Adult learning in a distance education context: theoretical and methodological challenges Maria Gravani, [email protected] Open University of Cyprus, Cyprus. Rationale Distance learning universities address non-traditional and adult learners
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Adult learning in a distance education context: theoretical and methodological challenges
Maria Gravani, [email protected]
Open University of Cyprus, Cyprus
Aim of presented research
By giving voice to the experiences and perceptions of adult learners and educators, as they embark on distance learning courses in the OUC and the HOU, to unveil and illuminate some of the adult learning ‘fine-grained’ processes at work in the organization and delivery of the courses aiming to underline the factors influencing these processes.
It complements and builds on my previous research (Gravani, 2003; 2008; 2012; Gravani, Hatzinikita, Zarifis, 2012; Jimoyiannis & Gravani, 2011; Karagiorgi & Gravani, 2012) and attempts to extract from the findings those ideas and practices that, suitably adapted, could contribute to the re-organisation of distance courses for adults that facilitate adult learning.
Aims at the heart of the study
1. To explore and understand adult educators’ and learners’ experiences and perceptions of the distance learning courses in the context under exploration;
2. To unveil and illuminate some of the adult learning processes at work in these courses;
3. To identify the factors that influence these processes and help or hinder adult learning;
4. To contribute to the future restructuring of distance learning courses in the context under exploration in the light of adult learning and use the research data to enhance adult learning at the Open University.
5. To contribute to a better theoretical understanding of the processes of adult learning and the mediating role of the context of distance learning (in comparison to other, previously explored, contexts)
OUC & HOU
Relationship between the main concepts
The present study draws on a multiple theories perspective (Jarvis, 2004) and adopts a comprehensive and integrated theory of learning (Claxton, 1996), which incorporates different learning modes or strategies that a learner can engage in or adopt, the purpose being to provide a framework, and language, within which one can look at all the aspects of adult learning as a whole.
Distance education: it has a semi-permanent separation of teacher and learner; is influenced by the educational organization in both the preparation of the teaching materials and the support of the students; uses technical media; is a two-way process; has a semi-permanent absence of the learning group (Keegan, 1990, p. 44).
Emerging from a critical reading of the literature & the context explored:
To what extent has adult learning been influenced by the ‘conceptual inputs’ (educational background, past experience in learning and teaching, needs, motives, expectations) participants bring to the distance learning courses?
In what ways does the social context (interactions and relationships between learners and their tutors, and among learners) of the programme impact on adult learning?
In what ways do emotions and feelings triggered in the course of the distance education programmes influence adult learning?
How does the educational context within which the distance courses operate impinge on adult learning?
Research framework (guiding heuristic)
Developed by Gravani (2003), adjusted and employed in research projects (Gravani & John, 2005; Gravani, 2007; Jimoyiannis & Gravani, 2011; Karagiorgi & Gravani, 2012; Gravani, Hatzinikita & Zarifis, 2012).
It uses a set of ideas that cohere under the rubric programme development, particularly the work of Knowles (1980, 1990), Tyler (1949), Apps (1981), Brookfield (1986), Cervero and Wilson (1994) as being vital in unveiling the processes of adult learning .
It is used heuristically for the gathering, ordering and analysing the qualitative data.
Mutual Re-Diagnosis of Needs
Mechanism of Mutual Planning
Mutual Measurement of the
Sequence in Terms of Readiness
The heuristic represented
The Analysis: Planning
‘We had no involvement in planning the programme in contrast to what we have been taught in the ‘Continuing Education and Lifelong Learning’ unit. I would definitely prefer to have been asked about aspects of the programme. That would be extremely important and would make thematic units be more effective, as learners would be in the position to express themselves, talk about their learning difficulties, and attend a programme tailor-made to their needs […] For example, we could have been asked with regards to our assessment procedure as written essays count for 30% of the final grade with final exams taking 70% [...] and educators’ assessment. It would be preferable for us to assess them not only at the end through a questionnaire but during the course of the programme so that improvements can be made […] unfortunately, the programme is ‘closed’ and we found it like this. The only thing we can do is to transfer some of our thoughts to our tutors hoping that they will be heard. No right to mutually plan’. (Learner, 15)
The Analysis: Design
My role, let me say, is not that of an authority -‘I come to tell you what to do’- which is what students appreciate particularly. […] I always go prepared, with answers to their questions, which have already been proposed by them, but also with answers to questions that could possibly be asked, which I need to predict for. I don’t choose the topics for discussion. They (the students) do so. I am not going to the meeting with a pre-set agenda. The topics are sent by students before the meeting, one week or more. They upload the topics on the platform. I put them all together. Usually they are more than ten. There have been cases where we had more than twenty. We deal with them one by one, from the first to the last. There are cases where I put up a topic, when I see an issue emerging from the discussion, which is not on the agenda. (Tutor, 8)
The Analysis: Design
I try to avoid traditional teaching. I don’t ‘deliver teaching’.[…] There will be discussion. I put them in groups for the activities […] so that they don’t work individually, they will work in teams, they will have fights, they will laugh, they will play, each one will freely express an opinion, and then a group representative will do a presentation, this develops discussion.(Tutor, 5)
There is an electronic platform but it’s not interactive. I’d say it hasn’t been developed yet in full. I’d expect more things. For example, many times I felt the need to express my worries and queries about things and I’d like to have a forum through which I could communicate these to my colleagues. […] it was important to interact with them. Moreover, no opportunity is given for teleconferences. That’s a basic problem since I cannot attend the face-to-face meetings from home. What happens when you’re sick or have a serious problem? […] you feel isolated from the class. You really feel the distance. It’s appalling.(Learner,11)
The Analysis: Climate
With the tutor I’ve worked well and felt supported when writing the three essays and preparing for the exams […] but that was it. An informal contract was set up between the two of us for this purpose […] nothing more than that. He was an academic and I was only a student, not much in common […] With those of my colleagues who attended the meetings there was some sort of collaboration, the rest were just unknown to me since there is this distance […] look, we’re far from each other, each of us has his own reality and life, we’ve got different personalities […] we’ve got no time for social meetings with colleagues. I worked with them for the unit but at the end I felt insecurity. Many times I felt that what I was advised by them wasn’t the right thing.
The Analysis: Evaluation
Impact on personal development (open up their minds, develop social skills, get pleasure and satisfaction out of the communication taking place, get knowledge of the world and people’s behaviour, learned to be more resilient, patient, reflective and persistent), professional development ( acquire new scientific subject knowledge and skills, were in the position to enrich their CV)
I sense that it (Open University ) contributed to the growth of my persona, if I can speak generally. I’ve changed environment, opened up my mind on various perspectives…my passion for learning has been amplified […] I also hope to become a better individual […] for sure, I acquire resilience, patience, persistence, determination […] Certainly, I gained subject knowledge from the thematic unit that I’m not sure how I’ll make good use of it given the situation in schools in Cyprus.(Learner, 3)
Theoretical and methodological challenges
4. The findings clearly exhibit a tension between the principles of adult and distance education , with the former pointing towards flexibility and the latter promoting a rather ‘close’ direction of study (cf. Christidou, Gravani & Hatzinikita, 2012). In the light of the findings, more open, flexible, mutual, variable, active and autonomous systems of distance teaching and learning in the two open universities aresuggested, as well as the integration of adult learning principles, when designing HE distance programmes.
5. Further research would be necessary on the use of the adult learning theory in distance-teaching and learning in view of the tensions identified above.
6. Research on the boundaries between the principles of adult and distance learning, is also essential as the two should be seen as complementary and not binary opposites.
7. Results could definitely inform future policies and strategies for adult distance teaching and learning in such institutions in Greece, Cyprus and elsewhere in the world.