Sunday, December 16, 2007

Engagement, Collaboration, Mobility, and Openness - The Future of Adult Education

There is an awful lot of talk and research being done in adult education - how to get learners to come to post-secondary education, how to get them to stay, how to best deliver education to them, and what are the best ways to ensure that learners are receiving the education that they have signed on for and that we as adult educators want them to have. What will we have to do in the future to address these concerns?

After listening to and reading about all of this adult education material I have come to the conclusion that there are four issues that we need to address. They are:
  1. Engagement
  2. Collaboration
  3. Mobility
  4. Openness
Engagement is getting learners to come to your institution, select a programme, actively involve themselves in it, and actively contribute to their learning. This may be the hardest part to do - being engaged is a personal, internalized activity and as educators we cannot force engagement - we must foster it in our learners. So how do we do that? It starts with allowing learners to make informed decisions as part of the Admissions process, and then keeping them involved in their learning once they are in a programme. In the Admissions process learners must be given the opportunity to learn exactly what their programmes are about and what the standards and expectations of the institution and faculty are. Tests drives or visits to the programme are a big part of this, along with good information materials.

Once in a programme, it is my opinion that the best way to engage learners is to actively involve them in their own learning process - and I believe that the best way to do that is the personal learning environment or PLE - get learners involved in deciding for themselves what works best for their particular learning style. maximize the use of of recognition of prior learning (RPL), and develop outcomes-based learning, and competency-based assessment models that allow for maximum flexibility.

Collaboration ties nicely into engagement - in a collaborative learning space, engagement is key for success and collaboration fosters engagement as learners develop relationships with each other. Collaboration is now, and will continue to be in the future, key to learning. There is simply too much information, too many sources, and it's all coming too fast for learners (and educators) to learn on their own anymore. Collaboration, and the development of information literacy skills used collaboratively for the sharing and assimilation of information are essential for learning. Collaboration also occurs when using project-based learning, something I have done with great success (information technology education) prparing learners for industry. Almost without exceptions employers demand graduates who are capable of working collaboratively and who are capable of learning (engaged in their profession).

There are two aspects to Mobility. Mobility is the lifestyle of a lot of our learners - IM, chat, text messaging using mobile devices is how they communicate. E-Mail is something they use to talk to old folks. Secondly, mobility is how we will have to meet learners where they are and how we will continue to grow our institutions. We need to develop materials and resources that can be used on mobile devices and online and in blended deliveries. As faculty and staff we must become expert at delivering engaging, collaborative learning opportunities to learners wherever they are using whatever tools and devices they have for access. We need to know what those tools and devices are and how to use them and how to develop resources for them. There is a huge professional development component here.

Institutionally we must all do more in the distance or mobile space - we cannot afford to increase physical infrastructure to increase enrollments and I'm not all that sure that physical spaces best fit the lifestyles of community college learners anyway - they are mobile, they live at distance in many case, they work and have families and the traditional Monday to Friday daytime only learning model is not working for many of them. If we want to capture these learners we must become mobile and meet them where they are - think way out of the box.

Openness means several things to me - it means limiting or eliminating barriers to learning - we can do that through the development of PLEs and readily accessible learning opportunities. It means faculty sharing with each other and their learners, maximizing the user of Creative Commons licenses when intellectual property is an issue, using and contributing to sites like the OER Commons, and engaging learners in their learning process. It means limiting barriers caused by the use of proprietary software and hardware and maximizing the use of open source and shareware/freeware that is operating system independent, allowing learners access to learning regardless of the technology they are using (while remembering that technology is only a tool). It's engaging everyone, all stakeholders, in the curriculum development and learning development processes to ensure that we deliver learning that works. An open education environment will be an effective learning environment.

To me this all seems fairly obvious now, but it has taken me some time to get here. It will be interesting to see if any of this will actually be relevant as we move forward. I am firmly convinced that it will be, but time will tell...

(Photo - School Photo From Tungelsta by Steffe)

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