Week 2: Overview

Site: RRU Open Educational Resources
Course: OER-Facilitating Learning Online (Fundamentals) [version retired April 2020]
Book: Week 2: Overview
Printed by: Guest user
Date: Tuesday, 22 June 2021, 6:33 AM


Week 2: Overview


In the past, teaching mainly took place in face-to-face environments with a relatively homogenous group of individuals. Now, you are likely to encounter a much more diverse learner audience than Malcolm Knowles, the well-known adult learning pioneer, studied to develop his andragogy theory. Many factors contribute to our increasing diversity and there are various perspectives on how best to respond. 

While the diversity of online learners requires ever more flexible and responsive teaching approaches, Knowles' adult learning principles are still helpful to consider. For example, most adult learners are still likely to expect clear information on what, why and how they are to learn, and be evaluated, and to be offered relevant, meaningful learning activities. However, increasing learner diversity challenges us to offer more varied assignment choices, communication options, and learning supports to help them participate successfully in online learning environments. 

You’ll need to balance the possibilities of available online learning technologies with the beliefs, expectations, and abilities of your diverse audience.

To do this, you will need to think about how your beliefs about teaching may affect how you approach teaching and learning. When we teach online, we have to adapt our teaching and learning activities to support learners in a rapidly changing learning environment, in the ways we monitor, interact and adapt our practice with each new group. 

During this week, you'll explore some ideas that can help you respond to the rapid changes in technological possibilities, the diverse expectations and needs of your online learners, and your own beliefs, knowledge and skills as an online facilitator.

The least important thing this week is becoming an expert on any learning theory, technology or teaching strategy. 

The most important thing is understanding the main IDEAS, and being able to USE them to inform your thinking and problem-solving when deciding how to facilitate a course, workshop or learning activity online.


Weekly Activity

During this week, you'll be guided through an online learning activity by a team of your peers in FLO. The basic process or cycle of these weekly activities (from a participant's perspective) is:

  • read launch message on Monday (explaining what to do and when)
  • work to complete your learning tasks (explained in the Instructions the team posts)
  • ask for clarifications or assistance from your team of facilitators, if and when required
  • notify team facilitators / FLO facilitators if you are unable to participate or complete any of your learning tasks
  • collect your thoughts about your experiences in the session and provide constructive feedback to the team of facilitators on the weekend (usually Saturday) by posting in the appropriate forum (or other resource, as applicable) in the week's area.

the steps in the mini-session process (for participants)

Focus for the Activity

You’ll be asked to explore the differences between face-to-face and online learning environments from the potential perspectives of adults of various ages, cultural backgrounds, economic conditions, and personal and educational backgrounds. Online learning environments also present different opportunities and challenges for learners (and new facilitators!)


Explore the opportunities and challenges of online learning as they relate to the diverse needs of adult learners. Or, put differently:

  • What supports do learners need in online learning environments?
  • What opportunities exist online that can be used to make learning more effective or interesting for adults online?
  • What challenges exist about online that might affect your learners?

Online and Adult Learning

Seminal research among adult learning theorists (e.g., Knowles, 1973; Merriam and Caffarella, 1999; Merriam, 1993) revealed that:

  • adults continue to learn after completing their formal education
  • adults learn differently than children
  • adults learn in purposeful, self-directed ways

Malcolm Knowles was a big name in adult education. He argued that adults...

  • need to know why they need to learn something
  • need to learn experientially
  • approach learning as problem-solving
  • learn best when the topic is of immediate value

Although Knowles' research (and others who contributed to ideas about adult learning) caused a paradigm shift in the way courses were designed and how teachers taught, the world of higher education has become increasingly complex.

Due to many changes in society, teachers needs to be sensitive to the learning needs of an increasingly diverse audience; adult learners come from different cultures, are at various stages in their educational path, experience different demands from personal circumstances and work demands, and have far greater access to educational choices due to the development of an increasingly connected world with ubiquitous access and mobile devices.

The array of learning technologies, the pace of change in different academic fields, the possibilities introduced by educational technologies, and a renewed emphasis on experiential, inquiry, project-based and mastery learning approaches, makes the task of teaching adults effectively online one that requires all the creativity and skills that teachers can apply.

We hope that you'll share what you know and have experienced about teaching adults, and explore new ideas around improving your practice in the online environment.

How do we meet the needs of adult learners online?

Certain strategies and approaches seem to work well, including providing choice and inviting adult learners to leverage their experience, using coaching, dialogical models, and team-based learning reinforce a facilitative rather than directive approach to instruction. And meeting adult learners where they are, with active (experiential), relevant, applicable learning experiences will go far to support engagement and ultimately learning.

Read and View

The following optional readings and videos are provided as references for the topics discussed in this week's Overview.