How Do We Tailor Learning for Much Longer Life?
Thoughts for anyone who creates courses.
I’ve heard so much about lifelong learning, all the way back to the days when I was an instructional librarian. Back then, I taught information literacy, the point of which is to instill a knowledge of how to learn and discern, skills needed for a lifetime of interacting with information. Learning how to learn and discern is even more important. We are inundated with videos and articles and blog posts and infographics, all seemingly equivalent in importance. How do we know what’s good, what’s questionable, what we need to know and what’s optional?
One of the most marvelous aspects of living today is the prevalence of opportunities for learning online. Besides Medium articles and YouTube videos, we can learn through Creative Live, Skillshare, Teachable, Udemy, and many other course platforms. E-learning is an important method for the democratization of information. No longer must the learner travel to a certain place to learn. If she has an internet-connected device, she is ready to learn. (And suddenly I’m picturing a woman participating in a course via her refrigerator. Why not?)
Lifelong Learning is a LOT Longer Today
I wonder, though, if we forgot just how long our lives are these days. Imagining learning as an ongoing process, not just for 12 or 16 years, but for the rest of our lives requires some thought about how that learning is to be accomplished, and how it can be available to everyone. (Or at least, everyone who has access to the internet. The true democratization of information is another topic I’ll write about soon.)
These musings were prompted by a 2019 article by M. A. Pappas, et al, Cognitive-based e-learning design for older adults.
Older Adults Have Different Cognitive Needs
The premise of the article is that older adults are able to become more integrated into society when they are taught to engage with information and communication technologies (ICTs). Just as other ages of learners have specific needs, so, too, to older adults. (In this case, 55 years and older, which includes me!)
The authors cite a study stating that
“distance learning programs for older adults can help foster personal growth, civic engagement, and social action and inclusion” (p. 4).
Through an extensive literature review, the authors make the case for the importance of e-learning for older adults.
In the study itself, the authors analyzed a learning profile of older adults and constructed a questionnaire that was sent to 103 participants, the majority of whom were between 55 and 64 years old. These participants were more confident with simple mobile phones and personal computers, and only a minority of them did not use the Internet at all.
The results of the study indicated that in e-learning, “participants considered the most important features to be the step-by-step presentation of the educational content and the existence of exercises and assessment at the end of each e-learning module” (p. 9). This type of presentation may not be needed for younger learners, pointing up a difference in learning styles that must be taken into account when designing methods of teaching for a wide audience.
So What’s the Difference?
Characteristics of e-learning directed toward older learners, according to the authors of the study, are:
· Need for a simple graphical interface without the distractions of colors and excessive graphics
· Short and comprehensive modules without a lot of text
· Step-by-step presentations
· Flexible curriculum with modules they can choose, take and re-take at their own pace
· Communication and social capabilities for when they need assistance
· Very clear learning goals, practical assignments, and logical assessments
Many of these items are good design choices no matter what the age of the learner, but an awareness of the cognitive issues faced in the aging process will help lesson creators tailor modules so that we may truly have lifelong learning–no matter how long we live.