EAL logo Adult Learning Division CRA
Adult Learning in Online Environments: Three Strategies to Achieve Optimal Instructional Design
Editorial Board
About the Site
Contact Us

Three Strategies to Achieve Optimal Instructional Design among Adult College Learners

Learning within online environments is an increasingly popular approach for adult college learners. Allen and Seaman (2013) reported that the number of adults enrolled in one or more online college courses has shown a significant increase since 2002. The rapid growth of adult college learning opportunities within online environments calls for different instructional design approaches and considerations than those utilized in traditional face-to-face contexts (Linder-VanBerschot & Summers, 2015). Optimal learning for adult college learners within online environments hinges upon the integration of learning experiences infused with technology that apply adult learning principles throughout the instructional design.

Technological capabilities and digital tools have dramatically changed the landscape of adult college learning during the 21st century (Glenn, 2008). For example, online collaboration tools, software, learning management systems, and enhanced presentation tools were reported as contributions that have improved the quality of education for adult college learners. Moreover, technological capabilities have significantly increased accessibility to online learning environments, enabling nontraditional students, such as single parents and working professionals, to take advantage of higher education opportunities. Online learning environments for adult college learners also encompass a broad range of virtual learning settings (e.g., college/university coursework, continuing education, professional development) with great variance in characteristics (e.g., instructor-led, self-paced, synchronous, asynchronous). Designing instruction within online learning environments requires a much different set of considerations than instructional design within face-to-face contexts (e.g., Alonso Diaz & Blazquez Entonado, 2009; Kinne & Eastep, 2008; Park, Johnson, Vath, Kubitsky, & Fishman, 2013; Rowe & Rafferty, 2013; Rust, Brinthaupt, & Robbins, 2015).

An andragogical model of teaching considers the unique characteristics of adult learners and acknowledges that they are learners who are self-directed, motivated, and equipped with a rich knowledge base that serves as a valuable resource for learning (Knowles, 1984; Knowles, Holton, & Swanson, 2015). An andragogical model of teaching also assumes that adult learners benefit from learning experiences that are applicable to the real world and incorporate problem-solving performance tasks. Thus, instructional design for adult college learning within online environments should also incorporate the following adult learning principles to facilitate optimal learning:
  • Adult learners are internally motivated and self-directed.
  • Adult learners bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences.
  • Adult learners are goal-oriented.
  • Adult learners are relevancy-oriented.
  • Adult learners are practical.
  • Adult learners like to be respected.
With this in mind, this article seeks to describe three specific research-based instructional design strategies for online environments that have been shown to be effective and foster success among adult college learners.


This site produced by OLRC Web Team copyright © 1999
New Issue Exploring Adult Literacy Archives ALD Newsletter About the Site Contact Us go to the Association of Literacy Educators and Researchers go to Ohio Literacy Resource Center