How to Help Adult Students Succeed

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A recent opinion penned by Darcy Richardson, Director of Continuing Education at EdPlus at Arizona State University, identifies the primary reason that adult students enroll in higher education coursework — to “help address gaps between their educational attainment and the demands of their jobs in the face of technological advancements and evolving roles and responsibilities.” Richardson points to the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) as a driver for customized, on-demand learning opportunities that match the flexibility expected by adult learners who often juggle professional, family, and volunteer responsibilities. Richardson points to ASU’s “new Continuing and Professional Education courses [that] are mostly online, self-paced and developed to create the expertise that employers demand most.“

How do (and/or should) adult learner expectations for flexible, on-demand learning experiences that will fill those gap between education attainments and the increasingly technological demands of new roles and responsibilities affect our teaching practices at SPCS? Given our focus on providing a world-class classroom experience — admittedly sprinkled with a dose of hybrid and online learning experiences — how ought we compete with ASU’s model of on-demand, self-paced learning experiences for adult learners?

These are questions that the SPCS Strategic Plan and the working groups and committees that have arisen around the plan are wrestling to answer. The SPCS Innovation Committee has recommended a comprehensive curriculum alignment across degree-seeking and professional education programs around modularized, outcomes-based competencies that can then be split into much more flexible units of learning and instruction. The SPCS Badging and Alternative Credentials Working Group is developing a thoughtful process for program development that will incorporate bundling of course outcomes into badges and/or other alternative credentials. And comprehensive program reviews of degree programs and professional education and lifelong learning courses offer insight into market-driven directions our programs might expand or shift toward.

CoP Note: This community seeks to answer these questions from a pedagogical standpoint. What are the best teaching practices for adult learners and working professionals at SPCS? ASU offers answers for its students; SPCS should offer answers for its students, namely the Richmond community. Does Richmonders seek flexible, on-demand learning experiences? Do they prefer world-class classroom experiences on an award-winning liberal arts campus? What is the best mix of instructional modalities and learning environments for Richmond’s adult students? That is the question this community seeks to answer. We have an opportunity to play a leading role in addressing these questions, both for the University and for the Richmond community at large.

Daniel Hocutt

Web Manager and Adjunct Professor of English for the University of Richmond School of Professional & Continuing Studies.