GOAL (= Generating Online Adult Learning) is a European funded transnational project dealing with the pedagogic differences in online learning between mature returners to higher education and “traditional” students or school leavers (taking the default progression route from A-levels to university).
I developed a progression model that encapsulates the critical pedagogic areas and that allows us to contrast the groups of learners in question. Not that all learners are the same, but the assumption is that there are some general differences between these two categories of students (cf. Knowles’ theory of andragogy). In the changing landscape of lifelong learners it is highly important that institutions address the changing needs of their students.
The model follows the progression of students through higher education in terms of the requirements for the institution to provide helpful intervention to enable students to better move up the educational levels: (1) motivation –> (2) induction –> (3) delivery –> (4) articulation –> (5) exit
(1) Even before entering the institution, prospective students need to be motivated to take up a course at university. Traditionally, students went to university directly after school, but new marketing strategies need to be devised to capture mature students and the community at large. A number of mature students study for self-fulfilment instead of simply getting a job.
(2) Induction takes a new critical role when relating to online students. Among other differences mature learners often require more initial help with technology. On the other hand they are often self-motivated. An important step is the changing the expectations in the learning environment.
(3) Younger students are more acquainted with teaching and learning because of their more recent school experience. Delivery strategies often require a change in the learners’ perception and expectation of the learning process. A full set of services is needed to underpin the full student experience in an online environment.
(4) In a modular system the articulation route can be a pitfall to institutions that don’t meet learners’ needs and expectations. “Thank God it’s over” is not the response the university is looking for, instead “I want to add another year to my studies” is the right answer.
(5) Finally, exit planning for mature students links back to the original motivations and purpose of studying.
This five step model allows us to analyse the needs of different student populations that enter our institutions which in turn could lead to a more student-centred approach.