Adult learners are welcoming the move to online learning after discovering its benefits as a result of last year’s disruption.
And while the switch has been a steep learning curve, both adult learners and educators said they prefer online learning because of the technology that has made it more convenient.
This was one of the key findings of a survey of 1,354 adult learners conducted between September and February. The residents interviewed were between 20 and 70 years old.
The Institute for Adult Learning Singapore (IAL) survey revealed a preference for fully online learning – from 5.6 per cent before the hiatus in April last year to 26.4 per cent after the lockdown.
The IAL is an autonomous institute of the Singapore University of Social Sciences that provides training and professional development opportunities for adult educators and conducts applied research on the development of practice in initial and adult education (TAE).
Why the craze for online learning?
Convenience and flexibility, respondents said.
Regarding saving travel time, one said it used to take three hours for the round trip. That is as long as the three-hour lesson. “So the good thing (about learning online) is that it saves me time. Instead of traveling, I can watch the lecture again and then do my own self-study.”
One adult learner praised the online learning model for its convenience and flexibility, saying, “If I’m missing something, like a chapter, or (there is) something I didn’t understand, I can just go back and watch it again.” ” .
Online lectures, self-paced lessons, and video conferencing are the most common forms for those who have participated in online learning programs.
“Although we’re seeing a shift in learner preferences,” says IAL Research Director Sheng Yee Zher, “it’s also worth noting the importance of a positive online learning experience for learners.
“For this reason, training providers and adult educators must strive for quality online instruction with a high level of interactivity to encourage continued participation.”
Were there any disadvantages in the learning process?
A major concern, highlighted by about half of the respondents, was the lack of social interaction with other classmates and the coach.
Mr. Sheng says, “The learners spoke about the element of ‘humanity’ that is missing from the online environment, the opportunity to build friendships and the value of such interaction for their learning.”
The study found that adult learners value the face-to-face experience of a traditional classroom and want more opportunities to interact with their peers without being constrained by a technological medium, added Mr. Sheng.
This suggests that organizations need to improve their learning programs to encourage active collaboration.
The survey also found higher satisfaction among respondents who participated in a hybrid learning program, which is a mix of synchronous and asynchronous learning.
Synchronous learning occurs in real-time, and asynchronous learning lets adult learners work on their own time and schedule.
A blended learning approach – a mixture of online and face-to-face classes – allows adult learners to enjoy the flexibility of learning at their own pace while communicating freely with others.
Adult online learners also felt a little uncomfortable because the trainers were unfamiliar with using digital tools. This was one of the top concerns raised by a quarter of the online learners surveyed.
The finding agrees with that of an online survey of adult educators conducted by IAL researchers in May-June last year. This survey found that digital skills are one of the biggest challenges for adult educators in the transition to online learning.
Why the need to go digital?
To keep up with the demands of the current learning landscape, training providers should aim to provide more tangible professional development opportunities and financial support to help adult educators expand their expertise on the job, says research leader Chen Zan.
“With the increasing momentum of digital transformation and the influx of new teaching and learning technologies, it is critical for organizations to provide ongoing training for adult educators to stay relevant and build future-oriented skills needed to meet the challenges of the rapidly changing world of work,” says Dr. Chen.
“I think it (the digital transformation) has forced us to rethink our approaches. Covid-19 has provided training providers with an opportunity to explore different training methods. In the future, we need to embrace technology even more. Especially as our learners become more tech-savvy, they may prefer to take online courses when they see the same, if not more, benefits than attending an in-person visit.”