The Evolution Of eLearning For Adult Learners

The Evolution Of eLearning For Adult Learners
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Summary: Regardless of your educational goals, there’s an eLearning platform available to help you reach them.

What You Need To Know About eLearning For Adult Learners

In 2016, a study was conducted at Georgetown University. It was found that since the end of the Great Recession in 2009, 11.6 million jobs were created [1]. Of those jobs, 8.4 million were snagged by adults with college degrees. Now, that’s not to say that there weren’t other factors involved in the hiring of these individuals. But, simply put, holding a college degree helped to put these workers’ resumes at the top of employers’ stacks.

You’ll often hear about successful individuals who didn’t hold a degree. Steve Jobs is one of the most notable. Michael Dell is another example. But the truth is, these success stories are not the norm. Employers today are increasingly interested in hiring degreed employees, and this is true across a broad range of industries.

Are you one of the two-thirds of Americans who didn’t graduate college? If so, you may be under the impression that there’s little you can do to increase your likelihood of employment. But, fortunately, that’s not true! Over the past several decades, and with the advent of the internet, college degrees have become more and more accessible to adult learners.

Adult Education: An Overview

Almost everyone works. And not everyone works a traditional nine to five job, either. So while it’s possible for some adult learners to attend college classes on campus during the day, that’s just not feasible for everyone.

Thankfully, over the past several decades, colleges and universities have caught on. In an effort to increase enrollment, these schools have begun to cater to the adult learner. Universities began offering night and weekend classes. Community colleges offered courses on the weekend. Some universities even offered correspondence courses through the mail.

Many accredited universities offer full degree programs for adult learners. Go ahead, search courses 100% online and see what institutions have. You’ll see that they offer degrees in Criminal Justice, Marketing, and even Six Sigma, and you can earn these degrees while sitting on your couch. Some courses may require that you show up on campus for a test or two, but the majority do not have that requirement.

Adult education isn’t just for those seeking a college degree, either. Colleges offer programs called continuing education courses. These courses aren’t credit courses, so they won’t count toward a degree should you choose to pursue one. But continuing education classes are vast in scope, and many will result in a certification. Continuing education courses may include Human Resources Development, EMS training, or law enforcement training. Still, others are personal enrichment classes and may cover painting or woodworking.

Adult education is for everyone, whether you’re seeking a college degree or not. But there’s one type of adult education which has seen overwhelming success: eLearning. eLearning is convenient, affordable, and hugely popular. Let’s take a look at eLearning and how it’s evolved over the years.

What Is eLearning?

To begin, let’s look at what eLearning is. eLearning is a type of learning which is done solely online. Online education courses can be completed for credit toward a college degree, can lead to a certificate, or can be solely for fun. You’ll find eLearning classes listed at your community college, but also at nationally renowned universities. Many times, taking an online course can help you matriculate into a degree program. That is to say, you can improve your odds of acceptance into a university by successfully completing an online, for-credit course. This is especially true for colleges at the state level, like Michigan State University or Villanova University.

Whether you’re taking a class for personal enrichment or to earn credit toward a degree, eLearning courses all have one thing in common: They are, from beginning to end, entirely online. The format of each of the classes may be different. Some may require that you attend webinars. Others will include video lectures. And still, others will only require that you post to a message board a few times each week. But you’ll never have to set foot on a college campus, and that’s the most appealing aspect of eLearning; it’s wildly convenient. eLearning is one of the most popular ways for adult learners to gain new knowledge and skills. Online learning is continually evolving, as well. Let’s explore a few ways eLearning has changed over the years.

eLearning: In The Beginning

Do you remember when the internet was first made available in our homes? Chances are, you remember your old desktop PC well. The heavy tower with 4 floppy disk drives, or, if you could afford it, you’d have a CD drive. Regardless, you were probably using dial up. The connection speed was appallingly slow, and it could take up to five minutes just to connect in the first place. That’s if you didn’t get a busy signal from your internet service provider.

Ah, those were the good old days. But they’re also the days when eLearning was first introduced to the world. There were a handful of eLearning opportunities online; adult learners could download files to read and participate in group chats. As an example, internet service provider AOL offered a creative writing class, taught by Community Leaders. In fact, AOL was at the forefront of online education in the late 1990s. The ISP offered a number of free online courses, and adult learners could chat with “classmates” about what they’d learned. Even if you didn’t have internet access, you could still take advantage of eLearning opportunities. Even as far back as the Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing program, released in 1987, adult learners could participate in eLearning programs to learn new skills. eLearning, at its inception, wasn’t solely online. In fact, many people didn’t yet have internet capabilities, so it was common to find other forms of electronic learning. Interactive CD-ROMS became a popular format, as did software and document downloads from the internet.

Since that time, and as technology has advanced, eLearning has improved greatly. It’s also become a much more popular –even standard– form of education. Let’s take a look.

eLearning Now

Offline eLearning courses still exist. You can still find software like Rosetta Stone and others which will help you to learn a new skill. But for the purpose of this article, we’re going to look at courses which are strictly online, as those are the most ubiquitous form of eLearning.

We mentioned online college degrees earlier in this article; let’s explore those a little more. There is an organization that exists with the sole purpose of tracking online learning trends. The Online Learning Consortium, in a 2015 report, found that more than one-quarter of all students are taking a distance education course. In 2014, 2.85 million college students were enrolled in a degree program which could be completed entirely online. You’d be hard pressed to find a distance course in nursing, but it is possible! After you take the class from the comfort of your own home, you’ll just have to show up to clinicals.

But even despite the limitations of online learning, there are so many options for adult learners that even these limitations seem incidental. Look, as an example, at online course provider Udemy or Lynda. Using these platforms, students can take courses in everything from pet care or astrology to JavaScript and C#. Kahn Academy is another. Users will interact with online software as they learn chemistry and how to code.

Why Consider Online Education?

Online education is highly accommodating of the working adult’s busy lifestyle. In fact, it’s got quite a lot going for it. Here are a few examples:

  • Online education is often free for personal enrichment courses.
  • eLearning is very affordable. You’ll pay for your course and books, but you’ll save on travel expenses and lab fees.
  • Online learning is ridiculously convenient. You can study when you want, and some classes have a very lax completion deadline.
  • Adult learners can study almost any subject via online courses, from math and science to language, arts, and music.
  • Online learning, by nature, requires more interaction from you. This means that you’ll learn more than you would if you were simply listening to a lecture.
  • When you enroll in an online course, you’re not only learning the subject matter, but you’re also improving your technical skills.

Online education for adult learners has come a long way since the internet was introduced to homes. I urge you to do a little research on your own; visit the website of your chosen school and see if they have 100% online courses, or check out Udemy to explore available classes.


  1. College grads are getting nearly all the jobs