Adult learning in a distance education context: theoretical and methodological challenges
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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

Adult learning in a distance education context: theoretical and methodological challenges

Maria Gravani, [email protected]

Open University of Cyprus, Cyprus


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

  • Rationale

  • Distance learning universities address non-traditional and adult learners

  • It is important for programmes meant for adults to take into account the distinct and unique characteristics of the adult learners (Gravani, 2012; Karagiorgi & Gravani, 2012; Jimoyiannis & Gravani, 2011; Gravani, 2007; Gravani & John, 2005; Lewis, 2004; Louks-Horsley et al., 1987) and place emphasis on the processes whereby adults learn effectively and the conditions that support or hinder adult learning (Gravani, 2003; Gravani, 2007).


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

  • Other research

  • Distance education in the context of adult education and lifelong learning has been extensively discussed by scholars (Peters, 2009; Jarvis, 2004; Jarvis, 1993).

  • Some research on: conceptions of learning in adults embarking on distance education (Makoe, Richardson, & Price, 2008); impact of constructivism in online learning environments for adults (Huang, 2002); factors influencing adult learners’ decision to drop out or persist in on-line learning (Park, & Choi, 2009).


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

  • Other research

  • In Cyprus, a few empirical studies on adult learners’ emotions in on-line learning (Zembylas, 2008; Zembylas et al.2008) educational practices promoted by distance learning material for adults (Christidou, Gravani, Hatzinikita, 2012, Christidou, Hatzinikita, Gravani, 2012)

  • In Greece, research on the Hellenic Open University and various teaching & learning aspects: dropout rates and their causes (Pierrakeas, Xenos, Panagiotakopoulos, Vergidis, 2004); pedagogical practices and use of ICT (Koustourakis, Panagiotakopoulos, Vergidis, 2008); adult participation in distance education (Sianou-Kirgiou, 2010); technology in on-line courses (Koustourakis, Pefani, Panagiotakopoulos, 2010).


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

  • Lack of research

  • However, adult education research :

  • delves only slightly into distance learning courses to empirically investigate and unveil adult learning processes at work, factors that influence these.

  • very little focuses on how adult learners and educators experience and perceive learning, its context and conditions, that support and promote growth in a non-conventional university

  • no research conducted on the Open University of Cyprus (OUC) programmes in comparison to the Hellenic Open University (HOU) ones, despite growing realization that we are deprived of research in adult learning in distance education


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

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.


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

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)


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

Adult

Learning

Distance Education

OUC & HOU

Context

Adult learners’

Tutor’s Experiences

Relationship between the main concepts


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

  • Main concepts

  • ‘Adult Learning’ & ‘Distance Education’.

  • Adult Learning: difficult to pin down conceptually.

  • Who is an adult? Jarvis (2004, p. 67) argues that adulthood is reached when individuals are treated by others as if they are socially mature and when they consider themselves to have achieved this status.

  • What is learning? Jarvis (2004, p. 83) ‘a process of receiving and processing any element of culture, by whatever means it is transmitted’. Claxton (1996, p. 9) ‘a broad umbrella term that covers a whole range of different types of learning challenge, different kinds of learning outcome, and modes or strategies that a learner can engage or adopt’.


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

  • Main concepts

  • What is adult learning? Brundage & McKeracher (1980, p. 5) ‘both the process which individual adults go through as they attempt to change or enrich their knowledge, values, skills or strategies, and the resulting knowledge, values, skills, strategies and behaviours possessed by each individual’.

  • Different adult learning theories:

  • Experiential ( Marsick, 1987)

  • Existential ( Jarvis, 2004)

  • Cognitive ( Kohlberg, 1981; Gagne, 1977; Cervero, 1988)

  • Behaviourist ( Thorndike, 1928; Skinner, 1951)

  • Social (Bandura, 1969)

  • Situated ( Lave & Wenger, 1991)

  • Andragogical (Knowles, 1980)

  • Transformative (Mezirow, 2000)

  • Integrated learning theory (Claxton, 1996) & Multiple theories perspective (Jarvis, 2004)


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

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).


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

Research questions

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?


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

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.


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

Mutual Self

Diagnosis

 Design

se

Mutual Planning

Mutual Re-Diagnosis of Needs

Diagnosis Needs

Mechanism of Mutual Planning

Planning

Mutual Measurement of the

Program

Evaluation

Planning

Learners

Educators

Design

Climate

Mutuality

Problem Units

Respectful

Experiential Techniques

Collaborative

Sequence in Terms of Readiness

Informal

The heuristic represented


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

  • Context

  • Cypriot context: Lifelong learning is an imperative priority for Cyprus. As a response the OUC was established in 2003 (Law 234 (1) to assist citizens to participate in lifelong learning, study at their own pace and obtain HE qualifications. OUC: 200 tutors; 19 members of academic staff; about 2000 students; 20 undergraduate & postgraduate programmes of study.

  • Greek context: The HOU was established in 1992. 186 programmes; 40 academic research staff; around 1600 tutors; 30000 students. It aims to offer learning opportunities to adults including the so-called “non-traditional” learners and those most vulnerable and severely affected by inequalities and economic swings.


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

  • Programmes explored

  • Focuses on two programmes provided by both universities (OUC & HOU):

  • undergraduate in Greek Civilization

  • postgraduate in Education Studies

  • Reflect structured printed distance-teaching courses and employ specialized learning materials (books).

  • Each student is allocated a tutor to provide guidance and support.

  • Study package and study guide. Material split into weeks.

  • Five face-to-face meetings per academic year.

  • On-line meetings, teleconferences, communication via phone, e-mail, post.

  • Students’ assessment through written assignments and written exams.


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

  • Thematic units

    • “Ancient Greek and Byzantine Literature/ELP21”, OUC

    • “Modern Literature 19th-20th Century/ELP28”, OUC

    • “Literature I: Ancient Greek and Byzantine Philology/ELP21”, HOU

    • “Literature II: Modern Greek Philology/ELP30”, HOU

    • “Educational Research/ELP51”, OUC

    • “Continuing Education and Lifelong Learning/EPA64”, OUC

    • “Educational Research/EKP51”, HOU

    • “Adult Education/EKP64”, HOU


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

  • Methodology

  • Exploratory study. Focuses on how individuals understand, perceive and interpret a phenomenon and seeks a deeper interpretation and conceptualisation of that (Van Manen, 1984).

  • Phenomenological approach and qualitative research techniques. In the phenomenological mode, researchers attempt to understand the meaning of events and interactions of ordinary people in particular situations. They emphasise ‘the subjective aspects of people’s behaviour’ (Bogdan & Biklen, 1982, p. 31). They argue that phenomenological qualitative research brings the study of human beings as ‘human beings’ to centre stage (Bogdan and Biklen, 1982).


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

  • Methodology

  • A case study approach with an interpretative framework

  • Sample:

    • 16 adult learners (8 from each of the two universities). 10 women and 6 men with varying employment status- ranged in age from 25 to 55 and varied in their adult life stages.

    • 8 adult educators (4 from each of the two universities). 5 women and 3 men- varied in their status.

    • Ethical Issues:

    • The harm and benefit it may bring to participants

    • Informed consent

    • Privacy, confidentiality, anonymity


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

  • Methodology

  • Data collection: in-depth, audio-recorded, semi-structured interviews carried out over a two-month period (April- May 2011).

  • Interview schedules prepared for tutors and learners. Participants interviewed separately in a setting and at a time convenient and comfortable for them. Each interview lasted between 45 minutes and one hour.

  • Data analysis: constant interplay between data and conceptualisation. The analysis went through:

  • Data reduction-the process of selecting, focusing, simplifying data that appear in interview transcripts

  • Data display-the organised, compressed assembly of information that permits conclusion drawing and action

  • Thematic interpretation


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

  • Stages followed in the analysis

  • Stage One: tables were created with the profiles of the informants, the purpose being to put together information about them.

  • Stage two: participants’ responses were indexed under the questions asked during interviews.

  • Stage three: indexed data were combed and themes which seemed to be related to the five organizing concepts of the guiding heuristic were identified.

  • Stage four: themes emerged along with the relevant quotes were cited under the five concepts, following the process of coding as ‘putting things into drawers’.

  • Stage five: Writing up of the analysis chapters

  • These were built around the five concepts outlined in the framework

  • Planning

  • Diagnosis Needs

  • Design

  • Climate

  • Evaluation


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

  • The Analysis: Planning

  • Setting up of the framework of the programme. A cardinal principle of andragogy is that a mechanism must be provided for the involvement of all parties in the planning of any educational enterprise (Knowles, 1980, 1990; Brookfield, 1986).

  • The analysis revealed that no mechanism for mutual planning was put into practice. Programmes were organised in absentia of those to whom they are addressed, not in the light of learners’ expectations, aspirations and identified needs; learners’ profiles were not taken into account. Programmes were closed, not flexible, centrally organized and controlled.

  • Almost all the learners in the sample (15 out of 16), with one exception, complained about not being involved in planning and advocated the necessity for their priorities to have been considered beforehand, so that they would be more committed and interested in the programmes of study and their learning would be more fruitful.


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

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)


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

  • The Analysis: Needs identification

  • Deciding about the procedures to be used for helping learners to identify responsibly and realistically what they need to learn (Tyler, 1949; Brookfield, 1986; Knowles, 1990). Adult educators place great importance on putting into practice a mechanism for mutual needs identification in programme development.

  • No mechanism for mutual needs identification in all the units explored. 8 tutors admitted that units had to be prepared and fixed in advance by the co-ordinator and the university.

  • 4 tutors argued that it was necessary for them to follow the strict guidelines given by the prescribed books, the study guides, the thematic unit coordinators, the Academic heads.

  • 8 tutors talked about a ‘close’ system, result of many factors such as: big number of students (especially in the case of the HOU) , distance factor, lack of human and financial resources, communication and interest on behalf of the university.


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

  • The Analysis: Needs identification

  • The majority argued that the ‘close’ system is not in accordance with the philosophy that should underpin an Open University and not in line with adult education.

  • 6 tutors argued that, since they are not given the opportunity to identify the learners’ needs before the beginning of the course, they try to do this during the first meeting. A male tutor with almost 9 years of experience in teaching ‘Educational Research’ in the HOU argued:

  • I’m trying to get to know them during the first meeting […] to get to know their needs, aspirations, expectations of the course. I need to know who they are, why they are here, what do they want. I’m having a serious conversation with them at the beginning trying to cover the lack of a formal system of needs identification on behalf of the university. (Tutor, 1)


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

  • The Analysis: Needs identification

  • 12 out the16 learners expressed the need for their voice to be heard. They talked about a tight system which does not give them the opportunity to participate in formulating their learning and adjusting tutors’ teaching to learners’ real needs and expectations. Described their feelings: disappointment, anxiety, tiredness, pressure, marginalization, relegation. Talked about the impact of the above in their learning.

  • You are the first one to ask me about needs identification (laughter). Nobody asked me, no […] of course and I’d like to have been asked […] there is distance between the academic and the students’ world […] huge distance […] The tutors needs to open their ears to us since we’re not irrational and our proposals could improve the operation of the university […] the educational material, the assessment procedure. We have our own background, experience in teaching, learning and training, particular features […] we invest out time and have family obligations […] the university has to feel each of us (Learner, 12)


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

  • The Analysis: Design

  • Selecting the combination of learning units, i.e. problem areas that have been identified by the learners through self-diagnostic procedures, and learning formats, i.e. individual, group, mass activities for learning, that most effectively accomplish the objectives of the programme and arrange them into a pattern (andragogical model)

  • Learning units:

  • Tutors followed various practices in designing thematic units:

  • 3 argued that they did not have any freedom to choose course content since this was decided by the coordinators .

  • 3 stated that they were the ones who decided it and simply announced it to students; sometimes giving them the impression that they had some sort of involvement in designing .

  • 2 tutors, experienced in adult teaching, appeared to demonstrate a more democratic profile.


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

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)


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

  • The Analysis: Design

  • Learning formats

  • Different learning activities used in the 8 thematic units explored. Depended on: institution, content of the thematic unit (subject taught, undergraduate-postgraduate, theoretical - practical), personality of the educator, time available, learners’ profile.

  • Most common activities were:

  • Five face to face (f2f) meetings (a variety of educational methods, techniques and means used in these: democratic dialogue, team working, favored by adult learners, ex cathedra teaching, role playing)

  • Telephone conversations and use of e-mail

  • Electronic platform, as a tool for synchronous and asynchronous communication. Almost non-existent in the HOU. Hugely deployed in the OUC.


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

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)


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

  • The Analysis: Climate

  • Atmosphere of the programme: psychological & physical climate . A climate conducive to learning is a necessary prerequisite to effective adult learning (Knowles, 1990; Bickel & Hattrup, 1995; Palincsar et al., 1998; Gravani, 2003; Gravani & John, 2005).

  • Physical climate : (classroom set up, learning resources (written textbooks, study guides, supportive educational material, digitalized educational material, electronic platform, timetable).

  • Not all the classrooms were suitable for adult learning, fully equipped with facilities . This seemed to influence and in some cases prohibit fruitful adult learning.

  • The absence of an organised electronic platform (in the case of the HOU), prohibited communication and was not conducive to adult learning.


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

  • The Analysis: Climate

  • Regarding learning resources, participants’ responses varied:

  • assessed positively the educational material overall

  • were very negative regarding the quality of the material

  • viewed positive and negative aspects in the educational material.

  • The main books used in the thematic unit come from the Hellenic Open University. I didn’t find them easy to use and read with the exception of one or two chapters. However, they are important for writing the assignments and passing the exams, but not the best well written books […] The supportive material given by our tutor was also helpful and the study guide that is essential for your reading […] The digitalized material gave me a hard time. It was old, not well written, sound wasn’t clear. The content was useful though […] It would be extremely important, if this would be of a better quality since it’s easier and less tiring to learn by listening or attending a DVD. (Learner, 10)


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

  • The Analysis: Climate

  • Psychological climate:(relationship between adult learners & tutors and the relationships among learners)

  • An atmosphere of mutual respect and cooperation was prevalent in most cases;

  • 6 tutors observed that the ‘close’ system had an impact on the relationships developed in the course of the units, and learning.

  • Other participants commented on the lack of collaboration and genuine communication between tutors and learners and among learners due to: the different personalities that adults have, and do not always match, the fact that they do not have much time to devote to their colleagues because of family, professional and other obligations.


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

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.

(Learner, 2)


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

  • The Analysis: Evaluation

  • Reaction evaluation, i.e. participants’ positive and negative feelings about the program; and learning evaluation, which links to the learning outcomes of the program.

  • Reaction evaluation

  • Disagreeable moments seemed to influence negatively adult learning: big number of students in the classes; family and other professional obligations; lack of material infrastructure in some cases, such as: classrooms, technology, electronic material, electronic platform; educational material prescribed by the university which sometimes is too much to be covered within an academic year; tight context of the OU; difficulties that arise from the adults’ character, evaluation process for students and tutors.

  • Agreeable moments: for the tutors, connection with tertiary education and extra income; for learners, they became students again and have the opportunity to meet new people and enter an academic environment.


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

The Analysis: Evaluation

Learning 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)


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

  • Dimensions influencing adult learning processes emerging from cross-case analysis

  • Personality: a common theme across the analysis of the findings was that participants’ personality and individuality, including their educational background, past experience in distance university courses, individual needs, interests, learning styles and experiences, as well as the ‘cultural baggage’ of their past and present lives, influence the way they experience the thematic units and consequently adult learning processes in the distance education context.


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

  • Dimensions influencing adult learning processes emerging from cross-case analysis

  • Mutuality: the involvement of all parties concerned in the educational enterprise, in its preparation and delivery (Knowles, 1990) was important for all participants in the study. However, it can be inferred from the findings that a traditional training, hierarchical, rather than a collegial and andragogical model (Lortie, 1964) was adopted in the programme. This links to the cognitive learning perspective (Cervero, 1988) and it is in contrast with the adult learning principles of self-directed learning (Brundage & Mackeracher, 1980; Brookfield, 1986; Knowles, 1990; Merriam & Caffarella, 1999; Jarvis, 2006 & 2012).

  • At the same time, as Lionarakis (2001) argues, in distance learning education, learning should be prescribed and predetermined, which possibly depicts the status quo in the programmes under exploration.


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

  • Dimensions influencing adult learning processes emerging from cross-case analysis

  • Emotionality: the majority of the participants presented themselves as having experienced emotional understanding (Denzin, 1984). This was mostly in tutors’ interaction with the leaners and among learners, as a result of sharing common needs and expectations. During these times learning communities (Hoban, 2002) flourished, especially in f2f sessions (Jarvis, 2006; 2012) rather than e-meetings. Conversely, students felt distant with those of the tutors who had no experience in teaching adults . Five of them also highlighted the lack of emotional understanding among colleagues, as a result of the distance learning factor.

  • It was also revealed that the deficient organization of some thematic units and the absence of an organised electronic platform raised dissatisfaction, frustration, anxiety and pressure both in students and in some of the tutors. This had a negative impact on the learning process. (Brundage & Mackeracher, 1980; Gravani, 2012).


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

  • Dimensions influencing adult learning processes emerging from cross-case analysis

  • Formality: the range of approaches and models adopted concerning the provision of the distance learning thematic units. In the first instance, the thematic units were presented as being centrally controlled . Central control had an impact on the thematic units delivered as the latter were not flexible and this had an impact on adult learning.

  • A variety of educational methods and means were used in the f2f meetings, reflecting the blended or hybrid learning approach adopted combining traditional and e-methods. This is extremely crucial since adult students have an individualistic learning and cognitive style for processing information which demand for distance teaching programmes to include a variety of activities and learning modes, and educators to use teaching models that are responsive to individual styles (Brundage & Mackeracher, 1980).


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

  • Theoretical and methodological challenges

  • The findings indicate that the process by which adults learn in a distance education context is complex rather than linear. It involves, and is affected, by different personal, social and contextual factors and conditions that interrelate as a system (Hoban, 2002) and can either support or hinder adult learning in the programme.

  • Based on a considered evaluation of the above (cf. Gravani, 2007) the study argues, however imperfectly, that when looking to restructure distance learning programmes in the light of adult education, emphasis should be shifted from the delivery of the courses and thematic units to a systemic and complex understanding of the processes by which learning is created and shared in distance learning environments.

  • In particular, programme providers and recipients need to share authority and trust; they also need to inhabit the space between them and work out mutually its boundaries and hence to be committed to the formation of new discourse communities wherein adult learning processes can be explored, captured and reconciled (Gravani, 2007).


Adult learning in a distance education context theoretical and methodological challenges

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.


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