Thursday, June 14, 2012

Teaching and Learning Online series - Part 7

 by Dr. Vanae E. Morris

In previous posts in this series, I have discussed several of the adult learning principles as posited by Knowles (1980), which includes two that are relevant for the topic of conversation today. From Boettcher and Conrad (2005), in an online course, an instructor should “. . . combine core concept learning with customized and personalized learning” and from Ko (2005), learning should be connected to real-life experiences. 

Knowles (1980) believes that adults learn best when the information is embedded in their experiences and adults want the learning to be relevant to their lives, goals, and needs. Making connections to prior knowledge and life experiences makes the learning more relevant for the adult learner.  Finding activities that encourage connections, experiences, and prior knowledge can be accomplished using active learning and promoting accountability

How can this be accomplished? Ko (2005, slide 8) believes that there are four ways to help your adult students make connections to real-life experiences: 
  1. Encourage students to apply real-world experience to course content
  2. Encourage students to draw on personal examples and observations that are relevant to the course
  3. Tie contemporary events or issues to course content
  4. Whenever possible, encourage students to incorporate their own goals into study
Boettcher and Conrad (2005) also believe that encouraging adults to bring their life experiences and prior knowledge to the class can be accomplished by combining core learning with personalized learning. “In practical terms for online courses, it means designing options and choices within learning experiences, assignments, and special projects . . . Discussion forums, blogging, journals, wikis, and similar social networking type tools provide excellent communication channels for engaging learners in clarifying and enlarging their mental models or concepts and building links and identifying relationships” (p. 46). 

I have made changes to my online pedagogy course to include more reflective writing and learning community activities to promote and encourage the learners in my course to bring their life-experiences and prior knowledge to the content and to personalize the learning for my students. I encourage you to examine your current courses for methods you could use to help your students bring and apply real-world experiences to the course content and to personalize your courses for your students each semester.


Boettcher, J.V. & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Knowles, M. S., Holton, E. F., & Swanson, R. A. (2011). The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development (7th ed.). New York: Elsevier.
Ko, S. (2005). Student-centered online teaching: Best practices. Retrieved from

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