Learning is a never-ending process. It is not restricted to school, college, university, or certain age groups. It continues even after one is done with all studies and starts working, no matter how old one has become. No wonder the need to constantly keep learning has become necessary, especially in today’s rapidly changing world. Well, it’s all because of technology.
With the 21st-century workplace being driven by technology and constantly evolving, and industries requiring highly-skilled workers to meet the needs of the modern economy, more than ever, adults need better access to education and training experiences that are high quality, affordable, and adaptable. While the traditional education system doesn’t provide adequate opportunities, tools and resources for adult learners, technology can increase access to education, provide support, and offer personalized learning pathways to advance in their careers and life.
In this article, we explore the power of edtech to empower adult learners.
Adult learners are not a homogeneous group. They have specific needs. They are individuals coming from different backgrounds with different experiences. Some study to complete their high school education, some to prepare for college, some to get a promotion or get a job, others to learn a new language or skill, etc. Adult learners’ levels of reading, writing, and understanding differ widely.
What barriers do adult learners come across in the learning process?
It is difficult for adult learners to adjust or find the learning process comforting enough in many ways. They have different mindsets and approaches towards studies. They have specific needs that education technology may find challenging to meet. Unlike children, their time for study is limited. Adult learners have a set of responsibilities – family and job, desires, and aims to work upon. They cannot come to class every day and often can’t give nearly as much of their time.
What do adult learners actually look for?
Adult education is totally different from children's or regular education. With different mindsets and approaches toward learning, they are driven by want or need to learn new skills or improve their knowledge or for some specific purpose. Moreover, being their time for study is limited, they look for a more personalized and flexible way of learning.
How can education technology empower adult learners?
To thrive in today’s digital economy, having basic literacy, numeracy and communication skills is no longer enough. As technology brings sweeping changes in every sector, a dramatic shift is happening in the workplace, everywhere. It is compelling workers to get back to school or college to stay employable or move ahead. More than ever, workers need to make an effort to hone their skills and learn every day to stay relevant in the workplace. So, where do all these workers go to learn the required skills?
While the traditional education system does not provide adequate learning opportunities for adult learners, digital technology has opened up all kinds of new avenues for learning, including software that adapts to an individual’s learning style and the ability to connect learners with teachers anywhere in the world remotely. While most research, experimentation, and funding focus on K-12 education, interest in the adult education space is increasingly growing. The scope for technology to impact adult education is very vast. It could offer solutions to many of the challenges within adult education, including systemic issues around access, resourcing, and contextualization.
A recent report titled “Changing the Equation: Empowering Adult Learners with Edtech” under the Power in Numbers project, funded by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education, has pointed out that edtech tool creators and resource developers can better serve educators and learners by designing with the ‘Three As’ in mind: Accessibility, Adaptability, and Applicability.
The report has recognized and pointed out five opportunity areas where technology can help improve adult education outcomes.
These areas offer compelling use cases for transforming adult learners’ experiences and better preparing them for the future workforce. The opportunity areas are explained below:
- Supplement the Instructor: Adult learners’ needs and wants differ widely. And within this population, there is potential for huge variance within any classroom – differences in age, ethnicity, language abilities, work experience, and family responsibilities. This spectrum of backgrounds, competencies, and experiences places a burden on adult educators to deliver unified content to these diverse classes. Adult educators face time constraints, including their own and the unpredictable schedules of their students. Education technology can be applied to support educators by providing adaptive learning features that can lead individual learners through content at their own learning pace. It can be leveraged to provide educators with continual assessment of how learners are progressing and to pinpoint areas where it might need to adjust the curriculum. And artificial intelligence-enabled grading can help free up educators' time. Educators can use the AI-recommended groupings to address common issues or themes within a class.
- Design for Life: Adult learners have a set of responsibilities, and they often struggle to balance class attendance with unpredictable work schedules and family responsibilities. The unpredictability of attendance places a burden not only on the learner but also on educators. Distance learning technologies have great potential to alleviate many of the structural barriers adult learners face. It can connect learners with the resources they need regardless of space or time. Technological innovations such as AI-enabled chat functionality can provide the close support and on-demand responses to questions; mobile tools can help bridge the gap between learners with unpredictable schedules or with unreliable access to the internet outside of the classroom, and video conferencing software can facilitate face-to-face interaction when it may not otherwise be possible.
- Engage the Learner: Adult education programs face unique obstacles in engaging and retaining learners. Unlike children, adult learners must actively choose to participate, as their choice to attain is usually driven by goals. Edtech can take inspiration from consumer technologies that engage users. Games have the potential to capture and retain adult learners’ interest and focus. Family-friendly interfaces support adoption and inspire further learning by integrating seamlessly into the lives of adult learners. And Learning Management Systems (LMSs) provide a one-stop-shop for many technology needs and interactions between adult learners and educators.
- Build the Community: Technology can foster community and collaboration for better learning outcomes. Communication forums, including Q&A message boards, Facebook groups, and group chat tools, are easy ways to create an online network and community for groups of adult learners. Collaborative software tools provide transparency and enable learners to solve problems together. And Wikis or open-source websites can serve as repositories for a program or class-related information.
- Connect the Dots: Teaching and learning resources need to connect content to learners’ personal contexts, in life and at work. With limited time in the adult classroom and often unpredictable schedules and attendance, concepts need to be delivered efficiently and in ways that resonate with learners. Edtech tools can help bridge the divide between the content delivered in adult education classrooms and their real-world relevance. One can incorporate technologies like Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) to simulate extraordinary learning experiences. These tools allow for experiential learning and provide windows into career opportunities and build foundations for career readiness. Open Educational Resources (OERs) and open data serve huge benefits for learners. OERs can be redistributed and reused. They are highly adaptable and customizable. OERs can be continuously remixed or adapted to suit specific contexts. Open data from real-world sources can greatly impact when integrated into edtech tools for adult learners.
Each of the opportunity areas mentioned above holds the potential to improve adult educational outcomes significantly. Edtech truly has the immense potential to enable transformative learning experiences for learners of all ages. If you’re passionate enough to attain success and hone your skills to find well-paying jobs and navigate public and social systems, you have a plethora of ways and tools to help you, thanks to various innovations and solutions provided by the edupreneurs. While many edtech companies focus on K-12 education, several companies/startups have developed cutting-edge technology to help adults learn and advance in their careers and lives. Edtech has the potential to enable lifelong learning, which is not only about self-improvement but also about maintaining long-term mental health.