well as helping them to overcome institutional barriers, which may include inappropriate schedules. Some of the key characteristics that define successful adults in the digital era include the ability to immediately apply new knowledge in the workplace, greater autonomy in the learning process, as well as being results oriented and focused on the learning process.

References

Kenner, C., & Weinerman, J. (2011). Adult learning theory: Applications to non-traditional college students. Journal of College Reading and Learning, 41(2), 87-96.

Littlejohn, A., Beetham, H., & McGill, L. (2012). Learning at the digital frontier: a review of digital literacies in theory and practice. Journal of computer assisted learning, 28(6), 547-556.

Shepherd, J., & Nelson, B. M. (2012). Balancing act: A phenomenological study of female adult learners who successfully persisted in graduate studies. The Qualitative Report, 17(20), 1.

Warschauer, M. (2007). The paradoxical future of digital learning. Learning Inquiry, 1(1), 41-49.

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