Jul 31 2019

Adult Learners Come to Campus with Unique Technology Needs

Communication, training and strategic thinking can help institutions support this growing portion of the student population.

As technology brings sweeping changes to business, healthcare, government and other fields, a similarly dramatic shift is happening in the workforce. 

Many workers never envisioned a day they’d need to go back to college to stay employable. They now find themselves pursuing different degrees, certifications, boot camps and other programs to augment existing skills or jump-start an entirely new career. 

Several experts believe this model of lifelong learning will become the norm. It’s a trend that’s certainly gaining momentum, with many institutions seeing an influx in adult learners

Much of the technology geared for these older students, however, may be missing the mark, according to a new report from Luminary Labs

“This is due to market inefficiencies and a lack of collaboration between key stakeholders,” the report notes. “The right ed tech tools can play an instrumental role in achieving stakeholders’ shared goals: reskilling adult learners and closing the skills gap.”

Colleges face the same dilemma, of course, when it comes to aligning technology with Generation Z’s needs and preferences, proving that technology often isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavor.

To better support adult students, Luminary researchers consider three pathways.

MORE FROM EDTECH: Check out some ways higher education institutions can connect with nontraditional students.

1. Engage with Learners About What Solutions Work for Them

Education professionals generally understand which tools work and which don’t, but for many, that knowledge extends only to the traditional college student. What works for a millennial may yield different results for baby boomer or Generation X students.

Having conversations with stakeholders before, during and after solutions are purchased is crucial. Most learners will be eager to share their input. After all, their future employment opportunities rest on the success of their continuing education, as Luminary points out. 

Throughout the semester, Q&A message boards via Google Classroom or Microsoft Teams help educators get valuable feedback from older students. Alternatively, colleges can take advantage of data analytics to measure the effectiveness of various tools and adjust accordingly.

2. Teach Professors to Improve Accessibility to Reach All Learners

Adults returning to campus after a long hiatus, whether in person or online, may be unfamiliar with modern learning tools. They also bring a different mindset in the way they approach information and experiences. 

“Adults learn differently than children and young adults. The former rely on their past experiences when absorbing new information,” according to a Rutgers University blog post. “This can make it harder to accept knowledge that contradicts with a previously held belief. New educational tools must find creative ways to challenge these assumptions if and when necessary.”

When older students encounter faculty who themselves are unfamiliar with (or even resistant to) classroom technologies, the problem is compounded. For that reason, consider designating a campus representative to ensure everyone is comfortable with the tools at hand.

“Without support from the administrator or interest from the developer, the user often lacks the resources to scale use of the tool or to customize it to their classroom needs,” according to the Luminary report. “The inherent disconnect between those producing the technology and those defining its application means there is a built-in ceiling to what these tools can achieve.”

Program leaders may need to allow extra time and resources to work with professors and learners alike. In addition, when investing in academic tools, it may be worth finding solutions that can be customized to fit any student’s abilities.

MORE FROM EDTECH: See how IT services must shift to fit the needs of nontraditional students.

3. Identify the Problem, Then Find the Technology Solution

Older students may face other challenges too. Many have full-time jobs and family responsibilities that make it difficult to attend every class. 

When adopting classroom solutions, IT and instructional technology teams should identify these issues first, and then find the best solution to address them

For students who have to miss a lecture, distance-learning and screen capture tools provide multiple options to stay current with class activities. 

While many campuses will continue to enroll a majority of traditional students, many institutions see a changing makeup. These shifts will likely continue to mirror the evolution of the workforce. 

“An estimated 36 million adults in the U.S. lack the basic math, language, and digital literacy skills necessary to find well-paying jobs and navigate public and social systems,” notes Digital Promise. “Technology can increase access to education, provides support and scaffolding, and offers personalized learning pathways for these learners to advance in their careers and life.”

This article is part of EdTech: Focus on Higher Education’s UniversITy blog series.


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