Higher Education And Instructional Design
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Modify Online Courses To Help Adult Learners

After completing LinkedIn Learning’s certification, Become an Instructional Designer, I saw many important components that are transferable to online courses in higher education. As an online communications instructor, I recognize what my students need by paying close attention to their progress. Instructional Design and educational software is an emerging field, which means change is possible, and Instructional Designers must directly communicate with online instructors to better improve and modify online courses. Instructors recognize which activities or assignments work for students and have suggestions for how to improve the learning experience. While many of this certificate program's chapters have relative importance, I will focus on the "Adult Learners" chapter because most of my students are adult learners. This specific program focuses on training business employees, but key aspects of the chapter are applicable to designing higher education courses. I will propose changes that could be made to my own course that hopefully inspire other online instructors and Instructional Designers.

If online instructors want to better facilitate student learning, a foundational training of Instructional Design and andragogy or adult learning is vital. This training will help online instructors understand the production behind their digital course formats and how assessments are created to test their students' knowledge. I wanted to learn more about the Instructional Design process that is involved with my online courses. A dedicated instructor unceasingly looks for new ways to further help students because of the multitude of diverse student learning abilities.

In most online education, students come from a wide range of backgrounds. Some are parents with two jobs and children, and some are young adults in the military. Given this, the format of online courses must consistently change. Instructors may not have a direct hand in the creation of online courses but we need communicative access to an Instructional Designer so that we can collaborate on changes that benefit the students. I will use my online Introduction to Communications course, which I teach at Post University, as an example to illustrate what I took from LinkedIn Learning and how I plan to apply it to my online course. While I am not changing my course completely, I am modifying it to match the needs of my students.

Applying Adult Learner Theory

Part of Post University’s online course format includes discussion board posts. Discussion board posts assess students’ knowledge of the unit material by requiring them to answer prompts about the unit topic. The LinkedIn Learning "Adult Learners" chapter is facilitated by training expert Jeff Toiseter who states that experiences are a principle of andragogy. Experiences are important because we need to build on students' existing knowledge that can connect to the lesson topics. Instructional Designers could focus on phrasing questions that encourage students to look back at specific past experiences that students can use to help them understand the current lesson.

Unit 2, "Identity and Communication," includes the discussion prompt “Reflect on a time from your childhood when direct definitions, identity scripts, or attachment styles left a big impact on your self-identity.” To better utilize the experience of students, the prompt could be rephrased to ask, “Reflect on a time in higher secondary education.” Not everyone has a quick recollection of their childhood, but I have noticed many of my students recall their high school experiences. I gleaned this from my students' responses, and how they used their high school experiences as examples to recognize identity scripts. These students learned about their identity through peer communication. One student stated, “I went to a Catholic boarding school. It was my first time being free of my strict grandmother who raised me and, as you can imagine, I was a caged bird set free. I got kicked out before my freshman year was over, had to complete my finals at home and enroll in a public high school. I was smart. I was not supposed to be the one that got kicked out of school. I was supposed to get straight A's in all of my AP classes and be a good student. At least that was the identity script I was taught.” This student’s post illustrates how to pinpoint details from a student’s work, which can then be used to phrase discussion prompts.

Students' experiences or existing knowledge can be utilized to create and phrase discussion questions. I had students express difficulty in finding experiences that are relative to the discussion prompt. To help fix this, we could rephrase or add questions that give them a scenario from which to pull from. Students like this one recall their high school experiences easily. If experiences are key to the adult learning process, we need to form questions that require students to recall specific moments and not broad themes from their past. This will enable students to have similar posts, which will even help them compare and contrast with each other. Students need to compare their work with each other in order to facilitate active learning.

Active Learning Techniques

Jeff Toister explains that we need to create active learning in students through challenges, confirmation, and feedback. A strategy for challenging students would be to incorporate different tools of assessments, rather than utilizing the same assessment for every unit. Instead of a discussion board post for every unit, incorporate a writing exercise with a pre-established narrative that requires the student to respond to the story. One possibility would be to provide a situational scenario that covers the lesson topic and has students assess it through the unit concepts, explaining how the situation corresponds with the unit.

Unit 3, "Verbal and Nonverbal Communication," directs students to reflect on two situations when they can recall communicating poorly (one verbal, and one nonverbal), and how they could have enhanced their communication to improve the situation. One possible modification might be to provide two narratives. One story about two friends that verbally communicated poorly, and another story about a couple that nonverbally communicated poorly. One detail I gleaned from my students' work is that these were shared experiences. One student stated, “How I communicate poorly with nonverbal communication would definitely be by giving the silent treatment. This really only applies to my husband."

Students expressed how they had disagreements with friends and their partners because of miscommunication. We could provide fabricated scenarios and ask them which concepts are applicable to the scenario and how the communication in each situation could be improved. This type of assignment challenges students because they now have to apply material outside their immediate experience. If the student is successful with this assignment, then it confirms the student is learning. When the assignment is completed, the instructor can give feedback to the student and explain how the student incorrectly or correctly applied the concept material and made connections to the scenario. If the student performed poorly, the instructor’s feedback could include how the student could make the connections based on specific details found in the scenario. I would even provide a word box that includes specific concepts that the instructor is looking for, which directs students who may not know where to begin. Students may feel lost in online courses because they are not familiar with the online course format and they can fall behind.

Overcoming Learning Barriers

One common obstacle in student learning is "no proof" or how activities do not tell us the student is learning. Instructional Designers can tackle this specific learning barrier through activities that require demonstration of new skills. An imperative academic skill that most adult learners lack is citations. Students need to understand how to take and use information or ideas that are not their own. This is how students build their own ideas. In my experience with teaching a class in person and online, I have noticed that the majority of undergraduate students and adult learners are not familiar with making proper citations nor understanding their importance as skills gained from higher education. Online courses need to integrate at least one unit on academic citations in order to properly recover this essential skill. This is not included in other courses because I have noticed the majority of my students do not have training in this skill. Academic citations have practical applications for students because they teach them how to take ownership of their own ideas and check the credibility of a source.

Students need practice making citations, and I would like to add a unit where students read about the importance of citations and how to properly format a citation, depending on the source. In keeping with the majority of university guidelines, students should learn the American Psychological Association (APA) format. One possible exercise is to provide students with a list of different sources. The most commonly used sources are online books, online news articles, websites, and videos. Students then need to create a reference page with these sources in the correct APA format. Another possible activity could be to provide students with a reference page and have them correct the citations. This provides students with a clear objective lesson, helps students practice making and correcting citations, and helps instructors identify active learning in students. Academic citations must be taught in order to train students in recognizing the veracity of sources and where they retrieve their information from.

Conclusion

The LinkedIn Learning certificate path Becoming an Instructional Designer exposed me to concepts that I can utilize or try to incorporate into an online course. Instructors need to understand the production behind their online courses and communicate with Instructional Designers to continue adapting the design process in keeping with the particular needs of their student population. My students invariably communicate what is working through their discussion board posts. The work they submit to the course is vital to the instructor and Instructional Designers in building new activities and assessments for future students. The content and structure of my students' work are an indication of whether or not they are active or passive learners.

We want to help students become more active learners by creating challenging assessments so that they do not become bored or find the course too simple, which affects their interest in the course. Students' ability to stay on track and not fall behind helps us instructors and Instructional Designers identify learning barriers that can be used to modify online course formats in the future. I teach communications but my students communicate to me what they need. Their contributions to my class allowed me to apply my own learning experiences from LinkedIn Learning in Instructional Design, hopefully propelling my solutions to benefit future students and improve their educational experiences.

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