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Adult Learning in Online Environments: Three Strategies to Achieve Optimal Instructional Design
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Peer Feedback Activities that Support Project-Based Learning

Project-based learning (PBL) is an effective learner-centered instructional approach that poses a real-life problem to generate adult learners’ engagement in inquiry activities, such as brainstorming, asking questions, searching for information, designing, and testing possible solutions (Ching & Hsu, 2013). One such scaffold, peer feedback, promotes positive social interaction among adult learners and fosters deeper levels of cognitive understandings (Ching & Hsu, 2013). Peer feedback within PBL tasks should provide adult college learners with qualitative, formative comments that corroborate ideas, identify problems, and assist with the revising process. The exchange of peer feedback promotes adult college learners’ understandings as they assess the work of others. As one considers standards, quality, and criteria during the evaluation process, they are engaged in critical and reflective thought regarding demonstration of mastery of the topic under study. Ching and Hsu articulated the following framework to implement PBL with adult college learners in online learning environments:
  • The instructor assigns learners a design problem.
  • The instructor designates milestones that promote knowledge construction among learners.
  • Learners demonstrate their learning through produced artifacts.
  • The instructor facilitates learning experiences that promote higher order thinking.
  • Learning scaffolds provide appropriate support for learners.

The instructional strategies of peer feedback and the PBL framework provide instructors of adult college learners with the ability to address each adult learning principle (Knowles, 1984; Knowles, Holton, & Swanson, 2015). With respect to peer feedback, adult learners bring their life experiences and knowledge to collaborative learning experiences. In doing so, they are able to see relevancy in the task and feel respected as a learner. With respect to PBL, adult learners are able to set goals and approach tasks practically. Successful engagement with PBL also requires self-direction and intrinsic motivation from adult learners.

Using the previously mentioned framework, Ching and Hsu (2013) explored participation and perceptions of peer feedback during a project-based learning activity among adult college learners enrolled in an online instructional design course. Their findings showed that structuring complex tasks into manageable milestones was perceived positively, and learners reported that the peer feedback activities produced “useful formative comments” and enabled them to provide peers with constructive comments that enhanced their learning (p. 271).


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